Palma was named Palma de Mallorca when it was re-conquered by James I of Aragon after a three-month battle in 1229. It is now officially just called Palma again. For the previous 327 years it had been controlled by the Moors as with large parts of Southern Spain up until then.
When you walk around the city you get the impression of a former Arab city but the only real permanent reminders are the Banys Àrabs, or the Arab Baths. That part of old Palma also point to a Byzantine past, but very little of that period (pre-8th century) remains mainly due to a lack of documentary evidence, although excavations in the city often bring up artefacts.
Previous to the Arabs and the Byzantines, the Phoenicians inhabited Mallorca and it was the Romans who originally founded the city of Palma as well as Pollentia to the north of the island.
These days Majorca attracts 22 million visitors a year, mainly package holiday tourists who completely miss out the capital of the Island to head straight for their resorts. In doing so they miss the most cultured and historical part of Majorca. The growth of tourism has been so great on the Island of Majorca that 500,000 people now live in Palma making it the 12th biggest Spanish city.
It’s worth pointing out that King Juan Carlos and his family have holidayed in Palma every year since the city offered them the Marivent Palace. If we were royals, we would choose Palma too, mainly because it offers the best of both culture and beach and within easy reach of each other.
Getting to Palma
There is a plethora of choice when it comes to flights. In our experience Palma is one of those destinations you are most likely to find a cheap seat because nearly all the airlines fly there including Easyjet and Ryanair, and not just from the UK. Visit ourSpain flights page to run a search for the dates you want.
You can reach Palma direct by ferry from both Mainland Spain and from the other Balearic Islands. Acciona Transmediterranea and Balearia lines run services to Barcelona, Valencia, Denia and Alicante. You have a choice between fast ferry and cruise-ferry like most routes, but remember many services discontinue during the winter. For the best options available use our compare ferries pageto bring up the lowest fares for the route you’re planning.
Getting around in Palma
Having a hire car is handy in Palma but far from essential for a weekend break. Taxis will more than suffice even if you want to head to the beach paradise of nearby Illetas. Many of the hotels are close to the old town apart from the Valparaiso Palace which is up on the hill overlooking the city. If you can afford to stay there then taxis are not an issue, frankly.
Using Palma as a base for exploring the island is not a bad plan but parking your hire car may then become a headache.
There are plenty of buses from the city centre to the airport, just a few miles away.
As with many city centres, walking offers you the best option for a relaxing time so stay away from cars and buses if at all possible.
Things to do in Palma, Majorca
Beaches and Coastline
Palma is easily accessible to some really great beaches. We went to a small inlet in Cas Canar which was at that time free to enter but with sunbeds you can rent. It was sheltered and the water beautiful but you can find places like this get somewhat crowded. There are plenty of alternatives nearby including the up-market resort of Illetas and the not-so-smart Palma Nova. Just before Sant Agusti on the road west out of Palma is a very cool beach in front of the Nixe Palace Hotel. Staying there would eliminate any need to search for the beach, and it’s a really smart hotel. Try also the beach at Santa Ponsa, or if you really want to experience what Magaluf is all about, pay a visit – it’s just 20 minutes by car.
If you’re staying in the city of Palma you will be drawn to the sweeping marina and coastline that lies in front of the city. It’s well worth walking especially in the evenings. You can watch the ferries heading towards Mahon or to Barcelona and admire the magnificent yachts.
Churches, Palaces and Castles
The most striking structure in the city of Palma is the “Le Seu” or the Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, set right at the centre of the bend of Palma Bay. Built in the Gothic style, it rests on the site of a former mosque. James I of Aragon started construction in 1229 soon after his re-conquest of the island but it wasn’t until 1601 it was declared complete. It has since been given extensive restoration. It’s a truly impressive building at 121 metres long and 55 metres wide. It has a knave 44 metres in height. It has been said that James I was inspired to build it after surviving a terrible storm at sea on the way to Majorca, prompting him to vow that he should build a cathedral to thank God for salvation. His son James II and grandson James III are buried here.
Bellver Castle, built by James II in the 14th Century was used as a residence for the Kings of Majorca, is unique in that it’s circular in shape, one of the few in Europe built in this way. It’s high up on a hill overlooking the city of Palma offering fantastic panoramas in all directions. James II and his family didn’t hang on to it for long. It was fought over and used a prison for centuries later. Ownership was granted to the city of Palma during the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and is now doubles as the city’s museum. On the Sunday after Easter a large catholic festival takes place here called Angel Sunday.
Another fine example of gothic architecture is La Almudaina Royal Palace. Like the Cathedral it was built on the site of a former Moorish building, but this one managed to hold on to its Arab name. It is still used by the current King of Spain to hold ceremonies during the summertime. To fing out more about this grand building and other heritage sites in Palma visit the Patrimonio Nacional website.
Where to stay
There was a time, let’s say up to the 60’s, when it was customary and often expected that the proprietor of a quality hotel would greet new arrivals at the hotel personally and welcome them with the offer of a complimentary drink in the lounge bar. It was all part of what the hotel offered, a home away from home, an opportunity for the guests to wind down after a long trip, and time for the porters to take the luggage to the room. For us, after having visited so many hotels in recent years, this experience at the Bonsol was not just a refreshing change but one which cemented our feeling of contentment. At most other hotels in this globalised age, you are unlikely to see the manager, let alone the owner of a hotel.
Just by sitting in the bar area we quickly got the feeling that many people knew each other, as if they were old friends, and we were mere passers through, which unfortunately we were. But the fact is the Bonsol has become such an established holiday destination for so many families it is quite common to meet couples who have stayed there literally dozens of times, or even their children, now grown up who have now become regular visitors with their own children. We were very much the newbies at this hotel which at times was more like a friendly open club than a hotel.
I was very comfortable with the friendly and not-too-formal nature of the staff, who were always helpful, who themselves have got to know guests as well as the Xamena family owners themselves. They are multilingual, with French, German, English and Russian spoken at the reception, putting me absolutely to shame.
The hotel was started by Senor Xamena senior as a small 14-room guesthouse which has now become a 142 luxury resort hotel and spa under the leadership of his son, Senor Martin Xamena, and his English wife of 35 years, Lorraine. Alejandro, their son, has just joined the team and looks set to take the hotel to new heights.
Much of the hotel straddles the road with a tunnel leading to the newer part of the hotel where you can find a selection of swimming pools and access to the private beach in a little cove below. The gardens which surround the hotel and its various fixtures are superb, offering plenty of shelter from the sun on a hot summer day, and providing colour and atmosphere to a complex which has clearly taken a few generations to develop to what it is today.
We stayed in room 206 in the main building where you have a grand panoramic view of the Bay of Palma, as it was on the corner, giving me an irresistible opportunity to video and photo the view at all times of day and night. A thunderstorm on both nights we were there was watched with a grandstand view.
We only stayed at the Hotel Bonsol for two nights, far too short for us to appreciate the facilities fully. We did however promise to return as a proper holiday rather than a work visit because there is simply so much to do at the hotel, in Illetas, and in the city of Palma, just 20 minutes away by No. 3 bus, which passes the front door of the hotel. Mrs. Phillips was especially keen to try out the spa facilities, while would be happy to lounge by the pool with a good book.
Please watch the video above to listen to Senor Xamena and to learn what this great hotel is all about, or simply book via their website. See also the photos in the gallery below, many which were taken from room 206 at the Bonsol.
Set in the centre of the oldest part of Palma, the capital of Mallorca, is a 16th century town house previously owned by local nobility, now converted into a modern luxury boutique hotel. It is called Palacio ca sa Galesa. It is on a quiet, narrow street, Carrer de Miramar and just down from Plaça de Santa Eulalia with its beautiful church.
Palacio ca sa Galesa is unlike any five star hotel I have visited, mainly because it has just 15 rooms, all with the finest fittings and fixtures, but also because you get a very personal, and probably discreet service. There is no grand reception hall, just a side room off the courtyard where the receptionist can buzz the gate to let guests in and out. You get the feeling of security, not that Palma is in any way an intimidating place, quite the opposite in fact, but if I was a celebrity (I hesitate to use that word), it’s quite likely this hotel would be a place to bring my entourage, as there are few places to capture a paparazzi shot, even up on the roof terrace.
On arrival (somewhat earlier than we had planned) we were greeted with politeness and courtesy, but our room, the “Handel Suite” was not quite ready so went for a walk around the Cathedral, which is literally 150 metres around the corner. The famous Arab Baths of Palma are a similar distance in the other direction.
The Handel Suite is at the end of the corridor on the second floor of the hotel. It has a small reception area as well as a bedroom with a large cabinet containing the Bang & Olufsen TV, the fridge, the safe and some room spare for storage. There’s an antique table and chairs in the corner and a sofa bed, to allow for guests with young children. The bedroom is small with a wardrobe, a very comfortable king-size bed but no TV. Most of the rooms at the Palacio cas sa Galesa have a TV opposite the bed. The bathroom is large, with a bathtub and integrated shower, heavy cotton bathrobes, towels and if you need to call downstairs a Bang and Olufsen telephone as well.
Probably the most unique and special part of the hotel is the first floor where you’ll find the old dining room, reception rooms, kitchen and garden. It’s as if it’s still used as a private home, with a particularly homely kitchen which is available for guests to come in at their leisure and tea time to help themselves to tea and cake. After a sweltering afternoon sunbathing on the roof terrace, a cuppa is a very welcome respite, and popular with guests. The kitchen opens out to the garden where you can sit and enjoy the tranquillity of the fountain and the cool air generated by the plants and trees. You can then admire the stained glass windows and the grandness of the main reception room, or relax with a magazine in the sofas of the living room. A PC is provided for those wanting to keep in touch with the real world.
No doubt many of you reading this article would also check out the reviews on Tripadvisor, or other review sites. The picture the reviews paint is mostly one of overwhelming approval, but there are some out there who don’t appreciate what the Palacio ca sa Galesa has to offer. It’s not by any means a particularly affordable hotel, so guests looking for a conventional hotel with all its facilities should look elsewhere. It is however, something special with an unbeatable location, great views from the roof, excellent service, bags of nostalgia, and above all, discretion for all us famous people.