A Spanish Treasure Hunt

Mallorca

Mallorca’s reputation today as a jasmine-scented, jet-set paradise can make it hard to swallow tales of the Spanish island’s formerly hardscrabble history. Frederic Chopin, who spent the winter of 1838 on the island with his then paramour, George Sand, nearly froze to death there. Until the 20th century, the island survived on agriculture and cottage industry and even today, tucked among the almond groves and luxury villas, are a number of workshops, artists studios and factories. Inside: gorgeous textiles, ceramics, shoes and many other objects of both beauty and utility, often fashioned in the same manner as they might have been in Chopin’s day.

While most visitors come to Mallorca for the sea and the sun, I went in search of art, artisans and the kind of souvenirs that you proudly show off, not instantly regret and shove in a junk drawer the minute you get home. I traveled from Madrid, where I live, in June, for a long weekend getaway with four friends, including two interior designers. With their help, I designed a three-day itinerary

That – miraculously – pleased all of us. We bounced from museum to beach to boutique to taller (the Spanish word for studio or workshop). We also built in stops for meals at seaside restaurants and refreshments at tree-shaded terraces to refuel before pressing on. We stayed in Palma, at a friend’s home, and rented a car so we could easily explore the island and pack the trunk with our finds.

One note of caution for travelers based in the U.S.: Earlier this week, citing rising Covid cases in Spain and Portugal, the U.S. State Department and the CDC are warning Americans not to visit either country right now. With that in mind, I’d suggest using my guide below as inspiration for a later trip – and use the time to make space at home for all the goodies you’re bound to bring back once you do go.

 

Day 1 | PALMA

An important lure in Mallorca’s tackle box is its cultured capital Palma, a cosmopolitan city that’s become an art destination with terrific museums and galleries, eye-catching architecture and both traditional and cutting-edge gastronomy. As far as medieval seaside cathedrals go, Palma’s massive La Seu sets the bar pretty high. Finished in the 16th century, it got some elegant embellishments by Antonio Gaudн at the turn of the 20th. A more recent side chapel by contemporary artist (and native son) Miquel Barcelу depicts the miracle of the loaves and fishes in clay panels.

In the heart of the city, the Juan March Foundation shows 20th-century Spanish art in a 17th-century palace, and Caixa Forum features a roster of traveling exhibitions in one of the city’s most emblematic art nouveau buildings.

Eager to equip ourselves to stop for a swim on a whim, we did some frantic towel shopping at Rialto – a multilevel housewares and design emporium with a charming cafe. Even the chain Zara Home has upped its game by having interior designer Isabel Lуpez-Quesada revamp its Palma flagship store. And merely entering Arquinesia Perfumes is a transporting experience, walking from antique-filled room to room long before you get to the fragrances themselves, many based on the scents of local citrus or the sea.

An evening stroll along the waterfront took us to La Lonja, a merchants’ trading house built in the 1420s, and to Es Baluard, a contemporary art museum artfully built in a void between two stretches of the ancient city walls. Dinner followed in the lush garden of Botбnic, where the menu promises “plant-forward pleasure” and delivers with dishes like lettuce tacos flecked with succulent bits of grilled octopus.

 

 Day 2 | VENTURING NORTH

Fortified with a cafe con leche and pastries at Palma’s historic coffeehouse, Ca’n Joan de s’Aigo (est.1700), we drove about 20 minutes just outside the city to another heritage destination, the Gordiola glass factory, founded in 1719. Glass-blowing demonstrations are held in the vast vaulted workshop but we skipped the show in favor of the showroom. There we happily perused the hundreds of gorgeous wares – dishes, vases, palm-shaped candelabras and drinking glasses in all shapes and sizes – in every imaginable shade of transparent blue, green and amber. Described as “perfectly imperfect” with tiny air bubbles and subtle modulations of color and thickness, the glasses delight the hand as much as the eye. I bought some hefty whiskey beakers ($60 each) for pensive winter imbibing and vowed to come back next year with a van.

It was another easy 20-minute drive to the town of Santa Maria del Cami in the center of the island. Before we even entered the workshop at Bujosa, a family-owned textile company, we could hear the staccato click-clack of century-old looms from the sidewalk. Bujosa produces the traditional flame-stitch fabrics long-associated with the island. Given the old-world production methods, bolts of the fabric can be pricey so I settled for six napkins for about $35.

For lunch, armed with a highly coveted reservation at C’as Patro March restaurant, we drove about 45 minutes to the coastal hamlet of Deia Cove. Improbably carved out of nature, the restaurant clings to the hillside above the sea. After we placed our order – gambas al ajillo (spicy shrimp), a salad with goat cheese and walnuts, and two whole grilled fish I’d never heard of – we descended the stairs for a quick pre-lunch swim.

Following a postprandial sunbathe and another swim, we went for coffee on the terrace of La Residencia, the fabled island bolt-hole of artists and celebrities tucked into the hillside of Deiа. The hotel helps foster the island’s creative vibe with an inhouse curator and exhibition space and artists-in-residence. La Residencia also offers guests impromptu tours and visits to the dozens of artists’ homes and studios nearby. The tours, I was told, often end in local bars.

 

Day 3 | FROM MIRO TO THE MOORS

On our final morning, we traced an arc around Palma to visit some of the most stunning architectural sites on the island. First up: the Pilar and Joan Mirу Foundation. In addition to its collection of 6,000 works by the famed Spanish modernist who settled on Mallorca in 1956, the site features an 18th-century mansion, the artist’s whimsical midcentury studio by Josep Lluis Sert, and a 1992 gallery designed by Rafael Moneo.

Traveling back in island time, we headed just north to the Alfabia Gardens, a centuries-old manor house enveloped by Moorish gardens in which 400-year-old wisteria vines wind through a canopy of palms and cypresses.

It was during lunch at the Sea Club at Hotel Cap Rocat – set in a former 19th-century citadel – that Mallorca’s other charms (sun, sea, a second bottle of rose and postmeal swims) slowed our progress and we abandoned our campaign to conquer the eastern side of the island. That’s where the Huguet tile workshop, and Teixit Vicens textile mill, and the entire area around Artа, an artist mecca which even hosts basketweaving jam sessions, will have to wait for another trip.

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