What to do in a week in Spain’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

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The easternmost Balearic island of Menorca seems worlds apart from its bustling sister island of Mallorca. Menorca was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1993 for its diversity of unspoilt landscapes and habitats, from the wetlands of the Parc Natural S’Albufera des Grau and the rugged red beaches in the north to the gorges in the south. However, this island is not just for nature lovers and sun-seekers. Those seeking architectural gems, quaint seaside towns, luxurious rural accommodation and a chance to experience slow travel will find what they are looking for on this serene island.


If you’re dreaming of Menorca, check out our guide to spend a cozy unforgettable week in this Mediterranean paradise. First time to Spain? Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

Also see: Visit Almeria, Spain: Where Your Favorite Spaghetti Westerns Were Filmed

10/10 mahon

Port of Mahón
Copyright: Lavanya Sunkara

Port of Mahón.

As the main ports and largest cities of Menorca, both twin towns of Mahón and Ciutadella, located on opposite sides of the island, make a perfect base for sightseeing. The island is only 10 miles wide and about 30 miles long, making day trips a breeze.

The capital Mahón, also called Maó, is one of the largest natural harbors in the world. Its main attraction is the 18th-century Iglesia de Santa Maria, which is attached to the Menorca Museum. The multi-story museum, housed in a Baroque-style building, displays fascinating exhibits and artifacts about the island’s people and culture through the ages. Mahón is best known for its cheese, but it’s also the birthplace of mayonnaise, which emerged in the 17th century when it was occupied by the French.

9/10 Ciutadella

Ciutadella
Copyright: Lavanya Sunkara

Cathedral Basilica of Ciutadella

The former capital of Menorca, Ciutadella is on the west coast and is known for its Gothic and Baroque architecture and cobblestone streets. Take a walking tour of the historic city center and visit the 13th-century Ciutadella Cathedral Basilica, an impressive Gothic-style building that was built on top of a mosque after the Moors were expelled.

Other notable architectural gems of Ciutadella are the Plaza de la Libertad, the Saint Augustine Convent, the Torre Saura Palace and the Roser Church. After a tour of the old town, head to the port to dine alfresco by the water for a delicious seafood paella overlooking a line of pleasure boats.

8/10 El Toro

El Toro
Copyright: Lavanya Sunkara

View from El Toro

El Toro, also called Monte Toro, is Menorca’s highest mountain, reaching 1,174 feet. Located halfway between Ciutadella and Mahón, it is easily accessible by car. Take a ride up for sweeping views of the entire island. Stay a while and watch adventurous paragliders.

Visit the small but charming Mare de Déu del Toro Sanctuary, a 13th-century whitewashed building with a magnificent plant-filled entrance dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

7/10 Cami de Cavalls

Cala Galdana - Cami de Cavalls
Photo credit: Lavanya Sunkara

Cala Galdana on a hiking trail of the Cami de Cavalls

No visit to Menorca is complete without hiking part of the Cami de Cavalls, a coastal path that circles the entire island. The dusty and unpaved path, originally created to allow easy access for patrols who have been going back and forth between the watchtowers to protect the island’s residents since the 13th century, was reopened a decade ago after being destroyed been closed for 400 years. The trail covers 115 miles and is divided into 20 sections, each indicating the difficulty of the hike and estimated time of completion.

Cami de Cavalls is free to the public and open to cyclists, hikers and leisurely strollers. Join the course at any point to reach scenic secluded beaches and remote locations along the way.

6/10 Sa Naveta d’Es Tudons Monument

Ancient Monument Sa Naveta
Copyright: Lavanya Sunkara

Ancient Monument Sa Naveta

Three miles from Ciutadella is the ancient stone monument of Sa Naveta d’Es Tudons. Following a path through a meadow dotted with wildflowers, visitors can reach the ancient stone monument, surrounded by a traditional Menorcan dry stone wall, both carefully constructed without the use of cement. Naveta is a Catalan word for boat, and the shape of the structure is reminiscent of an inverted ship.

Built by the Talayotes and used as a burial chamber, this prehistoric monument dates back to 1000 BC. and is carefully preserved. Similar burial mounds are found all over Menorca and are open to the public to visit.

5/10 Lazaretto Quarantine Island

    Quarantine island of Lazaretto
Copyright: Lavanya Sunkara

Quarantine island of Lazaretto.

Travel back in time to Lazaretto Island, a former health quarantine station on Isla Lazaretto, just a short boat ride from Mahón. On a guided tour, history buffs can wander the enclosed grounds and peek inside buildings that nearly half a million people passed on their crossing from Africa to mainland Spain and other Balearic islands.

The Quarters opened in 1817 and the site remained operational for a hundred years. Ships suspected of carrying contagious diseases docked on the island and passengers were quarantined for anywhere from a few weeks to several months to ensure they did not transmit diseases such as plague, cholera and yellow fever.

Also see: Spain has a Stonehenge and it is one of the largest Neolithic structures in Europe

4/10 fornells

    fornells
Copyright: Lavanya Sunkara

fornells

The town of Fornells lies on a bay in northern Menorca and attracts visitors with its picturesque harbor and whitewashed buildings. Stroll along the waterfront or through the charming streets, stop at souvenir shops or enjoy some shade under the impressive olive tree in the main square.

Choose from many local restaurants and spend a leisurely afternoon lunch with friends or family. Fornells also offers opportunities to enjoy its turquoise waters, kayaking, windsurfing or a sailing excursion in a traditional Menorcan boat.

3/10 Parc Natural de s’Albufera des Grau

Parc Natural de s'Albufera des Grau
Copyright: Lavanya Sunkara

Parc Natural de s’Albufera des Grau

The Parc Natural de s’Albufera des Grau coastal wetland, just a short drive from Mahón, covers 5,000 hectares and is the core zone of the UNESCO Biosphere of Menorca. The freshwater lagoons, marshes and lakes are sheltered habitats for hundreds of different bird species including wood sandpiper, coot, thekla lark, peregrine falcon, Egyptian vulture, osprey, as well as Hermann’s tortoise and Lilford’s wall lizard. Those hiking Cami de Cavalls will lead through the park, but the location also offers easy nature-watching trails.

2/10 Cova d’en Xoroi

Sa Cova d'en Xoroi
Copyright: Lavanya Sunkara

Sa Cova d’en Xoroi.

When it comes to nightlife, the other Balearic Islands tend to shine, but Menorca has Cova d’en Xoroi, an incredible cliff-top bar and a popular spot for sundowners. Built into the caves of towering limestone cliffs in Cala en Porter on the south coast, the bar buzzes with activity as the sun goes down. Guests can enjoy live music, dance to the latest beats and sip cocktails in the lounge areas overlooking the crashing waves and the setting sun.

1/10 Where to sleep

torralbenc
Copyright: Lavanya Sunkara

torralbenc

Spend a few nights at the luxury Hotel Torralbenc surrounded by the beauty of olive trees, fields of bougainvillea and lavender, just a short drive from Cova d’en Xorai. Renowned for its fine dining, spa and pools, the four star hotel is a perfect romantic getaway and completes your unforgettable Menorca getaway. Buildings are traditional whitewashed farmhouse style with terracotta tiles, and have rooms and cottages overlooking olive groves.

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