Menorca, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993, is shyly stepping into the spotlight as the unspoiled Mediterranean destination you’ve always dreamed of finding before the crowds got there. The quietest and most authentically rural of the four Balearic Islands has recently seen the opening of several superb hotels, and it has emerged as a serious gastronomic destination. Connoisseurs of the Balearics insist Menorca has the best beaches. The 30-mile-long and 10-mile-wide island is also a terrific destination for walkers: The recently renovated Cami de Cavalls is a well-marked 185-mile footpath that circles the island. And Menorca is avidly equestrian, with many riding trails and several stables that hire out the locally bred black horses native to the island.
Perched on cliffs overlooking one of the world’s greatest natural harbors, the pretty little town of Mahón, Menorca’s largest city, with a population of almost 30,000, is quietly becoming a stylish, arty place with the opening of several excellent boutique hotels and the upcoming launch of a striking new arts center by the famous Swiss art gallery Hauser & Wirth.
People who know the Balearics well consider Menorca to have the best beaches among the four islands. Cala Algaiarens, a beautiful crescent of white sand, has a smaller, emptier twin just behind the headland. Wide and wild Platja de Cavalleria is the perfect place for a swim during a day trip to the pretty port of Fornells. And Cala Macarelleta is a beauty of a beach on the southern coast. It’s a popular place for yachts to moor for the day. Have lunch at Chiringuito Toni on nearby Cala Galdana overlooking the sand.
I recommend taking a Yellow Catamarans tour of Mahón’s harbor. On this fascinating hourlong trip, narrated in English, among other languages, you view the naval installations that the British built, 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.
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 and Avarcashop both offer an extensive range.