We’ve been living in Mallorca since the end of August. It’s a beautiful Balearic island in Spain where millions of tourists flock each year, seeking out incredible beaches, exploring its coves, winding through mountain towns and dining in idyllic settings.
The island is steeped in history and its people are proud of where they live. Grand old farm houses, antiquated windmills and stone walls divide farms of olive groves and provide a path on the tiny roads that run between the bigger villages and into Palma de Mallorca.
I used to live here 10 years ago, when I had a job in the yachting industry. Because I loved it so much then, we made this a more lengthy stop on our world tour so that Witty could also get to know the island, learn its culture and taste the daily delight that draws us all here from afar.
Unfortunately, because the island is so busy each summer, we had a really hard time finding a place to live for two months. That was made doubly as difficult when in June the government cracked down on short term-rentals in Spain, throwing every airbnb host into a state of panic and making it nearly impossible to find anything for less than a 6 month lease. A young man on the beach one day was lamenting the changes, and told me he was facing a 30 000 euro fine after government officials working undercover busted him renting his Airbnb in August.
There are a lot of competing views on this issue. On one hand the short term rentals were too lucrative, and as such, pushed too many residents out of town. It’s a common issue in popular tourist cities and it makes life hard for the locals who can’t enjoy living in el centro. On the other hand, the government’s crackdown here on the short term rentals seems to have slammed business for the city as well. Shop owners and restaurants who relied on those short term visitors have seen a huge drop in business this summer. Millions of people still come, but their accommodation options are limited.
We’re told too many hotels offer all inclusive deals so fewer people dine out on their visit. Then we heard about the cruise ships that spill into town for a coffee and a postcard, toting lunch boxes provided by the cruise. Well apparently in the eyes of the locals, the one cafe con leche doesn’t make up for the foot traffic, toilet traffic and mess left behind by fleeting day trippers. It’s an interesting conundrum, indeed.
We have heard a lot of opinions and in any case, it sounds tough on business no matter which way they go. For us in our house-hunting pickle, we were thankfully saved by some dear friends who let us house sit their homes through the peak summer period. This seriously saved us, and it was beautiful to spend time in Genova, one of Palma’s serene village suburbs that is perched on a mountain side.
We loved it there, but once we returned from our jaunt to Ireland, we finally unpacked our bags in a beautiful downtown apartment and called it home. It feels like Heaven!
We are still living here in the old town of Mallorca. This antiquated but lively part of the city is a maze of narrow stone streets polished by foot traffic, and winds you between high stone walls that protect tiny bars, cafes, arty shops and opulent old homes with hidden gardens within.
Our pad on the 4th floor has high ceilings with exposed beams, lots of toddling space and shuttered windows that let in delightful quantities of sunlight and breeze. We are sharing a building that is centuries old. When our washing is blown off the line from up high, it ends up in our neighbour’s courtyard, who opens her front door 5 nights a week and sells wine from barrels for a few bucks a pop. The locals gather here for a tipple and a chat, and I fancy it as an essential pit stop when I take the recycling down all those stairs and up the street.
I got a bike with a baby seat as soon as we arrived and I love it. We cruise around EVERYWHERE and Finn “sings” as we go. There is no point having a car in the old city. Unless you are a resident with some serious cashola, you can’t drive through here let alone park, but that’s what boosts the beauty of the barrio. In these long lanes, there is only room for feet, push bikes, occasionally a swarm of tourists on segways, and the horse drawn carts that pull lovers around on a romantic trot. Since I couldn’t afford a carriage… I just pop young Atlas on his mobile throne and we ride through this palatial place like the true adventurers we are.
Old town Palma was built by the Romans, ruled by the Byzantines and then the Moors. The whole island still has a Moorish feel to it. The Arab Baths still remain down our street for tourists to visit, where the wealthy Moors used to gather for business and definitely for pleasure. It was probably a very glorious time for some, but Palma was eventually conquered by James I of Aragon in the 13th century and so the Kingdom of Mallorca was established. What did they do next? Build stuff, and lots of it. Beautiful castles, churches, and of course, the cathedral.
This landmark of Palma is not just any cathedral. It is magnificent, it towers ostentatiously above the city and its prominence can be felt and seen from almost anywhere. In fact, I can see four of its spires from my couch right now as I look out of my window in the lounge room. When my parents visited us for Finn’s first birthday, we spent many afternoons riding bikes around it. We’d sit by the lake to watch the walls go gold with the setting sun and watch the gargoyles snarl in our imaginations as the sky darkened. We even a took wander through the cathedral’s interior one day which was (unsurprisingly) impressive.
In all the time I spent here as a ‘yachtie’ a decade ago, I never actually visited the cathedral within. I guess I was too busy walking the docks, trying to get a job, or celebrating in bars, having gotten a job. Now I’ve got the baby job, I suppose I can find time for a splash of culture here and there….
When my parents visited us in Palma for a couple of weeks, I felt the happiest I’ve felt on this whole trip. I know we’d already spent 2 months with them in the USA, but that was a crazy, whirlwind trip. Here, we had time. Finn had grown up so much since then and had new grandchild skills to show off. And importantly, for the first time since Denman Island in June, we actually had a home … so we could host!
We love the hosts we get visit, and we are sincerely grateful guests, but after 9 months having the door graciously opened for us, there is something remarkably satisfying about being able to open my door for someone else. To finally get to invite loved ones into our place, show them the streets we live in, and treat them to the lifestyle we love, that feeling has been unsurmountable.
Hosting my parents was like living in a love bubble. They had come for Finn’s first birthday (and for Finn himself) so it was no task at all to wax away the hours away basking in the light that he creates in our hearts. It was a precious pocket of time when all us ‘oldies’ in one room could buoyantly and wholeheartedly bubble with love for that chunky monkey. We could celebrate his growing skills in walking, talking, kissing, eating and stair climbing, and we didn’t need to change the subject for anyone! Everyone was satisfied and (I assure you) so was he!
During the love bubble, we toured the island a couple of times, visited some coastal towns and even took a boat out for a day of snorkeling (and admittedly spent most of the time trying to keep Finn from crying in protest). Apart from that, we hung out, and doing not much was the most fun. Not much was interspersed with bumming at the beach, playing in the plazas, slipping down the slides and swinging in those swings at the playground. The 10 day love bubble culminated with a grand finale 1st birthday bash, complete with blueberry pancakes and champagne for the oldies under a sunset sky by the cathedral. It was a feast for a king and we were his loyal keepers.
When Mary and Gordo said their goodbyes, I had teary eyes and a heavy heart. It wasn’t like I was never going to see them again, but the love bubble was always going to be this place and that time. He would be one. We would be young. They would be healthy and we all would be happy. It’s just a point in time, and a good one for me. Since they left, I don’t love Mallorca less, but I’ll remember that visit with a beaming heart.
The Wittys still rock the streets in fine form. We love the pinchos and cervezas at the Santa Catalina markets on a Friday- heading there today in fact! We love watching the bubble buskers in La Rambla. We’ve even “adulted up” and made a fleeting getaway to Ibiza for a night! The Palma beach is a daily scoot down the hill on the bike where Finn woos the ladies with his flamboyant flirting and fruit feasting.
The food is amazing, the people dress elegantly and in the early evenings you can taste the culture of cool in the air. It’s easy to just pull up a chair anywhere and take in the atmosphere (or your favourite paperback).
We love our home, and our little neighbourhood. Cisco down at the plaza is definitely going to miss us- I’m sure his day isn’t complete if Finn Atlas doesn’t come squealing across the tiles of Plaza de Santa Eualia, toddling at speed with his hands in the air, triumphantly flailing his newfound treasure: leaves from the sycamore trees above. All hail the toddler.