My friend Julia and I spent a few days in Mallorca this September, walking the GR221 Drystone Route that runs along the west coast and through the Tramuntana mountains. Having walked the Tour de Mont Blanc together over the previous four years, we were ready for something a little gentler this year. Mallorca seemed to fit the bill with autumn sunshine, some challenging mountain walks combined with sea views and comfortable hotels to stay in rather than a communal dorm in a mountain hut. In this article you can read about the first two days of our walk starting at the pretty artist’s village of Deia when we walked to the mountain monastery at Lluc and read about the second part of our walk here.
We’d flown in to Palma late the previous evening and after breakfast in the pretty courtyard of Hotel Born, we hoisted our rucksacks on our backs and walked through the narrow streets towards the bus station at Placa d’Espanya. There is an excellent and regular bus service joining all the major towns of Mallorca and we took the bus 210 which passes through Valldemossa, Deia and Soller which are all convenient points to pick up the Dry Stone Route – timetables and more information on the tib.org website.
From the bus we could see Valdermossa, a picturesque town surrounded by mountains with views of the sea in the distance, where the writer George Sand spent a winter in 1838 with her lover, the composer Frederick Chopin. They had an uncomfortable and unhappy time and she wrote a rather scathing account of the Mallorcan people and customs in her book “A Winter in Mallorca“. We got off the bus at the next stop of Deia, a hilltop town which became popular with writers and artists because of the writer Robert Graves who made his home here. Exploring the small streets off the main road we discovered the village shop where we bought a few provisions for lunch and some water before starting our walk.
Further along the road from the bus stop, we soon picked up the signs for the GR221 which took us along the hillside winding through olive groves with views towards the sea. Seeming easy at first the path then crossed a few stiles and became quite rocky, so I got out one of my walking poles to avoid twisting an ankle. We snaked down the valley and followed the road for a short while before turning up steps between two houses and joining a path that ran parallel to the main road below.
This stretch was very pleasant as we walked in the shade, with cicadas chirping and the scent of pine needles in the air. The path was now taking on its ‘dry stone’ character, with stone terraces containing olive trees, the occasional stone built house and the retaining walls by the path making a grey patchwork with the stones fitting together perfectly.
Around 2 hours after walking out of Deia we came upon Can Prohom, a gorgeous large Mallorcan farmhouse with an outdoor terrace serving fresh orange juice and home-made lemonade with an array of quiche, meringues and almond cake. This was a taste of the wealthy country houses of Mallorca with an old carriage on display in the entrance and a mural of local costumes above the kitchen and we were perfectly happy to sit for a while on the terrace to take in the views over the valley.
Feeling refreshed, we walked down below Can Prohom, following the road for a while before it turned into a path that took us through fields and scrubland, until we came over a rise and could see the sea in the distance. A little further and we caught a glimpse of the Far des Cap Gros lighthouse and a small cruise ship just below the point at the entrance to the bay of Port de Soller. We stopped at the Rifugi de Muleta, a solid stone building which was once a telegraph station but now offers simple accommodation and refreshments for passing walkers like us. Never one to miss the opportunity for a drink of fresh orange juice or a terrace with a view, we sat here for a while before walking down the hill past the whitewashed lighthouse.
The point where the road reached the lighthouse and Refugi de Mulata offered fabulous views over the bay and was clearly a favourite spot to walk up to for a photo opportunity for the more adventurous holiday makers of Port de Soller. Our Hotel, Citrix Soller was a modest establishment set on the same small road just above the resort, so we checked into our room and relaxed there a while before walking down to explore the resort, which encircled the bay with the usual selection of shops, bars and restaurants aimed at the tourists. Along the seafront stretch of sand were kayaks, pedalos and a marina at the far end of the bay with the old fashioned tram going up and down the promenade.
The vintage tram ran every half an hour from the seafront at Port de Soller to the older town of Soller and took us to the Placa de sa Constitucia surrounded by outdoor cafes and the 17th century church of Sant Bartomeu. We decided to have dinner in Soller, enjoying the authentic, Mallorcan feel of the town and took a recommendation on Tripadvisor to find the charming Café Scholl down a side street. This pretty cafe had the retro feel of a Viennese tea house, with cakes and light veggie dishes – perfect for morning coffee or a light lunch but also open in the evening. We sat on the covered patio at the back and enjoyed a delicious meal of beetroot gazpacho and fluffy ricotta ravioli with an orange Aperol Spritz that has become my favourite aperitif since I tried it in Italy.
We made an early start the next morning, taking the taxi into Soller where the Saturday market was just setting up with a van selling cheese and sausages and some clothing stalls. Picking up the GR221 signs from the central Placa, the walk soon took us away from the residential streets, through the orchards and orange groves for which this valley is famous. Soon we were approaching the Binibassi, all green shutters and bright pink bougainvillea and then on to Biniarix, another pretty village with old stone houses, a couple of bars and shops and a communal washing house at the end of the village.
Looking back towards Soller, the mist was still hanging over the valley as the sun tried to come out to burn off the haze. Below us the fields were terraced, with figs, water melons and tomato plants irrigated with fat black pipes fed from stone reservoirs at the corner of each field.
Now we were at the start of the Serra de Tramuntana with craggy stone peaks rising ahead as the path became a broad series of cobbled steps snaking up between orange and grey sandstone cliffs. It was striking how the sides of this valley were terraced everywhere we looked and I wondered how they could maintain the walls, terraces and even houses so well in such an inaccessible place. Many of these terraces are centuries old and the Mallorcan government has put a lot of investment into maintaining and developing these walking paths in recent years, in the drive to develop rural tourism.
We passed a mule coming down the path, laden down with paniers on either side, perhaps filled with the olive harvest. Since no roads go up this far, this seems to be the only way to transport goods up and down to the few small houses that the farmers use when tending the land.
After following the path steeply uphill through a place where the gorge narrowed, we finally reached a viewpoint at the top where we sat under a tree to eat our late picnic lunch. The path continued through dense woodland and finally opened out to a spot where we could glimpse the Cuber reservoir below us in the distance. Plenty of walkers passed us from that direction, since it seemed to be a popular day-hike to take the bus up from Soller and get off at the reservoir, then walk downhill back to Soller, a much easier incline than our arduous uphill struggle!
The path led us through an open valley grazed by sheep and horses and along the side of the milky blue reservoir. The water looked inviting but we didn’t dare pause too long since we were heading to the carpark at the far end of the valley where the bus was due to pass through only once that afternoon. The GR221 continued from here to the more remote Refugi de Tossals Verds where we would have loved to have stayed, but it was closed for renovation, so we had no option but to take the bus on to the Lluc monastery where we had booked for 2 nights.
We arrived in good time at the car park and waited there for some time, since there was no official bus stop, hoping that the bus would come and we wouldn’t be left stranded. Eventually it did and in 20 minutes we were entering the gates of the imposing complex of Lluc Monastery, one of the major pilgimage sites of Mallorca. Read about Part 2 of the walk covering our stay at Lluc Monastery and the final stages of our walk on the GR221 Dry Stone Route in Mallorca.
If you’d like to walk the Dry Stone Route
If you plan to walk the GR221 Dry Stone Route I recommend the guide book that we used Trekking through Mallorca – GR221 The Dry Stone Route by Paddy Dillon published by Cicerone.
To transfer from Palma airport to the centre of Palma we took the airport bus No 1 which runs every 15 minutes and will leave you at Placa d’Espana where you will find both the train and bus station. Cost around €3 one way.
Information on routes, timetables and costs of the excellent regular bus service throughout Mallorca, visit the www.tib.org Mallorca Transport website. We used the bus to get from Palma to Deia, from Cuber to Lluc and from Pollenca to Palma.
You can buy the rather uncomplimentary account of Mallorca “A Winter in Mallorca” written by George Sand about the winter she spent there with her lover, the composer Frederick Chopin.
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