The western Mediterranean cluster of the Balearic Islands may be a well-visited area of Spain, but the northernmost island amongst them, Menorca, is lesser known. In the shadow of its bustling and popular neighbours Ibiza and Majorca (Mallorca), it has always been sought after, yet protected – from invaders over the centuries to mass tourism today.
Menorca prefers it this way, knowing it has appeal yet being able to harmonise tourism with preservation. This island prides itself on its tranquility, while proudly displaying its nature and heritage including scenic historical cities and calm harbours, nature reserves and protected trails, ancient megalithic sites and pristine coastline.
Here, in this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, you can wander adventurously, but you travel slowly; you can immerse yourself within historical sites, without disrupting the island’s longstanding conservation.
Menorca is… A Protected Environment Nature Park
Over 70 unspoilt beaches, 130 secluded bays and coves, 19 ANEI (Natural Areas of Special Interest), and five nature reserves make up Menorca’s Biosphere Reserve. It’s a small space where you can cross multiple eco-systems – on one island you can venture to wetlands and sand dunes, ravines to wide open sea, ascend cliffs or wander caves, gorges and untouched islets.
It’s hard to believe that an island has been preserved so thoroughly, but aside from rules being in place for ship docking, restrictions of access for cars and the maintained Camí de Cavalls trail, Menorca is protected naturally.
One of the most interesting things I noticed when hiking was the ‘posidonia oceania’ plant that blanketed many of the beaches. These are known as the seagrass meadows (that grow underwater) and are washed up to sea, and in doing so, prevent the sand being swept out by the waves. This is what helps keeps the sea waters so pristine and clear, as well as preserving the coastline that is home to animals and plants unique to Menorca.
Menorca is…. An Adventure Landscape
My favourite days in Menorca were spent hiking and mountain biking sections of the Camí de Cavalls – the ‘Way of Horses’ former defense path that loops around the entire circumference of the island.
It would take approximately one week circumnavigate the entire island on this trial, and once you sample just a small patch of it, it becomes a very attractive option – one that is certainly making me want to return.
Menorca is…. A Nautical Playground
On the surface, Menorca’s candy blue seas attract avid kayakers, windsurfers, sand up paddle borders and boating enthusiasts. Sailing expeditions around the island can be seen departing from the Port of Fornells, which borders the Marine Reserve of the north coast; the port of Maó/Mahon, which is the island’s largest and for access to the east coast; and Ciutadella, for those sailing along the bays of the south.
Menorca is renowned for the transparency of the sea, making the crystal clear waters are a scuba haven, which unspoilt seabeds rich in marine life, and animals unique to the island and its long-standing preservation efforts.
Menorca is… Quality Cuisine and a Legacy of Gin
While not only known know for its fresh seafood, cured meats and cheese with a certified designation of origin, Menorca has a rather famous Gin blend.
Made using a typical British distillation process, but with Dutch flavours, Xoriguer gin and the distillery is a legacy of the days of British and Dutch occupation, and remains a local pride and a visitor favourite. One of the most common ways to drink it is not with tonic, but with a zesty lemon juice, known as a Pomada. The small distillery can be found in Mahon, with a one-litre bottle of this unique blend setting you back only 15 Euros (although I can confirm it doesn’t last long).
Menorca is… Prehistoric Monuments
This island of 700 square metres is filled with over 1,500 Megalithic monuments – which equates to an ancestral marker every two square kilometres. An open-air museum displaying the stone towers and ruins of Taulas, Navetas and Talayots, you can freely wander the prehistoric history of Menorca, 32 of which have been submitted as part of a UNESCO World Heritage application.
I visited the Trepuco monument, admiring the stone towers which are said to have been used for rituals since goats bones, broken wine vessels and white ash from slow fires (used for feasting) have been found here. These Talayotic monuments are said to be some the largest archeological remains in the Mediterranean, which you can get right up close to and freely wander amongst.
Menorca is… A History of Defense and Fortification
With an attractive and strategic position in the Mediterranean seas, Menorca was a target for various civilisations attacking, occupying and making their mark. In more recent history, as an island surrounded by pirate waters, the most notable fortifications and military architecture, which still stand today, are from the days of the British Crown in the 18th Century. The most coveted port in the Mediterranean, Mahon, is a distinctive part of the island filled with forts, towers, the ruins of San Felipe and the fortress walls of Isabel II.
A little known island, yet layered with a myriad of sights and activity, how will you choose to see Menorca?
Things to Know
- The Camí de Cavalls is the registered long-distance walking route, GR 223. The hiking route can be broken down into 13 stages, all of which can be experienced individually or in combinations and which are suitable for any hiker ability level.
- For further information about planning your time in Menorca, visit the Spain Tourism website who I worked with on their #MustSeeMenorca campaign.