It’s difficult to discuss Mallorca without calling in the breathtaking vistas and cliff top castle keeps that played front and center in the 2016 BBC adaptation of the John Le Carré thriller, The Night Manager.
The island, the largest of the Belearic archipelago off the southeast coast of Spain, has long been a holiday haven for sun-starved Brits and Germans, who fly in through the charters and soak up the action at mass-tourism beach resorts. However, the series amped up the island’s appeal with some leading man magic courtesy of Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine and Hugh Laurie as Richard Roper, “the worst man in the world.”
For business travelers, Mallorca is an easy 2.5-hour flight from Gatwick and Berlin, but a destination apart when it comes to “bleisure” time well spent.
Just over 1,400 square miles, the island is large and not all of it is worth the exploration. There are expanses of flat lands reserved for agriculture that the rich volcanic soil engenders. Food tours abound here with varieties of olives, oranges, lemons, grapes and culinary traditions that leave visitors reeling in a swirl of tastes and aromas.
Anchoring in Port de Soller
Most visitors will want to hub around the island’s cities, mountains, historic touch points, beaches and medieval town centers where it is as easy to sink back into the 1960s – considered the start of the island’s transformation as a tourism hot spot – as it is to the 1560s.
For some real R&R a top suggestion would to stay and hub at Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa. The luxury property, part of the Jumeirah Group based in Dubai, offers 121 rooms and suites with stunning views of the Mediterranean and Tramuntana Mountain range that was recently declared a UNESCO Heritage site.
A short hike from the hotel to highest point on the island brings the reward of finding the ruins of Picada Tower, completed in 1622 as a vantage to protect the island from pirate attacks. The location of the hotel above a town near the northwest corner of Mallorca, is within easy reach of the international airport and the island capital, but far enough away from the fray to get the peace of a vacation experience.
While dining at the Jumeirah brings some of the best views to be found on the island, wandering the idyllic town of Port de Soller brings its own special pleasures. The town was one of The Night Manager’s featured locales, but even without Jonathan Pine, visitors will be treated to a quintessential Mediterranean harbor backdrop with shops, wine bars and outdoor bistros overlooking a seascape of mega-yachts.
But this is just the port. Take the Soller Train, a narrow gage local, from the Port to the town of Soller with an €8 ($10) and 15-minute investment. The train is as much a part of Soller’s history as it is a tourist activity today. Beginning at the turn of the 20th century, the train transported agricultural commodities and farmers to the port for selling and shipping to the mainland.
A connecting train, not as primitive and with more comfortable seats, costs €32 ($37.50) one way (including Port de Soller) and travels a little more than an hour to arrive in the center of Palma from where the Old City, great shopping, museums and historic sites spread out within easy walking distances.
Soller, however, offers many of its own high points. Pedestrian passages dominate the town center: a medieval fantasyland of boutiques, bookstores, bistros, Spanish steps leading to ornate villas and gardens, and a modernist museum worthy of a contemplative hour. There, find ceramics by Picasso, engravings by Joan Miro and a mélange of temporary exhibitions by regional artists.
Also meriting a stop is the Agricultural Cooperative of Bartolomé, just up the road from Soller city center. A gift shop shows off all the products that can be made from the aromatic citrus fruits, olive oil, honey, flower essences borne from the harsh volcanic hills around the town. Tours are available and offer rare insight into the living history of the island.
Continued exploration around these north island parts with some knowing guides will bring added “Night Manager” location sightings. Looking for Richard Roper’s business lair? Look no further than the 17th-century fortress-turned-private vacation home, Sa Fortaleza, marked as the most expensive property in all of Spain.
Find it perched over the Bay of Pollenca. The property was built as a fortress against Barbary pirates in 1628, but once it was acquired by British banker Lord James Lupton for some €40 billion in 2011, it sprouted six rental villas, two swimming pools and a vast network of gardens.
Stunning Film Sets and Lunch
A dreamy two-hour float around the island from Port de Soller ends up in the quiet cove of Cala Deià, including the swimmable warm waters and a meal that will live on in memory. Courses of baby squid, whole sea bass and saucy bowls of mussels with endless pours of wine are served in a raw, arbor-like setting at Ca’s Patro March. You can drive there as well, but will be better served if you park the car at the top of the mountain and walk the scenic path down to the restaurant.
The rustic setting means that you won’t find WiFi, will have to pay with euros and should bring your own toilet paper. You will share your space with other visitors, snapping shots and selfies along the stick fence over the rocks, but the seductive cove makes it all pretty perfect.
Peeling Away History in Palma
No matter what the purpose and time allotment for a Mallorca visit, Palma calls. In feel, it rolls out like a Barcelona “lite” – with its chic, artsy neighborhoods, crowded but sensual beaches, its buzzing, shaded rambla and and even its own Gaudi contribution adorning the interiors of the Cathedral de Mallorca.
The city is nearly as old as the Bible, built on Roman ruins and Phoenician settlements. It’s been witness to eras of Christian and Moorish conquerors and to this day sees its share of political playouts. The native language spoken is Catalan.
While in the summer months Palma swells to the brim with tourists, by mid-October, as tanning season sets, the city is once again walkable and peaceful. Pedestrian corridors along Saint Miquel, Juame II and Palau Reial streets are lined with shops selling espadrilles, chic cotton clothing, blown glass, Mallorca pearls, strong coffee and mouthwatering pastries infused with pork fat.
In ancient plazas, soft guitarists vie with eerie human sculptures for amblers’ attention. Most visitors take these bustling passages down to Palma’s ancient port, stopping at the llotja, now a modernist art museum, to gaze at the intricate 14th century vaulted ceilings, perhaps.
Nearby the lines form to enter the Cathedral of Mallorca, a 13th-century Levantine-Gothic opus with the largest rose windows in the world. Its nave is also one of the highest in Europe and it is here that the Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi, was invited to put his stamp – in railing, lanterns and cast iron candelabras – that were strung over the main alter at the beginning of the last century.
Take a horse and carriage from here to other high points: the Royal Palace, the Hotel Gran (now the Caixa Forum cultural center but in the early 20th century a paragon of Modernist vision – and luxury – with lifts and en suite bathrooms), Cappuccino (an ornate Gothic coffee bistro), and the Church of the Santa Crue that houses the crypt of Sant Llorenc.
As with Soller, Palma is rife with “Night Manager” film sites, although they might be stand-ins for other places. The façade of the Palau March, near the Cathedral de Mallorca, shows up as the entrance to a hotel in Istanbul. The terrace of the Sadrassana Restaurant in Plaça de Drassanes, the Santa Eulalia Church, and the adjacent Café Moderno serve as meeting points in Madrid for the series.
Stays with Stories
Staying in Palma might best be managed by a property that is walkable to the city’s attractions. The Sant Francesc Hotel Singular is a destination in itself, located in the square of the circa 1281 Sant Francesc Church. The opulent 19th century manor was once owned by a wealthy Mallorca nobleman, but the grand edifice had remained untouched for 135 years.
Today, it is a multi-million dollar converted art piece with 42 rooms and suites, green spaces and gardens, a cathedral atrium lobby, an elegant garden restaurant, and a hip rooftop bistro and bar serving tapas and sushi overlooking both pool and city.
The 51-room Hospes Maricel Mallorca & Spa offers guests a chance to sleep inside more “Night Manager” settings, from the curved bathtub seen in the series opening to the modernist Greek pool layout over the Med, just a mile or two from the Old City in Palma.
Keeping with the stone motifs of the city, Hospes Maricel was built in 1950 (renovated in 2002) and immediately attracted international stars. Errol Flynn, his wife Patricia Wymore, Montgomery Clift and various titles of European aristocracy put their names on the books.
Finally, Son Julia Country House near Llucmajor, about a half-hour’s drive east from Palma, is about as romantic as it gets for a 15th century manor house with 25 spacious rooms and suites, Moorish gardens, vaulted ceilings, shady terraces and pools, and exotic spaces that also provided backdrops for scenes supposedly shot in Istanbul.
Official information about Mallorca can be found at Spain.info, with offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Miami.
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