When Her Indoors announced we would be going to Majorca this year for our holiday I was a bit concerned. Spain? Tattooed yobbos, tea like mother makes, fish, chips and sangria? Friends assured me that Majorca was, if anything, maybe a bit too quiet for three teenagers, a tweenager and an "I might make you a grandfather soon" young adult. Peace and quiet, however was just what the shrink ordered, so it was with a light heart that I packed the bucket and spade, turned off the office mobile phone and headed south.
We arrived at Gatwick in plenty of time but as Murphy's Law would have it, the only flight delayed was ours. So with an extra two hour wait, our carefully choreographed and thrifty plan of breakfast at home, lunch on the plane and tea at the villa was immediately scuppered. I've always found airports bearable if I'm on my own. I can quite happily browse the airport specials in the bookstore, check out the tat in the "English Heritage" shops and squirt myself with half a dozen fragrances until I smell like a tart's hankie. With five hungry kids in tow, however, thoughts turned to food.
For veggies Gatwick is pretty miserable. Beyond the ubiquitous veggie lasagne at a price damn near the cost of the flight, most places could only stretch to a cheese sandwich. And then, my eye was caught by the magical "Vegetarian Options" sign at the Yo! Sushi Bar on the upper floor. This was the first time I'd been to one of these, even though I've always been fascinated by how they work. All those little pots of food circling round on a conveyor belt to which you can seemingly help yourself! Having closely quizzed the staff, I discovered that each little pot is colour coded, with a green pot costing about a pound up to a purple pot costing a fiver. It seemed that all the veggie options were in green pots, (I suppose there's some logic in that), so, with suitable admonitions to the kids with regard to colour choice, this became our chosen venue, and it was actually very good. You can help yourself to as much fizzy water as you can drink from your own private tap, (costs a pound each), and pick and choose from the endless array of pots. We also had the Miso soup, which was cheap and cheerful, if a bit bland. It was well worth the twenty quid, even though I did have to keep a careful eye on the clientele further up the conveyor belt to make sure none of the little brats stuck their dirty little fingers in a passing pot.
So, we weren't that hungry when we finally boarded the plane, which was just as well because First Choice Airlines had been renamed No Choice Airlines as far as we veggies were concerned, as they had forgotten our meals. "We can do you a cheese sandwich sir!", grinned the steward, and fobbed off a delighted Sally with a monster bag of duty free Maltesers. Allow me to give you a tip now. In future when you fly, do not order a veggie meal; order a vegan meal. Vegans are treated with much more respect. I can imagine the flight catering manager sat in his little office, megaphone to hand in case of staff problems, when he spots that day's schedule. "Oh sh*t! There's a vegan on FCA4616. We'd better not screw THAT up". On our return flight, after we rang beforehand and told them to supply vegan meals, we were given seats at the front and treated to a delicious hot mushroom stroganoff, AND served before everyone else. Try it yourself!
Deplaned is a strange word. A word whose existence I doubted until this very minute when the all-knowing Microsoft Word didn't put a squiggly red line under it. So when the steward reminded us to stay seated and to remember our personal stuff when we deplaned I immediately conjured in my mind a sort of defenestration, but from much higher up. Scene in the cockpit, steward to pilot, "Sir, there's an awkward b****d veggie in seat 26C, complaining about the cheese sandwich, shall I deplane him?"
My, it was hot at Palma when we finally deplaned, and with my inborn distrust of foreign rigmarole I expected long sweaty queues for passport control, baggage, car hire etc. but it was all very efficient, and within 30 minutes we were on the road in our monster 9 seater truck and trying to decipher the route to the villa. After an unplanned detour around an orchard we finally arrived and noted with dismay that the turning into the driveway of the villa from the tiny lane would have been tight enough for a Fiat Panda, let alone the Fiat Mammoth we were in. Undaunted, however, and determined to prove my manhood, I discovered that it was just possible with a seven point turn to squeeze in.
After ejecting one of the kids who had foolishly imagined he could commandeer the master bedroom, we unpacked, showered, and decided we would have our first foray out. A friendly soul had advised us that the nearest open supermarket was at Puerto de Pollença so off we trekked.
Puerto de Pollença or PP for short, serves as the harbour for the town of Pollença (P of course) which is about 5km away. Apparently this was to give the townsfolk adequate warnings of pirate attacks in olden days. That may have been a jolly good idea then, but proved more than a nuisance for us. I'd expected it to be a short stroll from our villa in P, not a three mile walk in the blazing heat, so after a nine point turn, (it was harder getting out), we took to the road again. Of course, Murphy's Law hadn't quite finished with us and the dragon at the supermarket door was only letting people out, not in. It was 9.30 pm precisely. So, with a careful eye on the prices we perused the menus at the vast array of eateries in PP. We selected a nice looking place with surprisingly low prices and a handily placed table outside. Within 5 minutes of sitting there I felt a spot of rain. Surely not? I thought. It must be water off the trees in the square, or sea spray? No, it was the beginning of the worst storm to hit the Balearics this summer. Welcome to Majorca!
The morning after, the storm had abated and the sun was back out and a couple of days relaxing by the pool were called for. Although the villa was nicely furnished, the kitchen had obviously been left till last and designed by a bloke. To stand at the cooker, you needed to hunch over and wear a miner's helmet as it had been placed directly under the sloping roof and in the dark. As the microwave was giving out electric shocks, (why don't they earth things abroad?), cooking options were limited, and having been pleasantly surprised by the restaurant bill on the Saturday night (80 euros for 7 people), we decided to eat out at least once a day and hang the expense! A brief scan of the map and the guide led us to concentrate on Pollença, Puerto de Pollença and a look at the three or four fully vegetarian restaurants in Palma.
Pollença is a lovely 13th century town with narrow streets, odd little shops, two beautiful churches, and a varied selection of eating places. There's also the biggest flight of steps I've seen, 365 in all, (but fortunately you don't need to climb them!) and at the foot of these there are one or two places worth mentioning.
The Café-bar Juma in the main square (Plaça Major) is a good standby. There are two or three veggie choices on the tapas menu, the service is excellent, prices cheap, and it's a good place to sit and watch the world go by.
If you want more upmarket then just around the corner from there you'll find La Font del Gall. This is owned and run by a very nice Scottish family. They have at least 3 veggie main courses, and they actually have a separate vegetarian section on the menu, which is always nice to see. The food here is at gourmet standard, but not at gourmet prices. At a very fair 45 euros for two including drinks, we enjoyed an excellent meal of goat's cheese and Mediterranean vegetable tart, followed by pastry parcels of veggies with aubergine. Afterwards we spoke to the guy, who told us he had spotted a niche in the market and he had deliberately added more veggie choices as there was a demand, but hardly anywhere on the island to fulfil it.
A walk through the streets to the main road from Pollença to PP brings you to one of the smartest restaurants on the island, the Café Balaixa. Although its address shows it in PP, it's actually about three miles away. Sitting on a beautiful terrace, with tables surrounding a swimming pool, we had a really nice romantic meal for two, complete with gothic altar candles and twinkling stars. I can recommend the baked aubergine and the spinach and ricotta tortellini, both at around 15 euros.
This was our first taste of the Majorcan seaside, and a very pleasant family orientated resort it is. There's a beautiful marina, and a very picturesque promenade through shady trees called the Pine Walk. Alongside the Pine Walk is a sandy beach with safe paddling for youngsters. It is very clean and very quiet - no blaring radios or loud music from shops - just the chatter and hubbub or people enjoying themselves in the sunshine. There's also a vast selection of eating places to choose from. Unfortunately, most places seem to have had their menu designed by the same guy, who obviously likes seafood, steak and chips, paella, and with a cursory nod in our direction, a pasta dish. Clearly, we needed to do a bit of investigating.
A flyer on a passing car proclaimed the best Indian restaurant in town to be the Bombay, (c/ Formentor). It seemed a bit odd to be having a curry given the Majorcan weather, but there was a large veggie choice and by then we were footsore. It was actually quite nice with friendly staff and rock bottom prices. A bit of air-conditioning would have helped the atmosphere, and it was strange to see Chinese lanterns and pictures adorning the walls. I gather they have only recently taken over and haven't had time to redecorate with flock wallpaper.
The best place we visited in PP was undoubtedly the Tango. With an extensive menu with lots of veggie choices, fabulous décor inside, and a nice outdoor ambience this place has it all. I can particularly recommend the seitan dish which was worth every cent of the 10 euros. I think this meal was made all the more enjoyable as we were sat outside just a few yards from an Irish pub which had the cricket on live TV. Aussie-bashing, beer drinking, seitan eating heaven!
Palma is the largest city in the Balearics but you can still discover it on foot in a day. The first thing that struck me was the immense number of cranes dominating the skyline and road works on every corner. I'd read recently that the Mallorcans are the richest people, per capita, in Spain. There certainly seems to be lots of investment going into this vibrant city. Beautiful buildings, numerous fountains and large squares with plane trees affording shade from the blazing heat, is how I remember Palma.
Most of the guide books advised against driving in or to Palma, but as we were 40km away we had little choice. We had no problem stowing the Fiat Mammoth in one of the many underground car parks and we were off on foot.
We were armed with a list of places to see and we'd decided to eat in what we thought was the best place. The only fully veggie restaurants on the island are all in Palma, and there are four of them. The first port of call was Santacilia. This is a homely little place, and the chef was preparing the lunch when we arrived. We were there at noon and it was due to open at one, and the dish that day was some pasta concoction. As we were pasta'd out from the previous two days we decided to give it a miss.
Our little map showed the next two places pretty close to each other so we headed over to the Bon Lloc. I can only tell you that it looked ok from the outside, because it was closed for holidays! About 3 streets down from there is the Julivert Restaurant Vegetaria. This was closed for holidays too! I'd like to be able to say this looked ok from the outside but there was a stonking great steel shutter covering the entrance.
Hmmm, by now it was lunch time, and we were getting weary, so with some trepidation we headed for the last place on our list, the Pastanaga, and you guessed it, they were on holiday too. I can only imagine that the Spanish Veggie Society had picked that week to hold their annual bash.
Now we were faced with a choice of trekking back a mile for pasta at the Santacilia, or relying on serendipity to provide a decent venue. And our old friend serendipity came up trumps. We found a lovely little place called La Trola where the food was outstanding. Although not too much for veggies, the guy made a real effort to accommodate us and we ate and drank heartily for about a fiver each. So the day was not wasted after all!
We plan to return to Majorca in the near future, but we will change our modus operandi next time.
We booked our holiday through one of the big villa companies, this included flights, car and villa in one package. Although this is convenient you definitely end up spending more, and unless you've been to the villa before, you cannot guarantee what it's going to be like. Ours was a lovely villa, but the cooking facilities were useless, and there was quite a bit of noise from the generator at night, (and from various parties going on around us!). Next time we will hire a villa privately. We met some nice people who run a web site www.puertopollensa.com. They have a friendly get-together on a Monday evening in the high season and they advertise loads of villas and you can check them out beforehand. Flights are cheap from Stansted if you look early enough, and we reckon we could have saved well over a thousand quid organizing things ourselves.
All in all Majorca is not quite a vegetarian's paradise, but if you're prepared to manage on pasta and cheese butties, or self cater with the occasional trip to a classy veggie joint then you'll find it cheap and very enjoyable. We feel we just tipped the iceberg - there is so much more to see and do in Majorca - but we certainly got a flavour of the place and in answer to the important question: "Would you go back?", all seven of us voted a definite YES!