There are great bar lounges. There are wicked natural caves. There are amazing sunsets. Put them all together and it’s a guarantee that the Cova d’en Xoroi bar on the southeast coast of Spain’s Menorca island is the craziest place you’ve ever had a sunset drink. After all, you’re tucked one hundred feet above the pounding waves on a deck plopped on a ledge in the limestone cliffs.
Far less commercially developed than its big cousin Mallorca just across a Balearic Sea strait in the Mediterranean, Menorca surprises at every turn. With only two proper cities at either end of the island and no major highways in between, 270-square-mile Menorca is largely rural. Exploring this UNESCO biosphere reserve means discovering that it’s almost redundant to even speak of a natural Menorca.
On the north coast, the small whitewashed port town of Fornells is the launching point for a sailing tour of its deep-set bay and for an up-close look at one of the island’s many celebrated lighthouses and a perfectly circular old watchtower. You’ll also surely note the old boats called llaüts that are anchored in the port and still used for lobster fishing.
There’s a good chance that the lobsters in the back tanks at Es Cranc in Fornells were caught in such boats. With seafood being to the Balearic Islands what beef is to Texas, the restaurant delivers on its promise of “a lobster experience.” And once you’ve tasted this town’s signature dish of caldereta—a lobster stew in which tomatoes, green peppers, onion, and garlic are fried in olive oil, with parsley added—you’ll be sold, just as are the local families you see enjoying the festive atmosphere both inside and outside of Es Cranc.
A short drive inland takes you up to the highest point in Menorca. As mountains go, Monte Toro barely counts at 1,200 feet high, but as a quick excursion it’s great fun to dash up on this mostly flat island for a prime look over Fornells and the rugged coast. Yet it’s high enough that paragliders will be swooping around you as they take off from the slopes. The cool air and café in the small church’s courtyard might well keep you lingering longer than planned up there.
Back on the south coast, but in another realm entirely, the winery and hotel Torralbenc is made up of one of Menorca’s many lovely old whitewashed farmhouses turned lodging. Whether with a sea view or with a garden patio to your room or cottage with its light wood and tan palette, you’ll be surrounded by vineyards and enjoy fierce sunsets while staying cool in the slightly elevated terrain.
Opened a mere ten years ago, the Torralbenc hotel rose out of ruins, while its 35 acres worth of vineyard first produced just six years ago. Its vintages include Merlot, a Merlot and Syrah blend, and among whites a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay and the Catalonian grape Parellada.
Within stone walls, the Torralbenc restaurant takes up an old wine storage space. As you’d expect, they cook here with local products, but much comes right from their own gardens and orchards. You might follow a starter of prawn ceviche with avocado and chipotle emulsion by selecting a main of lamb shoulder with rosemary, truffle purée and shallots, or maybe a charcoal grilled local fish that reflects chef Luis Loza’s preferred method of traditional slow cooking.
Before you say goodbye to Menorca, make another stop a few miles down from Torralbenc at the Cala en Porter seaside village and the Cova d’en Xoroi cave bar for another breathtaking sunset from your cliffside perch. When you sip the island’s popular gin-based pomada drink, you’re tasting a legacy of the late 18th-century British occupation; here, however, gin is distilled not from grain, but grape spirit and the pomada drink is further mixed with lemon juice.
You might be surprised by the label of the most famous local gin brand Xoriguer with its windmill illustration. Windmills are yet another common feature seen around Menorca, and yet another one you weren’t expecting in this island of surprises.
Travel Notes: Making for the only long-haul flight from the U.S. to the Balearic Islands, United Airlines will launch service between Newark (EWR) and Palma de Mallorca (PMI), from June 2nd through September 23rd. The Boeing 767-300ER aircraft, with new cabins that include United’s new premium Polaris, will fly three times a week. United will also launch new seasonal service to the Canary Islands.