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Cala Mandia, Majorca
An October Half-Term in Majorca
"But everyone goes there!" I protested snobbishly as the nice lady at Lunn Poly plied me with yet another cup of coffee.
"Well then... proves they've got good taste," she replied, hoping that I'd decide on a "Late Summer Saver" to Majorca. "It's still seventy degrees out there in October and I can get you ten days instead of seven if you don't mind taking your boys out of school for an extra couple of days."
Majorca, Balearic Isles, Spain
Escaping the British Weather
As I peered out of the window at the incessant rain, the idea was fast becoming too appealing to miss and as soon as she mentioned the price, that settled it. Only 700 Pounds for the three of us in a four-star resort, over October half-term; that was less than half the amount I'd paid for us go to Greece in July.
My parents had enjoyed several package tours to Majorca, but due to my mental block of: "Everyone goes there," I'd never even considered it worthy of a visit in all my forty-four years, which apparently is rather disgraceful for a Brit.
I paid for the holiday, exchanged my Pounds for Euros, and, because WH Smiths didn't have one, began to scour the local charity shops in the hope of finding a guidebook on the largest of the Balearic Islands. Pleased with myself that I'd spotted one in the first shop I came to, I purchased it immediately for 99p; not realising until I got home that it was more than thirty years out of date.
The photographs in the book were taken long before the tourist boom of the early seventies and I hoped that they hadn't given me false hopes of what to expect. Never mind, the beaches will be the same, I reassured myself, even if they've since become fringed by horrendous concrete and glass slabs, soaring heavenwards and marring the natural landscape,
But once I arrived, I was relieved to find that our resort, at almost an hour's journey from the capital, was low-rise and blended in perfectly with its surroundings. Built in the 90's its architects seem to have at last come to a compromise with nature, learning how to enhance, rather than ruin the coastline.
Fortunately, I was happy with our hotel but had I been on the opposite, more bustling side of the island where most of the high-rise developments are situated, I would have detested it. Fellow holidaymakers who had visited Majorca many times previously told me that the most popular, and vastly over-developed resorts of Palma Nova, Magaluf and Can Pastilles are now hardly recognisable compared to how they were thirty years ago when my guidebook was new. But with over a hundred beaches, Majorca still offers many idyllic and secluded coves, mainly on the east coast, for lovers of unspoilt scenery like me. Some folk consider the vast tourist developments as progress and admittedly, tourism is the island's main source of revenue nowadays, but I have been brought up near miles and miles of golden, Cornish sands where even a solitary pillbox was considered unsightly.
Don't Forget To Bring Home Some Sangria!
George Sand And Her Book
I soon learned about an even earlier Majorca than the one depicted in my antiquated guidebook; the Majorca of 1838 when the French writer George Sand, or Baroness Dudevant as she was formerly known, and her lover Frederick Chopin, the Polish composer and pianist, visited the island. During their ninety day stay, they both managed to fulfil their respective creative roles by writing and composing prolifically. I began to wonder if two exceptionally talented people living together can somehow cancel out or sap each other's creativity, but during their winter in Majorca, this seems not to have been the case. They came to the island because of Chopin's failing health in the hope that a milder winter would do him good, but as it turned out they would have done better to visit during the warmer, drier months.
I bought Madame Sand's book "A Winter in Majorca," saw her original manuscript at the Carthusian Monastery in Valldemossa and touched Chopin's piano just as he had left it over 160 years ago, hoping that some of their creativity might rub off on me.
Valdemossa, the village where the couple stayed, perched high in the mountains and facing due north down to a scenic coast and the perfectly calm Mediterranean, is a beautiful place to be. Waking up to such an awesome and stimulating view each morning would certainly have inspired Madame Sand and her companion to great works.
Chopin is said to have composed and corrected a great deal of his work on the island in the winter of 1838/39, including the famous "Raindrop" prelude. Madame Sand too revised her novel "Leila" and produced the first draft of "Spiridon" in spite of the fact that she was accompanied by her two young children and a sick companion.
Maurice, her fourteen-year-old also displayed creative tendencies and his artistic talent is obvious in the various sketches he drew of the Majorcan countryside. But the family's stay in Majorca turned out to be an unhappy one. Sadly the climate did nothing for the ailing Chopin although he was to live for a further ten years. In her book, Madame Sand has little praise for the Islanders, hates the Mallorquin cuisine, which consists largely of fatty pork and over-spiced garlicky vegetables (as I too, was to find out to my disgust!) She tells how they were met with unexpected inhospitality, probably due to Chopin's as yet undiagnosed consumption. Locals even charged him for the cost of a new bed because in ignorance of his medical condition they saw fit to burn the one he had slept on.
Full of admiration for Majorca's natural beauty, Madame Sand mentions a great deal about the fauna and flora which thrives in abundance in the year-round temperate climate. She goes on to explain the rich architectural style of the main buildings of Palma in great depth and shows a keen appreciation of the island's history.
I wonder what she would make of present-day Majorca, almost totally given over to tourism. Only two percent of the island's arable land is now used for agriculture and even then it is not a profitable venture for the ordinary farmer. The quaint windmills that dominate the inland plains are no longer functional, but make a picturesque spectacle for the tourists nonetheless.
It is perhaps ironic that Madame Sand's book, which was written on her return to Paris, was not initially one of her more widely known works. It largely consists of vicious tirades against the nineteenth century Majorcans, but nowadays it sells by the truckload each tourist season, benefiting their enterprising descendants no end.
I enjoyed reading her enlightening and informative narrative and yearned to know more about her life with Chopin, but she reveals very little of their day-to-day existence. Perhaps there is more in her autobiography entitled: "The Story of My Life."
Exploring the Island
Unlike Madame Sand, my experience of Majorca was a happy one and although I don't drive, I was able to go on two full-day coach tours. Included were two boat trips and a memorable train Journey through the spectacular mountains of the north. I was determined to see more than just the three beaches at our resort, although there was plenty to occupy the time, even if I had chosen to remain within the grounds of my own complex. I visited the island's largest market at Inca and bought excellent leather souvenirs at a reputable factory. There was an hourly "Mini-train" to the nearest town of Porto Cristo and I found I could easily take a round trip on a glass-bottomed boat which visited several ports of call along Majorca's eastern seaboard.
I fell in love with the three small coves which surrounded my resort, all of which were well within walking distance. Most mornings, I would get up before the boys awoke and dash off to photograph a glorious sunrise. They too, have become seasoned travellers and have acquired a thirst for adventure.
We still found spare time to just laze around by the pool making the most of the late summer sun before flying back to the onset of a British Winter. At the end of my stay, the thought occurred to me that Madame Sand probably saw less of the island in ninety days than I did in ten (thanks to Thompson and modern travel). I don't envy the lot of traveller’s in centuries past. My flight took two hours from Britain, but Madame Sand's journey from Paris involved an arduous trek overland through France and Spain and then a tedious boat trip from Barcelona to Majorca's main port and capital, Palma. Even the relatively short journey from there to Valdemossa could take up to seven hours in her day and age.
We in the twenty-first century should never take for granted how easy it is to visit and familiarise ourselves with a foreign country. Since the 1950's we have been privileged enough (providing we have the time and the money) to fly anywhere and sample everything another culture has to offer. I could take photographs of Majorca and camcorder the scenery so it would become indelibly stamped on my memory, and then, once I had returned home I was able to write up my travel experiences with the aid of a computer. I think if Madame Sand were to come back from the dead and glimpse into our modern world, she would certainly be envious of all these things we take for granted.
Majorca Tourist Video
After reading this article, would you like to visit Majorca?
© 2017 Stella Kaye