Last week I returned from a two-week holiday in Menorca. I know what you are thinking. Sun, sea, sand, sangria and seagull shit? That was exactly what I expected anyway. Let me put my hands up right now and say Menorca was more than I imagined. I think I better explain.
When people think of Menorca they imagine overcrowded beaches, sweaty tourists, sangrias and siestas. What they don’t realise is that exactly that image is a baseless stereotype. Most people are unaware (including myself before this trip) that in 1993 UNESCO declared the island of Menorca a biosphere reserve. Essentially, it means that the local government is compelled to protect both the historical sites on the island as well as the natural species which reside there. Since 2004 the coastline of Menorca has been protected from construction. Simply put, the Menorcan administration is attempting an incredible balancing act. They are trying to protect nature while profiting from it. It’s a stance which I think is admirable, and at least from what I witnessed, working marvelously well.
Of course Menorca does contain it’s fair share of beaches. Around 120 to be precise, which is more than Majorca and Ibiza combined. They are a strange mixture of busy, isolated, stoney and sandy beaches. In truth some of the more remote wild beaches were breathtaking. The most surprising thing of all was that it didn’t matter where we went on the island we never once had the sense that it was overcrowded.
Wherever I travel, I do my up most to learn a little something about the local people. Around the Mediterranean it tends to be easier than in most countries due to the culture of fiestas. For those of you who don’t know what a fiesta is – simply put it’s a local street party organised to celebrate a saint. We managed to visit two on our trip. The first was in the town called Es Mercadal and the second was in Fornells. In both cases we witnessed very similar festivities. The first thing I’ve learned is that Menorcans love their gin. There were hundreds of people drinking a local gin called Xoriguer, with lemon. For the price of a cheeseburger, you could buy a glass of gin which would knock out an elephant. The second thing Menorcans love is music. In both towns they had bandstands containing brass bands which were blasting out the same song. And the third and slightly more interesting fact is that they love horses, especially their own breed of Menorcan horse. As the music blared out, and the Pomada (how the locals call Xoriguer gin with lemon) flowed, a number of men and women rode through the crowds on horses and at the crowds urging, forced the horses to rear on their back legs. In the middle of a crowd of thousands of people. It was bedlam. The weirdest moment of all was towards the end of the fiesta in Es Mercadal. During a break in proceedings the band struck up a different tune and everyone in the town started jumping and singing. The atmosphere was electric. A horseman entered the crowd to a heroes welcome and started making the horse walk on its back legs. Unbelievably it was the local priest.
Someone clever once said that you should never judge a book by its cover. It’s pretty good advice. Unless you are talking about a book. Menorca is not what you expect. The combination of natural beauty and tourist amenities means that it almost ticks every box. However that only scrapes the surface. If you dig a little deeper you can find an abundance of history, both prehistoric and British colonial, a culture which is unique even by Spanish standards and an island which reaps the rewards of caring about its appearance. As a destination it repays you for the effort you invest in it. However if you are looking to plonk your bum on a beach for a fortnight – don’t bother. Save your place for someone who would appreciate it.