Bleached limestone cliffs tower over a powder-white beach, and anchored sailboats bob in transparent blue waters. Snorkelers drift into a cave, lit up by the afternoon sun to reveal a sandy sea floor that’s clean enough to walk on barefoot.
The stunning setting at Cala Mitjana, one of Menorca’s premier beaches, is replicated in more than 120 other coves ringing the island. Most of the shoreline is protected from development, meaning the crowds are often thin, and during shoulder season, when it’s still warm enough to swim, you might even have a slice of paradise to yourself.
The combination makes the Spanish island in the western Mediterranean one of the world’s most spectacular beach destinations. It’s the least known of the Balearics, a group that also includes the more-developed Mallorca and party-till-dawn Ibiza. But Menorca offers the opulence of Ibiza with the flash and the natural splendor of Mallorca without the package tourists.
Cala Mitjana is a bay and beach on Menorca’s southern coast, surrounded by high cliffs and pine trees
Add its two charming main cities, Mahon and Ciutadella, and you can think of Menorca as low pressure, high payoff. The compact island is only about 30 miles long, so it can offer the best of a relaxing beach vacation, a lively city break and a tranquil countryside retreat in one small package.
Travelers accustomed to any of those types of getaways will feel at home at the Jardí de ses Bruixes Boutique Hotel in Mahon, the capital on the eastern end. Owner Anja Sanchez-Rodrigo ([email protected]; 011-34-971-363-166,) says she originally worried her unique property’s location would be a deterrent.
“It has turned out to be a good thing,” Sanchez-Rodrigo tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “When people come to Menorca, they want to go visit as many beaches as they can. We always look at the weather, especially the wind, and suggest if guests should go the north or south coast.”
Jardí de Ses Bruixes opened in Mahon with eight rooms in 2014 in an 1812 building. The renovation emphasized original details and stayed faithful to the local culture.
The hotel was originally built in 1812 as a boat captain’s home but fell into disrepair until 20 years ago, when Sanchez-Rodrigo’s husband, an architect, renovated it for his office. They converted it after the housing crash and opened with eight rooms in 2014. An expansion completed this summer added eight more and a spa clad completely in local limestone, which is called marés.
The renovation emphasized original details like the old tiles in the floor and dining room, and stayed faithful to the local culture. The name of the hotel, for instance, means “dandelion’s garden” in the Menorcan dialect. “Only a Menorcan would know what that means,” said Sanchez-Rodrigo.
It’s best to book at least three months in advance for the high season of July and August. We recommend room No. 1 in the main building, which is most often used as the bridal suite, and No. 10 in the annex, which has its own plunge pool and courtyard, a rarity for any property in town.
All the bath and spa products are made specially for the hotel by a Menorcan artisan from herbs and essential oils from the island. The in-house restaurant serves a tight menu focused on Mediterranean cuisine made fresh with local products in the garden. But before dinner, walk around town and pop into the Xoriguer Gin distillery, a hint to the nearly 100 years of British rule.
For an absolutely unforgettable night, Sanchez-Rodrigo recommends Cova d’en Xoroi, a bar housed inside a natural cave a short ride from Mahon. Stairs carved into the side of a cliff lead down to various levels of the bar, which feels suspended above the sea. Insider Tip: Call ahead and book one of the two VIP lounge sofas for sunset, then head down to the main cave after dark, when it becomes a night club with live music or DJs.
Cova d’en Xoroi, a bar housed inside a natural cave, is a short ride from Mahon
Not far from the cave bar, visitors traveling with a family will find a more traditional beach resort in the Insotel Punta Prima Resort & Spa, located on a pristine stretch of sand on the eastern shore of the island. The hotel is composed of two-story bungalows set among nearly a square mile of lush gardens.
Hotel Director Santiago Taltavull ([email protected]; 011-34-971-159-200) says its unique location offers magnificent sea views to the little Isla del Aire. “It’s situated right in front of the resort,” Taltavull says. “It’s the first spot where the sun rises in Spain.”
The resort has three outdoor pool areas for adults and children, eight tennis courts, a gym, the Prestige Spa, children’s facilities, and an entertainment program for adults and kids, plus six restaurants and three bars.
Taltavull suggests the Prestige Suites, which have the best views from their terraces. Each has a hydromassage bathtub and a separate shower in the en-suite bathroom, a second full bathroom and a kitchenette. All bath products come from the Campos de Ibiza line. For help with booking, there’s a special section for travel agencies on the website.
Insotel Punta Prima Resort & Spa comprises two-story bungalows set among nearly a square mile of lush gardens.
Taltavull says guests love horseback riding excursions throughout the year along the Camí de Cavalls, which means “Horseman’s Way” in the local Menorcan dialect. The trail, which is close to the hotel, circles the island at the edge and passes all of the best beaches.
Those looking for an authentic Menorcan experience should consider Torralbenc, a dairy farm that was renovated into a luxury hotel with respect to the area’s archaeological heritage. History buffs will appreciate Torralbenc’s location as a good jumping-off point to see the 3,000 years of history left by the prehistoric Tayolitic people. The pre-Roman settlers left more than 2,000 stone monuments, temples and burial chambers, making Menorca the largest open-air museum in Europe.
The collection of white-washed farm buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries were restored in 2013 and converted into 27 rooms and cottages. Though Torralbenc is in the interior, it’s only a few minutes’ drive from the nearest beach, and it’s set high enough on a hill to afford several rooms a sea view.
“You can enjoy the best of both worlds,” says Ernest Marti ([email protected]; 011-34-971-377-218), the front desk manager. “You can see the sea, but you’re surrounded by countryside and our vineyard, where we make our own wine. So it’s always quiet, even in high season.”
Marti advises to book the best rooms at least five months out for weeklong stays. Ask for the Pool Cottage, a south-facing room with sea views and a private plunge pool, or, for the utmost privacy, the Garden Cottage, a stand-alone building with an ancient olive tree in its own garden.
Torralbenc, a traditional Menorcan farm that has been converted into a luxury accommodation, is located on a hill surrounded by vineyards and affords views of the Mediterranean
All rooms feature minimalistic decoration — clean, white and simple — and homemade rosemary bath products to help guests feel at peace in the hotel, which is part of the Marugal Distinctive Hotels group.
Marti says the best way to see the beauty of Menorca’s protected beaches and wild coastline is to hire a boat with a skipper who’s knowledgeable of the southern coast. The best of them will read the weather to know which beaches will have the perfect conditions on any particular day, and Torralbenc works with several.
No matter where visitors stay, they can’t miss visiting Ciutadella, the atmospheric historical capital on the western end of the island. The entire town seems carved out of a single limestone block, with the Italianate-style Palacio Salort looming over the port from its fortified perch.
A short walk into the town’s cramped alleyways, the restaurant Es Tast de na Silvia, housed in a stone-arched building that dates from 1704, is the only Slow Food certified restaurant in the Balearics. If you can flag down Chef Sylvia Anglada, ask her to tell you about the history of mayonnaise. Spoiler Alert: It was brought from Menorca back to France by a naval commander, who named it after the capital — Mahon-aise.
Insotel Punta Prima Resort & Spa is located on the eastern shore of Menorca
In the quaint town of Fornells, whose waterfront curls around a crescent-shaped bay on the north coast, head to Sa Llagosta for the tasting menu. We loved the lobster prepared two ways, the tail baked as a gratin with lime zest, and the rest stewed into a savory paella.
Fine-dining options and activities aside, Menorca is still first and foremost special because of its unspoiled beaches; renting a car or hiring a driver is a must. Like Cala Mitjana (cala means cove), Cala Turqueta is gorgeous but can be more crowded; instead opt for Cala Pregonda or Cala d’Algaiarens in the north, or Binigaus or Cala Macarella on the south coast.
Regardless of the choice, it’s never wrong.