Ah Palma! The capital of that much loved sunny Balearic island which enjoys an envied setting on one of the Mediterranean’s most spectacular bays. Its perfect size – not too big, not too small – balmy climate and rich heritage means that it’s a popular spot for those seeking a short city break. It’s always been a city with plenty of charm but it hasn’t always been a place that goes hand in hand with the word elegant, until now that is. Thanks to a multi million pound facelift, Palma has upped its stakes and can now compete with Europe’s classiest cities in terms of boutique hotels, trendy bars, beautiful marinas and gastronomic offerings. I recently visited as part of a two night city break package with a curiosity to see how much it had changed since my last visit many years before…
After a short flight I arrived in Palma amidst a late summer heat wave and my hotel – the very stylish Innside Palma Center– offered a much longed for respite from the 33 degree heat and high humidity. I was also very impressed, the centrally located hotel was strikingly designed in a contemporary boutique style and epitomized Palma’s new found trendiness. A uniquely decorated fine dining restaurant, a tranquil Wellness Area and a truly stunning rooftop bar and sunbathing deck (partnered with a transparent cube-like pool) accompanied the hundred or so bright modern rooms.
Braving the heat, I set out to explore the city’s Old Town, a pretty warren of medieval streets and shops flanked by one of the largest – and loveliest – cathedrals in the whole of Spain. On my last trip, there were parts of Palma which were a little unloved and and a little unpolished but the collection of swish cafes, swanky eateries and art galleries I discovered during my long day’s exploration signaled that Palma is quickly becoming the cosmopolitan travel destination it wants to be.
My personal recommendations? Take in the Gothic grandeur of the 13th century cathedral, people watch with tapas or a coffee in one of the square’s in a local neighbourhood, pay a visit to the excellent modern art gallery built into the walls of the city or take a stroll down the landscaped promenade to the stylish and newly developed Portixol Marina where you can dine at an up-market restaurant and ogle the beautiful yachts moored there.
Palma is also now a seriously good place to shop and I was in awe of their fine array of (mercifully air-conditioned) boutiques. I walked around the stores located between Plaça Mayor, Plaça Mercat and Plaça Cort and marvelled at the elaborate façades and attractive turrets that are typical of Catalan’s version of Art Nouveau.
Majorca’s enduring popularity with sun-starved Northern Europeans means that’s the Balearic capital is still buzzing – and in some parts, pretty crowded – long past the traditional peak holiday season. With this in mind I would personally recommend veering off the main tourist drag to uncover some of the city’s finest secrets, and on my second day – with a little help from the wonderful gastronomic tour company Chef Sin – I managed to do just this.
We met in Santa Catalina, the now Palma’s fashionable quarter where the majority of tourists seem to skip and it’s all the better for it. Still buzzing, but mostly with elegantly dressed locals, the district offers some of best culinary venues, shops and artistic hot spots in Palma. Meandering through the local hub and popular meeting spot, the Santa Catalina indoor market, our first stop was the delightfully old school Majorcan institution Bar Joan Frau. I was informed that the 50-year food company is held in such a high regard it draws foodies and chefs from all corners of the globe. We tasted some of their specialties – sandwiches made from a bread typical of the Majorcan region, tapas and the vegetable coca (a Mallorcan version of pizza).
Next was the Arume Sushi and Dim Sum bar, a place which is usually packed at weekends. Here your chosen food is freshly prepared in front of you (by a charismatic team clearly passionate about their jobs) and their prices are very reasonable prices too. Their Nigris are made with a local fish called Negret and they also have vegetarian and vegan options available on the menu. Both the Dim Sum and the sushi were among some of the best I’d ever tasted – probably down to a mix of their talent and the island location where very fresh, locally sourced ingredients be can sourced very easily.
Following the gastronomic theme of the day, my lunch was served at Restaurante Taronja Negre Mar, an enviably located restaurant based in Club de Mar, one of the Mediterranean’s most famous marinas. Overseen by Majorcan chef Tomeu Caldentey and his team, the restaurant is newly decorated in a fresh and tasteful nautical theme and offered panoramic views over the bay of Palma – I honestly couldn’t think of a more dreamy lunch spot! Each dish was a perfect balance between innovation and flavour and offered excellent value for money – especially considering the location. One of the dishes, another Palma twist on the traditional pizza, was even expertly cooked in front of me by two smiling chefs.
My short city break was perfectly rounded off by dining at the newly opened Michelin star adorned Fosh Lab – a place that proves Palma is increasingly becoming a gastronomic haven. The brainchild of acclaimed Kent-born chef and seasoned restauranteur Marc Fosh, his latest project proves why he seems to be Palma’s man of the moment.
Located in a contemporary hotel converted from a 17th-century convent, it beautifully balances impeccable service, stylish decor (with open kitchens and a big screen atop the stove – so you can watch each of your dishes being prepared) and divine food to offer more of an experience than just a dinner out. I spent the evening indulging on eight delicately composed dishes of contemporary Majorcan style cuisine with dishes such as false pumpkin ravioli, peach pecan nuts and curry sauce and mango, rosemary and citron sorbet.
I left both the lab and my city break with a contented belly, an uplifted soul and a distinct feeling that Palma really is going places.
Booking a Palma City Break
For the two night stay in the fabulous INNSIDE Palma Center by Melia together with the flight (I flew from Manchester airport) cost a total of £528 per person with Jet2CityBreaks. Although booking a flight and hotel separately is usually the norm these days, packaged city breaks can still offer excellent value and a hassle-free way of booking and Jet2Holidays aim to allow customers to spend less time planning, researching and booking their city break and more time travelling!
They pride themselves on their low fares while still offering great flight times, a generous 22kg baggage allowance, allocated seats and no credit card fees. It looks like their strategy has also paid off – they’ve recently been ranked the UK’s number one airline by TripAdvisor and the best low-cost airline by the Telegraph.