Perched on cliffs overlooking one of the world’s great natural harbors, the pretty little town of Mahón (population 30,000), Menorca’s capital, is becoming a stylish, arty place. A striking new arts center by the famous Swiss art gallery Hauser & Wirth is scheduled to open in a former naval hospital on Isla del Rey in 2020. With its classical Georgian architecture — a legacy of the fact that the town was occupied by the British for much of the 18th century — tidy Mahón looks quite different from most Balearic towns. Spared by mass tourism, it is an intimate and delightful place to discover on foot.
To understand Mahón, you need to view it from the sea and to discover its port. So begin your visit by descending the elegant stone staircase that leads from the upper town to the waterfront and taking a Yellow Catamarans tour of the harbor. On this fascinating hourlong trip, narrated in English, among other languages, you view the naval installations that the British built at this strategic crossroads of the Mediterranean, catch a glimpse of the Anglo-American cemetery — Mahón was the winter quarters of the U.S. Mediterranean Squadron from 1815 until 1848 — and see the house where British Admiral Horatio Nelson stayed during his numerous visits.
Plaça del Carme, a lively square at the heart of town, is the location of the Claustre del Carme, a popular food market, with many stalls serving tapas and other dishes. Other vendors sell clothes, jewelry and ceramics.
Iglesia de Santa María, Mahón’s principal church, was built in 1748 atop the foundations of chapels built in the mid-14th century to celebrate the reconquest of Mahón from the Moors. Its Catalan gothic interior includes many stained-glass windows, plus a Swiss-made organ brought to the city by the British admiral Cuthbert Collingwood. There are organ recitals at 1 p.m. Monday to Saturday from May through September.
Housed in an old monastery, Museu de Menorca, a small but fascinating museum, displays artifacts from Menorcan history, beginning with the Neolithic settlers who arrived on the island in 4000 B.C., plus a variety of artworks depicting, or produced on, the island.
Overlooking the harbor, Sa Taverna D’Es Port is a popular tapas bar that serves delicious steamed mussels, grilled baby squid, sautéed Menorcan prawns, sea anemone beignets and a variety of croquettes filled with ham or chicken in a béchamel sauce. Service is English-speaking and friendly, and the wine list features some of Menorca’s better bottles.
Sa Taverna D’Es Port
Moll de Llevant 139. Tel. (34) 971-367-909.
Book a terrace table at Restaurante S’Espigó, overlooking the pleasure boat moorings, for an excellent meal of fresh local seafood. The menu varies according to the catch of the day but runs to dishes like grilled tuna with onions, cuttlefish in a sauce of their own ink, and caldereta de llagosta, Menorca’s signature casserole of spiny lobster in a tomato broth.
Moll de Llevant 267. Tel. (34) 971-369-909.
The best souvenir of a trip to Menorca is a pair of avarcas, the traditional leather fishermen’s sandals. Sturdy and very comfortable, they’re now made in a variety of colors and leathers, for both adults and children. In Mahón, S’Avarca de Menorca (Carrer de l’Àngel 4) and Avarcashop (Carrer de ses Moreres 47) both offer an extensive range.
There are no hotels in Mahón that are sufficiently luxurious to recommend unreservedly to Hideaway Report members, but the charming and very friendly 14-room Casa Ládico Boutique, set in a beautifully restored 19th-century mansion, provides a comfortable and convenient base. Rooms are individually decorated with stylish wallpaper and handsome furniture. The best accommodations are located on the first floor, overlooking the garden, plunge pool and terrace at the rear of the hotel. These quarters come with high beamed ceilings, large windows and original parquet floors, and several of them offer baths with soaking tubs. All come with good lighting, walk-in rainfall showers and L’Occitane toiletries. Café Ládico serves an outstanding breakfast buffet with local hams, sausages and cheeses, as well as delicious ensaïmadas (Balearic pastries); at lunchtime, salads, cured meats and tapas are available. The hotel has a small spa suite with a sauna.
Casa Ládico Boutique
Carrer d’Anuncivay 26. Tel. (34) 971-573-700