Living in rural Mallorca

Country life in an old Mallorcan finca

Finca footwear follies

Glamour isn’t a word that springs to mind when I open my wardrobe door. Living in rural Mallorca, in a valley that’s dusty in the long hot summer and often muddy in winter, doesn’t call for the type of clothes or footwear that I had in my former career as a BBC local radio broadcaster.

Most days are spent at home in the countryside, doing housework, gardening, and my freelance writing/editing work. One of the great things about the latter is that working from home means I can wear what I like – what is most comfortable. In winter this usually means jeans and a shirt or sweater. Today it’s a pair of shorts and a loose top, to keep cool.

Going out

When I have to go to the office of the magazine I write for, or to interview someone in connection with an article, I pull out the few clothes I have that pass muster as ‘business attire’. And I do mean few.

If The Boss and I have a party or other ‘do’ requiring something a bit more glamorous, I have a couple of years-old ‘occasion’ dresses lurking at the back of the wardrobe. Since Mallorca is an island where informal dressing is the norm, and we don’t get invited to too many posh events, the chances are that fellow guests won’t notice that I’m wearing the same dress and shoes yet again.

Seduced by sparkle . . . 

So I can’t explain the sudden desire that came over me a week or two ago during a visit to Palma. Sparkly sandals! My footwear is mainly of the practical variety: flatties in winter, flip-flops or Menorcan sandals (oh-so-comfortable) in summer. Our gravel drive does horrible things to high heels and most of my domestic non-writing tasks call for fit-for-purpose shoes, such as my gardening clogs. I resisted the temptation to buy the shiny shoes. For a week. During my next visit to Palma, I spotted that they’d been reduced in price by 10 euros. Ker-ching!

I won’t be wearing them around the finca, having learnt the hard way that ‘the wrong shoes’ can lead to accidents. There was the time I fell off a stepladder while varnishing a door . . . wearing flip-flops. When a flip-flop flopped, I dropped – along with the best part of a pot of honey-coloured varnish.

Then there was the time when I climbed over the low wall to our garden to pick some freesias for our guest room. We’d been about to leave for the airport when I remembered I hadn’t put flowers in my brother and sister-in-law’s room – and I was wearing heels. Going over was fine. Coming back, my heel caught on the wall and I fell flat on my face on the gravel drive, gaining a collar bone  fracture that wasn’t identified for six weeks!

My new sparkly sandals will be worn only on nights out. But, in the meantime, they greet me with a touch of glamour every time I open the wardrobe door.

Glamour meets gardening.

Glamour meets gardening.

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Flowering agave is the bee’s needs

Back in June I wrote about the agave that was beginning to flower in the garden of some friends here in the valley. Initially a huge stalk – looking rather like a giant asparagus spear – grew from the centre of the spiky leaves. As the agave dies once it has flowered, it’s probably as well that the stalk’s growth and subsequent appearance of the flowers takes place over the course of several weeks.

Yesterday morning The Boss and I went to check out the progress of this Mediterranean plant. The Boss took his iPod to capture some images to send to our friends (currently back in the UK) and I used my Nikon’s zoom lens to focus on the detail of the lofty yellow flowers.

The once-sturdy leaves at the base of the plant are now beginning to droop, as all the energy has gone into producing the spectacular flower. What struck us most was the huge number of bees swarming around the blooms. The property has some old hives and the bees often fly over to visit our finca’s bird baths, but we haven’t seen many for a few days.  We know little about bees (except that The Boss doesn’t react too well to being stung) but, from what we’ve observed, they love anything that’s yellow. They’re certainly loving the agave flower, but for how much longer? Only time will tell . . .

 

A daylight  glimpse of the moon as well.

A daylight
glimpse of the moon as well.

 

High in the sky.

High in the sky.

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Finca for sale in rural Mallorca

In case this headline shocks those who know The Boss and me, I must add that it’s not our finca on the market. The finca in question belongs to a friend of ours, who’s had it as a holiday home for 20 years. Now he’s preparing to start a new chapter in his life, and is selling his Mallorca property to fund future plans.

We’re not in the real estate business, but we do like to help out friends, if we can. So we offered to place the details of his finca here – just in case you’re looking for a holiday or permanent home on this beautiful Spanish island.

Michael’s finca is a one-storey property, with the benefit of extensive rural views. It’s in the northeast of Mallorca, in a tranquil, protected area, within 10 minutes’ drive of the town of Manacor. Coastal spots including Son Serra de Marina (a virgin beach with two adjacent eateries) and pretty Colonia Sant Pere (with a marina) are about 15 minutes’ drive away. The bungalow-style home has a large amount of natural land that attracts Mediterranean tortoises and a variety of bird life – and there are also fig, almond, and pomegranate trees.

These are the key features:

  • Two good-sized bedrooms.
  • One bathroom.
  • Spacious living room, with woodburning stove, beamed ceilings and double doors to terrace.
  • Fitted kitchen leading to another terrace.
  • Laundry area.
  • Above-ground swimming pool (with cover).
  • Gas-oil central heating, with radiators in every room and Worcester Bosch boiler.
  • Windows framed in wood.
  • Electricity from solar panels, with three-cylinder, 16 kva generator (latter, with solar batteries are stored in a machine room, in a building set apart from the house).
  • Large double garage-cum-workshop, with ample shelving and a long work bench – ideal for those who enjoy handicrafts or DIY (adjacent to above machine room).

The finca is on the market for 199,950 euros (fully furnished). If you’d like more information, or to talk to the owner, please email me through this blog.

Main bedroom

Main bedroom

 

One view of living room

One view of living room

Another view of living room

Another view of living room

 

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View, including part of the house.

View, including part of the house.

 

Extensive views of the Mallorcan countryside.

Extensive views of the Mallorcan countryside.

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From the boat to our table – via Porto Cristo fish market

When we started looking at properties for sale in rural Mallorca, we’d already decided that we wanted to be able to reach the coast fairly easily from our future home.  Mallorca isn’t a very large island so this wasn’t much of a restriction.

From our finca in the Mallorcan countryside we can drive to the coast to the north or east of our home within 25 minutes. One of the several seaside places we enjoy going to is Porto Cristo – Manacor’s port.

Porto Cristo is bustling in the summer – and not just with holidaymakers from abroad. Many citizens of Manacor own second homes here in the port and relocate themselves to their seaside homes – only some 11 kilometres away – during July and August. When we first heard about this we were quite amused: people we’ve known in the UK with second homes usually had to travel a long way to reach them – either in the air or on Britain’s clogged-up motorways.  Folks here may travel only around 15 minutes to reach their home-from-home.

Summer at the seaside

We don’t blame the Manacor folks for moving to the coast. During the two hottest summer months many businesses in Manacor itself close at lunchtime and don’t reopen until the following day. People who relocate to Porto Cristo may have further to travel to work in Manacor but, when the day’s (or half day’s) work is done, they can beetle back to the port for the cooling sea breezes.

Porto Cristo is in party mode for the Festes del Carme each July. Events during the week include a seafood fair (this year on Monday, 7th) and a late-night weekend firework display that never fails to delight the crowds lining the port. These are two events we – and apparently the entire population of Porto Cristo and Manacor – attend every year.

This morning we had an appointment in Porto Cristo. Afterwards, we achieved something we’ve meant to do since we moved to Mallorca: we bought a fish at the small harbour fish market.  You only notice the place is there because a few weathered fishermen are usually hanging around outside. The fish market is open six mornings a week and, in summer, for an hour in the early evening. We’d always thought you had to buy fish in bulk here but, no, they are happy to sell individual fish too.

Wind and rough seas had limited the catch today, but we chose a good-looking Cap Roig (also known as a Red Scorpion fish). We’ve eaten this fish in restaurants, but never cooked – or cleaned – one. I was pleased that one of the lingering fishermen volunteered to gut it for me.  Now all I have to do is cook it this evening . . .

Get your fresh fish here!

Get your fresh fish here!

 

Fresh from the Med

Fresh from the Med

 

 

 

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Solar-powered water features not on tap on Mallorca

When we moved to rural Mallorca a decade ago (was it really as long ago as that?), solar panels weren’t a very common sight. Now, there are solar ‘farms’ all over the island – huge banks of panels basking in the Mediterranean sunshine. Our nearest used to be a quarry. We’re much happier with the solar ‘farm’, as it means no more heavy lorries thundering along the main road.

Solar makes sense – we enjoy around 300 days of sunshine a year on Mallorca. But can we find a solar-powered water feature for the garden? No. We have a small corner of our dining terrace that would be the perfect home for something small and tasteful, that would enable us to enjoy the cooling sound of trickling water on a balmy evening.

It’s easy to find these things in the UK – even though our motherland doesn’t enjoy anything like the amount of sunshine we have here on the island. I’ve found websites galore, with water features to suit every taste (including lack of any) and budget. But none ships outside the UK. I’ve looked on Spanish websites too and have not yet found anything.

So far, our search of garden centres and DIY places on Mallorca has been fruitless. One friend suggested that perhaps we could buy a solar pump (easier to source) and design/make our own. I’m sure The Boss is more than capable of doing this, but he has enough to do around the place without another job for the list.

We’ll keep searching, but it looks as though this will be our only water feature this summer . . .

Not quite what I had in mind . . .

Not quite what I had in mind . . .

 

 

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Reaping the fruits of a valley walk

On Sunday we decided to combine a morning walk around the valley with a few tasks involving our neighbours.

First stop was the finca of our friends Peter and Maureen, to take photos of their rather impressive agave ‘flower’. It still appears to be growing and, for the time being, there’s no sign of the thing keeling over in its death throes. Our friends have a plum tree, seemingly growing out of a concrete terrace, and in previous years they’ve been able to harvest plenty of fruit. This year, it had just six plums growing and Peter told us to help ourselves when they were ripe. Having done our David Bailey bit with the agave, we picked the few fruits – which were at the point of perfection.

Grapes-in-a-bottle

With three in each pocket of my shorts, we continued down to our German neighbours, where we delivered a bottle of Mallorcan Sa Rota wine from Bodegas Bordoy in Llucmajor. This was our way of thanking them for a recent gift of oranges, courgettes and lemons from their garden. Many years ago they kept horses and, because of that, their land is very fertile. Ours isn’t, which means we can’t reciprocate with any produce of our own. But we’ve found an arrangement that seems to suit both giver and receiver: a thank-you gift of grapes-in-a-bottle.

Halfway through our walk, plum juice started to seep through my shorts: the motion of walking had bruised the fruit, so we had no choice but to eat them as we went.  And they were delicious. We were still licking the juice from our lips when we passed the old pig farm – now used mainly for arable crops (although there are always two porkers snuffling around under their huge fig tree).  Toni – the Mallorcan who works the land there – called out a greeting and offered us some of his plums. The branches of his old tree were heavily laden with the ripe fruit. He whipped a plastic carrier bag out of his pocket and, minutes later, it was full of plums.

In a jam

Our next stop was the house of another friend, Michael, who has a few fig trees. He’s not on the island at the moment and can’t take advantage of the figs that are already ripe.  So we came to an agreement with the wasps that were taking advantage of the seemingly unwanted figs and managed to pick a few without being stung.

With such a lovely bounty of fruit, there was only one thing to do when we returned home: despite the heat of the first full day of summer, I set to and made three pots of fig jam. When Michael returns to his island home, we’ll give him a pot and he’ll be able to taste the fruits of his own garden labours.

 

Bring on the toast!

Bring on the toast!

 

 

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Mallorca lashed by storms

We have old friends holidaying on the island in a finca down in the southeast. Like many sun-starved Brits, they were longing for some Mediterranean warmth and sunshine during their two weeks’ holiday on Mallorca. How disappointing for them that the weather changed on Sunday (the day after their arrival), with thunderstorms and rain replacing the fine spring weather we’d been enjoying over the past few weeks.

If Sunday’s storm wasn’t enough, we had more yesterday and last night. Yes, another night when The Boss had to get up, get out and switch off our solar power electricity system.  It was all quite dramatic – with some incredibly loud claps of thunder that rattled every pane of glass in our little casa – but, here in our valley, there wasn’t anything like the quantity of rain that fell elsewhere on the island.

Deluge day

Just five minutes’ drive from our home is a winery and, last night, we saw on the local IB3 TV news that their cellar had been flooded. Today, the Majorca Daily Bulletin reports rainfall yesterday in Campos (in the south of Mallorca), of some 69 litres per square metre and, in Palma, 47 litres/sq.m. TV news footage and social media photos show that Palma took quite a hit too, with flooding on some major roads and trees brought down in the city centre. The Bulletin also reports that 360 bolts of lightning struck the island in less than three hours.

Having been the victims of bad weather (and a dodgy roof) in the past, we feel for those people across Mallorca who are mopping up the mess and assessing damage this morning. As I look out of the window at a benign spring day with sun shining from a blue sky, I can’t help wondering: who counts the bolts of lightning?

The storm approaches. Meanwhile, we were sipping coffee in the sunshine.

The storm approaches. Meanwhile, we were sipping coffee in the sunshine.

 

 

 

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Mallorca’s most impressive plant?

Our Mediterranean-style garden on Mallorca began simply enough, with just a few baby plants of the Agave americana variety – given to us by a kind neighbour. We duly planted them, fairly close together, not appreciating quite how large they would become in due course. Later, we transplanted the ‘babies’ the original plants produced, increasing our garden stock.

They’re majestic-looking architectural plants, but can be painful if you get too close: the needle-like spike on the end of each ‘leaf’ is devilishly sharp and can cause bruising if the skin is penetrated deeply enough. Both The Boss and I have experienced weeder’s bottom – in other words, been ‘got’ by one of these leaves, while clearing the earth that surrounds the plants of unwanted greenery.

One day our agaves will probably flower – it can take a dozen years or more before they do so – and, after the magnificent effort of producing their only bloom in life, they die. We’re hoping ours don’t all keel over at once – the garden would look devastated.

Agave . . . or asparagus?

Meanwhile, our English part-time neighbours and friends are facing the demise of a massive specimen of Agave americana. They think it’s probably been on their property for around 20 years. Once the central spike that heralded the start of the flower became visible, they started to monitor progress, keeping measurements and marvelling at the rapid pace of growth. There’s something almost alien about their appearance – the flower stalk of the Agave americana, not our neighbours. It soon resembled the world’s largest piece of asparagus. We were tempted to send a photo to Sainsbury’s vegetable buyer, but didn’t think the gesture would be appreciated . . .

Our friends have returned to the UK for a while, so we are monitoring progress, which seems now to have slowed somewhat. We don’t want them to miss that moment when the flower is in its full glory.  As you can see, there’s still have a little way to go . . .

It's the start of an agave flower, not a tree. Photo by The Boss.

It’s the start of an agave flower, not a tree. Photo by The Boss.

 

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Why thunderstorms and solar power are not a good combination

Until this week, we were having a rather unsettled spell of weather on Mallorca, with some much-needed (unless you were holidaying here) rain and some thunderstorms. The Boss and I quite enjoy watching a dramatic storm – and we do get a few – but we are always  wary about the damage that an electrical storm can do to solar power equipment. We have bitter experience, having suffered an invertor failure a few years ago during a particularly bad storm. The invertor was only three weeks old – and had cost a huge amount of money – so we were relieved to learn that the (expensive) repair was covered by our household insurance. And that our solar power system engineer would lend us an invertor until the repair could be done.

When he came back with our fixed original invertor,  he recommended that we switch off all our system equipment during future storms. So we now keep a weather eye open (pardon the pun) for any thunderhead clouds on the horizon or distant rumbling, and switch everything off if the storm arrives.

A rude awakening

This is fine during the day but, at night, it means somebody (and it’s always The Boss, because he’s gentlemanly like that) has to get up, go outside and dash down the field to the dependencia, where all the equipment is housed, to switch everything off. So thunderclaps at night don’t only wake us up, they can get us up too.

Four of our adoptees huddled in the window recess. Underneath three of them is little Peanut!

Four of our adoptees huddled in the window recess. Underneath three of them is little Peanut!

Hopefully last week’s overnight storm will be the last for a while. This week we’ve had temperatures in the low 30s (Celsius) and plenty of sunshine. Our cats disappear after breakfast to hide themselves from the heat – whereas, in stormy weather, they often like to gather together in the outside recess of our dining room window. As you can see, from a photo I took during last week’s bad weather, the pale ginger Peanut – the youngest of our adoptees – has been accepted by the rest of the family . . . even if it is only as a willing pillow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Things you can make from stone . . .

Our garden in rural Mallorca is filled with rocks and stones. If we wanted to build a wall or stone garden feature, the raw materials are there, just waiting to be plucked (although that does make the task sound easier than it is) and used in a creative way. We even know of someone who bought some land and built a whole house from the stones on the property!

Stone buildings and walls are found all over rural Mallorca and are evidence of the artisan skills of those who take this raw material and turn it into functional and beautiful things. But it’s not just buildings and walls that are created from the various types of stone that are found on the island: the town of Binissalem – at the heart of one of Mallorca’s two important DO wine production areas – is also an important centre for the craft of creating objects from stone.

A show in stone

We visited Binissalem yesterday for the first day of this weekend’s Fira de la Pedra y l’Artesania - where we saw numerous examples of what can be done with the island’s natural material, when you know what you’re doing with a chisel – and probably a few other tools. When we attend local artisan fairs we quite often buy something small to take home, as we like to support the local economy and particularly those people who are keeping traditional skills alive. Sadly even the smaller items here were a bit too heavy to carry back to the car (on the outskirts of the town), but we came away with lots of business cards . . . and some photos. To inspire The Boss.

Statue in front of the church in Binissalem.

Statue in front of the church in Binissalem.

A very solid BBQ

A very solid BBQ

A water feature combining polished and unpolished stone.

A water feature combining polished and unpolished stone.

 

Washbasins and a shower tray with style!

Washbasins and a shower tray with style!

 

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