Palma: great winter city break

by Bernadette Fallon
san sebastian festival palma mallorca

At just two hours flying time from the UK – and with EasyJet offering bargain flights year round – Palma, the capital city of Mallorca, is a great option for a city break and some winter sun. Okay, you won’t be stripping off to your bikini in January but you should be lucky to catch some bright sunshine and blue skies - though evenings can get very chilly and, this early in the year, there’s always a chance of rain. It’s probably best to leave it until March for guaranteed rays but still, temperatures can reach up to 18 degrees in January, though they can also fall under 10.

Palma is a beautiful city, compact, easy to stroll around, and packed full of great architecture, shops, hotels, bars and restaurants; from the arresting cathedral  on the hill overlooking the harbour, which will be one of the first sights you see as you drive in from the airport, to the winding alleyways of the city’s medieval quarter. Here flower pots are piled on high balconies and washing waves cheerfully from overhead lines, Palma is a city of its people and so there is an atmospheric ‘local’ feel, even in the areas where tourists hang out. Travel early in the year and there’ll be less tourists of course – another reason to go now.

Palma: where to stay

You’ll also pick up a bargain in the city centre hotels, all reduce their room prices for the off-season period. We stayed at the Hotel HM Jaime III, which is very central – right beside the main shopping streets and just a short stroll to the medieval quarter and harbour. Prices this time of year from 82€ per room, for more information visit www.hmjaimeiii.com.

Or check out the very chic Hotel Cort, a boutique-style residence with 16 rooms and 14 suites, all recently refurbished; double rooms from 165€ in winter, suites from 370€ and junior suites from 275€. Even if you’re not sleeping over, it’s an excellent place for lunch, in the smart black and white tiled dining room with large seafood bar, marble topped counters and Art Deco feel.

For a more traditional stay, the  Palacio Ca Sa Galesa (which means Welsh House) in a former palace is quirky and quaint and rather old-fashioned; double rooms fall from their normal price of 365€ to 175€ in winter.

At the other end of the scale, the luxury boutique Hotel Can Alomar is swish, elegant and contemporary and located in the heart of the city on the tree-lined main boulevard Paseo del Borne. Prices range from 250€ B&B in high season to 180€ in low – great savings to be had.

Palma: where to eat

For luxury dining – at less than luxury prices – go Michelin-starred – well, almost! Chef Andreu Genestra of Aromata has a Michelin star at his landmark restaurant, Andreu Genestra in the Hotel Predi Son Jaumell, but at Aromata he offers more casual, laid-back dining, though with the same high gastronomic standards. You'll also enjoy olive oil and wine from his farm and vineyard with your meal. The tasting menu costs 32€ per person; average price of a main course is 12-19€; signature dishes to try include “Pica Pica de Sepia” (cuttlefish) and tuna ceviche with spring onion and sweet chilli. Visit www.aromatarestaurant.com for more information.

If you’re wandering around Palma’s historic quarter of Santa Catalina and La Lonja, with its narrow, winding streets, medieval churches and markets, stop off for a quaint and cosy lunch at Patron Lunares, where you can admire full-size portraits of its owners lined up on the walls around you as you dine. Try Negreto, the local fish, or the house special of ‘chicken cooked on a beer can’.

For a traditional tapas dinner – Mallorcans like to eat their main meal in the middle of the day and some lighter tapas plates at night – try El Tapas de Flanigan. Tapas starting from €2.50 per plate / bigger plates “raciones” (like we had) from €5. Highlights on the menu are the tuna salad with its rich accompaniment of vegetables in a silky mayonnaise, scrumptious Piemonte green beans, served with fat salt slivers, plates of croquette including ham, prawn and baby squid stained black from its own ink, chargrilled aubergines and sharing plates of musky paella and tortilla. Tapas plates from €2.50 per plate, “raciones” (bigger plates) from €5.

Palma: what to do

Do your research before you go and time your visit to coincide with a festival, like the San Sebastian winter celebration in January (main photo) where the night-time streets are lit up with bonefires and parades, devils and drummers. There are barbecues on the streets - just bring your own food to cook an alfresco dinner - and music stages with live bands on the city squares. Find more information from the Palma de Mallorca tourist board.

The stunning Santa Maria cathedral is a must-visit, visible from so many vantage points throughout the city, you will start to feel its pull as soon as you arrive. One of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the world, inside the soaring tower edifice, all is bathed in light and arresting colour from the dominating windows either end; this is a gem of a building.

Art lovers will be pleased to find much homage paid to Joan Miro in the city; from the rooms devoted to his work at Es Baluard Contemporary Art Museum to the ‘art train’ which takes visitors from the city to Soller and Puerto de Soller, the Can Prunera Modernist Museum and the Fundacion Pilar I Joan Miro, where his studio can be visited and over 2,000 of his drawings, paintings, sculptures and prints are housed. Miro moved to Palma in 1956 at the age of 63, and finished his life there.

Still on the culture trail, join locals at the beautiful Teatro Principal, an opera-house style theatre that has been entertaining audiences with theatre, opera, music and ballet performances since the 1600s. See the full programme at www.teatreprincipal.com.

Shopping is another great option, with many of the favourite European brands you’ll find on UK high streets – Mango, Zara, H&M – often selling cheaper than their UK counterparts; there are plenty of new brands to enjoy also, as well as stylish boutiques and design shops in the pretty La Llotja-Born district. New laws mean that shops can open seven days a week and most don’t close now for daytime siestas.

Join the Palma Citysightseeing ‘hop on hop off’ bus (adults from 16€, children from 8€) for the best overview of the city, and use its 18 stops to plan your itinerary. Or invest in the newly launched Palma Pass for free access to over 36 different museums, monuments and cultural sights; up to 30% off in many shops and restaurants, on guided tours and the sightseeing bus, plus 10 free trips on city centre public transport. It costs 34€ for 48 hours, 41€ for 72 hours, from www.palmapass.com.

Or, if you prefer to travel by bike, there are bike stations all over the city where you can hire a bike for 6€ for 4 hours.

Palma: information and getting there

For more information on Palma de Mallorca, visit www.palmavirtual.es. There are regular flights all through the year from the UK with Ryanair and easyjet, rates start from £50 return

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