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Rising from the azure waters of the Badia de Palma, the golden stone of Palma de Mallorca beckons alluringly to expectant travellers. Under the warm year-round sun, it is not hard to see why Palma’s particular corner of this beautiful island has been settled since the bronze age. The city has a rich history: founded by the Romans in 123 AD, it became a flourishing Moorish stronghold until the Catalan conquest of 1229, after which, its geographical location was used to establish profitable commercial relations with all territories bordering the Mediterranean sea. This announced a golden age for Palma in the Middle Ages, and the city flourished architecturally. Thankfully, many of these treasures have survived to the present day, from the breath-taking La Seu, the city’s monumental cathedral, to the atmospheric streets of Jewish Quarter. Although the focus of our tour is mediaeval, respect must also be paid to Palma’s most famous adopted son and our time will conclude with a visit to the Joan Miró Foundation, bringing us back into the modern era before we depart this beautiful city.
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Flight from London to Palma. A private coach will take us into the heart of Palma, where we will check in to our hotel. Afterwards, a late dinner in the hotel restaurant is the perfect way to acquaint yourself with your fellow travellers.
Our first morning in Palma is dedicated to the mediaeval history of the island. We begin at La Seu, the city’s splendid Gothic cathedral perched high above the harbour. The dramatic position and ornate exterior of the Cathedral is matched by a spectacular interior developed over several eras. Gothic buttresses soar above Gaudí’s dramatic altar canopy festooned with a twisting ironwork of wheat and vines, while Barceló’s 2007 chapel installation is a dark and atmospheric space for reflection. Remains from the Moorish period in Palma are rare, but nearby are the 10th-century Arab baths, an oasis of calm in the heart of the old city, set within a lush garden of wildflowers, orange trees and palms. After an independent lunch, we reconvene for an afternoon devoted to the exploration of some more of Palma’s ecclesiastical jewels. The Basilica de Sant Francesc was built in the 13th century in the Gothic style but features a 17th-century Baroque façade, the result of reconstruction following a lightning strike in 1580. The peaceful Gothic cloisters are particularly spectacular. Not far away is the Church of Santa Eulalia. Constructed just a few years after the Catalan conquest of Mallorca in 1229, it was here that the son of James I, King of Aragon, was crowned James II of Mallorca. The evening is free for independent activities.
After breakfast we travel by coach to Valldemossa, a picturesque town in the Tramuntana Mountains. Surrounded by olive, oak, and almond forests, it was the Moors who settled here first, cutting irrigated terraces into the slopes of the surrounding hills to allow for the cultivation of the land. After the Moors were driven from Mallorca in the 13th century, King James II had a palace built here for his son, Sancho, in the hope that the climate would relieve his asthma. When the kingdom of Mallorca was absorbed by the kingdom of the Crown of Aragon in the mid-14th century, the palace was donated to a group of monks, who established the Carthusian Monastery of Valldemossa. It was here that the composer Frederic Chopin and his lover, George Sand, fled in 1838, renting a former monk’s cell for the winter to evade Parisian gossip. The couple’s stay was not the success they had hoped for, and we will learn more about their time here, as well as the broader history of this fascinating complex, on a visit this morning. Afterwards, an independent lunch is followed by some free time to explore the streets of Valldemossa before we travel on to the pretty coastal village of Deia to visit the home of the English poet and novelist, Robert Graves. Graves’ arrival in 1932 was followed by other artists, muses, and friends, solidifying the village’s reputation as a foreign artists’ colony. A bohemian atmosphere survives to this day and the village has attracted many rich and famous visitors over the years. Return to Palma in the late afternoon for an evening at leisure.
Our next stop is Bellver Castle, built just outside the city for King James II of Majorca in the 14th century. Constructed for strength and fortification, its shape is highly unusual: a circular structure with four towers at the four points of a compass. The castle’s coastal vantage point offers a panorama of Palma’s wide bay. Returning to the heart of the city, we visit La Lonja, the Silk Exchange. Perhaps the finest example of mediaeval civic architecture on the island, the handsome towered façade is matched by an impressively vaulted interior space. The rest of afternoon will be spent at the Royal Palace of Almudaina, which was built over Roman ruins and the Moorish Alcazar in a mainly Gothic style between the 13th and 14th centuries and enjoys wonderful views across the water. We reconvene later for a group dinner.
An early start this morning will allow us to see the ‘Festival of Light’, a gorgeous biannual phenomenon in Palma Cathedral. For a short period of time, the sun casts an image of the eastern rose window, the largest Gothic example in the world, onto the wall beneath its western counterpart, creating a dazzling figure of eight. We then spend the rest of the morning tracing the footsteps of Joan Miró, one of Palma’s most famous artistic residents, who settled on the island in 1956. His studio was designed by Joseph Lluís Sert in the same year and was used by the artist until his death in 1983. Next to the studio is the Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation, a beautiful, light-filled gallery built by Rafael Moneo in 1992, which displays collections of the artist’s work. After a farewell group lunch, our final hours in the city are free for your own activities. Why not visit Palau March to see the art collection amassed by the spectacularly wealthy March family, with works by Salvador Dalí, Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin among others. Alternatively, explore the Museum of Mallorca, which is housed in a 17th-century palace.