Resort Report for our holiday in Mallorca at the Hotel Condessa de Bahia, Alcudia, in October 2003.
A last-minute cheapie, booked via Thomson. A week walking in the mountainous north and east of the island, but staying at a mass-market beach hotel in the north-east.
Only two hours from the UK, Mallorca is readily accessible. The airport buildings are huge - it's an enormous yomp to get from the plane's jetway to the exit via immigration, baggage carousel and customs. Same on the way back.
There are three parts to Alcudia. The resort, the old town, and the port.
The resort sprawls rather soullessly along the beach strip for several miles, with occasional clusters of restaurants, bars and supermarkets along the main road that runs a couple of hundred meters back from the beach. The restaurants tended to be of the MacDonalds, Burger King, KFC variety, with quite a lot of Chinese restaurants as well (eg the "Casa del Dragon"). The bars catered for the Brits (eg the "Stagger Inn"). The supermarkets seemed all to be Spar, apart from the good one a few hundred meters north of our hotel whose name I can't remember.
The old town looked quite interesting, and we intended to spend an hour or two exploring it, but somehow we never got round to it. It got very busy on Sundays and Tuesdays when there was a local market in the town.
We didn't go to the port, but it looked fairly industrial.
We stayed at the Hotel Condessa de Bahia, a 500-room hotel in the resort of Alcudia. Our comfortable clean fourth-floor room had a view straight out east through the large patio door over the private balcony out onto the bay. We could lie in bed and watch the sun come up. If we were to go again, we'd ask for a south facing sea view room on the 4th or 5th floor, in order to get early evening sun. Note: the main road through the resort runs behind the hotel, so if you get a west-facing room for the setting sun, it'll also face onto this busy road.
The bathroom was good with a good pressure shower and endless hot water. The water in the loo had a peculiar, yellowish colour when we arrived, but this gradually cleared to a healthier colour during the week.
We hired a fridge for our room at an extra £2.50 per day. This helped to minimise holiday expenditure, since we bought milk, orange juice, beer and wine from the local supermarkets just a few hundred yards in either direction on the main road.
The bar was well geared up for volume, and was moderately expensive. There was a huge seating area outside, between the bar, the pool and the stage. There was supposed to be stage-based entertainment every night, but we never saw it. Perhaps earlier in the season. There was occasional late night (10pm) entertainment in the bar. Since we only sampled the bar once (preferring to sit on our balcony with a glass of wine in the evening), we missed all this, so can't really comment.
The restaurant was huge - with 500 rooms, it had to be. It had been sensibly divided into three seating areas for a more intimate atmosphere. In between these areas were two buffet lines containing a wide variety of food, with occasional theme nights.
For breakfast there was continental buffet (cheese, ham, salamis, croissants, jams etc), as well as the makings of an English breakfast (eggs, bacon, baked beans, sausages, fried bread, mushrooms, and bizarrely, custard fritters…). There was a good selection of bread, and a toaster.
At night there was always soup, a good selection of fresh salads and hot and cold vegetables, and some hot dishes (casseroles, roasts, meats, fish, a veggie option and so on).
To be honest the hot food was rather insipid and of variable quality, but you get what you pay for. You don't expect haute cuisine at this price point. For example, the bacon at breakfast was always undercooked and cold.
Having said that, the salad and vegetables were usually fine, and the rest of it was all perfectly edible. The price of the wine appeared reasonable - we chose the house red Rioja at €8 a bottle, and were well pleased with it.
Hotel staff were polite and understanding. All seemed to speak English and German well. The restaurant staff worked hard to service the huge numbers of guests.
Thomsons let us down rather badly. We had ordered a hire car for the week before we left the UK, and Thomsons asked us when we wanted it delivered. We asked for it to be delivered to our hotel (included free) for 10:30am on our first day. It never arrived. Unfortunately the two Thomson reps were both conducting the Welcome meeting at 10:30, so it wasn't until after 11am that we could ask them where our car was. They made a phone call and told us it would be there in 15 minutes.
However, we were then collected by a Europcar representative who drove us across town to the Europcar office, where we were told that they knew nothing about our car hire, and that if we wanted one, we'd have to pay an extra wedge of insurance (to cover a huge €500 excess, which Thomson's hadn't made clear at the time we booked it) which effectively increased the cost of our week's hire by nearly 30%. We were now extremely angry at both Thomsons and Europcar, but we ended up paying this optional extra insurance. We then had to drive the car back to the hotel ourselves, meaning we weren't ready to start our day until about 12:30.
We later discovered that the windscreen washer tank was empty - Europcar clearly hadn't prepped the car properly. Fortunately the car (a 1.4l VW Polo) was not only a free upgrade from what we'd paid for, but also a delight to drive.
When we complained to the Thomson rep that night about the additional cost and the failure to reserve the car, she became quite rude, and tried to blame it on our travel agent, not knowing that we'd booked it with Thomson's direct. After doing some research, she eventually owned up that they had been advised of our car hire, were responsible for ordering the car, but had failed to do so. She ended up refunding us a day's car hire to make up for the lost time, so some good came out of it.
As we intended this to be a walking holiday we didn't go onto the beach in front of the hotel until the last day of our holiday. The beach was fine sand and appeared to shelve gently into the sea. There appeared to be plenty of sun beds and shade for the time of year we visited (early October). Looking a hundred yards or so north from the hotel there were trees lining the beach and just south of the hotel was a jetty where boat trips (e.g. glass bottom boats) regularly arrived and departed.
S'Albufera Nature Reserve
This was a real surprise and pleasure. It's located just a mile or so south of where we were staying, and is a huge flat expanse of marshland and reed-bed, about three miles across. It is extremely well organised by the Balearic Government, carefully maintained to maximise appeal to wetland birds and other fauna, and with lots of hides to help visitors to see the staggering variety and numbers of wetland birds at close quarters. Three hundred species of birds have been seen in the reserve, with over sixty breeding there. Best of all, it's free! There is an excellent visitors centre, where you can get a free map of the reserve, showing the paths and hides, a history of the reserve and a list of birds seen there.
We intended to have a quick look around, but ended up staying all day. In addition to the usual House Martins, Pigeons, Spanish Sparrows, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard etc, we saw Shoveller, Teal, Snipe, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Night Heron, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Little Grebe, Red-Crested Pochard, Marsh Harrier, Osprey, Hobby, Ruff, Hoopoe, Cetti's Warbler, Ringed Plover, Garganey, Gadwall, and even a solitary flamingo. The piece de resistance was lots of Purple Gallinule, a bizarre, huge, brightly-coloured Dodo-like bird, with a strangled braying call like a penguin. This had been re-introduced from the mainland, and was clearly doing well.
We also spotted a terrapin sunbathing on a rock, and a couple of snakes - one big one sunbathing on top of a low wall.
We kept being told by other British bird-watchers "Oh, you've just missed a Wryneck, Oh, you've just missed a Little Bittern" and so on. A dedicated twitcher could spend an entire week there.
Strangely, whilst there were picnic tables and rubbish bins, it was forbidden to eat a picnic on the reserve. Shame - if you spend all day there, you are bound to want to stop and eat something mid-day.
We used various resources to help us plan some great walks while we were there.
- "Holiday Walks in Mallorca", by Graham Beech, pub Sigma Leisure, ISBN 1-85058-738-8.
- "Landscapes of Mallorca", Valerie Crespi-Green, Sunflower Books, ISBN 1-85691-103-9.
- "Mallorca, North & Mountains, Tour & Trail Map", Discovery Walking Guides, ISBN 1-899554-88-2.
Walk 1: Alcudia Peninsula
A great walk starting at sea level, incorporating a look-out post at the end of the peninsula, a rusty old cannon high up guarding the entrance to the bay, a steep climb up to the high point at top of Talaia d'Alcudia at 445m, then a striding descent through rocky outcrops and scrubland back to the car at sea level. Total about 15km.
We enjoyed our picnic at the high point with a sensational 270° view over the strip of land towards Alcudia, with the northern mountains in the distance. The mountainous Formentor peninsula lay across the bay to our right, with the wide sweep of Alcudia Bay to our left, eventually ending at the even more mountainous Cap Ferrutx peninsula.
Walk 2: Boquer Valley
This was a fairly short out-and-back route from the back of Puerto Pollensa up through farmland into the valley, over the highest point of the valley at about 80m and down the other side to the rocky litter-strewn beach in Cala Boquer. You also get pestered by goats while eating your lunch on the rocks. We extended the walk by branching off west at the highest point of the valley floor, up the steep broken rocky valley side to the col along the western ridge above the valley. From the col there is a sheer drop of nearly 300 m down into the sea on the other side, and an airy view of Cala de San Vincente.
The map shows a path along this ridge - but only attempt it if you're an experienced mountaineer with a head for heights. Several confident people did it while we were there, and got shrieked at by four peregrine falcons who obviously considered the high ridge their territory.
That's the whole point of this valley - it's another birdwatcher's paradise. We watched Eleanora's falcons as well as the peregines. All around us were Sardinian and Cetti's Warblers, but the high point is the Blue Rock Thrushes that frequent the valley in some numbers. We were fortunate to have good views of a pair sitting singing on a rock outcrop just above us. All along the valley floor trail were people peering though binoculars or expensive-looking telescopes on tripods.
Walk 3: Cap Ferrutx
This walk is notable for the twisted alien landscape along the shore at Cala Estreta. Sensationally rugged coastline, with tangled, broken swirls of multi-coloured rock to trip you up as you sweat along the seashore in the heat.
A good view from the top of the Torre d'Aubarca, an ancient round watch-tower near the beginning of the walk. You can climb with care up the crumbling stone steps inside the tower, ascending a wooden ladder the final few meters to emerge onto the roof, where a rusting cannon barrel lies on the floor.
At the end of the trail there are two almost deserted sandy coves. We wished we'd brought our swimmies with us. We sat on a log on the beach at Es Verger and ate our ham and cheese baguette, washed down with a bottle of Rioja, before saddling up and toiling all the way back. A very hot day. If you can find somewhere else to go, go there….
Walk 4: The Archduke's Trail
This was the pinnacle of our Mallorca trip. A strenuous 15km, six hours of good hard walking. Starting from the car park in scenic Valldemossa at 450m, you slog up a steep rocky ascent up, over a ridge and then down to the Mirador de Ses Puntes, a ruined pavilion at 650m. Here there are sensational views north down to the sea and west across a wide valley to the far north-western mountains of Mallorca.
From here the path yo-yos up and down along the ridge between 750m and 950m for six or seven km with the views just getting more and more fantastic. I surprised a peregrine falcon sitting on a rocky outcrop next to the path at 940m. Soon you can look down on the sea on both the north and south sides of the island. At that height the island is rugged and unspoilt, with little sign of human impact, apart from the path itself.
Archduke Luis Salvador of Austria who lived on the north coast near Deia built the path well over a hundred years ago. In his youth he loved to walk along this ridge, but he liked his food and drink, and as he got older and fatter, he found he couldn't manage the strenuous walk any more. So he commissioned a small army of men to construct this high-level path running right along the top of the ridge so that he could ride his horse along it. Poor horse. The path is still mostly in excellent condition, though I suspect the local authorities have repaired stretches of it recently.
Just under the peak of Teix (1062m), the path peters out, and you stride down a steep track back into Valldemossa.
A memorable day to end our holiday with a real sense of accomplishment.
Some pictures of the beach and various walks, nearly 1Mb in total.
A good holiday with some great walks done, some nice scenery admired, some fantastically hot weather for October, some good birds seen. A reasonable hotel for such a value-for money trip.
Would we go again? Yes - but we'd find a (probably more expensive) hotel near Deia/Soller/Valldemossa, and do more mountain walks.