Minorca or Menorca (official name) is the second largest of the Balearic Islands, located to the northeast of Mallorca and is the least overrun and most tranquil of the Balearics. Due to its unspoilt beauty, it allows the more adventerous the opportunity to discover new charms and experiences. Despite its smaller size among other Spanish islands, the number of beaches that Menorca has equals the number of beaches that can be found in Mallorca and Ibiza combined. The possibility of having a beautiful beach largely to yourself in the summer, combined with alfresco dining and peaceful holiday resorts, makes Minorca a highly desirable place to visit.
The harbour at Maó, the island capital, is the second largest natural deep water port in the world - the largest being Pearl Harbour. The whole island is a European Biological Reserve and Unesco Biosphere Reserve aiming to preserve environmental areas. More than a 75% of the territory is protected. You can watch some of the last turtles of the Mediterranean, birds and protected species.
An identifying sign of Minorca is its fascination with horses. All things centre around horses and the people love them. Minorca has its own race of black horses. In all the festivities the horses and their "caixers" (riders) are the centrepieces. The "Cami de Cavalls" is a pathway surrounding the island for horse riding and it was used in the past for defence of the coast by horse.
Minorca is a relatively quiet island which means that more wholesome, family fun holidays are geared towards this island. If you prefer a more vibrant night scene, head to nearby Ibiza or Mallorca for a bustling city atmosphere.
If you do take time to explore the interior you will discover a wealth of of interesting and historic landmarks from El Torro the highest point on the Island to the most significant prehistoric sites at Trepucó and Torre d’en Galmés.
To this day no one is certain of the significance of these prehistoric monuments in the form of Taulas, T shaped stone formations thought to be spiritual sanctuaries; Talayots which are stone towers that local people believe were once used as look-out points. There is little evidence to support these theories about Menorca’s prehistoric past nor the original function of these breathtaking creations . Taulas are named after the Menorquín word for table. (Menorquín is the local dialect of Catalan which is widely spoken on the Island. Menorca is by far the richest place in Europe for sites of prehistoric settlements, mostly dating from the Talaiotic Period, which was the period of civilisation between 2000 and 1000 BC. The term Talayot is believed to originate from the Arabic atalaya meaning “watch tower”.
Another feature of prehistoric Menorca, and one of its most famous monuments, is the communal burial structure known as a Naveta. The best example of such a structure is close to the former capital Ciutadella. Just to the east of the town is the Naveta d’es Tudons which dates from around 1300 BC it is believed to be the oldest roofed building in Europe. It gets its name from its shape which is like an unturned boathape of an upturned boat. You enter via a small low entrance which gives access to a roomy interior which measures 46 feet in length, 21 feet in width and up to 13 feet in height. When it was first excavated in the 1950’s there were the remains of some fifty bodies confirming that it was used as a burial chamber.
Since prehistoric times the Island has been controlled by the Romans, Moors, Catalans, Spanish, French and English. All these nations have left their mark on the Island and monuments to visit from Sanisera, the archaeological site close the port of Sanitja on the north coast of the island to the ruins of the Fifth Century Bascilica on the beach at Son Bou.
So here we are back at the beach where we first started. Hardly surprising when you consider that you can drive from east to west in an hour and north to south in about 45 minutes.
During the 18th Century, Minorca was a bone of contention among the British, French and Spanish powers. This was due to the Port of Maó, the finest natural harbour in the Mediterranean, and one of the best in the world, which could protect the largest fleets of the time in their entirety. The Utrecht Treaty, signed in 1713, gave place to the first British presence on Minorca, which lasted until 1755. The first British Governor was John Campbell (Argyll) nominated by the Queen Anne. Richard Kane ,from County Antrim in Ireland, the second British Governor, is still fondly remembered for his effective support of agriculture on the island; he introduced the cultivation of the apple, promoted cattle breeding and built roads and reservoirs which are still in use today. The Scottish Col.Patrick Mackellar (Argyll) was the chief engineer of Minorca and responsible for the main constructions of the british legacy. The main contribution of Mackellar was the design and construction of Georgestown (Es Castell) near to Sant Felip fortress at the entry of Mahon harbour.
There were two later periods of British presence on Minorca, from 1763 till 1781 and 1798 to 1808. The British left more than their earthworks and ramparts behind. Things as varied as the growth of Maó, which enthusiastically accepted the opportunities for trade and the abolition of the Inquisition,, the traditional woodworking and boat building techniques and designs and Minorca's most popular drink, gin.
The Golden Farm, a summer house near Maó, is one of the symbols of British presence on Minorca, perhaps as much as the bow and sash windows still to be found in the capital's old part quarter.
Son Granot is a Georgian style house built during the British presence on Minorca and is where Mackellar lived. This building is the second symbol of British presence and is considered a monument. Now the house is totally restored keeping the original concepts of XVIII century and it is a pretty land hotel and restaurant at the entry of Mahon harbour. It is the first house(red and white) you can see arriving by ship.
The locals speak a form of the Catalan language called Menorquí. It is a language not easily understood by Spanish speakers. However all the inhabitants also speak Spanish. Additionally most speak English to a reasonable standard, especially in the tourist areas.
Regular flights are available directly to Mahon from mainland Spain and the sister islands of Ibiza and Mallorca. Regular scheduled services are available with Monarch from Birmingham, Manchester, London Luton and London Gatwick. Easyjet and British Airways also operate flights from some major and regional UK airports.
Minorca's airport is served by buses to Mao (Euro$1.50, 15 min) every half hour from around 6AM to 10PM and then hourly to midnight. The bus stops at the bus station, the Estacio Maritima and a couple of other intermediate points.
Regular ferries from both mainland Spain and Majorca are also available. Modest-sized cruise ships occasionally visit. They primarily use the deep harbor of Mahon, which offers highly scenic views of homes, hotels/resorts and historic structures and fortifications.
Taxis are the most popular form of transport and there are many car rental companies to choose from.
There are numerous agents and companies specialising in car hire in Minorca - both at the airport and in resorts - although it may be prudent to organise it from home before you arrive to avoid disappointment during peak periods.
Most of the Western beach towns are served by buses leaving from the main Plaza in Ciutadella. Other buses leave from Ferreries, Alaior and the largest bus stop on the island is that one in Mao, it serves Sant Lluis and then all of the beach towns in the East. Son Bou is reached from Alaior. The main bus route which serves Mao, Alaior, Es Mercadal, Ferreries and Ciutadella runs along the centre of the island.
Most buses leave hourly and are very inexpensive, at around €4 to €5 to travel between Ciutadella and Mao.
Minorca has its share of beautiful coastline that deserves recognition. Minorca beaches are generally not crowded, so finding a nice relaxing spot of your own is not hard to achieve. The closest decent beaches to the capital are Es Grau to the north and Platja de Punta Prima to the south. Both are connected to Mao by local bus. There are around eight buses a day to Punta Prima. Other beaches of note are:
Numerous operators offer glass-bottomed cruises around the harbor next to the ferry terminal. Rutas Maritimas de la Cruz is the most fun and very recommendable.
Minorca is packed with good restaurants whose menus especially feature fish and seafood. Minorca also has a great variety of bars and cafes, some open for 24 hours a day.
On Minorca there were a great many junipers, (there still are), and in the harbour lay the British fleet. The twain met and Ginet was the result, a spirit far removed from the Spanish and Mediterranean traditions and with notable difference from the English Gin.
It is a kind of cross between London Gin and the Mediterranean spirit, invented in Minorca. It was very successful and was drunk throughout the British Fleet and it surprised more than one distinguished visitor to declare "the best of the sprits found in Europe today" was historian Vargas Ponce's opinion on visiting Minorca in 1781.
The major difference between London Gin and Minorcan Ginet, is that Minorcan ginet is based on a spirit distilled from the grape, as is usual in the Mediterranean, and not on a cereal based spirit. The juniper now comes from the mainland, but the distilling continues to be done in old copper stills. The spirit rests in oak barrels cured in gin so that the end product does not take the colour of the wood.
Gin is found all over Minorca, drunk neat or in a mix. One such mix, named Pomada, is created by adding bitter lemon. It's the drink of choice during the many fiestas which take place throughout the summer on the island.
Bars Nightlife in Minorca is low key compared to nearby Mallorca or Ibiza. For a drink with a waterside view, head to the waterfront which is where the majority of bars are situated.