Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2011/31 posted by hidden europe on

The fast ferry will speed you from Alcúdia to Ciutadella in just an hour. Too fast, perhaps, to really savour the transition between two worlds. Alcúdia has its quiet corners. Choose a sunny spring evening and the ruins of the old Roman theatre can be very atmospheric. But for most of the budget travellers who flock to Alcúdia, visits to Roman ruins are probably not a top priority.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

The fast ferry will speed you from Alcúdia to Ciutadella in just an hour. Too fast, perhaps, to really savour the transition between two worlds. Alcúdia has its quiet corners. Choose a sunny spring evening and the ruins of the old Roman theatre can be very atmospheric. But for most of the budget travellers who flock to Alcúdia, visits to Roman ruins are probably not a top priority. It's a busy resort, a place that boasts one of the largest hotel complexes anywhere in Europe, and a spot where in the season it's perfectly easy to party all night.

Yet even in busy Mallorca there are ways of escaping the crowds, and one of the best routes out of Alcúdia is with the ferry that shuttles over to the neighbouring island of Menorca. The boat lands in Ciutadella, an impressive township that has something of the atmosphere of Valletta, the capital of Malta. There was a time when Ciutadella was also a capital, though after the British impertinently invaded in 1708 they decided to shift the administrative centre of Menorca from Ciutadella, on the north-west tip of the island, to Maó (often called Mahón). Both communities benefited from the decision. Maó had much the superior harbour, actually one of the finest deep water ports in the Mediterranean, and was therefore far better placed to promote the economic interests of Menorca.

Meanwhile, Ciutadella settled back and enjoyed its new status as a backwater. It bears few traces of the three spells of British occupation of Menorca in the eighteenth century. You'll find more conspicuous evidence of English design in Maó. The Brits were keen to expand the island's new capital and built pretty Georgian-style town houses. Perceptive visitors will note that these dwellings still have sash windows and lace curtains.

When the French decided to invade Menorca in 1756, they arrived by the back door as it were. Anxious to avoid the British forces at Maó, or perhaps just worried by all those lace curtains, they disembarked at Ciutadella instead. Six years later, the French left Menorca to the British - having learnt, during their tenure of Menorca, how to make mayonnaise. The typical Menorcan sauce, that nowadays seems so quintessentially French, takes its name from the French and English rendering of the name of the island's capital Mahón.

Ciutadella is a place to wander. There is a fetching cathedral built on the site of an old mosque. The ensaimadas seem just that little bit tastier than across the water in Mallorca, and restaurants like La Guitarra and El Bribón specialise in typical Menorcan dishes. Ciutadella chefs are quick to emphasise that the island has its own distinctive cuisine which is very different from that in Mallorca. Yes, it's good to remember that there is a boat out of Alcúida. And Ciutadella is certainly worth the ride.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.