A Flower Festival in Rural Mallorca

Display in Costitx flower festival

Costitx en Flor 2015

Last Friday we fell a tiny bit in love with a small village called Costitx, in the centre of Mallorca. Relatively few visitors to the island will have heard of it, let alone visited, but many will have flown over it – the village being under one of the flight paths across Mallorca. An impressive number of visitors – mainly Mallorcans – flooded into the village on May 1st for ‘Costitx en Flor’.

Rural Mallorca from near Costitx.

Beautiful views across Mallorca’s Pla to the mountains.

We reached Costitx via a (usually) quiet country lane off the main Manacor to Inca road (between Sineu and Inca) in an area of the island known as the Pla. There’s lovely surrounding countryside and views of the UNESCO World Heritage Serra de Tramuntana. The village itself has some interesting old architecture and several beautifully restored stone townhouses. If we had to live in a village, rather than open countryside, Costitx does have its attractions . . .

The village also has a few claims to fame – and not the sort of fame associated with the likes of Magaluf, or the more genteel mountain village of Deià.

Here are a few facts you could drop into a conversation about this lesser-known part of Mallorca:

Eyes to the Skies 

Costitx is home to the Observatori Astronòmic de Mallorca, opened in 1991.  Even after we’d bought our finca – but before we moved to Mallorca – we weren’t aware of its existence. I found out about it only during a BBC radio interview I did with an astronomy expert in north Oxfordshire, who told me the observatory was “very important”. The Observatory is also home to the Mallorca Planetarium.

Prehistoric Treasures 

Costitx is home to three prehistoric bronze bulls’ heads found on common land in 1894. Well preserved, and part of the Balearics’ remarkable Talayotic remains, they have their 21st-century home in the Son Corró Sanctuary. One of the streets in the village is named after these Caps de Bou de Costitx.

Political Heritage

In 1987, Costitx elected a mayor who became both famous and infamous. Every Mallorcan – and many non-Mallorcan island residents – will know of Maria Antònia Munar …

Blooming Fab!

Costitx flower festival in May.

Saying it with flowers: a welcome to ‘Costitx en Flor’

But it was last Friday’s ‘Costitx en Flor’ that wowed us. This annual flower festival sees the whole village decorated with flowers, with each street having its own themed display.

The creativity of the villagers, and hard work involved in putting this event together, are evidence of a real community spirit. We loved it and, if you’re on Mallorca next May 1st, it’s worth a visit if you appreciate flowers, handicrafts, and creativity.

Old denim jeans as flower receptacles

The street with the recycled jeans 

Bikes used to display flowers

The street with the bicycle and flower displays . . .

Jeans to display flowers

Jean genius

Alternative use for an old pneumatic tyre.

Old tyres given a new lease of life

Costitx en Flor

Streets closed to traffic – and open to floral displays

Costitx en Flor 2015

Take a seat … and add flowers

Alternative use for an old tyre.

Once a tyre … now a chicken

Costitx house doorway.

In the doorway of an old townhouse in Costitx

Old Mallorcan well outside house in Costitx.

Old well outside a Costitx house – complete with flowers in a recycled tyre

Embroidered flowers in Costitx.

Embroidery on a big scale!

Old stone arch in Costitx.

Archway to ‘cup and saucer alley’ in Costitx

Costitx flower festival May 1st

Anyone for a cuppa?

Costitx church.

Costitx church goes floral

Garden plants for sale on Mallorca.

Plants for sale – for those inspired by their visit to ‘Costitx en Flor’

 

 

 

Jan Edwards Copyright 2015

Pip’s Rite of Passage

We’ve had friends from the UK staying for eight nights at our finca in rural Mallorca and, during their time here, they have been entertained in fine style by Pip, the kitten that appeared to have been dumped just inside our main gates last September. She is the most lively and hilarious kitten I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience, and her antics never fail to make us laugh.

Tiny kitten on Mallorca

Pip on the morning after her arrival in September 2014

Because we already had a well-established ‘family’ of outdoor feral cats and our own elderly Birman living indoors, we initially considered finding another home for her. But Pip is still with us – and delighting us with her antics on a daily basis.

During our friends’ visit, Pip’s life changed dramatically: she became an outdoor cat full-time. As much as The Boss and I might have liked to have her safely indoors every night, it’s not really practical and, as we discovered this week, it’s not what she wants.

Pip’s ‘Apartment’

Until this week, she had been spending her nights in the bathroom of our guest annexe, where we set up a cat basket with blankets, a couple of cardboard boxes (because kittens just love them), her food and water dishes, litter tray, and a couple of toys. (We removed the loo roll from its holder in the early days of her occupation, after finding the whole roll unwound and totally shredded one morning; it looked like a snow scene in there).

We wanted to keep her indoors at night until she had grown to a good size, and become fully accepted by the other cats. And, of course, we had to have her sterilized before she started roaming and sharing her favours with any passing tom.

We’ve ‘put her to bed’ every evening as it’s started to get dark and she’s always been enthusiastic about entering her little ‘apartment’ for the night. In fact she’d become quite possessive about the annexe and, if either The Boss or I went to fetch something from these rooms, would race ahead of us to the door, almost like a teenager saying ‘That’s my room – keep out!’

But over the past fortnight she’s been showing less inclination to be indoors at night and more interest in being outside playing with her new ‘adopted’ siblings.

Pip’s Big Adventure

One night this week there was no sign of Pip at the appointed hour and, although we looked several times for her before we headed to our own bed, we didn’t see her again until the next morning, when she was waiting at the door for her breakfast – none the worse for her Big Night Out.

We have now put her basket outside under the covered terrace, in case she wants some familiar comforts, and leave our dining room window shutter open so she can curl up in the recess – one of her favourite chill-out spots.

Tortoiseshell kitten in window

Pip in the dining room window recess – a favourite place to watch the world go by

Pip has shown no further interest in her former part-time home and seems to be loving her new-found independence. It was good timing actually, as my uncle will soon be making it his temporary home for his spring holiday . . . after I’ve given it a very big spring clean!

Jan Edwards Copyright 2015 

Of Plants & Garden Centres in Mallorca

Osteospermum

Osteospermum thriving in the stony soil of our garden

I’ve just had my annual garden centre splurge, buying some plants for our finca in the Mallorcan countryside. Garden centre visits were rather more frequent when we lived in the UK, where these tempting places are also open on Sundays and offer much more than the average jardinería on Mallorca. Many of the UK versions sell decorative items for the home and garden, and have a café where you can indulge yourself in a mid-shop stop for refreshments.

In our early months of living on Mallorca, we were quite disappointed by the garden centres local to us – which were more like plant nurseries than those tempting places we knew in the UK. A favourite had been Burford Garden Company in the Cotswolds. Now that’s what I call a garden centre.

We did manage to find some decent plants and some helpful assistants in our local places, and were hopeful that we’d have a good show of colourful flowers later in the spring. Little did we know . . .

Dinner!

Within a week of planting our first purchases, there was nothing left to see. The rabbits – and there were many of them back then – had scoffed the lot! Since then we have become adopted by a family of feral cats (and a few feline hangers-on), and we have rarely seen any rabbits on our land. Can you blame them?

We also discovered that our land isn’t suitable for many plants, being mainly rocky and with only a shallow layer of poor-quality soil. Typical Mediterranean plants do well, but other plants struggle. Succulents, cacti, lavenders, rosemary, and osteospermum are among those plants that do well on our land.

The rabbit experience shaped our gardening habits. I started taking cuttings from existing plants, knowing that if the new plant died (or was eaten), it wouldn’t have cost us anything. Neighbours gave us ‘babies’ from their aloe veras and other succulents. I did invest in two climbing roses last year by mail order from David Austin; one quickly died, but the other is thriving.

A Recommended Garden Centre

My recommendation for a good garden centre on Mallorca? It would have to be Fronda (formerly known as Magatzem Verd) in Palma (it’s just off the Via Cintura and with a smaller branch near the Fan Shopping Centre at Coll d’en Rebassa). It’s probably because the place is most like the garden centres we knew and loved back in the UK. Unusually, on Mallorca, it’s open on Sundays – although we never shop on this day of the week. It doesn’t yet have a cafe, but maybe one day?

On Friday, I steered an enormous trolley around this garden centre, mentally spending a fortune on glorious colourful plants. In reality, it was just a few euros for the year’s new geraniums and herbs.

We must have saved a fortune on plant purchases since moving to Mallorca . . .

©Jan Edwards 2015

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

Jan Edwards Copyright 2015

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!

Jan Edwards Copyright 2015

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 . . .

 

 

Jan Edwards Copyright 2015

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 . . .

Jan Edwards Copyright 2015 

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 . . .

 

 

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.

Jan Edwards©2015

Getting to Grips With a Chainsaw

He may look as though he’s going to a fancy dress party as a lumberjack, but that man in the safety helmet, thick goggles, ear defenders, and gauntlets of the calibre usually worn by falconers, means business. Actually, it’s The Boss. And he looks pretty scary carrying his new chainsaw. I wouldn’t want to tell him that I’d scorched the collar of his favourite shirt with the iron…

Underneath all that mean-looking safety gear, he’s actually beaming, because if ever there was a tool to make a man feel super-macho, it’s a chainsaw. The noise, the speed, the power…it’s the perfect package. Unless, of course, the damned thing won’t start.

Temperamental Tools

Like lawnmowers, chainsaws can be annoyingly temperamental. As The Boss found out when he first hired one to tackle a few jobs around the land.  The demonstration at the local hire shop made operating the chainsaw look easy enough, but when the eager hirer arrived home, the machine refused to start. Totally. Mind you, its condition suggested that it had probably already cleared one South American rain forest and – like lots of South American people – had moved to Mallorca in the hope of an easier life.

Next step was to buy a chainsaw of his own, and the island’s answer to B&Q just happened to have a special offer on chainsaws. So special, in fact, that alarm bells should have rung. Like its hired predecessor, it refused to start when we got it home. The Boss, by now in something of a bad mood, drove all the way back to Palma (an hour’s journey), where it obligingly roared into life for one of the store assistants, terrifying two elderly Spanish women who were browsing nearby.

Back at the finca, the chainsaw had clearly decided it was probably time to stop messing around and do a bit of work. Dead branches were sliced off almond trees and, a few hours later, there was a pile of neatly cut logs left to season in the sunshine. Sadly, that was the last day the thing ever worked.  The store sent us to the local approved service agent (the fault was not apparently covered by the warranty), who declared it “beyond economical repair”. A strongly worded letter was written to the manufacturer’s chief executive,  who – being Italian and probably unable to read English – probably balled it up and threw it into the bin.

It would be some time before anyone mentioned chainsaws again in our house…

Jan Edwards©2012