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Es Grau

Menorca is a popular destination for family seaside fun - but there's also plenty to see and do away from the island's beautiful beaches

Go wildlife spotting

The remarkable variety of habitats to be found on Menorca led to the island being declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993. Wetlands, ravines, dunes and woodland support a huge range of species, with birds, lizards and insects in abundance.


If you want to enjoy this rich ecological environment, the S'Albufera des Grau Natural Park is a good place to start. The dunes and wetlands here are a haven for wildlife – especially birds – and the area is easy for humans to explore, thanks to marked footpaths and boardwalks that lead into the reserve from the beach. Look out for little egrets, herons, cormorants, bee eaters and hoopoes. At dusk the plaintive monosyllabic call of the scops owl can be heard drifting across the reserve.

The barrancs (gorges) in the southern half of the island are another good place to head for wildlife spotting. It's hard to miss the enormous wingspan of egyptian vultures – they're often seen circling high above the cliff faces of the ravines. The lush vegetation at the bottom of the gorges also attracts plenty of colourful butterflies.


Lizards can be seen everywhere on the island – but head to Illa d'en Colom (boat or kayak from Es Grau) to see them in profusion. The lizards on the island show no fear of humans so it's easy to watch their antics up close. There's a population of wild tortoises on Menorca too – not easy to spot, but keep a look out in scrubby areas alongside footpaths and in the dunes at S'Albufera.

Comorant
Hoopoe
wild tortoise
Barranc de Sa Cova

Go back in time

The Balearic island of Menorca has no fewer than 1,500 archaeological sites. The most impressive of these are the megalithic remains of the Talayotic period. Dotted all over the island these sites are immensely atmospheric to visit – especially in the evening when the light has softened, shadows have lengthened, and you may find you have the place all to yourself.  


The Talayotic period takes its name from talayot – a conical dry stone tower up to 10 metres high. Also common at Talayotic sites is the taula – a t-shaped structure consisting of two huge stones, one balanced on top of the other. No-one's really sure of the taulas' function – some think that the T-shape represented the head of a bull, while others believe it formed a supporting column for a roof structure. Good examples of talayots and taulas can be seen at Talatí de Dalt, near Mahon, and Torre d'en Gaumés, south of Alaior.

Torre d'en Gaumes
Talayot at Torre d'en Gaumes

Above: Torre d'en Gaumés

Above: wild tortoise; hoopoe

Above: comorant; Barranc de Sa Cova

Another common feature in Menorca is the naveta. Also dating from the Talayotic period, these large rectangular structures were collective tombs where the bones of the dead would be placed, along with their possessions. The Naveta d'es Tudons, near Ciutadella, is the most well-known of the navetas – but for a more tranquil and highly atmospheric experience, visit the twin navetas of Rafal Rubí. Situated in fields of grass studded with ancient olive trees, these small navetas are best visited in the evening when the crickets and grasshoppers are singing and the stones are bathed in golden light.

For more recent history, head to the Fortalesa Isabel II at La Mola, near Mahon – a military fortification built during the nineteenth century. There are galleries and subterranean tunnels to explore as well as fabulous views across Mahon harbour.

Go for a walk

Menorca is an excellent walking destination, with quiet lanes, spectacular coastline and barrancs rich in wildlife. The Camí de Cavalls, or Horses Path, follows an ancient route around the perimeter of the island, giving access to some wild and beautiful beaches that can only be reached by foot. Clearly signposted, it provides over 180km of footpath – taking around 10 days to complete the circuit for walkers who want to do the whole route in one go.


If you're looking for a shorter walk, many sections of the Camí de Cavalls are enticing there-and-back excursions to secluded coves – which you may find you have all to yourself. Try the Es Grau to Cala Tamarells stretch, starting in the peaceful, picturesque fishing village of Es Grau. An enjoyable ramble along the beach and through dappled woodland of Aleppo pines and olive trees brings you onto the clearly signposted, rocky coastal path. After around 30 minutes you reach Cala Tamarells – a crescent of pale sand lapped by clear water and guarded by a ruined watchtower on the nearby headland.

Rafal Rubi

Above: Rafal Rubí: below: Fortalesa Isabel II

Galleries at Fortelesa Isabel
Fortelesa Isabel detail
Fortelesa Isabel
Cala Tamarells
cami de cavalls

Another interesting short walk along the Horses Path leaves from the popular resort of Torri Soli Nou on the south coast. Pick up the path near the Jardin de Menorca apartments on the northwestern edge of the resort and stroll through farmland through a succession of gravity gates – these traditional gates are made of olive wood, and are a frequent sight across the island. The path heads down to cross the Son Boter valley along a stone causeway, before veering left towards the coast – look out for wild tortoises hiding amongst the shrubs. Where the Camí de Cavalls meets the coast there is excellent swimming to be had at the Platja d'Atalix – it's a costume-optional beach, so no need to worry if you've forgotten your bathers. After a quick dip, you can choose to retrace your steps to Torri Soli Nou or head to Son Bou – more than two kilometres away along the long, long sandy beach.

There are inland walks too, along quiet country lanes and footpaths. Try the climb up to the castle at Santa Águeda or hike through the Barranc de Binigaus from Es Migjorn Gran to the impressive Cove des Coloms – a massive cathedral-sized cave. You can climb down inside the cave, but take care, as the rocks can get very slippery.


For more Menorca walking ideas, get hold of a copy of the excellent Walk Menorca by David and Ros Brawn.

Santa Águeda

Above: Santa Águeda

Above: Cami de Cavalls to Cala Tamarells

Olive wood gravity gate
Cove des Coloms

Above: olive wood gravity gate; Cove des Coloms

Go sea kayaking

Addaia, on the north coast of Menorca, is a small, pleasant marina situated on a finger of land jutting into a large bay that's studded with tiny islands. It's a brilliant place to try sea kayaking. There are tranquil inlets to explore – including Cala Addaia, a long, shallow lagoon-like bay that borders the S'Albufera natural park. Because kayaks move so silently through the water, this is a good way to get close to the abundant wildlife in the area.


More adventurous paddlers can head out across the open sea to Illa Gran d'Addaia, where an almost completely enclosed circular bay hides a secret, hidden beach. There are other tiny islands dotted about, with beaches that are easy to land on for a swim or a snorkel.


Kayaks can be hired at Addaia marina from Katayak Menorca, where friendly staff will suggest routes based on weather conditions and paddlers' ability. Guided tours of varying lengths are also available.  

Sea kayaking Addaia

Go snorkelling

The clear, turquoise waters that surround Menorca are perfect for snorkelling – visit almost any of the stunning cove beaches on the island and you're likely to have an excellent sub-aqua experience.


One of the best beaches to snorkel from is Cala Presili, near the Favàritx lighthouse on the north coast. To get to the beach, park in the large parking bay on the road to the lighthouse and look out for an olive wood gate, marked Son Camamilla, across the road. Follow the track, signposted Camí de Cavalls and after 10 minutes turn left for Cala Presili. There's fantastic snorkelling to be had around the small rocky headland at the far end of the beach.

Cala Presili sign
Cala Morell

Above: The path to Cala Presili; Cala Morell

Below: Alcafur

Alcafur

If you don't fancy a hike, Cala Morell – a small resort about five miles north of Ciutadella – has calm, deep water in a sheltered bay. Access to the sea is from stone sunbathing platforms – there's no beach to speak of.


It's easy to get into the sea here via strategically placed swimming-pool-style ladders. The seabed here is rocky, providing hiding places for plenty of colourful fish.


Even easier access to the sea is available at the tiny resort of Alcafur, which sits alongside a slim finger of sea offering sheltered swimming conditions.


Access the beach by walking through the bar of the Hotel Xuroy – a fabulous spot for a post-snorkel drink on the hotel's terrace – and you're straight into the sea. You can also jump into the water from the boat launching platforms that jut into the sea along the side of the inlet.

Where to stay

Villa Carmen, in the peaceful residential area of Cala Llonga, near Mahon, has superb sea views and sleeps six. It's a spacious, clean and comfortable villa which is pleasantly furnished and has a large, private pool.  

Green Adventures May 2016

5 fun activities in Menorca