Spain | Balearic Islands | Menorca

Leo Trippi's private villas for rent in Menorca for your luxury holiday

Luxury in Menorca: Laid-back, rich cultural heritage, marvellous beaches and a hiking mecca

Low-key, boomerang-shaped Menorca is, much smaller than Mallorca and less noisy than Ibiza, and is the least plagued by unwanted expansion. The easternmost Balearic island moves to its own laid-back beat. Apart from two very beautiful towns, Maó and Ciutadella, the island's main draw is its stunning, mainly undeveloped coastline, with more beaches than Mallorca and Ibiza put together. Almost every traveller brochure cliché is in fact true when you are talking about the unspoilt, idyllic, turquoise water beaches in Menorca. Outside peak season, it is still often warm enough to sit in the sun and the temperature is ideal for sauntering around the coastal paths. It is a good destination for young families, thanks to its small resorts, private luxury villas for rent and mid-range hotels, and progressively more for walkers, since the Camí de Cavalls, the path around the island's coast, is complete. An essentially rural island, the interior features rolling fields, wooded ravines and hills. In 1993 Unesco declared Menorca a Biosphere Reserve, aiming to preserve environmental areas, such as the Parc Natural S’Albufera d’es Grau wetlands, and its generous scattering of enigmatic Bronze Age sites.

For three separate periods during the 18th century the island was in British hands, which has given it some peculiar legacies. On the grassier fields of the interior you will see herds of black and white Friesian cows, while in Maó you will find graceful Georgian-style mansions, as well as a gin distillery which was introduced by the first British governor, Sir Richard Kane. The capital, Maó, is on the island's eastern end, perched above one of the world's great natural harbours. Fifty kilometres away, at the western extreme is beautiful Ciutadella. The road between them is the island's spinal cord. Menorca is also dotted with prehistoric monuments, weatherworn stone remnants that are proof of a refined culture. Little is known of the island’s prehistory, but the monuments are thought to be linked to those of Sardinia. It was built by the Talayotic people, whose culture existed from 1500BC until the arrival of the Romans here in 123BC. They owed their name to their Talayots, cone-shaped stone structures, probably lookout posts. Although the season gets going in May and winds down in October, the islands are beautiful in early spring when the almond blossom is out.

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The lasting skills in working stone are celebrated in the island's most unusual museum, Lithica, just outside Ciutadella. The sculptural spaces of a worked-out quarry have been planted with a system of arresting gardens. When in Maó, you should absolutely try the mayonnaise, which was invented here, as well as the local cheese and, of course, the fresh fish and seafood. The island's signature dish caldereta de langosta, "lobster casserole", is a speciality of the many waterside restaurants in the fishing village of Fornells. Maó's centre straggles along a cliff above the prized deep-water harbour with its bars and restaurants. In the old town there are small plazas with striking 18th-century buildings, and a market. The monastery of San Francesc houses the Museum of Menorca. Ciutadella has an exquisite old town of cobbled, arcaded streets and churches and a harbour. Don't miss the Gothic cathedral and museum.

Menorca is all about getting out on the water, whether swimming, diving, kayaking, paddle boarding or sailing. The Bay of Fornells is an almost enclosed body of shallow water ideal for learning to sail and windsurf. Diving and snorkelling is also popular. Its gentle landscapes are ideal for activities such as walking, cycling or riding. The best place for serious birding is the natural park of S'Albufera des Grau, between Maó and the lovely bay of Es Grau. It has a reception centre, a couple of hides and marked trails. The historic trail El Camí de Cavalls follows the coastline and is suitable for horses and mountain bikers too. Its 20 sections average 10 kilometres. The stone monuments dating back thousands of years are scattered across the countryside, providing markers for a hiking holiday, while ancient coastal paths have been restored to link the never ending series of perfect coves.

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