Ciutadella: Menorca’s Curious Second City
Along with Menorca’s capital Mahón, Ciutadella on the west coast is the Spanish island’s only other real city, and was itself the capital during the 18th-century British occupation. Still small today, Ciutadella is one of those Mediterranean towns made for wandering in which you might hardly see a soul spent in an afternoon along its narrow streets lined with honey-colored houses. While you can enter the lovely little open courtyard of the Bishop’s Residence, the 13th-century cathedral itself might well be closed, and folks are all long gone from the historic little cast-iron fish market. It’s a town of a few oddities—all good ones.
In the main square, Es Born, stands a curious 72-foot-high obelisk erected in the 19th-century to commemorate a 16th-century Turkish raid that decimated the town. There, and all around, the festival of Sant Joan on June 23-24 is a celebration of the indigenous Menorcan horse. In what is a kind of island-style running of the bulls challenge, caixers, or riders, lead their mounts into jaleo movements in which the gorgeous black horses rear for a few seconds while hardy souls try to touching their chest for good luck.
An even more curious phenomenon is that the rissaga, rare mini tsunamis—one reached sixteen feet in 2006—that due to atmospheric pressure sink boats in the lovely Ciutadella harbor that lies down below the old town plateau. In fact, that harbor is really more of a narrow inlet of festive low-rise houses with old warehouses dug out of the cliff wall and turned today into restaurants and cafés. You’re in little danger when you lunch outside on a sunny day at Restaurante Aquarium and enjoy their sípia al forn, or baked cuttlefish.
As you explore the town’s lovely streets you might wonder where all those calcarenite limestone building blocks come from. Well, just outside of Ciutadella yet another oddity draws visitors. The Pedreres de s’Hostal is a massive stone quarry. Closed in the 1990s, the quarry left a 12-acre scar of vertical walls traveling a hundred feet deep into the earth. The good news is that it was soon turned into the Líthica cultural space with music and art and gardens of indigenous plants. There’s even a a stone block maze erected at the quarry bottom.
At first glance, it’s not big for an object of such import. But walk around the Naveta des Tudons and slowly the magnitude of its Bronze Age significance sinks in, and you wonder at how ancient people in the 14th-century B.C. moved massive stones to create this upside down boat-shaped structure. And there are tons of them, literally, in Menorca—temples, funereal chambers and T-shaped megaliths—that developed out of the culture called the Talaiotic.
A lot of dairy cows reside on Menorca, and with one of the island’s signature products being the popular creamy and salty Mahón cheese, cheesemakers dot the island. A few miles straight south of the Naveta des Tudons, Son Piris is a small farmhouse in a big expanse of pure countryside. The Cooperativa del Camp will take you there to see the cheesemaking operation, as well as elsewhere to visit honeymakers, craft breweries, wineries, wool producers and much more of Menorca’s rural food producers.
Back in Ciutadella, you can enjoy all these natural products in any number of bars, cafés and restaurants, not only down along the port, but up the plateau in the old town. Maybe you’re hankering to finally try the traditional paprika-flavored sobrassada pork sausage. All it takes is to start once again wandering with no aim through the car-free, stone-paved streets and weave under numerous arcades before you sit down wherever strikes your fancy.
Along the way, you’ll spot twin 19th-century neoclassical mansions known collectively as the Palau Salort which are open to the public. The Convent of Sant Agustí, also known as El Socors, is today a history, archaeology, art and more museum. If you make it out to the tip of the city and the port entrance, you can enter the small octagonal Castell de Sant Nicolau with its handsome watchtower. The views of the city and sea are limitless. Once you’ve made a few tours of Ciutadella, you’ll likely want do it all over again.
Travel Notes: Making for the only long-haul flight from the U.S. to the Balearic Islands, United Airlines will launch service between Newark (EWR) and Palma de Mallorca (PMI), from June 2nd through September 23rd. The Boeing 767-300ER aircraft, with new cabins that include United’s new premium Polaris, will fly three times a week. United will also launch new seasonal service to the Canary Islands.