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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Natural Prozac

I think I have just experienced a little piece of heaven. Two weeks of sensory overload in the Mediterranean. Sunrises and sunsets on mountains. A train ride through a valley of citrus groves. Turquoise sea. Ancient olive trees. Heavily scented figs made into jam and brought back. Pine forests clinging to impossible slopes. Irridescent bougainvillea, delicate plumbago. Sheet lightning, three forks of lightning and thunder simultaneously. Yellow hibiscus. Persimmons and quinces. Sheep will bells around their necks like wind chimes in the distance. Mallorca.

A two-week two-centre holiday in Mallorca has invaded my senses and left me gasping for more more more. I adored it.
Planned for about six months this was to be the answer to our need for a break away from the north of Europe and towards something approaching "summer". Each separate element of travel and accommodation and transport was booked through different suppliers; this could so easily have gone very wrong. But it didn't.

The French don't have as easy access to cheap air travel as do the Brits and though we are only a 15 minute drive from our very own provincial airport at Lille-Lesquin, low-cost from there is limited and flights otherwise expensive-probably because Air France have such a hold on the market. The answer lay north of the border in Brussels with scheduled flights on Iberia. This made for rather a convoluted journey involving Eurostar to Brussels-Midi, (quick tip - any Eurostar ticket with destination Brussels allows the holder to continue on to any other Belgian station), the shuttle train to Brussels International Airport, a flight to Barcelona and another to Palma Airport, Mallorca.

Having not flown for two years I was surprised that Iberia charge for everything. Their "fresh healthy" menu boasted a number of sanwich variations, all of them involving ham. I had almost forgotten that in Spain the pig is virtually a vegetable. I self medicated with 2 cans of Heineken, being an improved though not enthusiastic flyer.

En route to our first accommodation in Port Sóller we went wild in the aisles at the conveniently-situated Carrefour just moments away from the airport. Soon we were following the booking agency's good directions through two tunnels hewn through mountains and we arrived in Port Sóller easily enough. Tiredness, slight ambiguity and lack of light lead to us panicking for half an hour and attempting to break into a construction site whilst furiously attempting to reach the agent on the mobile. Phew! She didn't answer as our apartment was actually two blocks further up the hill. When, finally, we found the right place and threw open the terrace doors all the stress and frustration melted away and we knew we had made a great choice. The terrace has a panoramic view over the port and the lights on the water made it appear quite magical.

Port Sóller is a small and not overly commercialised resort, which still has a small fleet of working fishing boats. Most of the harbour has now been given over to a marina where some rather impressive, but not outrageously so, yachts sink their anchors. A quaint original (1913) tram links the port to its parent, Sóller some 2kms away, which in turn has its own antique train (1912) to connect it to Palma, the capital.
Being outside in the sunshine and eating outside is like having your batteries recharged. Waking every day to look out over mountains, forests and the sea is like taking a natural Prozac. How could anyone find this less than stunning?

Yes, of course we fell in love with the place and were soon leafing through property magazines to see if our new dream was realisable. It may be, but for now property is expensive, very expensive, and even a small place in a pleasant spot with maybe a bit of a view and some outside space is likely to be in the region of 500,000€ +++. That lottery win is long overdue.

We visited Sóller nestling in the valley behind the mountain that shields it from the sea and enjoyed its leafy main square with the aforementioned trams rattling through. We drove to Valdemossa where Chopin holed up with George Sand in a monastery and where the latter wrote a disparaging novel about Mallorca in the winter. Ironically this is now a top tourist buy. Apparently Michael Douglas and Zeta have a house close by. I can understand who though was not interested enough to go take a peek. The town is pretty and worth the investment of a morning but was too touristy. Come buy your Chopin teacloths here!
On the way back from Valdemossa we stopped in Deià where the writer and poet, Robert Graves elected to live until his death in 1985. He was perhaps most well known for his novel I, Claudius, which was made into a TV series by the BBC in the 1970s. We of course confused him with Rupert Graves of Room with a View/Maurice fame, and even Rupert Brooke, he of the The Soldier "If I should die think only this of me: that there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England. ". One of the very few pieces of writing that has made me feel patriotic. I visited his grave on Skyros.
We duly did the train to Palma and a rare treat it was too. Shambling along the ancient track it wends its way through the mountains and groves of oranges, lemons, almonds and olives. We had the carriage all to ourselves. We took the rather less romantic coach on the way back. We have been to Palma before staying on one of those Easyjet inspired long weekends in February about four years ago. We stayed in a delightful old-fashioned hotel - the hotel Born - just at the top of the Royal Ramblas near to Zara, the clothes shop, which we visited every day! Palma is bustling and gorgeous with its surprising cathedral and royal palace right on the seafront.

Our week in Port Sóller over we left the apartment with only slightly heavy heart knowing that we had a villa with pool awaiting us. We took the mountain road as we had plenty of time before we were due to take temporary possession of El Clavet, and stopped off approximately halfway at the Monastery in Lluc high in the Tramuntana mountains. A brief wander around the medicinal garden where we lunched on our purchases from a stall set up by what might have been the local WI group. There were a lot of doughnuts being made too.
Cala St Vicenç, a small, very British, cove of jutting rocks, cliffs and small sandy beaches and turquoise water, was the nearest place to our villa. I wouldn't have chosen to stay there full time but it was nice to go and see the sea occasionally and to sit and enjoy a very reasonably priced cerveza grande. El Clavet is situated just outside of the resort in semi and rather splendid isolation.

El Clavet, I have no idea what it means and have not been able to find out. But as far as I am concerned it must mean something very special. Holidays for me usually require there to be a palm tree within easy view and there are five between the house, a converted finca, and the pool. Set back from the main road and reached via a long dusty drive lined by kiwi vines and persimmon trees, El Clavet is truly magical. One other place in the world has as powerful an impact on me: The Old Priory, Dunster in Somerset.
The house is set in the valley between two steep mountains, surrounded by lemon, fig, pomegranate and quince and cactus - that's the flora. As for the fauna there were hens at the back, one solitary pink (under the mud) pig - Naf Naf - and a drove of black ones with piglets. I almost forget the cats - two young adults and their two kittens all of whom ate well during our residence.El Clavet is my kind of house.

We were seven for week two and an additional car had been arranged. Consequently most of our trips out were split along national lines ie the Brits and the French. No matter. We ventured first into Port de Pollença, something of a disappointment but not a bad place, and not quite tacky but a source of "typical" Mallorcan souvenirs and postcards. Then we tackled the market at Alcúdia, - we didn't bother with its port - quaint, walled and ramparted, it was a thrill to buy locally grown produce including white onions, imperfect but delicious and cheap tomatoes and stripey purple aubergines. We ate well too.

Pollença, our nearest town of any size was a pleasant surprise. Almost as lovely as Alcúdia but less of an obvious tourist magnet, this little town boasts a flight of steps which climb almost to the stars and at the top I mused that there seemed to be less dissonance between the man-made and the natural as if dwellings had sprung organically from the ground. Of course it is probably more to do with their use of local materials rather than brick or concrete. On the subject of stars I have to mention that the clear night sky was almost as poridgey-thick with stars as I have experienced in New Zealand.

What a joy it was to imagine for those few days that this was how we lived, to dream that life could be like this always. All too soon of course we were hitting the road and I am back on the Rhodiola.

A first for this blog - two short and rather grainy videos.