Mallorca’s Countryside is Paradise on Two Wheels

A wheely good way to see Mallorca – if you’re not head down!

Through the open kitchen window I heard a German-accented “Halloooo?” calling hopefully from the lane outside our gates. It was another group of lost Lycra-clad cyclists needing directions to the Mallorcan resort of Ca’n Picafort, which becomes the base for huge numbers of visiting cyclists at this time of the year.

The cyclists who find themselves lost in our rural haven mistakenly assume it’s possible to reach the appropriate main road by means of the enticing narrow lane through our picturesque secluded valley. Like their many predecessors, they freewheeled down the lane at great speed, yelling with exhilaration and shattering the tranquillity of our bucolic idyll. They are somewhat quieter on the return journey, having arrived at the lane’s dead end right down in the valley and had to slog all the way back up the hill. Sometimes I wonder if we should buy a defibrillator – just in case.

What? No Formula 1 Here?

Although it happened in our early years here, we still remember one strange Sunday afternoon encounter with a lone German cyclist, who spoke little English or Spanish. He was looking for a restaurant and became quite agitated when we explained that the nearest was some 10 kilometres away, in the town of Manacor. We gave him directions, but he seemed reluctant to leave.

It was a surprisingly hot day and his red face glistened with sweat, so we offered him a cold drink, which he declined. Then he spluttered: “Schumacher! Schumacher!”. I peered at the lean face under the cycling helmet, wondering if we were indeed in the presence of motor-racing greatness. Then the centimo dropped: he wanted to know what was happening in the F1 Grand Prix race that afternoon. He was unimpressed to hear that we had no television or Internet (at that time), so couldn’t update him on his fellow countryman’s progress, and after spitting out a string of German words, he hauled himself onto the saddle and was on his way.

Most of the cyclists we encounter, though, are pleasant (and grateful to find someone who knows the area and speaks English).

A Wheel Paradise

Mallorca is a pedaller’s paradise at this time of year and it’s easy to understand why. The climate is better than in Northern Europe – where many of the visiting cyclists come from; Mallorca has a superb road network of 1,250 kilometres (just over half of which are secondary or rural roads, carrying little traffic), and an extensive network of cycling routes.

The terrain of the island offers something for every level of experience and fitness: from the flat agricultural plains at the heart of the island, through to the switchback roads weaving through the soaring Tramuntana mountain range. Everyone – from the holidaymaker who wants to see the island in a more environmentally way, to the amateur athletes competing in events such as triathlons, to top pro cycling teams, Mallorca has it all.

Slow Travel

Not everyone who comes here to cycle does so in Lycra. There are also travel companies catering for people who want a slower-paced holiday, cycling leisurely through glorious scenery on roads that are safer than back at home.

On one occasion, whilst pottering in the garden, we could hear English voices in the lane. We looked out of the gate and saw a middle-aged man and woman pushing their bicycles up the steep hill. They looked weary, so we invited them to join us for tea on the terrace – an offer they accepted with smiles on their faces.

We spent an agreeable hour or so chatting – during which we discovered that the man worked in Oxford (where I had worked in radio for ten years). Small world, eh? Although not serious cyclists, they’d been enjoying the beautiful scenery during their two-wheeled meanderings around northeast Mallorca. Like many cyclotourists, they intended to return to Mallorca. Perhaps the next “hallo” called from the gate will be theirs.

A Google search will produce details of numerous companies offer cycling holiday packages in Mallorca. If you’re coming to cycle here independently, here are three hotels geared up (sorry about the pun) to the needs of their guests on two wheels: Petit Hotel Son Arnau in Selva; Castell Son Claret in the Es Capdella countryside, and Finca Serena, in the rural heartland of Mallorca.

Jan Edwards ©2020

Royal Navy Warship Docks in Palma

Sometimes The Boss and I do things that seem a world away from our peaceful daily life in rural Mallorca. In recent weeks we’ve been to see singer George Benson in an outdoor concert in the superyacht marina Port Adriano; I didn’t expect to be doing that when we moved to the island.

Last Saturday we attended a gala dinner and concert at the beautiful 5-star Castell Son Claret hotel near the small village of Es Capdellà. Six young singers from the Salzburg Festival performed on the hotel’s huge terrace to an appreciative international audience; that’s something else we never expected to be able to do here.

Castell Son Claret

Huw Montague Rendall and Anita Rosati of the Young Singers of the Salzburg Festival on stage

Drinks on a NATO Warship

But last night’s experience was as remote from rural living as any I’ve had since we moved to Mallorca in 2004: I was a guest at a reception on the British warship HMS Duncan, which docked in Palma on a stopover on Monday. The ship had just led a NATO task force through one of the largest naval exercises staged in the Black Sea. HMS Duncan is the flagship for Standing Maritime Group 2 – one of two task forces for larger warships operated by NATO.

Ship's bell on HMS Duncan

Was tempted to give this one a little ring …

I must confess I hadn’t heard of HMS Duncan – not being very well informed when it comes to matters military. A few minutes’ research later and I discovered that this was in fact the seventh Royal Navy ship to be named after Adam Duncan, the 18th-century Viscount Duncan of Camperdown, who defeated the Dutch fleet in the Battle of Camperdown in 1797.

This latest incarnation of HMS Duncan is a Type 45 Destroyer, although it looked quite benign under the early evening sunshine in Palma’s port, docked opposite a cruise ship. It has a crew of around 200, led by Commander Eleanor Stack (quite a few of the ship’s senior officers, including the Logistics Officer, are women). We guests (sadly, The Boss wasn’t on the invitation list) were able to chat and mingle with officers and crew, as well as each other. Oh and there were drinks (although I didn’t spot a drop of rum) and canapés.

Surprises all Around

I had no idea what to expect of this evening, never before having been on an active Royal Navy vessel. Dress code for guests was ‘smart’. I avoided anything navy blue or white and opted for a long summer dress – perfect for the warm night. Luckily common sense prevailed in the shoe department and I shunned the strappy high-heeled numbers for something flatter: ever tried walking up a naval ship’s metal gangway? It’s slippery…

Fears that I might accidentally knock a button or switch and launch something of an anti-missile nature were allayed shortly after wandering around the deck. It seemed surprisingly devoid of controls and equipment – apart from a rather impressive helicopter. But there was information in spades, as the hospitable members of the crew readily answered questions fired in their direction.

Helicopter on HMS Duncan

HMS Duncan’s impressive helicopter.

Helicopter pilot and his machine

Trying to persuade the pilot to let me inside his helicopter. Note his special pilot’s cummerbund.

Of course, security was tight – we had to provide ID papers – and a few heavily armed guards patrolled the area around the entrance to the ship. Assuming that photography wouldn’t be allowed, I’d left my faithful Nikon at home, so was surprised to see other guests avidly snapping away in all directions. I checked with a crew member that it was OK to use my phone camera and he laughed, pointing out the flags lining the hangar area: “Look, we decorated the place especially!”

HMS Duncan

Decorated for the visitors.

Duncan tartan

Not my hand on this sailor’s Duncan-tartan cummerbund!

Royal Navy

No idea what these mean, but they look impressive.

HMS Duncan

On the canvas-covered deck of HMS Duncan.

Guests at reception on HMS Duncan

Long-distance swimmer Anna Wardley (centre) was among the guests.

RN sunset ceremony

Time to lower the flag. The cruise ship passengers probably enjoyed this too.

Towards the end of the reception we watched the ship’s traditional sunset ceremony, as the flag was lowered for the night. I found it quite moving and it prompted one of those proud-to-be-British moments that have been a bit rare since the EU Referendum. It was almost time for some of the sailors to prepare for a fun night out in Magaluf.

My phone-camera photos weren’t too good but they’re a reminder of a fascinating evening on a Royal Navy warship. Can we top that experience in Mallorca? Only time will tell…

©Jan Edwards 2017