M and I just got back from nine days cycling in Mallorca, the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. Cycling around Mallorca in October is comfortable and easy. Not too busy, and not too hot. There are plenty of hotels still open, quiet roads, lovely scenery, and lots of places to stop en-route for a snack, a rest, or even a swim.
Touring with Brompton folding bikes
- As usual we took our Brompton folding bikes on the plane from the UK to Mallorca. We love our Bromptons — they add so much flexibility, and spontaneity, to cycle touring. It takes seconds to fold them up, and they’re small enough to take into a bus, a taxi, a restaurant, or a hotel room. On a previous trip, we’ve even taken our Bromptons on the historic Tren de Soller over the Tramuntana mountains.
- Yet, we don’t really save money by bringing our Bromptons, as there are plenty of bike rental companies on Mallorca, and for a short trip these could be cheaper than carrying our Bromptons on the plane. The EasyJet and Ryanair supplements for bike carriage have recently been hiked up to £47 and £60 respectively, per bike, each way. In fact, it would be much cheaper to book our folding bikes as ‘hold luggage’ instead of ‘sports equipment’, but we’ve never (yet) had the courage to try this.
- We love to ride the unofficial bike route from Palma airport that links with Palma’s fantastic 18 km Promenade Cycleway. We rode it again on our last morning — along the waterfront watching the sun rise across Palma Bay, then through narrow residential streets past families hurrying off to work and school, only finally packing up our bikes when we arrived in the airport check-in hall.
- Mallorca has become a very popular destination for racing cyclist groups. Many of the larger hotels cater specially for them, and some have huge shops where you can hire high-end road bikes and equipment. Out on the road, M and I look rather out of place amongst these lycra-clad speedsters. Unhurried on our folding bikes, we’ve had just as many scary moments from cycling pelotons — when they suddenly whoosh past us — as from too-close motorists.
- The Brompton is more than just a bike, it’s a complete luggage carrying system, built around an integral front pannier bag that clips on and off in seconds. Our Bromptons’ T-bag touring panniers have plenty of room for all the clothes, bike repair tools, and everything else we’ve ever needed for a couple of weeks cycle tour. We’ve become minimalist packers — we only bring lightweight travel clothes that can be rinsed through overnight, and we only take one pair of shoes each.
- We also use special Brompton-designed padded cases to protect our bikes for airline travel. These are not a perfect design. On the plus side, they’re lightweight, and can be rolled up and carried short distances on the rear rack. Usually we carry them like this from the airport, and leave them in the baggage room of a nearby hotel that we’ve pre-booked for our last night. On the negative side, these Brompton-designed cases are extremely awkward to carry with the bike inside, they’re horribly unstable to drag along on their little wheels, and they don’t 100% protect the bike from damage. Still, they’re much better than alternative hard bike cases.
- So far we’ve used these Brompton carrying cases on a total of 18 flights within Europe (so that’s 36 individual bike-flights), and we’ve only had one incident of damage — part of the aluminium rear rack on my bike got badly bent, and when I attempted to straighten it, it broke off. Luckily, we didn’t need the rack (we only use it for camping), and I fitted a new one when we got back home for around £70.
Getting around Mallorca
- Because it’s an island, and a decent size (roughly 60 miles east to west, and 45 miles north to south), exploring Mallorca feels ‘contained’. You could cover the whole of the island in a week, but Mallorca encourages you to slow down, and take much longer.
- We planned, and navigated, our route around Mallorca almost entirely using this locally-produced Mallorca Cycling Map. It’s super-easy to follow, comprehensive, lightweight, robust, and waterproof. We’ve used it on every trip to Mallorca, and I’ve only occasionally had to double-check our location on my iPhone.
- Mallorca’s TIB public transport system is extensive, and very cheap. Specially useful for cyclists are the T1, T2, and T3 train lines that run eastwards from Palma’s ‘Intermodal’ Station to Inca, Sa Pobla, and Manacor. Full-sized bikes can travel on these anytime, except in the morning rush-hour westwards, and in the evening rush-hour eastwards.
Cycle touring in the slow lane
- We had nine nights on Mallorca this time, including three two-night stays, and just five cycling days in between, averaging 25 to 30 miles per day. Apart from our two-night trip up into the Tramuntana mountains, most of our route was on the much flatter eastern plain of Mallorca. Definitely, our most leisurely cycle trip ever!
- On our first cycling holiday in Mallorca in 2012, we cycled right round the eastern half of the island, and clocked up over 250 miles. But, on every trip since then, our daily milage has fallen, and we’ve taken more, and longer, stops. We’ve seen much more, and felt more relaxed. And we’ve discovered that, even with only a few miles between overnight stops, we still get that wonderful sense of exploration and adventure.
- We were lucky again, and the weather in the first week of October 2017 was lovely. We got soaked once, but that was fun — we just ducked into a café (in Arta) until the storm had passed.
Crossing the Tramuntanas
- The high point of this trip (literally) was our two-night stay at Lluc, perched near the top of the Tramuntana mountain range. To get there we took the train on our first day from Palma to Lloseta, and then cycled up the mountain road to Lluc.
- M and I are quite old, and not very fit, but we managed the 641 metre climb up to Lluc in a few hours, with a bit of pushing, and lots, and lots, of stops. (We originally planned to take the bus from Calmari, but when we got to the bus stop a couple of hours early, we decided to ride on instead!)
- But we’ll never forget that ride. The road was mostly still and quiet, with only a few cars, and an occasional group of racing cyclists grunting past us. The final stage was 12 km of almost continuous 5% gradient, but that’s actually less steep than the (much shorter) hills near our home in the North of England. Here, the road went relentlessly uphill, in endless hairpin bends, zig-zagging above rocky chasms. When we rested (often), all we could hear were birds singing in the pine forest, as we gazed in awe at the white limestone peaks towering above us.
- Lluc Sanctuary is unique and unmissable (but somehow we’ve managed to miss it until now). Its accommodation is basic and quite cheap. We paid £60 per night for two people B&B, plus about £25 each for a wonderful Mallorcan dinner in the marble-columned refectory. Very, very atmospheric.
- The Sanctuary’s buildings include a Basilica, a cafe, a bakery, the refectory, and our tourist accommodation in the former monastery. These buildings surround a huge cloistered courtyard, shaded with fountains and olive trees. In the daytime this courtyard is busy with tourists, but in late afternoon, as the sun begins to fall behind the mountains, it gradually becomes deserted and peaceful.
Staying in Mallorca’s seaside tourist hotels
- After Lluc, our route followed a glorious, 26 km, continuous descent back down to sea level, a two-night stop in the beautiful Port de Pollença, and then southwards along the coast via Arta to Canyamel, and finally to Manacor to get the train back to Palma.
- We stayed in a lovely waterfront hotel (with a restaurant on its own little jetty) in Port de Pollença, and a big tourist hotel in Canyamel. Both were reasonably priced, and excellent. In fact we’ve stayed at dozens of mid-to-low priced hotels all over Mallorca, and they’ve always been a good standard, or better.
- When we first started cycling on Mallorca (in 2012), it was quite cheap to stay at seaside holiday hotels in spring or autumn. We chose routes mainly along the coast, or ducked back to the coast at the end of each day’s cycling, to take advantage of the hundreds of hotels overlooking beaches or calas, booking them just a day or two ahead on the internet.
- Since then, prices have gone up a lot (especially in UK currency), and internet booking has become much more popular, forcing us now to book hotels at least a week ahead. In 2012 we often could get B&B, or B&B plus a good quality dinner, for as low as £30 or £60 respectively, per night for the two of us — but now it’s around double that. (The scary growth of online travel agents probably contributed to these price rises, too)
- But, this is still much cheaper than most ‘packaged’ cycle-tours. These collect you at the airport, organise everything, and even transport your luggage for you. They take all the hassle out of planning and booking, and often include luxury accommodation in Mallorca’s fantastic ‘Agriturismo’ hotels. It would be nice to feel so looked-after, but for now, our way of cycle-touring seems more fun.
We’re already looking forward to the next time…
This was our sixth cycling holiday on Mallorca, but we still love it! And, even though it’s become more expensive, we’ll probably keep going back to Mallorca with our Bromptons — for as long as we still can.
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