Normally the death to any informal dinner party would be when the guests offer to show you their holiday slides – cue time to do the washing up or just sneak off to the loo to read the Sunday papers. But when our friends John and Jenny mentioned that they’d been trekking for their school half term in Majorca my interest was definitely piqued. I mean Majorca – this is the land first made famous by the 1980s’ Heineken advert in a parody of My Fair Lady with the line “the wa’er in Majorka don’t taste like what i’ oughta” and then in later years infamous for its renown as a clubbing Mecca. Who in their right mind would want to enjoy a walking holiday in Majorca? Well, luckily, our friends John and Jenny did…
With a week to kill for their October break they needed somewhere that was close and accessible, affordable, interesting, adventurous and warm enough to escape the onset of the UK winter. What they found was the GR221 – Majorca’s Dry Stone Way and a complete gem of a route. This is a little known long-distance walk that spans the North West coastline of this Balearic island and winds its way for the most part along limestone paths through the Serra de Tramuntana mountains. Within days of seeing their snaps I was booking my flights to see this trek with my own eyes.
The walk follows nine days of walking starting at Port d’Andratx and culminating in Pollenca to the north. Doing it in nine days would be for the most part a leisurely experience with just one or two taxing days along the way. Doing it any faster would require combining relatively short days into more challenging longer days that might take away an element of the joy. Presently the first four days of the trek are cursed with access problems and a lack of out-of-season accommodation options, so I have always chosen to cut the trek short by starting almost halfway at the picturesque mountain town of Valldemossa. This means that with travelling time included this wonderful snapshot of the trek that takes in the best of the highlights can be done at leisure inside the space of a week.
From the moment you land in Palma you will realise how wonderfully easy and cheap it is to get around the island. Public transport here is almost like my student days of living in Sheffield where every bus ride was 10p (and the driver would call you Duck). A bit more than 10p maybe and no affectionate colloquialisms from the drivers, but two Euros gets you into town from the airport. In Palma there’s a wealth of cheap and basic accommodation to suit all comers. And to get to Valledemossa it’s another simple bus journey which takes around 25 minutes.
The first day’s walking will lead you to Deia which is only 10km (4 hours) away. When first faced with this prospect I wondered if it was even worth my while putting on my boots. But, the moment you arrive in Valledemossa the holiday feeling kicks in: you’re on holiday and you’re on the continent! Aromas of real coffee and local baking soon work their magic and you realise there’s no need to rush. Part of the charm of this trek is the opportunity and time to explore what each destination has to offer and this is the place to start.
Valledemossa, if the guide book is to be believed is also home to the best bakery on the island. It’s also a great opportunity to shop for a picnic to be enjoyed higher up where Mediterranean views abound. Doing this trek in spring or autumn makes good sense: the temperatures are palatable while at the same time there are no real tourist hordes to contend with. That said, the initial section of the days walk led us up through holm-oak woodland which would offer a cool shade from any searing sun.
With hindsight, and without spoiling any plot, I can tell you that one of the joys of this trek is the sustained interest and variety of experiences that you will encounter along its way. And this first day of my trek certainly delivered on that front. As you exit the woods you will find yourself on the Archduke’s way – a fantastic high level path giving way to far-reaching views across the island in one direction and across the Mediterranean in the other. Once you reach the highest spot, stop for your picnic. Taste the vine grown tomatoes, savour the spicy salami, celebrate the local olives, and take delight with your freshly baked bread. Finally, rejoice at how well you have chosen to spend at least this moment of your life!
Careful route finding and a keen eye for the cairns will help you to negotiate what looks like a precipice down to your day’s destination. A good guidebook I found to be far superior to using the map and compass was the Discovery Walking Guides GR221 Mallorca’s Long Distance Walking Route. I found the route descriptions to be accurate intertwined with local information telling you about the wealth of artefacts you see, but also there is an undercurrent of wit and comedy within the text that makes this guide book all the more fun to walk with.
When you eventually finish the day’s walk you will find yourself in Deia. There are hotels and there are bed and breakfast type places – but forget all these and spend at least a few nights of this trek in the lovely refugis that you’ll find along the way. To give you the best idea of what to expect, think youth hostel done up by the likes of the TV series Grand Designs then that’s pretty much what you will find – but at affordable prices. And once again, the complimentary bottle of red wine that arrives with the evening meal will serve to remind you that this is more than your average youth hostel! Bedding is offered which means that you can pack minimally and go light for this trek too.
The second day of the trek allows you some options, but since the way is mostly flat and easy going it’s worth making the route as long as possible. I would recommend heading to the next refuge but staying there for lunch only. From here continue down to Port de Soller and take a while to enjoy the beach maybe – or at the very least an ice cream. From the port you can join the tourists on the scenic railway that will take you to the old town of Soller or better, use your map to pick your way along the footpaths to get up there instead. Once again this town offers a wealth of accommodation options to meet various budgets and comfort levels.
The day that leads us from Soller to the remote refuge at Tossals Verd is my favourite. Within minutes of leaving this picturesque town you’ll find yourself at the bottom of the Barranc de Biniaraix. (You’ll come across many places in Majorca starting with the word ‘Bini’ coming from the days of the Moors occupying vast tracts of Spain – it’s Arabic for ‘house of’). The Barranc de Biniaraix has a cobblestone path leading you up high through a terrific canyon. Undoubtedly you’ll be walking against the tide of traffic since most (idle) people get a taxi to the top and walk down from Lake Cuber.
I’ve led teams along this trek for the past few years now and still I have yet to see the bull that we are warned of as you break out into the top paddock. Within the hour you will be greeted with views extending along the Cuber valley. From here there are many options – and I think I must have done them all – but if you want to give yourself a bit of a challenge and the weather’s looking good I would recommend that you head up to Puig de L’Ofre which is up to your right.
The summit here usually makes for another great lunch spot. If you’re confident with your navigation skills continue along the tops in a north easterly direction. From the third and final summit (Rateta 1124m) follow the path southerly past a prominent ‘case de sa neu’ (snow house or snow pit). These snow houses are the remains of what were essentially big man-made freezers for storing snow and ice. As you continue down the hill side you will eventually come to a big water pipe that runs into the hill side through a tunnel. If you get this far your navigation skills have served you well (you’re technically off the main route of the GR221) and it’s time to don your head torch. Following these tunnels is just another twist to what is already a wonderful adventure.
The day ends when you reach the refuge which will be the only accommodation option for that night. A fire in the grate, communal living, sharing a yarn and a good book all contribute to the holiday experience.
The fourth day from Tossals Verds to the monastery at Lluc is yet another change in scenery. Easy route finding leads us through more holm oak forests until eventually you break out of this on your way up to the Col des Prats at 1220m. This is normally the day’s highest point, unless you decide to try the crafty scramble that leads you to the summit of Massanella, Majorca’s second highest mountain. Alas the weather has always let me down at this location on this day of the trek – one day I will see the summit of this peak. What follows are more ‘snow houses’ and the island’s deepest gorge the Torrent de Pareis. Even in the foggiest conditions route finding is easy as you wind your way down eventually into Lluc.
Lluc is not so much a village but really a huge car park serving the local monastery situated there. Look up to your right and too far away, and too high up, you will see the refuge you are heading to – but don’t dwell on this final hurdle just yet. Whether or not monasteries are your thing the monastery at Lluc is well worth a visit. And if it’s the price of the entry that might put you off, fear not, entry is free of charge! Rest your legs, enjoy a brew and something sticky before launching yourself what is actually all of about 500m away to the refuge waiting for you with more hot showers, roaring fires and sumptuous (bunk) beds.
When I lead teams on this trek, Lluc is the end point for us. The route that takes you on the final leg to Pollenca is ok – but not really in the same ball park of delights that the previous four days will have offered you. If you decide to walk this final day for the sake of completeness then certainly you will enjoy the town of Pollensa. To get back to Palma from Lluc or Pollensa is once again a simple exercise in public transport combining the bus and train. A word of warning for those of you that get travel sick – bring some anti-sickness pills for the drive out of Lluc; or at least a strong absorbent bag!
Trekking Majorca’s Dry Stone Way is a wonderful trek through wonderful countryside. It’s not overly taxing and hence it makes the perfect first trek for anyone that might be keen to test these waters. Personally I look forward to the day that my children will be old enough to join me!
When to go – autumn and spring are perfect seasons. Cool enough to enjoy the exertion but warm enough to wear a pair of shorts by day. Bring a sun hat but when it rains it pours – so bring a good waterproof coat too!
How to get there – low cost flight from an airport near you to Palma. I’ve found Jet2.com to be particularly good in the past.
How hard – The trek is an easy going trek that can be made harder for those looking for a challenge. Taking the easiest route described in your guide book and your longest day will be around 7 hours.
Where to stay – book your accommodation well in advance with the Consell de Mallorca at www.conselldemallorca.net. Be aware – everything is in Catalan!
Maps/guidebooks – I usually favour Cicerone Press, but for this route I preferred the Discovery Walking Guides GR221 Mallorca’s Long Distance Walking Route – go to www.walking.demon.co.uk for a copy of this. The local maps are fairly good and easy enough to purchase in Valldemossa, though they are about as durable as loo paper: take a map case.
Majorca trek – The Dry Stone Way GR221 written by William Legon