Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Fornells, Menorca - a quintessential Spanish fishing village

Our first impression of Fornells was of dazzling white washed houses gleaming in the bright sunlight but this wasn't just an impression, fortunately this is how it really is.  Originally a fishing village, Fornell's is still a base for lobster fishermen, albeit now it is more of a tourists' playground. Blessed with a deep sheltered bay 5 kilometres long and 2 kilometres wide it is perfect for all sorts of water sports, however, we had not come to play on the water but rather to soak up the atmosphere of this exquisite village.

 We were captivated from the moment we arrived at the waterfront lined as it is with palm trees and enticing restaurants boasting starched white table cloths and gleaming crystal. Having two young children in tow  those restaurants weren't for us, though, unlike the former King Carlos, who was a regular visitor to enjoy the village's famous lobster stew, eye wateringly expensive at 70EU per serving.

For us the delight in Fornells was wandering the pretty waterfront and the quaint back streets. It is a small place with a permanent population of just 1000 so it didn't take long to wander around but we loved every moment of it, picking and poking at the waterfront market, climbing the sea wall to get a good view of the harbour, eating ice creams under a shady palm tree and admiring the Llauts, the traditional Menorcan fishing boats, jostling against sleek and expensive leisure boats at the water's edge.  Along the back streets we imagined a simpler life in the sparkling white houses lining paved streets and alleyways some with the most attractive rainwater down pipes I have ever seen.

Sun drenched alleyways
Such a pretty down pipe

 It was blisteringly hot so for a time we sought refuge in the cool, simple and perfectly lovely little church of St Antoni taking time to admire the ceiling paintings of the village and the harbour. St Antoni is the patron saint of Menorca and every January Fornells has a public holiday and fiesta to celebrate him. Next we set out on a walk to the Tower.  Built in the 17th century to defend the village against attacks from Barbary pirates the tower was less than successful in that role but nevertheless still stands as a reminder of a volatile period in the history of Fornells.

Fornells and its harbour feature in ceiling paintings in the village church of St Antoni

The Fornells Tower at the harbour mouth

Hot and sweaty after our walk in the sun we retreated to a tapas restaurant for a cold beer and some lunch. The restaurant, Sa Taupa, is one road back from the sea on a pedestrianised street and was just what we were looking for.  NOTE:  you always pay  more for a sea front restaurant. This one had no view, although I understand they have a good view from their roof top terrace but children are not permitted up there. We were just happy to enjoy the street life and the passing parade of strollers.  It was cool and shady, the tapas were delicious and it was peaceful, our two year old obligingly sleeping right through the meal.

Satisfied and tired after our day in the village it was time to leave, rather reluctantly.  Our taxi driver had promised to return for us but something got lost in translation and he didn't arrive. There is only one taxi on the whole island licensed to take five passengers and he was it so I waved farewell to the rest of my family as they took a different  taxi home and I waited for the next one...it was a very long wait not unpleasant at the waters edge but meltingly hot.  Finally the taxi that had taken my family home returned for me.  The driver told me his temperature gauge said 44 degrees, no wonder I was hot! My family told me later that the taxi driver was worried about me waiting in the sun, although I was under a palm tree, and had made the long trip back especially.  What a lovely man! 
Slightly worrying name for a fishing boat!

We all loved our day in Fornells.  It was everything I hoped a Spanish village would be and definitely a highlight of our stay on Menorca.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

One day in Mao (Mahon), - Capital of Menorca

Tempting though it was to spend every day lazing around the pool we also wanted to explore this lovely island so it was "all aboard" the bus to Mao, or Mahon as it is also known. The bus trip from Port D'Addaia is long and circuitous but an ideal, cheap and comfortable way to see different parts of the island.

A working farm right in the middle of town
As our bus pulled into the centre of town we were astonished to see a fully working farm, complete with hay bales, tractors, donkeys and barns  surrounded by office buildings. No doubt the farm has been in a family for decades, if not hundreds of years and they're not moving for anyone!  We were off for a stroll down the hill towards the harbour on the attractive, pedestrianised main street. We stopped here and there to drool at pastry shop windows or to try on the very comfortable, local avarca sandals, worn by everyone, man, woman and child, on the island, it seems. Our happy small fry enjoyed the occasional ice cream stop, some of the adults did too, just quietly!

Main street of Mao
Avarca sandals used as planters

Strategically important in the Mediterranean, Mao has been fought over, and occupied at various times, by the English, French and Spanish who have each left their mark on the architecture making it a pretty town with attractive buildings. While under British rule, in the 18th century, Mao became  the administrative capital of Menorca and with a population of just 30,000  it is big enough to be interesting and small enough to be pleasant.
The historic centre of Mao

The town Hall
Nearing the boat harbour the town opens out at a square housing two churches, the town hall and the fish market, the historic centre of Mao. High cliffs dotted with mysterious caves tower over the broad, elegant staircase leading down to the water where we were heading to take a cruise on what is the largest natural harbour in the Mediterranean. It is sheltered and scenic and we enjoyed the passing scenery of  attractive villas lining the slopes, mussel farms in sheltering bays and the English arsenal, with its bright red paint contrasted against the greenery.

A view over the inner harbour

Picturesque ancient, rustic cottages nestle amongst the shrubbery and I spotted a house I'd love to live in built right out into the water accessed by its own causeway. We passed through the short St Jordi canal to the colossal 18th century La Mola fortress and also Lazareto quarantine island, built in the days when contagious diseases from sailors and travelers were rife. Our boat stopped at a sheltered bay for underwater fish viewing from the boat's glass bottomed chambers, pretty underwhelming, actually, but the lush sea plants were worth viewing. The cruise back passed a traditional Spanish windmill high on the sky line and the very pretty 18th century garrison town of Es Castell. I strongly recommend this cruise on Yellow Catamarans, it is an hour long and at 12 euro per adult and 6 euro per child, very good value.
I'd love to live in this house

Part of the La Mola Fortress

Traditional windmill - no one was tilting at it!

Charming little bay of Es Castell

Back ashore we headed to the Xoriguer gin factory, about 5 minutes walk along the waterfront.  All I can say is, what fun!  So many different flavours of gin and tastings are free.  Purely in the interest of research, well that's my excuse, we thought it important to try as many as we could but pretty quickly realised it was best to have just a teaspoon of each or we would have soon  been out on our ears.
Gin tasting heaven
We all enjoyed the Pomada which is lemon flavoured and usually drunk as a long summer drink.  We were having so much fun we suddenly realised we were in danger of missing the last bus of the day for Port D'Addaia. This necessitated a long sprint all the way up the sloping main street to the bus depot.  Thankfully we made it, hot sweaty and tired, and settled back into our seats to enjoy a much shorter route home followed by a cooling swim back at our villa. We had enjoyed our day in Mao but knew we would go back....there was more to see.