Maggie O'Sullivan, The Daily Telegraph, August 15, 2013
I blame the TV chef Rick Stein. In his programme on Mediterranean cuisine last year he mentioned a Majorcan restaurant called Es Verger which served “the best lamb I’ve ever tasted, cooked in an oven that’s got to be a hundred years old.” So with only vague directions — “head for Alaró then follow the sign for the Castillo” we set off to find it. What Stein didn’t mention was that Es Verger is accessed by a road even mountain goats would think twice about and then it gets worse.
Our lamb odyssey — of which more later — came towards the end of our week in northeast Majorca; a week in which we discovered there’s a lot more to this popular holiday island than golden beaches and mass tourism — and that it is not ideally suited to anyone who suffers car sickness, mal de mer or vertigo. Or, in the case of one our companions, all three.
We began in Puerto Pollensa, a jolly seaside town about 15 minutes’ drive from our villa. The plan was to leave the car there and catch the ferry across the bay to the Formentor peninsula. At this point one of our companions revealed that she got terrible sea sickness so while two of us boarded the ferry, the other two went by road.
The ferry takes about half an hour, chugging past tiny sailing boats, bigger yachts and crocodiles of kayakers. It’s quicker by road though so as we pulled into the jetty, the drivers were waiting for us on the pine-fringed beach. Our delicate companion was looking decidedly green: she had just had her first taste of Majorca’s serpentine roads.
Which made the next part of our outing — a trip to the peninsula’s most easterly point, the Cap de Formentor - a problem. It was clear from the map that the road — writhing perilously close to the cliff edge as it neared the cape - was even worse than the one they’d just been on. So after a drink in the delightful gardens of the Hotel Barceló Formentor we left our delicate companion with her book while we pressed on.
The Cap de Formentor was lovely: just a windswept lighthouse (not for nothing do that locals call it the “meeting point of the winds”) and a café. The drive there was just as breathtaking, though not always in a good way, particularly when we met a bus coming straight at us on a bend with more than a 1,000ft (400m) drop into the sea below. But there are lots of view points and it’s worth getting out at Mirador des Colomer, about five miles from Puerto Pollensa, to take in the views across the peninsula and the bays of Pollensa and Alcudia. A bit further on there’s a sandy car park high above what’s sometimes called Majorca’s most inaccessible beach, Cala Figuera. A string of visitors were making their way down the cliff path and a scattering of sun bathers spread out on the rocks below.
The visitors’ book in our villa suggested a visit to Ermita de Betlem, a monastery founded by three hermits in 1805. So the following day, we got the map out and traced the route. Since it clearly involved more switch-back roads, this time up very steep gradients, our delicate companion shook her head, booked an appointment with a visiting massage service, and waved us off.
It took a couple of hours, and a final six miles of twisting tarmac through wooded hills, to find the ermita, on a cliff top reached by an avenue of pine trees. There was no sign of the Franciscans who live there today in a few ramshackle buildings (though what they lack in worldly goods they surely make up for in location), but the chapel — surprisingly modern with electric votive candles — was open. We sat for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet. I pushed 50 cents into the slot to light a candle. Nothing happened.
Cala Sant Vicenc
On the way back, we stopped at Alta to climb the battlements, visit the cathedral (where the votive candles were real) and have lunch. Later, we followed signs to the Victòria peninsula, which separates the Bay of Alcudia from the Bay of Pollensa, where we found a tiny, pebble beach and had a swim. Our first “Majorcan beach moment” since we arrived — and it was bliss.
After that, we stuck to the coast. Our favourite beach was the one at Cala Sant Vicenc, two tiny bays fringed with shops, hotels and restaurants, reached by a road with only gentle twists. And, just like all the other tourists, we climbed the 365 steps to Calvario chapel in lovely old Pollensa, stopping at a shop half way down to buy raspberry-flavoured balsamic vinegar.
Then on our last day it was back to hair-pin bends as we set out out for the lamb restaurant. Slowly we coaxed the hired car up and round, reversing twice when we met a car coming in the other direction. Es Verger, when we reached it, was a shabby farm building with an unprepossessing bar and several scruffy dining areas. Disappointed, we reserved a table for lunch anyway and set out for the castle ruins, high on the mountain behind the restaurant. We drove the first bit, rocking over the potholes and squeezing around bends so tight each one took several attempts, but when we noticed the smell of burning, we abandonned the car and continued on foot.
It took an hour or so to reach the ancient Moorish fortification — a fairly easy hike — and after drinking in the view across the plain down towards Palma and out to sea, we returned to Es Verger for lunch. What a transformation: the restaurant was now full and the ancient waitress put us at a table with two Dutch cyclists. We ordered paletilla cordero, or shoulder of lamb. And yes, Rick Stein was spot on.
After lunch, our delicate companion insisted on walking down to the main road. By the time we caught her up, we had all discovered that lamb, red wine and hairpins bends really don’t mix.
Fishing boats in Puerto Pollensa
Airlines flying from UK airports include Air Berlin (0871 5000737; airberlin.com ), Monarch (0871 9405040; monarch.co.uk ), easyJet (0843 1045000); easyjet.com ), Ryanair (0871 246000; ryanair.com ), Thomas Cook (0871 2302406; flythomascook.com ), Thomson (0871 2314787; thomsonfly.com ), Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com ), Jet2 (0906 3020660; jet2.com ), Vueling (0906 7547541; vueling.com ) and British Airways Cityflyer (0870 850 9850; ba.com ).
Pamper by the Pool is an English company that offers an extensive range of services which it can provide at your villa, from massage and pedicures to facials and manicures. From around 80 euros/£68 for an hour’s treatment (07950 038353 or 0034 699 044180; pamperbythepool.com ).
The main beach at Formentor is narrow and gets crowded but if you walk up the beach, you’ll find more room. There are a couple of decent cafés and relatively clean public lavatories. If you’re driving, head for the second car park, through the iron gates.
If you’re not a resident at the Hotel Barceló Formentor, you might have to sweet talk the security guard into letting you drive up the fairly steep hill to the hotel car park. He would really rather you parked in the beach car park below.
The best places to stay
Majorca Farmhouses £££-££££
Majorca Farmhouses has the best selection of holiday villas and farmhouses in the Pollensa area (and elsewhere on Majorca) and is offering up to 50 per cent off last-minute bookings this summer; details from its website (0845 800 8080; majorca.co.uk ).
Son Brul £££
A 12th-century monastery in the foothills of the Serra de Tramontana near Pollensa and one of the most luxurious hotels in Majorca. 23 rooms and suites with the emphasis on space and light; the 365 restaurant serves exquisite modern Majorcan cuisine, usually outdoors (0034 971 535353; sonbrull.com ; from £198 per night b&b).
Hotel Barceló Formentor ££££
The Formentor doesn’t feel quite as exclusive as it must have done in the Twenties, when it was the only luxury hotel on the island, but the rooms are comfortable, the dining areas are charming and the Mediterannean garden which runs down to the beach is magnificent. Have a drink here even if you’re not staying (902 101001; barcelo.com ; sea-facing doubles from around £300 per night b&b.)
The mountain landscape around Pollensa Port
The best restaurants
Es Verger, Alaró £
Farm restaurant half way up Alaró mountain, serving terrific lamb — worth the hairy drive up from the town of the same name. Booking is essential in high season. £10-15 (971 182126).
Finca Es Serral, Artà £££
In the countryside just outside Artà. Locally reared pork, lamb and kid, but there is plenty of choice for vegetarians too. Around £30 (971 835336).
Bar Nou, Pollensa ££
An unpretentious place which does authentic homemade paella and fresh fish at reasonable prices — making it popular with locals. Ask for a table on the terrace when booking. £12-20 (971 530005).
What to avoid
If you intend to tackle Majorca’s switchback roads, off-road car parks and mountain tracks in a hired car, don’t forget to take out CDW cover
There is fish on the menu at Es Verger but don’t order it — the ancient waitress will give you a scornful look and snap: ‘No hay non’ (there isn’t any).
The one-way system in Alta can be very frustrating. Just park where you can and walk.
Our expert guide to Majorca is by Annie Bennett, and has more recommendations for where to stay and eat and what to do on the island
Telegraph Travel guide to Majorca