Island-hoppers on North America's West Coast frequent Hawaii's tropical beaches, while East Coasters look to the Caribbean or Bermuda for their sun-and-sand fix. For Europeans, Spain's Islas Baleares--and Mallorca in particular--are the perfect island escape. Though this is no secret (the island is one of Europe's top holiday destinations), Mallorca's wild topography, remote hill towns and hidden coves invite you to step off the beaten path to discover countless hidden gems. Though I love leading Backroads trips all over the world, as well as in different regions of my home country of Spain, Mallorca always calls me back. The new Backroads Mallorca Walking & Hiking Tour taps into a holistic experience of life--both past and present--on the Balearic archipelago's largest island, and with spring and fall departures, it's a perfect shoulder-season destination. That's why about 300 members of the Backroads staff headed there last October for our annual Staff Ride!
Having covered miles of trails, eaten more than my fair share of Mallorcan gastronomic delights (don't miss the deliciously simple bruschetta-like pa amb oli or if you're a seafood lover, caldereta), and gotten more than a couple well-deserved sunburns, I'm here to tell you that Mallorca isn't to be missed. Just 128 miles from the mainland and a ferry ride from Barcelona or a quick cheap flight from many Spanish and European cities, Mallorca is easy to reach, but feels worlds away. And that exactly is what I love so much about this postcard-perfect place: it's so close and yet so far. Well, that and the food. And the beaches. Okay--and its 300 days of sunshine a year. When I first arrived in Mallorca's bustling capital city of Palma, I could tell there was something different about this place; contrary to my original impression, it's not just an extension of Spain. In fact, the Islas Baleares have been officially considered an autonomous community since 1983, but ask any of the locals and they'll tell you, official or not, the islands have maintained their own unique identity since the beginning. It's thought that these rocky isles have been inhabited for at least 2,600 years. Over time, everyone from the Carthaginians, Romans and Vandals to the Moors and Spaniards have left their mark on the island. The result is a fascinating mix of cultures, cuisine and history. See it for yourself in timeless towns like Cala Sant Vicenç and Port de Sóller, and while visiting Valldemossa's 13th-century Moorish monastery.
Some of the more recent interesting Mallorquin residents include Polish composer Frédéric Chopin (check out the narrow flower-lined stone lanes of charming Valldemossa) and English writer Robert Graves (the artist's haven of Deià is where he drew inspiration, and is a not-to-be-missed culinary hot spot). Mallorca has long been touted as a top training destination for pro cyclists, thanks to its smooth undulating roads, epic climbs into the Serra de Tramuntana and exhilarating descents to the coast. This same incredible biking terrain makes for some world-class hiking, so if you're looking to do some exploring on foot, you've come to the right place. One highlight is the historic Camí de s'Arxiduc, a dramatic crest trail dating to the late 1800s, offering unsurpassed views of the coast and sapphire Mediterranean. A hike up to the lookout at Talaia d'Alcûdia always leaves me a little breathless, but mostly just awed by the extraordinary views of pine groves, exposed mountainsides and the sea below. And whenever I'm in Pollença, I make time to climb the 365 steps to El Calvario (The Calvary) for expansive views of Alcúdia Bay. Although I like sitting by a pool as much as the next person, there's so much culture, history and natural beauty to experience here in Mallorca. History buffs to foodies, art-lovers to beachgoers, and avid to laid-back hikers and bikers alike will enjoy all that this Mediterranean paradise has to offer!