Sun, sand and
“Just lie flat. Push yourselves through with your hands. You’ll be fine!”
It was the first time we had been sea kayaking. Only an hour ago, when setting off from the tiny fishing village of Es Grau on Menorca’s north coast, we had been struggling with our paddles, trying to establish a rhythm that would send us forward, rather than round and round in circles.
But now Kim, our guide on the three-hour excursion, was already expecting us to navigate a series of sea caves and rock tunnels. With the waves lapping jagged rocks all around us, this seemed a little advanced for a group of beginners. We are a family who enjoys a challenge, though. So following Kim’s instructions carefully, my ten-year old daughter Izzy and I lay back as flat as we could on our kayak and headed into the tunnel. We pushed at the rocky roof, just a few inches above our noses, then glided triumphantly out the other side.
“Head for the beach, that’s our next stop,” said Kim and we paddled after him, grinning from ear to ear, our confidence growing with every stroke. The beach ahead, Cala des Tamarells, was a perfect crescent of deserted white sand. I scrabbled through the waterproof stuff sack, which was keeping all our belongings dry, for my camera.
Like many beaches on Menorca, this one was accessible only on foot or by water. The most beautiful beaches – sheltered sandy coves, fringed by forests of pine and tamarind – are to be found on the south coast. On the north coast the coastline is wilder and more rugged, the beaches frequently battered by the Tramuntana wind.
You don’t have to walk or kayak to get to great beaches in Menorca, though. At Cala Mesquida, for example, there is a large parking area, with a short walk downhill to a fantastic beach which remains inexplicably uncrowded, even in summer. An added benefit here is the ice-cream van that visits the beach every afternoon, selling homemade Italian ice-cream with exquisite flavours such as hazelnut and lemon sorbet.
Exquisite ice cream flavours from the van at Cala Mesquida; the white-washed fishing village of Es Grau
There is also a good beach at Es Grau, where our kayaking trip had begun. Although not the prettiest on the island, the sea is shallow and calm – perfect for families with young children. Behind the beach lies the Parc Naturel s’Albufera, a protected area of wetland, dunes and forest, and home to an abundance of birds and butterflies.
Back at the Cala des Tamarells, we discovered that the beach is on the Camí de Cavalls, or Horses’ Path. This ancient bridleway has recently been restored to allow visitors to Menorca to explore the coastline on foot, bike or horseback. Clearly signposted, it provides over 180km of footpaths and encircles the whole island.
We had already sampled some short stretches of the Camí de Cavalls, further along the coast. The walk from Binimel-là to Cala Pregonda had taken around 40 minutes each way. As we scrambled over the final headland and saw the shimmering blue bay of Cala Pregonda below us, Izzy and her seven-year-old sister, Millie, stopped grumbling and were suddenly enthusiastic and eager to continue. The café at Binimel-là gave us a similarly effective incentive on the return leg – it’s amazing how the promise of ice-cream can keep even the weariest small legs going.
As we sat on the beach at Cala des Tamarells with Kim, he explained how the Camí de Cavalls had once played
an important role in the defence of the island. As far back as the 14th century, the path was used by soldiers on horseback, who patrolled the coastline on the lookout for enemy attack.
Then Kim pointed out the stone tower overlooking the beach. This was an atalaya, or watchtower, one of many
built at regular intervals along the coast back in the 17th century. If any suspicious-looking vessels were spotted, the watchtower guards would raise the alarm by lighting fires. The flames and smoke were visible to the next tower along the coast, where the keeper would also light a fire, and the warning would be carried in this way all the way to the city of Ciutadella.
“AS WE GAZED IN AWE AT THE VIEW, A HUGE BIRD OF PREY TOOK FLIGHT FROM THE CLIFFS BELOW US”
Kim had been born in Menorca, and knew all about the island. My husband, Rich, and I were keen to identify a bird we had seen the previous day. We had visited an archaeological site, Son Mercer de Baix, one of many such sites that are dotted all over the island. Walking through the crumbling remains of the ancient stone houses, we stumbled upon a viewpoint: a rocky shelf overlooking the Barranc de sa Cova, a dramatic limestone gorge. As we gazed in awe at the view, a huge bird of prey took flight from the cliffs below us and began to circle slowly, rising high on the thermal air currents. It was soon joined by three more, and the birds swooped above our heads. They were so big, we thought they must be eagles – booted eagles are a fairly common sight in Menorca.
But when we described the birds to Kim, he disagreed. “They would have been Milacas, Egyptian vultures,” he said. “They are quite rare here, but it is possible to see them in the barrancs in the south.”
The Cami de Cavalls is clearly signposted; Egyptian vulture; olive wood gates lead to Son Mercer de Baix
Realising that we were interested in the wildlife of Menorca, Kim urged us back to the kayaks so that we could paddle across to the Illa d’en Colom – a tiny uninhabited island.
“There is a very rare species of lizard that lives here,” he told us, as we slid up onto the beach and clambered out of our kayaks. “It cannot be found anywhere else in the world. If you are very lucky, you might spot one!”
We saw 15, scuttling across the rocky limestone plateau just above the beach. “There are lizards everywhere!” exclaimed Millie. The lizards on Menorca’s small islets have all adapted to their particular habitat and would not survive if brought away. So we kindly left them where they were.
Soon it was time to leave and make the journey back across the bay to Es Grau. By now we were expert kayakers, and even though the Tramuntana was beginning to whip the surface of the sea into hundreds of little peaks, we handled our vessels with ease, gliding effortlessly through the water.
Back in the sheltered bay of Es Grau, the whitewashed walls of the village houses were a welcome sight, as was the restaurant with tables right alongside the sea – as soon as we had changed into dry clothes we would be taking our places there for dinner.
We thanked Kim for a fantastic excursion and made our way back to the Menorca en Kayak offices to shower, change, and pay for the trip. It was then that we realised we’d forgotten to put something into the waterproof stuff sack: Rich’s wallet. He had left it in the pocket of his trousers, which were soaked. So was the wallet.
Cala Mitjana, south coast cove beach; hunting for octopus at Es Grau
Our money was a mass of soggy paper, the blue ink from the 20 euro notes running into the red ink of the 10 euro notes and turning everything purple. But in typical Menorcan fashion, nobody seemed to mind. “Happens all the time!” laughed Kim, taking the notes and spreading them out in the sun to dry.
Luckily, the money had dried out before we came to pay for our meal at the Restaurant Tamarindos. As we sipped our coffee, the sun set over the headland across the bay. The children ran up and down the wooden jetty, searching for octopus and sea hares in the clear water, and the distant hoot of a scops owl drifted over from s’Albufera. A lone kayaker slid soundlessly past – and we hoped that he had remembered to put his wallet somewhere dry.
Green Adventures March 2015
WAY TO GO
Getting there: Numerous airlines offer flights to Menorca, including Monarch (www.monarch.co.uk) from Birmingham, Leeds-Bradford, Luton, Gatwick and Manchester; Jet 2 (www.jet2.com) from Belfast, East Midlands, Edinburgh and Glasgow; and Easy Jet (www.easyjet.com) from Bristol, Liverpool and Newcastle. Flight time is around two and a-half hours.
Getting around: There is a good bus service linking the main towns and villages on Menorca, but to explore the cove beaches and archaeological sites a hire-car is essential. Driving in Menorca is a real pleasure, with quiet, scenic roads and free, easily available parking in most towns and villages.
Where to stay: Owners Direct (www.ownersdirect.co.uk) has a selection of villas and apartments in Es Grau – you can even stay in a traditional fisherman’s cottage. Menorca Gold (www.menorcagold.co.uk) and James Villas (www.jamesvillas.co.uk) also have a wide choice of apartments and villas with pools.
Kayaking: Menorca en Kayak (www.menorcaenkayak.com) is based in Es Grau and runs a range of guided kayaking excursions on the north and south coasts. It is also possible to hire kayaks by the hour or day for exploration without a guide. Waterproof stuff sacks and lifejackets are included in the price.