Living in rural Mallorca

Country life in an old Mallorcan finca

We choose the rural life . . . for as long as possible

Fountain in Plaza de la Reina, in Palma de Mallorca

Plaza de la Reina, Palma de Mallorca

Last weekend British broadsheet newspaper ‘The Sunday Times’ named Palma de Mallorca as the world’s best city to live in – an accolade that has since been doing the rounds of social media among those of us who know and love the city.

Although we are very happy country dwellers, on a finca in rural Mallorca, we enjoy visiting the island’s capital on a fairly regular basis. Palma is a city with a lot to offer: a rich history, wonderful architecture, museums and art galleries, theatres, excellent independent restaurants, bars, cafes, beaches, and a year-round programme of cultural and traditional events.

Casal Solleric, Palma de Mallorca

Casal Solleric in Palma de Mallorca – one of the city’s many cultural centres

“Like being in a village”

The previous owners of our finca – who have become dear friends – sold this place when its maintenance became too much for them, and now own a charming palacio apartment in the heart of Palma. They describe living there (which they do for various periods of time during the year) as “like being in a village”, because people in the local shops and other businesses always greet them like neighbours – and everything our friends need is within a short walk of their home. Their apartment is easy maintenance and they don’t need to own a car – hiring one when necessary.

Gran Hotel, Palma de Mallorca

The former Gran Hotel in Palma de Mallorca . . . another cultural centre.

These friends are older than us, and we can imagine that, in years to come, we too may wish to lighten our labour load by moving somewhere that’s easier to look after. It’s not a conversation we’ve really had in earnest yet, hoping that we have a good few years before it becomes necessary. But where would we move to?

This is certainly an issue worth bearing in mind if you’re contemplating the purchase of a finca later in life. What would you do if you could no longer physically maintain it (or afford to have someone else do it)?

Selling a rural property to move back to your home country can be an expensive business – and we have known people who have returned to the UK and regretted the move. Reinvesting in another main residence in Spain leads to some relief on the capital gains tax resulting from the original property sale – in itself a good reason to stay in Spain.

Looking ahead

Financial matters aside, we love living on Mallorca and hope that – if and when the time comes – we shall find another home somewhere on the island where we will be as happy as we are here. It could be in Palma de Mallorca – the world’s best city in which to live – but something tells me that property prices in the heart of the capital could be set to soar.

Until then, we’re happy to live in rural Mallorca and visit Palma when we choose to. As much as we love the island’s vibrant and sophisticated capital, we always say that it’s easier to find some buzz and bustle when you live in the country than it is to find some peace and space living in a city . . .

Cat napping in the sun

A nap in perfect peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Moving to Mallorca? Prepare to have house guests!

Suitcase packed for holiday on Mallorca

“We’ve arrived!”

“Visitors and fish stink after three days.”  Those words were apparently spoken by the 18th-century American statesman Benjamin Franklin.  We’ve heard variations on that quote several times since we’ve lived on Mallorca, and some horror stories of house guests nobody should have to tolerate. Fortunately we’ve not had cause to use the phrase ourselves.

It’s a sure bet that if you move to Mallorca – or any other place where people like to holiday – your popularity will suddenly soar. In our first year here we had 11 lots of guests come to stay – and most of those would have experienced living with no usable electricity sockets and only the benefit of two hours’ lighting a night. Their curiosity about our new life satisfied, some of them haven’t returned!

As the years have passed, our visitor numbers have thankfully settled down to a more reasonable level. In that first summer, the guest room mattress barely had time to cool down between visitors and, although it was fun, hosting so many visitors was also more tiring than we could ever have imagined. With fewer people coming to stay these days we find ourselves looking forward more to our next visitors.

In less than four weeks we’ll be welcoming our first house guests of 2015: our great friends Duncan and Kristina. We know we’ll have a fun week, with lots of good food and excellent Mallorcan wines. Our only challenge will be fitting everything we’d like to do into our week together.

Here are a few tips – based on our experiences – about dealing with requests from people who want to come and stay:

  • If they haven’t been in touch with you for years, think carefully about their motives for wanting to visit. Cheap holiday? (Sounds suspicious, I know, but I do know someone who allowed an old out-of-touch friend to come and stay with her. The ‘friend’ used her place as a vacation station, disappearing out every day after breakfast and only reappearing at bedtime, and they spent barely any time together).
  • Keep a note of any visits on a chart – that way you can conveniently see what’s already scheduled when you receive a request.
  • Give yourself sufficient time between visits to deal with household, work, and personal matters. You’ll probably eat and drink more than usual when you have visitors, so your liver and waistline may appreciate some recovery time.
  • If you’ve not yet experienced the heat of August on Mallorca, think twice about accepting any bookings for  that month. August is for doing as little as possible!

Do you have any nightmare guest experiences to share? Go on, tell us what happened!

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From Mallorca to the UK . . .

Leaving the finca – for anything more than the occasional night away in a hotel on Mallorca – is not very practical. With eight cats – including our Birman, who lives indoors – we can’t just throw stuff into a bag and head off somewhere for a few days. It’s one of the reasons we haven’t had a proper holiday since we moved here, apart from a few days in Seville – when some kind, animal-loving friends looked after our brood a few years ago.

Hardly plane-sailing

So when my cousin’s husband died suddenly recently, I returned to the UK for the funeral alone, leaving The Boss in charge of everything at home. My blog was neglected as I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to find flights that were (a) into conveniently located airports, and (b) didn’t cost more than a week’s package holiday on Mallorca! Air links between Mallorca and the UK are woefully inadequate during the winter months, but things could improve next winter, as the Majorca Daily Bulletin has mounted quite a campaign  . . .

The disappearance of Shorty

Shorty relaxing in the largest plant pot in the garden.

Shorty relaxing in the largest plant pot in the garden.

To add to the stress of the past few weeks, Shorty – the ginger feral cat in our glaring – disappeared. He’s a very affectionate cat, who enjoys a cuddle. Or, more accurately, often demands one. He’s also very greedy and was never known to miss a meal.  When he didn’t turn up for breakfast one morning, it was strange enough. As the days passed, and my trip loomed, I began to fear the worst.

In the more densely populated UK, we would have wandered around the vicinity of our home, checking with neighbours that he hadn’t become shut in a shed or garage, or made himself at home with them. Here, where we are largely surrounded by fields, enclosed within dry-stone walls, looking for a missing cat is not so easy. We did, however, search the sides of the lanes to satisfy ourselves that he hadn’t been in a road accident.

Slimline cat returns

When I left Mallorca, The Boss promised to let me know immediately if Shorty returned, but there had been no news about him by the time I returned. But, to our great surprise and delight, the ginger one nonchalantly rocked up for breakfast on Wednesday this week – as though he’d never missed a meal.

Shorty had become somewhat barrel-like over the winter, because of his greed, and returned to us looking rather more streamlined. Where had he been? We’ll never know – but it could have been fat-cat boot camp . . .

 

 

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Manacor’s chicken roundabout

Chickens. I think I’ve previously mentioned my hankering to have a few at our finca in rural Mallorca. I’ve had a thing about chickens since I was a young teenager and we had a family holiday in North Wales, staying in a cottage on a farm. Every time I went outside, chickens would appear all around my feet, and then follow me as I explored the farm. I’ve even chosen a few names for my ‘gals’. . .

In theory, we live in a great place to keep chickens. Our land includes a large open field, where I can imagine these feathered lovelies roaming happily around, pecking at the ground. All we would need would be a safe warm home for them at night. We have no foxes on Mallorca, but we occasionally see polecats – and friends of ours had their flock devastated by one of these. So it would need to be a very secure home.

Besides the sound of contented clucking chickens, and their company when you’re outside, there’d be the benefit of a regular supply of free-range eggs. We’d probably have more than we need (I’m not keen on eating eggs and wouldn’t want The Boss to become egg-bound), but the excess would make useful thank-you gifts for those neighbours who sometimes give us some of their garden produce.

Sense beats sentiment

Alas, it’s not to be. The Boss (who is far more practical than I am) has on several occasions pointed out why keeping chickens wouldn’t be such a good idea. And he’s right on all counts – particularly the one that says free-roaming chickens and our seven feral ‘adoptee’ cats all on one finca could get messy.

King of the coop? Some of the roundabout residents.

King of the coop? Some of the roundabout residents.

So, I’ve been getting my chicken fix elsewhere. On the busy ring road (the Ferrocarril) in Manacor, there’s a roundabout (Plaza de Madrid) with shrubs in the middle that’s become home to a flock of chickens. They’ve been there for ages – probably more than a year; we usually see them several times a week, and are always on the look-out for the latest flurry of fluffy chicks. These chickens rarely seem to stray away from their roundabout and the traffic doesn’t seem to bother them.

"How's our Facebook page doing?"

“How’s our Facebook page doing?”

Manacor’s famous feathered friends

We have often thought they were rather vulnerable in town, with only the shelter of some bushes to protect them. What about passing cats and canines? Sadly, on Saturday, their lack of protection was evident. We spotted four bodies and a lot of scattered feathers on the grass; the rest of the flock had survived whatever had attacked them, but it must have been a terrifying incident for them all.

I imagine we’re not the only ones who were upset to see what had happened: the citizens of Manacor have really taken their feathered neighbours to heart, and people regularly throw food onto the roundabout for them. These clucky birds even have their own Facebook page – Ses Galines de sa rotonda. When I looked just now, 2,876 people had liked it (an increase of more than 30 since I checked last Thursday). And I bet you can guess who one of them was . . .

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Keep the Mallorca home fires burning

Not a snowflake in sight as the tractor scoops up our logs.

Not a snowflake in sight as the tractor scoops up our logs.

It’s extremely cold on Mallorca right now. Anyone who’s visited our lovely Mediterranean island only during the warmer months may find that hard to believe, but it’s all relative. We find 5 degrees Celsius (which it was this afternoon at 4pm) very cold compared to the summer temperatures here, which are often in the thirties. And let’s not mention the bone-penetrating dampness . . .

Quite a lot of snow has fallen on Mallorca’s Tramuntana mountains, leaving three roads (at time of writing) impassable. February is the coldest month on the island and it’s not unusual to see snow atop the loftiest peaks of the UNESCO World Heritage Site mountains. This year we’ve had snow on lower ground too. Over the past couple of days it has settled in various locations from Artà in the northeast, down to the southwest, including the capital Palma de Mallorca.

Because we don’t see a lot of snow on the island, a lot of people are Very Excited about it. Especially those in broadcasting. I remember what it was like when it snowed when I was a radio presenter in the UK.  Snow stories have dominated the news and topical magazine programmes here on local TV station IB3, with well-wrapped reporters broadcasting live from barely recognizable snow-swathed locations. Well, it makes a pleasant change from news of political corruption and interminable court cases. And we have learned the mallorquín word for snow – neu – which, under normal circumstances here, probably won’t be that useful.

But have we seen any snow in our valley? Not a flake. All we’ve had is rain and bitterly cold weather. The cold spell looks set to continue a little longer, so we stocked up on logs this afternoon, heading to the town of Porreres with our trailer for a double load of almond, olive, and Holm oak wood. We’ve found yet another log supplier and, although we have to pay ten euros more to fill our trailer than at the last place, the wood has what The Boss calls “good burning qualities.”

Now all we have to do is unload the trailer and stack the logs. But it’s far too cold for that today . . .

 

 

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Blessing the animals in Manacor, Mallorca

Fabulous fabrics in traditional local costume

Fabulous fabrics in traditional local costume

Something that has always impressed us, living in rural Mallorca, is the islanders’ passion for keeping local traditions alive. Young and old take part in the various festivities throughout the year – such as last weekend’s Sant Antoni fiestas.

What particularly impresses me is the willingness of teenage boys and young men to dress up in traditional costume (which includes voluminous  trousers), and engage in activities such as the local folk dance known as ball de bot.

I remember a male work colleague in the UK ‘coming out’ to me about his Morris dancing hobby. He lived in the same village as us and knew that I was bound to spot him performing locally with his troupe, but asked me not to mention it to anyone else at work. There seems not to be any similar embarrassment here among young guys who are doing their bit to keep  Mallorcan traditions alive – and isn’t that great?

Last Saturday we attended one of the annual animal blessings ceremonies that take place around the island to mark Sant Antoni (January 17th). Locals take pets and farm animals and process through the streets to the place where the local priest is stationed to bless each one as it passes. He must have had a very sore throat by the time he blessed the beast at the back of the long queue . . .

Cute kids in costume on a float

Cute kids in costume on a float

Dimonis are everywhere - and some are pretty scary!

Dimonis are everywhere – and some are pretty scary!

Another float on parade

Another float on parade

Not a dimoni you'd want to meet in a dark alley!

Not a dimoni you’d want to meet in a dark alley!

"Does my bum look big in this?"

“Does my bum look big in this?”

It’s a well-attended and charming event in Manacor, with plenty of cute “ooh” and “aah” moments. As well as individuals walking along with their pets, there are floats decorated with a rural theme and bearing people and farm animals, and the dimonis – or demons – that are a fixture at so many traditional events on Mallorca. The main streets are closed for several hours and lined with spectators – some of them seated on dining chairs brought out from their houses for more comfortable viewing.

Sunshine  meant it wasn't too chilly for a chinchilla!

Sunshine meant it wasn’t too chilly for a chinchilla!

A billy with a bottle

A billy with a bottle

Mallorcan traditions are for young and old alike

Mallorcan traditions are for young and old alike

Among the many animals that the priest blessed in Manacor last weekend were a chinchilla, dogs in traditional (human) costume, cats on leads, and even a hawk of some type, perched on its owner’s hand. We also saw a rather handsome billy goat.

As I write, some of the people who put so much effort into their costumes and decorated floats, will already be planning for next month’s big carnival weekend . . . another great tradition embraced with gusto.

Please note that all photos on http://www.livingonruralmallorca.com are my own unless otherwise stated.

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Rural Sant Antoni celebrations on Mallorca

The first time we were invited to join some mallorquín neighbours at their farm for a Sant Antoni celebration, I spent some time planning what we should take as a contribution to the communal supper. I settled on a dessert – a classic tarte tatin – and was both surprised and delighted when it turned out to look like the best one I’d ever baked.

When we arrived at the farm that chilly January evening in our early time of living on rural Mallorca, I added our contribution to the long table, which was covered with platters brought by other guests. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for originality when I noticed that my tarte tatin was the only dessert that wasn’t a Mallorcan ensaïmada.

Get with the traditions!

Later that evening, when most platters were left with only ensaïmada crumbs, and my tarte tatin was barely touched (except by The Boss), it dawned on me that it was the tradition to end a celebratory meal with ensaïmada.

We were there again this year, but without a tarte tatin. As usual, the feasting was done at a row of long plastic white tables and chairs set up in the farm’s spacious garage/storage room, decorated with handwritten Sant Antoni-related messages. We shared this space with a couple of cars, and a large flat-screen TV that had been brought out so that guests – who also included a couple of Germans, another English couple, an Israeli and his South African wife, and a dozen or so Mallorcans – could keep an eye on the IB3 TV coverage of Sant Antoni events in Manacor. I don’t think anyone really paid the broadcast any attention: we were having too much fun of our own!

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Some impromptu singing at the BBQ by our hosts and some of their friends

Some impromptu singing at the BBQ by our hosts and some of their friends

Pass the ximbomba

Pass the ximbomba

This is how it's done

This is how it’s done

Sparklers added more fun to our festivities

Sparklers added more fun to our festivities

After a very traditional Sant Antoni feast, a couple of bottles of home-made hierbas (the local herb liqueur) was passed around the table, and it was time for a sing-song and the playing of the ximbomba – an essential musical instrument for Sant Antoni celebrations, which looks a bit like a drum with a stick through the top of it. The playing method is rather suggestive – using a wetted hand to rub up and down the cane stuck into the drum part – and the resulting sound is the sort of farty noise that would have small English children giggling with delight. Several guests had a turn with the ximbomba – which isn’t as easy to play as its simple appearance may suggest. Every effort produced gales of laughter around the table – and prompted another toast with hierbas to the saint whose life we were celebrating. There would be sore heads in the morning . . .

Visca Sant Antoni! Long life Sant Antoni!

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No Pip squeaks during another trip to the vet’s

Pre-op spruce-up for little Pip

Pre-op spruce-up for little Pip

Pip – who arrived at our finca as a tiny kitten (almost certainly abandoned) – has this week joined the growing list of felines we’ve had neutered since we have lived in rural Mallorca. At around six months of age, she was beginning to show signs of coming into oestrous. With a large, rather aggressive tom often wandering through our finca, on the prowl for the kind of action she would soon have been willing to offer him, it was time for yet another visit to our excellent local vet’s in Manacor.

The cute little poppet had previously been there shortly after her arrival, where she had been photographed, fussed, examined, and presented with her own passport (after being vaccinated). Unlike Minstral (our Birman, who lives indoors) and the rest of our adopted glaring – all ferals – she doesn’t seem to mind travelling in the car and didn’t utter a single squeak from inside her carrying case.

Pip was sterilized on Tuesday morning, and the patient is now supposedly taking it easy for a few days. She had a short supervised outing in this morning’s warm sunshine, on the terrace, bouncing about like a little lamb. Apart from the shaved patch on her flank and the dressing over the incision wound, you’d never know she’d had an operation.

Her sterilization wasn’t the only thing the vet dealt with. Apparently our pretty kitty also had acne on her chin, which has now been treated. Who knew that cats could get the condition most often associated with the trials of teenage life? We certainly didn’t. It seems there’s always something new to learn when you have cats in your life . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The fiestas continue in January on Mallorca

I remember January in the UK as a rather dull month, after the Christmas and New Year festivities. It’s all a bit different, since we came to live in rural Mallorca . . .

For a start, the Spanish celebrate the arrival of The Three Kings – who bring gifts to children on the night of January 5th (the 6th – the Christian festival of Epiphany – is a public holiday here).

By the time the gift wrapping is in the local paper recycling bin the Mallorcans are already gearing up for the Sant Antoni Abad fiestas, celebrated on January 16th and 17th (the Saint’s day).

No cold feet for Antoni

Antoni was not a Mallorcan, but an Egyptian monk who lived in the desert. The Devil – disguised as a woman – visited him there and tried to tempt him with ‘her’ charms. Antoni’s way of resisting temptation? He walked across some burning embers to suppress his lustful thoughts. That would do it . . .

A few centuries ago, when rye crops in the agricultural area around Sa Pobla were decimated by a poisonous fungus, the islanders remembered Sant Antoni and the power of fire to overcome evil spirits. Believing that these spirits were to blame for the loss of their crops, they lit bonfires to ward them off.

The bonfires continue in the 21st century, as part of the fiestas to celebrate the Saint’s day (January 17th). These are fiestas for the towns and villages with a rural heritage, and our nearest town, Manacor, is one of several places on Mallorca that really make the most of this fiesta.

On a country walk recently we spotted some people preparing for Sant Antoni.

On a country walk recently we spotted some people preparing for Sant Antoni.

Manacor goes to town

The main event is on the evening of the 16th, when bonfires are lit and effigies of the Devil are burned. Locals indulge in torrades, cooking botifarrons and other types of sausage over fires, and local brews such as hierbas – the famous Mallorcan herb liqueur. There’s music, traditional Mallorcan dancing (ball de bot), and it’s all very jolly. Many Mallorcans have told us that this is their favourite fiesta of the year.

Manacor council has published a 24-page brochure (in mallorquín) for the Sant Antoni 2015 festivities, also available online at http://www.manacor.org. It’s a lavish affair, detailing the programme of Sant Antoni-related events (which started on January 9th and end on 17th). Oh, and for those who like a sing-song, the words of the traditional Sant Antoni songs are helpfully included.

There’s a competitive element to the fiesta too, with monetary prizes for the best bonfires, floats, costumes, and more.

The programme shows the route of the procession of floats, bands, dignatories, and demonis (devils) on Friday 16th, starting at 7pm. At 8pm the first bonfire is traditionally lit outside the Rectory in the town centre – and after that all the other bonfires can be lit. At 10.30pm, there’s dancing in the Plaça de Ramon Llull. It’s a long night, but with an early start next morning for many . . .

It’s not over until it’s over

 

Taking his dog to be blessed

Taking his dog to be blessed

Pets on parade

Pets on parade

On January 17th – the feast of Sant Antoni Abad (the patron saint of animals) – locals bring their pets and animals to be blessed by the local priest. It’s a colourful and often cute procession of humans and animals, walking, riding on horseback, or on floats. In Manacor, the procession assembles at 9.30am, for the 10.30am parade. (Times, and even the day, may vary in different towns and villages). After the blessings, it’s time to go home and recover: January 17th is a public holiday in Manacor.

Apart from the public events, there are many Sant Antoni celebrations in small rural communities and we are spending at least part of the evening of the 16th at a farm in our valley, invited by our Mallorcan neighbours to join in their fun.

As they say in these parts, molts d’anys.

 

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A walk on Mallorca cut short

When we lived in Oxfordshire we often did long Sunday hikes in the beautiful Cotswolds but, since moving to Mallorca, our walking seems to have been mainly along beaches, seafront promenades, or in the lanes of our rural valley. And usually at a fairly leisurely pace. My hiking boots hadn’t had a decent outing for a few years, but last week we decided to mark the start of the new year with a walk in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tramuntana mountains.

After a long period of hiking abstinence, we were breaking ourselves back in gently. We drove to the mountains and the monastery of Lluc – a place of incredible peace and beauty (even more so outside the tourist season). There’s a walk up to a large cross at the top of Calvary hill, behind the monastery, and that was to be the starting point for our hike. Once we’d done that, we’d decide where to walk next.

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Lluc from Calvary hill

Lluc from Calvary hill

Oh crumbs!

As we neared the top, The Boss noticed that I was leaving a small trail of crumbly black material in my wake: the soles of my hiking boots (a few years old, but worn only a few times) were disintegrating with every step. By the time we’d made it up to the cross and back down to the car park, there was little left of what had once been my boot soles. I walked gingerly back to the car like a reluctant penitent who’d chickened out of walking barefoot by wearing thick socks. Ouch.

Snaking in the pass

Our walking cut short, we did something I thought we’d never do: drove the twisting mountain pass down to Sa Calobra. The Boss won’t mind me mentioning that he used to have a problem with heights. There was a time when he never would have contemplated driving (or even being a passenger) along this snaking 12km stretch of highway. Since we moved to Mallorca his dislike of heights seems to have disappeared but still I was shocked when he suggested that we drive along Mallorca’s most renowned stretch of road.

Not a white knuckle in sight . . .

Not a white knuckle in sight . . .

A perfect fine weather winter drive

Italian engineer Antonio Paretti was the visionary behind this fabulous mountain pass, which he carefully designed to avoid destroying the mountain scenery, and to create a gradual descent to the waterfront hamlet of Sa Calobra. In winter you’re unlikely to meet a coach packed with tourists coming the other way, taking more than its fair share of the tarmac, so – in good clear weather – it’s an ideal time to do this drive.

The ribbon-like road snakes through the mountains

The ribbon-like road snakes through the mountains

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The Sa Calobra pass requires a decent degree of driver concentration, but it’s a truly awesome journey for car passengers. If Signor Paretti’s genius road had had a few more miradores – viewing points – we’d have been able to stop safely and I’d have taken better photos, rather than fuzzy images from a moving car. Perhaps we’ll drive it again one day – or better still, fly over it in a helicopter. Now that would be something . . .

Destination Sa Calobra below

Destination Sa Calobra below

 

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