With family and friends on this lovely Mediterranean island, summer means Mallorca for me and my son Joe. Here are some of our tips for making the most of your family holiday there.
If you’re holidaying in the south-west and want to experience beach life Mallorquin-style, head to the little coves of Illetas. Our favourite, Cala Comptessa, bustles (bursts, even) with picnicking local families. It’s a squash and a squeeze, but the atmosphere’s great, the water’s crystal clear and the gently shelving shoreline makes it good for toddlers. Older kids can snorkel round the rocks and try to swim out to the little island, Illot Caleta (it’s further than it looks, though, so take a bodyboard as a float or haul a dinghy if you’re remotely concerned).
For a completely different vibe, head for Betlem in the north-east. The walk out to the point takes a good half hour (bring drinks and sunscreen), but the dramatic, rugged coastline is completely unspoiled and there’s great swimming off the rocks.
Head early to the resort of Colonia de Sant Jordi, from where you can take boat-trips out to the Isla de Cabrera with licensed operators Excursions a Cabrera or Marcabrera Speedboat Excursions. Part of the Cabrera National Park, this tiny island was once a haven for pirates but is now home to all manner of birds and lizards. It’s wonderfully undeveloped with very little infrastructure, so bring a picnic, plenty of water, sunscreen, and masks and snorkels. The surrounding waters teem with marine life – if you’re lucky, you might spot turtles, dolphins and even sperm whales.
Mallorca has a couple of crackers – including Aqualand El Arenal – but they can get stupidly busy in high season. If the thought of sharing waterslides with hordes of ‘yoofs’ fills you with horror, do as locals do – arrive when the doors open, hit the bigger rides first, and take a picnic so you can retire to the relative calm of the kids’ areas before the masses have even woken up, let alone got their swimsuits on.
A lovely way to ‘waste’ an afternoon is to cycle along Paseo Maritimo, the seafront promenade, from central Palma down to the former fishing villages of Portixol and Es Molinar, with plenty of places to stop for a bite or a swim along the way. Hire bikes for all the family from Palma On Bike.
A visit to Jungle Parc is essential when we’re in Mallorca: there’d be an uproar if I didn’t take Joe. Set in a pine forest on the outskirts of Santa Ponsa, its high-ropes courses feature zip-lines, ropebridges, Tarzan ropes and more, updated every year so there are always new elements to conquer. Brilliant for all the family (the oldest participant so far was a 77-year-old gran!), it has three courses to choose from: the easiest, Piratas, is suitable for kids 4–12 (minimum height 105cm); the top level, Extremo, can reduce adults to quivering wrecks.
A Flanagan family must is Sunday lunch with friends at Meson Ca’n Pedro II in the hillside village of Genova. Within this Mallorquin institution, the Esteban family has been feeding the faithful since the mid 70s. This, the bigger of their two restaurants, can accommodate some 900 guests in one sitting – expect to see tables of 20 or more spanning four generations, from swaddled newborns to grizzled great-grannies swathed in black. Kids can decant to a playground between courses. Noise levels are high and the atmosphere is one of organized chaos, so nobody minds if you’re a bit loud! The rustic kitchen’ is famed for its traditional Mallorquin cuisine, including platters of pa amb oli (rustic bread on which you smear garlic, drizzle olive oil and squish tomatoes), bowls of tiny snails, and superb meat including melt-in-the-mouth suckling pig and lamb and stupendous hams (dozens of which hang from the ceiling). I don’t think we adults have ever managed pudding. Be sure to book ahead.
For a culture-and-cuisine fix, book lunch at Restaurante Es Guix, just outside Lluc. Food is traditional Mallorquin (as is the wine list), but the USP is the idyllic rural setting and icy-cold rock-pool that will have the kids begging to stay until well after their lips turn blue. Afterwards, you can explore the Santuari de Lluc, a vast 13th-century monastery and Mallorca’s most important pilgrimage site. The baroque church is jawdroppingly ornate, and there are wonderful walks around the estate (you’re in the Tramuntana Mountains), play areas and the chance to hear the ‘Els Blauets’ choir school, which performs twice daily.
Friends on the island are also raving about Artestruz Mallorca, a farm near Campos where kids up to 12 years old can ride ostriches and then tuck into their eggs (and, whisper it, meat) in the restaurant. From this lovely part of the island, it’s easy to drive on to the vast protected beach of Es Trenc.
Mallorca has an astonishing array of fiestas throughout the year. One of the most unusual is January’s feast of Sant Antoni Abat, patron saint of domestic animals, which includes the Beneïdes (blessing of the animals), when animals of all shapes and sizes taken to their local church to be blessed by the priest. In Palma, this means an almighty procession of everything from rabbits and reptiles to piglets and police horses converging on Sant Antoniet church!
And who needs Guy Fawkes as a reason to let off an obscene amount of fireworks? – on Mallorca, it seems virtually any old fiesta will do. June sees the midsummer celebration Nit de Foc (Night of Fire), the biggest of which is in Palma’s Parc de Mar – think street parties, bonfires, hordes dressed as devils and demons, and spectacular fireworks. Best of all is the correfoc – the fire run - where the devils parade through the streets with firecrackers and fireworks.
Similar correfocs featuring fire-wielding dimonis (many seemingly too young to hold a sparkler safely!) and very loud bangs take place throughout the year – for instance in Sóller and Alaró in August.
Be warned that you won’t find people-movers at the airport rank – Mallorca’s taxis can only take a maximum of four passengers. We rate Taxi PMI (the Association of Taxi Drivers of Palma de Mallorca), whose fleet includes 7-seater mini-vans and minibuses for up to 16. Book ahead via the website: prices are fixed by destination, and it works out much cheaper than taking two or more metered taxis. You can also book child car-seats for the journey.
If you want to find out what’s happening on the island during your stay, Mallorca’s English-language website, the Daily Bulletin.
Read more about family holidays in Mallorca, including hand-picked recommendations for family-friendly places to stay.