Palma de Mallorca, the hidden gem of the Balearics

The first thing they see on approach is the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria, commonly known as La Seu, which overlooks the bay and is floodlit at night. Built on the site of a Moorish era mosque, it was completed in 1601 and is most noted for having one of the biggest Gothic rose windows in the world. Gaudi’s hand is evident inside – the architect of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia was involved in renovations during the early 1900s.

Close to the cruise port is Marivent Palace, the summer residence of the Spanish royals and a favourite retreat of regular guests Prince Charles, Princess Diana and their boys during the 1980s.

The palace’s sculpture-filled gardens are open to the public and admission is free.

A short stroll down the hill from the cathedral is Paseo del Borne, the delightful cafe-lined and tree-shaded boulevard. El Borne and the nearby Avenida Jaime III are the two main big brand shopping strips, but in the side streets off of them are exclusive boutiques and artisan souvenir shops.

After a stroll around the old town in the morning, adventurous visitors might hop aboard the quaint little electric train for the hour-long trip to Soller on the spectacular north coast.
Built in 1912, the rickety, wooden-panelled train travels through valleys clad with citrus groves and centuries-old olive trees, along the sides of lofty mountains, over viaducts and in and out of tunnels. It’s like something from a Wild West movie, and you can easily imagine flaming arrows flying through the windows at any moment.

On arrival in Soller, grab a freshly-squeezed orange juice from the kiosk outside the station before boarding the tram for the short ride down to the port, which is home to some of the island’s finest seafood restaurants. There were two must-dos when I lived in Palma and wanted to impress my guests. The first was the Soller train trip, and the second — and best by far — was a visit to the vibrant Apuntadores-La Lonja neighbourhood. Here, behind big wooden doors, you’ll find Abaco, arguably the poshest, most beautiful bar in the world, that was once the townhouse of a wealthy nobleman who clearly knew the value of his five a day.
Step inside of an evening and it looks like he has never left, especially as the place is littered with baskets full to spilling of every fruit you could imagine. If you’re ever going to come a cropper on a banana skin, this is the place. Baroque music and Gregorian chants play from the hidden speakers, white doves flutter around the rafters, rose petals rain from the minstrels’ gallery, burning incense fills the air and that fellow sitting over there in the corner, doesn’t he look remarkably like King Felipe of Spain? Oh, it is King Felipe, all six-foot-four of him in his deck shoes (he’s an avid sailor and patron of the annual King’s Cup yacht race in Palma Bay), and that lady sitting beside him is Queen Letizia.

On another night you might find yourself sitting near supermodel Claudia Schiffer, Hollywood hotshots Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Princess Stephanie of Monaco or Richard Branson — they’re all Abaco regulars.

Abaco is Spanish for abacus, and you can count on having a memorable evening here after a great day exploring the city that most holidaymakers ignore but cruise passengers enjoy to the full.

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