Summer time brings a Philippe Starck-designed hotel bringing Palma’s Old Town back into the limelight. The capital of the Spanish island of Majorca it now overshadows the beach resorts. Palma ranks among most sought-after European weekend destinations partly due to the affordable renaissance flights from Europe.
Palma’s resurgence is credited to the revival of the historic center with cobbled streets, stone palaces, quaint plazas and Gothic cathedral. From a no man’s land of dive bars the Old Town’s evolution features swanky rooms, restaurants and shops.
Bargains-seekers in the historic center have the Hotel Born, originally a mansion. A gigantic wooden door leads to a lobby with a majestic arched ceiling, marble floors and a lush courtyard. Clean and basic, the best rooms face the courtyard. Inclusive of breakfast, double rooms start at $106.
The Portixol Hotel with its ship decor goes back six years and is a 20-minute stroll from the city center of the Portixol village. Its poolside terrace attracts tourists and locals alike for cocktails, dinner and seaside views of Palma. Doubles inclusive of breakfast cost upwards of $237.50.
Centrally located, Bar Bosch scores over similar tapas set-ups as the toast of the local intellectuals for its exceptional grilled sandwiches. Also recommended is tortilla with “lomo y queso” or pork loin and cheese sandwich. Lunch on the terrace averages $19 for two.
Santa Catalina lies west of the old city walls. Recently mushrooming cafes and restaurants have created a foodie’s paradise. High on chic is the restaurant Living, Calle Cotoner with innovative organic embellishments. Menu specials include roasted duck with barley, radicchio, wild mushrooms and basil foam and dorada with crispy squid-ink rice, bok choy and preserved lemon froth. A six-course meal for one costs $50.
Day-time delights begin with the city’s art scene, revitalized with Es Baluard, Placa Porta de Santa Catalina, a modern and contemporary art museum. Miro, Picasso and other Spanish artists justify the $7.50 admission, along with the terrace restaurant, spectacular sights and Majorcan cuisine. Impressive architecture of modern glass and concrete is dramatically offset by Renaissance fortress walls.
Unmissable is the ancient cathedral La Seu towering over the Placa de l’Almoina and the harbor. Restoration of interiors initiated by Antonio Gaudi in the early 20th century continues, as does a mural of the creation saga being crafted by Miquel Barcelo since 2001 for completion next year. However public viewing is restricted to the cathedral and its museum.
European tourists and party-loving locals favor cocktails in the all-white bar and lounge of the Puro Hotel in the Old Town, a subsidiary of PuroBeach. If serene sunsets and wines are preferred, head to the just-opened modern Minimar tapas bar, Calle Vicario Joaquin Fuster on the waterside near the Portixol hotel.
Post-dinner pleasures include the Garito Cafe, Darsena de Can Barbara, in the shadow of the Passeiq Maritim in the little Can Barbara port. Open all nights, its superb combination of music ranges from jazz to electronica.
Palma’s attractions lie an hour and 15 minutes of flying time from Madrid or Barcelona’s 45 minute flight by Iberia or Spanair. The city center is 20 minutes by taxi from Son Sant Juan, Majorca’s airport for under $20.
The key to Palma’s unhurried island experience is to take it slow and easy whatever you choose to do.