|Our hotel on the beach - the Xuroy (Click to enlarge)|
We're back home from what we considered to be the most beautiful corner of the island of Menorca. Our hotel, the Xuroy, sits on a beach of light sand in a narrow sheltered cove of unbelievably green sea where pleasure boats bobble around in the ever so gentle swell. No matter how hard we'd tried, we couldn't have chosen a choicer place. Marine life in the clear water makes it a haven for snorkelers as I found out swimming among shoals of exotically coloured fish that seemed totally unafraid of my flailing arms only inches away.. I suppose they knew they could outswim me any time they jolly well liked. Elsewhere, divers reported an abundance of jelly fish but I never saw one. Another snorkeler had seen an octopus, smallish, but big enough to make his day.
We ran on 13 mornings, mostly short runs amounting to fractionally over 40 miles, mainly
|On our first morning run to the Tower|
along the Cami de Cavalls (the Way of Horses), a type of Bridle Path that circles the island for 116 miles. It's believed to have existed since the 14th Century and created for the movement of mounted troops between the various watchtowers and fortifications. In places it's an exceedingly rocky path which in the south of the island is made up of raised lumps of pitted limestone which I'm surprised horses could ever cope with. It was my misfortune to trip and crash heavily to the ground on our very first run to a nearby Martello tower, knocking up my Lt thumb and lacerating my Rt knee and elbow. My old body didn't seem to like it and I was on the verge of passing out half way through breakfast. But a couple hours rest, 600mg of Ibuprofen and a smearing of Arnica had me out and about again by lunchtime.
|One day he could be faster than me....|
I was more careful after that, lifting my feet higher as I danced over the raised clints. We gradually extended our runs, from 1.40 miles to 7.50 miles (on a morning we took a wrong turning!), and always before breakfast when temperatures were in the low to mid 70's. Later in the day it climbed to high 80's, perhaps higher, when even the Spaniards were complaining about the unseasonably hot September weather. On two of our runs we came across wild tortoises, well spotted by my wonderful partner, and assumed they were out scouring the rocky hollows looking for water. The thought struck me that in not very many years hence the little blighters might well be able to outrun me! Cattle, horses, donkeys, pigs and sheep - and feral cats - somehow managed to scrape an existence from the barren looking landscape without their ribs showing too much. I couldn't really see what state the tortoises were in, but if their shiny carapaces were anything to go by I reckon they were OK!
Meanwhile, back at the Xuroy, there was no such sparsity. Food was unlimited with dishes to
|Siesta time - resting from all the running and eating...|
suit just about everyone. Although limiting myself to a bowl of muesli and croissants for breakfast with salads and fish for dinner, I suspect it was the irresistible puddings and ice cream that did the damage. Or maybe that sugar loaded Coca Cola on the way back from our morning shop at the S'Algar supermarket? Or was it all the lounging around, inactive in the broiling heat? Whatever, in spite of buckets of sweat, I still managed to put on an unwanted 3 pounds over the course of two weeks, mainly around my waistline where it looks pretty disgusting. I've got work to do.
|Posing on the Cami de Cavalls....|
Walking was a bit limited from our vicinity. Apart from access along the Cami de Cavalls many paths are private and there are notices all over the place telling people to keep out. I laughed at one that said 'Guarded by Jack Russell Security'. I like Jack Russells and get on really well with most! The Xuroy caters mostly for over 50's clientelle, some of whom have been going there each year since time immoral, and it seemed their walking was mainly restricted to Punta Prima (2 miles south), S'Algar (1 mile north) or, in the case of more elderly or pleasantly plump individuals, the Montello Tower just ¾ mile away. At 82 I suppose I must be bordering on old age but did manage to get a little further on one or two occasions.
A little over a couple of miles away we found a hidden jewel at Cala de Rafalet. Unsignposted, a rocky path twisted
|The beautiful Cala de Rafalet...|
steeply downhill through thick undergrowth to a tiny secluded beach with vertical walls of limestone rising on either side. Between the walls the sea was deep, green and clear. Men of a somewhat hippie nature swam sans cozzies. We'd sometimes to avert our eyes as they strolled by, naked and unashamed, but all were friendly and polite. Another guy we met was a climber who'd spent the day scaling the notched and pitted limestone walls and suggested I might like to have a go too. "If you fall off, you'll just drop into the sea" he said. Er, some other time maybe.....
|Cala de Sant Esteve, another jewel in Menorca's crown..|
Cala de Sant Esteve is 5 miles or so along the Cami de Cavalls, down an exceedingly steep and rocky path to another stunning little sheltered harbour under a limestone cliff where sleepy boats nestled in the afternoon sun. It's another perfect place to swim, as some of the boat owners were doing, but we'd walked there without any swimming or snorkeling gear. Nor had we any money to pay the entrance fee into Fort Marlborough, built by the British way back in the 1700's to defend access to the channel leading to Mahon, today's capital. Nearby, we visited another ancient fortification, Torre Penjat, also known as the Stuart Tower, built some time after Fort Marlborough for the same defensive reasons.
By the time we'd finished exploring it was late afternoon, with a long walk back to Xuroy and we may
|A view from the bar at Happy Hour...|
have panicked a little in case we'd miss 'Happy Hour' - between 6 o'clock and 7 o'clock - when residents get two drinks for the price of one. After four hours or so in the blazing sun we'd worked up quite a thirst. But it's amazing how fast one can walk at such times, or how smooth the rough ground suddenly becomes. We made it with time to spare, to sip our drinks and relax in the evening light, just yards away from the lapping sea. People paddled. A girl threw bread into the sea, attracting hundreds of fish that swirled around in their own little whirlpools. I hoped they'd still be there the following day when I'd donned my snorkel to gaze goggle-eyed into their natural aquarium. It was a perfect way to end the day. I even got round to socializing on one occasion. That's what two for the price of one does to you. Especially after the second round...
|Carrying the statue of La Virgen de Gracia into the Church of Santa Maria|
With neither of us confident enough to drive on the wrong side of the road we didn't see as much of the island as we'd have liked, but we took buses to Mahon, Es Grau and the water sport town of Fornells. At Mahon the streets were crowded for the Fiesta of La Virgen de Gracia, patron Saint of the city, when Spaniards have a hooley of a time singing, dancing, drinking Pomada, jostling around the parading 'giants', slapping the prancing horses and the Lord knows what else besides. It was stifling hot when we arrived just before the parade of unmounted horse riders, Church hierarchy and other dignitaries who preceded the statue of the Virgen from the chapel into the crowded Church of Santa Maria. There was a Mass for the horse riders and some heavenly singing from the gallery. In a lull after that we strolled down to the harbour through streets lined with decorated horses and their handlers.
We never did see the culmination of the morning's activities that had got way behind schedule. We
|A marina at Mahon|
could hardly move in the seething mass of people and, for me, it all got a bit claustrophobic in the scorching heat. A spacious square, the Placa Constitucio, had been covered with a thick layer of sand for the horses to perform on but, as we left, it was smothered with food wrappers, cartons, plastic bottles and the inevitable cigarette ends. Normally we'd have blamed litter-lout Brits but on this occasion they were heavily outnumbered by the Spanish. It rather surprised us, but on another day we found hordes of rubbish dumped over walls as we walked up from the harbour to the Archeological Museum of Menorca adjacent to the magnificent Church of St Francis of Assissi. However, most places were spotless and graffiti free. At Alcaufar, around the Xuroy, the beach was cleaned on a regular basis and bin-men came to take away rubbish every night.
|A quiet bay round the corner from Es Grau...|
We hadn't really intended going to Es Grau, but rather to alight at a road junction from which we'd walk to the Nature Reserve at Albufera which, we believed, was a good spot for observing migrating birds. Alas, the bus from Mahon only stopped at one place - Es Grau - which was too far away from Albufera for us to walk. However, we spent a very pleasant few hours strolling by the seashore of this wonderful resort and following another section of the Cami de Cavalls over a rocky promontory and down to an idyllic little bay overlooked by another ubiquitous Martello tower. Much laughter and frivolity emanated from a yacht moored in the pristine water. Two men swam naked in the bay while a Jack Russell guarded their clothes. I like Jack Russells...
The picturesque little harbour town of Fornells caters mainly for watersport activities -
|Resting on the rocks at Cabo Fornells...|
surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, sailing and diving - none of which we're particularly good at. We'd intended doing a six mile circular walk described in the Guide book but declined on discovering half of it, at least, was along tarmac roads. So we bumbled north along the coast and took a rising path to the Ermita de Lourdes, a little shrine below Torre de Fornells which, if you haven't guessed, is yet another Martello tower, this one open to the public - for a price. We continued our rocky bumble to Cabo Fornells, an airy point from which we could suss out the second half of our previously planned walk. It looked bare and uninteresting so were doubly glad we hadn't done it. Below us a group of kayakers had abandoned their flimsy craft and were snorkeling in the lea of an island. Judging by the amount of time they spent in the water they'd discovered an underwater wonderland. I was envious. We'd an al fresco cappuccino before catching buses back to base.
|Parting shot on our last dawn run, courtesy of a naked photographer.... |
We did other things, visited other places, but I've covered all the main things and my brain is shutting down. Perhaps it's remembered Happy Hour in that never to be forgotten sunset oasis surrounding Xuroy and gone into relaxation mode. Or perhaps my alimentary system is waiting for mouthwatering fish dishes, delicious desserts and ice creams (note the plural) to come its way. All in all, a magical unforgettable holiday among unforgettable faces - and things. A couple of hours before being whisked away to the airport we went for a final run along the rocky trail to the Martello tower and took some last minute photographs. A guy sitting on the rocks shouted to ask if we'd like one of us taken together. Affirmative. As he walked over to take it we were amused to note that shoes were his sole item of clothing - which may account for our bemused smiles at such an early hour in this very last picture.