Travel: Majorca in the Palma of your hand

Massive: Palma's impressive cathedral dominates the seafront landscape.

Massive: Palma's impressive cathedral dominates the seafront landscape.

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MAJORCA has long been an island with a special place in the hearts of holidaymakers who go back year after year, writes Julia Armstrong.

We went to C’an Picafort on our first family package holiday abroad when I was a kid in the early 1970s and I’ve always loved the island.

For a lot of people, the capital, Palma, is just the place that they pass through when they go to and from the airport but it is a lovely little city well worth a visit.

The harbour is very pretty with the old walls of the city rising from it and the cathedral towering overhead.

Inside the Gothic building there are some interesting modern additions by the artist and architect Gaudi, whose buildings are so influential in Barcelona, and also an extraordinary chapel by a contemporary artist that looks almost like an aquarium with all sorts of sealife on the walls.

Apparently opinion is split in Majorca as to whether it is a worthy addition to the cathedral.

Outside, there are plenty of winding passages to tempt the wanderer and shopper – Palma is great for shops, from the El Corte Ingles department store to little boutiques. It’s well worth tracking down the Arab baths with their beautiful little gardens – a reminder of the Moorish occupation of the island.

There are plenty of places to eat and drink and for some great tapas, try Tast (www.tast.com), a restaurant with an amazing selection.

There are two in the city and the décor is a great combination of traditional and modern, something reflected in the food as well.

We stayed at a lovely little hotel called Hotel Ciutat Jardi, which is on the beach at Ciutat Jardi (‘Garden City’), a little resort just outside Palma (www.hciutatj.com).

You can enjoy the city, which is a short bus ride away, and then come back to enjoy some time beside the pool, on your terrace or the beach with its little bar that also belongs to the hotel.

For a special dinner, walk down to Safra21 (www.safra21.com). They specialise in paella and rice dishes as well as offering taster menus.

For a great trip out from the city, go on the little wooden tram-train to Soller, a lovely journey through the citrus groves that the railway was built for – to transport the fruit back to the capital.

Soller is a little town in the north of the island with a pretty little square. Hotel La Vila just off the square has a restaurant with a fabulous art nouveau dining room if you want a special treat.

It’s one of many boutique hotels in the town, which is also very popular with walkers heading for the Tramuntana mountain range. Some of the hotels also offer guests the chance to join in with the orange or olive harvests at the right time of year.

If you like the work of Picasso and his contemporary Miro, don’t miss the little free art gallery next to the station which has examples of their work, including Picasso ceramics.

The little trams wind on through the streets to the neighbouring port of Soller with its beach and marina with lots of shops and waterfront cafes and restaurants. Soller and the port feel very relaxed, vibrant and sophisticated.

This is a reminder that Majorca has long been a playground of the rich, attracting Hollywood stars like Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones, who have a villa on the island, as does Pierce Brosnan. Locals will tell you where they are but they are annoyingly just out of sight.

If you want a nosey at the lifestyles of the rich and famous, go for a cup of coffee on the terrace or a meal at the restaurant at La Residencia in Deia, a place whose beauty has attracted many artists and writers like Robert Graves.

La Residencia is a beautiful and exclusive hotel and spa which winds up a hillside with stunning views and would be the place for a perfect relaxing stay with the chance of lots of pampering in the spa (www.hotel-laresidencia.com) – if you can afford it.

The list of the royal, rich and famous who have visited is seemingly endless.

We were shown round one suite just after Formula One boss Eddie Jordan’s daughter had departed after her honeymoon. If you are celebrating a special occasion, it’s worth visiting the website as they do have offers and packages. I had a quick look and found a three-day stay in September would start at around £480, but you’d have to add on flights and transfers.

The mountain village of Deia is lovely and well worth a day trip while you are in the north of the island, as is nearby Valldemossa.

The winding stone streets are closed off to traffic and inevitably they attract lots of visitors, so it does feel quite touristy. Lots of places cash in on the fact that the composer Chopin lived here one winter.

Back in Palma, we were taken to visit the Hotel Bonsol (www.hotelbonsol.es) in Illetas, a fabulously eccentric place with exotic décor and a great sister and brother double-act who run the place.

The thing is, with several pools and restaurant terraces on several levels as it sprawls across a hillside and a very nice spa, it somehow reminded me of La Residencia…

* Julia flew with Jet2.com, who depart to Majorca from several airports including Leeds Bradford, East Midlands and Manchester.

For flights only, go to www.jet2.com or for holiday packages, visit www.jet2holidays.com or freephone 0800 408 5599.

Hotel Bonsol is included in the firm’s holiday packages.