I Found the Other Majorca Beats the Beach; No Beer, No Bellies and Only a Brief Sighting of Peter Stringfellow . . . Novelist Tim Lott Went in Search of the Island's Hidden Charms

Article excerpt

Byline: TIM LOTT

AT breakfast on my first day in Majorca, my cafe solo was interrupted by the drizzle of discontented murmurs from the next table.

'Oh, we visited our favourite little fishing village. Hadn't been there for ten years. Well, you know what I'm going to say.' 'Tower blocks.' 'Dozens of them. The harbour was ruined.' 'Shame.' 'Oh, it is a such a shame.' Then the woman returned to sipping her fruit juice and gazing down beyond the perfect blue rectangle of a 100ft infinity pool into the lush green valley behind the village of Puigpunyent and the towering Galatzo Mountain.

From where I stood - the terrace of the Gran Hotel Son Net, one of the finest on the island - Majorca still seemed pretty damn unspoiled. The ruination of any place, I suppose, is highly relative - to your income, expectations and previous experience.

Before arriving, I hadn't been aware that there was much to ruin in the first place. My impression was that it had long been an Anglicised/Germanised hellhole of chip shops, beer bellies and tawdry nightclubs.

I was here to see if all that could be avoided - to seek out the sanctuaries, art galleries, scenery and culture of the island. I was there for Miro rather than Magalluf, the Palau d'Almudenia rather than Palma Nova.

My task was rendered considerably easier by the fact that for the first three days on the island it poured with rain. It eased off in the early evening of the first day, but not enough to allow more than a cursory wander round the shops in Palma.

At one point, the rain - as luck would have it - drove me into El Bazaar del Libro on the Carrer del Sant Crist, an almost-creepy old second-hand bookshop behind Majorca Cathedral (I'd left my novel on the plane).

The astonishing tangle of ancient movie posters, Fifties pinup magazines, rotting Dennis Wheatley novels and obscure academia is a treat for a bibliophile. I came away with a 20-year-old copy of Granta for e2 ([pounds sterling]1.43).

I dropped in to see an exhibition by the Majorcan artist Miguel Barcelo at the church of La Llotja near the waterfront. I had never seen his work and I was mesmerised: vast, mainly abstract canvases suggesting seascapes, grottos and storms, as well as menacing, powerful depictions of bears, gorillas and bullfights.

The next day, dispirited by the deluge but determined, I decided to visit Deya, home of the poet Robert Graves, via Valldemossa, where the writer George Sand, and Frederic Chopin miserably lived together (the locals were snooty and Chopin's piano failed to arrive).

VALLDEMOSSA confirmed my fellow guests' fears about the fate of Majorca - extortionate souvenir shops and cafes and hordes of over-nourished, poorly co-ordinated charabanc Charlies marring what was obviously once a very pretty village.

Deya, on the other hand, was much as I remembered it from my only previous visit to the island - an absolutely stunning little settlement hewn out of great, looming grey-white cliffs.

Tourism again has overrun the place, but after a 20-minute battle for a parking spot I made my way via a cliff path down the stilldeserted pebbled bay where Graves swam every day.

The small, functional restaurant I frequented last time I visited, Cas Patio March, remains unchanged - apart from a doubling of the prices. The seafood was outstanding, but at [pounds sterling]20 for a plate of prawns, it needed to be.

Returning to Deya, it began pouring again. I hitched a lift to the car and headed for my final destination, the sanctuary of Lluc, the famous monastery in the middle of the dazzling scenery of the Serra de Tramuntana.

It was a good hour's drive and by the time I got there, the place was pretty much closed.

This was not too much of a disaster: the rising and swooping drive through the mountains had left me awestruck, and, by the look of the gift shop and huge car park, what spirituality there was left at Lluc was pretty much exorcised by the weight of visitors. …