On a late summer afternoon, when its stone houses glow in the fading light, cicadas strike up their tentative drone and the burble of chatter floats from cafe terraces lining the Placa Major, Pollença is like the Mallorca you always hoped you would discover. Pollença's postcard looks and vaguely bohemian air have drawn artists, writers and luminaries from Winston Churchill to Agatha Christie over the years. Saunter through its backstreets lined with galleries and boutiques or pull up a ringside chair on the square at sundown to watch the world go by and you too will be smitten.
This low-key resort at the northern cusp of the Badia de Pollença has entrancing views over to the jagged formations of the Formentor peninsula. Yes, tourism has made its mark, but with its marina, cafe-lined promenade the Pine Walks and long arc of sand, it still makes an appealing base for families and water-sports enthusiasts.
Perkily topped by castle ruins, Alaró is pleasantly sleepy and rewards those who linger. Head for Plaça de la Vila, flanked by the Casa de la Vila (town hall), parish church and a couple of cafes. The square springs to life at its Saturday morning market. Cafes also congregate around Carrer Petit and Carrer de Jaume Rosselló.
Nestled in the crook of the Badia de Palma, Mallorca's capital is the most agreeable of all Mediterranean towns. Shaped and defined by the sea and backed by not-so-distant mountains, it is a city of open horizons and oft-blue skies, with good looks and a festive nature. Surveying it all from a gentle rise is the old quarter, crowned by its colossal Gothic cathedral. Slip away from the crowds that swarm around the trophy sights for just a minute and you will find yourself deep in a labyrinth of cobbled lanes, which call for serendipitous strolls. Take your lead from the locals and wander here at ease, pausing for market banter, boutique finds, snapshots of baroque churches, palaces and patrician courtyards, and lunches that linger long into the afternoon.
'A sky like turquoise, a sea like lapis lazuli, mountains like emerald, air like heaven,' enthused Romantic composer Chopin of his new home Valldemossa in 1838. His words ring true almost 200 years later in western Mallorca. The Serra de Tramuntana range ripples all along the west coast, surveying the Mediterranean from above. Skirted by olive groves and pine forest, its razorback limestone mountains plunge 1000m down to the sea like the ramparts of some epic island fortress. Whether you hike its highland trails, bike its obstacle course of serpentine roads, or breeze along the cliff-flanked coastline by boat, these mountains will sweep you off your feet with their cinematic beauty. Some of the island's loveliest towns and villages perch high on hilltops and deep in verdant valleys, with grandstand mountains and sea views. Wander their higgledy-piggledy lanes and be smitten, like so many artists, poets and celebrities before you.
Look beyond the occasional blip of tasteless development and you'll find a sprinkling of little-known treasures in Mallorca's southwest crook. Use Andratx, Port d'Andratx or Sant Elm as your springboard for day trips to the exquisite coves of Portals Vells or a boat trip over to Illa de Sa Dragonera. Activities on this stretch abound, with crystal-clear sea for all manner of water sports. The epic, multi-day Ruta de Pedra en Sec, Mallorca's greatest walk, begins here, too.
There’s a reason that tourists arrive in Eastern Mallorca in their hundreds of thousands on their annual sun pilgrimage: this is one of the prettiest coasts on an island of many. Yes, there are stretches of coastline that can seem like a poster child for all that’s abhorrent about Mediterranean coastal tourism. But Mallorca’s rocky eastern walls conceal perfectly formed caves, coves and inlets, some of which are accessible only on foot – among these are Mallorca’s most beautiful, with turquoise waters and nary a hotel in sight. There are even resorts that are actually rather handsome, most notably Porto Cristo with its natural harbour and wild coastal beaches nearby. Also here is medieval Artà, one of the island’s better-preserved inland towns.
The fortresslike coastal geography between the Badia de Palma (Bay of Palma) and Colònia de Sant Jordi has preserved this area as one of the least-developed of the island. Much of the coast is buffered by tall, nearly impenetrable cliffs splashed with the sapphire blue waters of the Mediterranean. They may not always be very accessible, but their untamed, raw beauty is hypnotising. Beyond the cliffs are intimate coves and long beaches, true marvels of nature. Whether enclosed tightly by fjord-like cliffs, or silky sweeps of sand backed by pines and junipers, these are some of Mallorca’s best beaches. And best of all, the existence of parks and natural areas, and the proliferation of working farms and rural estates has, for the most part, kept this part of the island free from the worst excesses of overdevelopment.