The mountains of the sunset: The Serra de Tramuntana:
The spine of Mallorca lies on the western side of the island, and is formed by the Serra de Tramuntana. Altitudes are roughly equivalent to the highest Welsh peaks (1000m plus), though the geology and rainfall are quite different. The Tramuntana is composed of limestone, populated by olive groves in its foothills, and Dali-esque twisted holly oak higher up. Chambers for ice, charcoal and lime kilns are still to be found. The best times of the year to go are spring and autumn (say March-April and September-October), though I’ve also walked in late November and not suffered (admittedly the weather was unseasonably clement or tiempo loco loco as described by the local newspaper). I first went in June, and would advise others to avoid the summer unless they are fire-worshippers. This article covers some walks and experiences in the central region (covering Lluc monastery, the refuges of Tossals Verds, La Muleta, Can Boi, and Castell d´Alaró; Sóller and its harbour, and Valdemossa. I have yet to explore the northern and southern sections. I have tried to add to, rather than repeat the information in the guide books. Prices cited were those from December 2008.
Even in times of drought, or intense heat, the Tramuntana is surprisingly green. This is due in part to the geology. The limestone acts as a sponge and little moisture is lost to evaporation. Mallorca, being an island, experiences sea mists and dew that make up for the lack of precipitation. Apart from the summer, this climate makes for great walking weather.
I aimed for a gentle half-days walking. All routes cited fall within this category, with the exception of the walk from Tossals Verds to Sóller.
Walks (a few examples)
I don’t propose to give blow by blow accounts of each walk. Each one is signed well enough, and described in detail in various guide books (listed below), with the exception of the first trail, which can be followed using the description in conjunction with the map in the link below.
Tossal Verds refuge to the Cúber reservoir
There are three alternative routes:
As stated, I haven’t seen this one in the guide books, the trail isn’t signposted yet, but is easy to follow once you have crossed the valley near the refuge at the beginning of the walk (see link below). It is the best trail, offering splendid views throughout, begins immediately to the left of the Tossals Verds mountain hut. Go through a wooden gate, head uphill briefly, passing through a gap in the rock face with a wooden banister, and head down and then up across the dry valley floor. There is a gentle ascent followed by a lengthy fairly even stretch. It goes above the Torrent d’Almadrà’ to your left. Further on, a metal cable stapled to the rock assists the only truly steep section (no great difficulty here). Afterwards the trail goes uphill to the pass (Coll de sa Coma dets Ases) and downhill to the spring (Font des Noguer). This final fairly steep ascent and descent to Cúber can be avoided by scrambling across to join the tunnels route. The water at the spring is delicious, and Mallorcans can be seen filling up multiple five and ten litre containers to take home. It is a very much more enjoyable and rewarding walk in comparison with the tunnel trail around the Tossals Verds mountain.
Via Font des Prat — Gentle ascent to begin, followed by long and very slightly downhill descent with excellent views of Gorg Blau (another reservoir). Head north (with the refuge behind you) uphill towards Pou de sa Coma. This is well signposted and basically you follow your nose over meadows, a rocky section with wooden gate, through the woods, eventually following the running water in a concrete channel to Cúber. This route is the easiest (if not the shortest as the crow flies) and is not without charm. It might be advisable when tired or heavily laden.
The Tunnels route: Lots of ascent and descent for scant recompense in comparison with the two alternatives. Go through the refuge entrance gates and head steeply downhill, cross a wooden bridge and head steeply uphill through the woods (and this is only a foretaste). The narrowness of the gorge, the woods and tunnels make for a comparatively claustrophobic trail and restrict any views that might compensate for the route’s arduous nature. Apart from the novelty of tunnels, where a torch is advisable, (and seeing a pine marten at seven o’clock one morning), for me this trail has little to recommend itself. My advice is to only tackle this route if you have done, and are bored with, the other two.
Barranc de Biniaraix
From the Cúber reservoir (which incidentally has the biggest fish I’ve seen in my life, best viewed from the dam) follow the path either side of the water, heading gradually uphill through woodland, you then head downhill on a path which zig-zags downhill on one side of, and then down the gorge. There is fresh water en route. You get glorious views of the country, including the town of Sóller, and the lighthouse on the headland, where La Muleta refuge (an old police station) is also sited. Following the river, you pass through the beautiful village of Biniaraix (pronounced bin-iar-aitch). The village of Fornalutx (fornalutsch), said to be the loveliest on the island is just a few kilometres to the west. From Biniaraix, the road into Sóller takes you close by the agricultural co-operative mentioned below.
Es Teix and the Archdukes Walk
In the nineteenth century a Hapsburg archduke fell in love with the mountain range, and settled there. He was so fat, he used to follow this route on a donkey, and much of it is more like a pavement than a mountain trail. Don’t take the northern track out of Valcemossa, There is a much pleasanter circuit: head westwards out of Valdemossa on the Carrers de Son Gual; then Lluis Vives; then Toscana. At the junction with Carrer Xesc Forteza, turn left through the gate onto a track, which you follow until you reach the Font des Poll (which was dry the last time I visited in May 2007, so don’t count upon it). Here follow June Parker’s advice and follow the alternative route (sharp right uphill from the spring, rather than straight on), signposted Serra des Cairats. This is a much more open trail, affording great views. The summit of Es Teix (The Yew Tree) is not far, and is fairly popular with locals and tourists alike, with a great view of Sóller. Descend east from the summit, over a stone wall with a wooden style) and strike south-east. The crest path is so distinct I had no difficulty in following it in thick fog. Pass Es Caragoli (The Snail). The only slight difficulty I have found with this route is finding the best path back through the woodland via Pla des Pouet to Valdemossa. The coastline-hugging crest affords stupendous views of the surrounding mountains, the Mediterranean, the perforated headland of Sa Foradada, Valdemossa, and Deià. In terms of enjoyment versus effort expended, this counts among my very favourite walks.
What to take
If you aim not to hire a car, and must carry everything, follow the Chindit maxim of ‘reduce to the bare essentials, and then reduce again’. A lot of the walking is on bare rock, so boots are essential. In June I carried three litres of water — two should be more than adequate for other times of the year. Some routes have springs or fresh water (Biniaraix gorge, Font des Noguer), but I was once almost caught out by a dry spring at Font des Poll. I would also take two sets of clothes — I’d wash the set I’d walked in when the destination was reached, they’d be dry by the morning. Beyond that, boots, a sun hat, sunglasses, sun cream, a sheet sleeping bag, a lightweight towel, a light torch, toiletries, earplugs and waterproofs. Coolmax or equivalent gear is recommended for hotter times of the year. NB I’ve walked in shorts in temperatures of 25 C plus at the end of November/start December here. It might be feasible to travel between centres such as Palma, Sóller or Pollença by bus, leave what is not needed at your accommodation, and just what you need for the day’s walking.
There is something else you can take that does not weigh much but will more than pay for itself — a knowledge of the language. I speak Spanish like a dalek with a speech impediment, but it doesn’t matter. Throughout my travels in Spain, I have been treated with patience, courtesy and friendliness. Spaniards are impressed if you make the effort, and overlook mistakes. You only need a limited vocabulary to get from A to B; to order food or accommodation — many of the guidebooks carry such a wordlist. Sóller is pronounced So-ye, if you insist upon Soll-uh, it is unlikely that you will be understood or taken seriously. If you want a value-added holiday, some rudimentary knowledge of language is certainly the most effective and fun way of ensuring it.
You may of course hire a car, but this can prove an expensive encumbrance. Thieves also target hire cars. Spain being a civilised country, public transport is clean, cheap and efficient. There are trains from Palma (the island capital) to Inca, and a Wild West type train between Sóller and the capital (though less glamorous buses also run, at a fraction of the cost). When travelling on the buses, try and have the correct change ready (or close to it, avoid paying with high value notes), know where you’re going (and how to say it). Don’t try and get on the bus with your rucksack — put them in the luggage bays underneath the passenger area. That way you avoid upsetting the driver and other passengers. Incidentally, most Spanish inter-urban buses will also carry bikes. There is a particular bus worth mentioning, which leaves Port de Sóller at nine in the morning (Mon-Sat) and goes on to Pollença, passing by the Cúber reservoir and Noguer spring, good starting points for various walks. Boats also ply the coast, providing yet another alternative, especially if you fancy a rest from walking, and want to see the spectacular ravine of the Sa de Callobra.
Hitchhiking is generally frowned upon in Spain, but in the mountains the rule is relaxed, and people willingly give lifts to those in walking gear. I have hitchhiked extensively and without mishap on the mainland and now the Tramuntana. Where public transport is lacking, I have found this to be a viable alternative. There is just one road that traverses the central Tramuntana (C710), which simplifies matters of navigation for both hikers and those giving lifts.
Though it does not have a mountain refuge, Sóller is an excellent base for exploring the central Tramuntana, and also offers a great deal regarding accommodation, transport, shopping and things to do and see.
The island of Mallorca boasts the highest standard of living in Spain. Mallorcans themselves appear more reticent than people on the mainland, and take a little more time to assess things. Generally Mallorcans will generally take you as they find you.
In comparison with mountain areas on the mainland, the cost of food and accommodation may seem high. There are alternatives — you can eat like a king in modest workers’ cafés off the beaten track with menus del dia – hefty three course meals with good wine for seven or eight euros, an experience much preferable to listening to Brits bemoan the option of cold gazpacho when the weather is designed for mad dogs and Englishmen.
I stayed in both hotels and mountain refuges, and very much preferred my time in the latter. There is a growing network of refuges run by the island council. These offer excellent value and seem to be based on the principle of encouraging people (of all nationalities) to walk in the countryside. They are also excellent places for meeting people, the overwhelming majority of whom are interesting and sociable without being intrusive. The staff are happy to provide/draft idiot—proof maps for the walks, with features passed over by the guide books. Five refuges are now operational, Pont Romà (Pollença), Son Amer near Lluc, Tossals Verds (the highest at 546m), La Muleta (Port de Sóller ); and Can Boi (Deià). These offer generally spacious, always clean and comfortable dormitory accommodation, plus good value meals (wine included). If you require a greater degree of privacy, some offer double en-suite rooms — check the website. A number have rooms intended for four, six, or eight people. The wardens will try to keep groups together or ensure the greatest degree of privacy possible. That said, I have found stays at refuges most enjoyable when they are populated. It is wise (maybe mandatory) to book in advance (see website below). They are like youth hostels, only cheaper and better. If you don’t book, you risk needing to look elsewhere for a bed for the night. If you belong to a group affiliated to the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, you can get a 20% discount on accommodation, and 10% on food. Refuges also offer the option of self-catering.
There is also a hostel (Castell d´Alaró) within the ruined walls of a Moorish castle at over 800m. This only has recourse to water that falls as rain, and there are no showers or hot water, but it’s certainly worth a one-night visit. It is particularly attractive to rock-climbers. Food is slightly more expensive as it needs to be carried up (by mule or manpower), but again you may self-cater if you prefer.
I have also stopped a night at Lluc monastery. Having previously stayed at Cornellana monastery on the Camino de Santiago (Ruta Primitiva) pilgrim route, my expectations were perhaps rather high. The room allotted to me was gloomy, and the monastery itself was a tourist trap. The shops and restaurants, having scant competition, charge excessive prices, and the term ‘den of thieves’ crossed my mind. By all means visit the monastery, but I don’t recommend staying there. To be fair, it does offer free pitches for campers. I have also since met others who have had wonderful rooms with splendid views at Lluc. Maybe I arrived at a busy time, or the desk clerk didn’t like me.
Some people use Palma as a centre and use its excellent communication links for day excursions. Within the Tramuntana, Sóller is an excellent centre. Known for the surrounding citrus groves, in early summer, oranges and lemons ripen and are to be found on the ground. At the local Co-operative, I found large waxy lemons on sale at 39 cents a kilo, along with a variety of excellent wines from the barrel at excellent prices (less than 2 euros a litre for the best, bring your own container, or they supply at extra cost). The Co-operative, together with the Eroski supermarket (round the corner from the bus station) are good places to stock up on provisions or get a picnic for the day. In Port de Sóller (3 km away), an internet café (Bar Sa Torre), a self-service launderette and numerous small fairly pricey tourist supermarkets, shops and restaurants are to be found.
You can walk from refuge to refuge, from north-east to south-west (recommended, especially if you like the sun on your back). The distance between them can be covered in a day (or a half day between Muleta and Can Boi). The stupendous Biniaraix Gorge route from Tossals Verds to La Muleta is admittedly a long haul, especially in inclement (hot or wet) weather, but can be mitigated by catching a bus (€1), tram (€3) to the harbour, or a taxi (€9 to lighthouse, a good option if there several of you) from Sóller.
Port de Sóller (the harbour) is also a good centre. I have stayed several times in the excellent Muleta refuge, doing walks to Deià, Sóller and the surrounding area. The refuge is exquisitely sited, behind the lighthouse, overlooking the sea, bay, and the harbour itself, with the mountains at its back.
Sóller is worth visiting in its own right, offering much varied interest. Following the GR 221 northwards from the Muleta refuge, it was here that I chanced upon a roadside café on the bypass road, adjacent to the petrol station (and suspect I was the sole foreigner) — Ca’n Lluis, Carretera Desvío 10, open Monday-Saturday from twelve till five. I had a meal which put the tourist fare to shame. Palma is dotted with such bars, just watch out for where the mallorquins throng.
Deià is a beautiful hilltop town, marred only by the ubiquity of Sloane Ranger Brits. The walk there across the plateau from the lighthouse and down to the Gran Recorrido 221, was varied, and sheltered from the sun by the trees once I had reached the GR221.
Palma de Mallorca is compact and of great interest, highlights include the considerable center, the Bellver castle, reputed to be the last remaining truly circular fortress in Europe, and the Poble Espanyol. The mountaineering shops Foracorda and Es Refugi offer good quality clothing and equipment, often at lower prices than that available in Britain. Shops in the outback do not offer a great deal in terms of variety, tend to be dear and opening times are sometimes erratic (especially after a fiesta).
There are of course numerous companies who do walking tours, but if you go through them, you pay two or three times the price, and miss out on 60% of the adventure/fun.
Further reading (in order of usefulness)
Mallorca Tramuntana Central, Map (1:25,000) and Hiking and Tourist Guidebook, Editorial Alpina, SL, Societat Gestora d’Informació (9 or 10 € when purchased on the island) — guide and map in Castilian, Catalan, German and English) — original title Mapa Guia Excursionista E25 (to buy in Britain see website 3). ISBN: 84-96295-250-7
Mallorca: Rother Walking Guide, Rolf Goetz, Bergverlag (Rother) 2005, — this is the best book in terms of detail (both walking and background information).
Walking in Mallorca, June Parker (revised by Paddy Dillon), Cicerone 2006 is a very decent alternative.
If you speak Spanish there is also Mallorca: Una isla de contrastes., Pep Rivas Leiva & Blas Guevara Caparrós (Prames)
2. http://idd02ucg.eresmas.net/ENGLISH.htm – cheaper to buy maps in Mallorca
4. http://idd02ucg.eresmas.net/mapa%20tossals%20an.htm – for the best route between Tossals Verds and Cúber
photo by Ginger Nut Designs on Flickr