It sounded like such a good idea – a coastal walk around the whole of Menorca. Ten days, 185 kilometres. But looking out of the window as the plane comes to land, the island’s landscape does not look all that special.
“When you fly into Menorca, you don’t really get the impression that what you can see below you is a walker’s paradise,” says Ralf Freiheit, a German tour guide who has been living on the island since 1987 and knows it like the back of his hand. “Which makes it all the more surprising.”
The trail GR-223 goes by the name ‘Cami de Cavalls’ (trail of the horses) and is well marked, with white signposts almost every 100 metres. The trail was opened in 2010.
Nevertheless, it is good to have a guide like Ralf. “This [trail] is a historic patrol route along the coast, one that the nobility and large landowners rode with their horses to keep watch against pirates and attackers,” he explains.
Starting in the island capital of Mahon on the south-eastern coast, the route leads in a counter-clockwise direction towards the north. Hikers are immediately rewarded with spectacular coastal views and cooled by fresh, salty breezes.
Just before we reach the beach in the town of Es Grau, Ralf leads us off the marked trail and we encounter our first surprise – the S’Albufera Nature Park.
There, a lagoon is teeming with mallard ducks, turtles, cormorants and herons. The trail turns into a labyrinth of dunes, fields of eelgrass, tiny islands and lagoons.
“Back in the 1970s, investors planned to build a huge holiday resort here with a luxury hotel and golf course,” park director Marti Escudero says. “But luckily, residents’ protests prevented it.”
The trail proceeds through olive groves and cool oak forests. A few kilometres further, the landscape abruptly changes at Cap de Favaritx, where a lighthouse sits at the tip of a narrow peninsula. The vegetation has been stunted by the strong winds – not a tree in sight. Bizarre-shaped shalestone cliffs dominate the landscape.
From here, the trail leads through fields and pastures to the salty ponds of Mongrofa, where the sandy path is lined by pine forests and huge algarve cacti. Along the northern coast, the bays shelter former fishing villages such as Fornells. On the northernmost tip of the island, Cap de Cavelleria, cliffs tower as high as 50 metres above the coast.
The decision of where to take a swimming break is not an easy one, given the choice between Cavalleria, Binimel-la and Pregonda Bay. Each bay is nicer than the one before it. But in summer, as you might expect, the beaches are crowded with people, which can come as a shock to hikers who have become used to the peace and quiet.
Indeed, the Cami de Cavalls is a great way to stay away from the tourist spots and see another side of an island that still lived largely from the proceeds of cheese and shoe manufacturing up until the late 1970s.
Menorca’s transformation into a tourist destination came much later, and so there are hardly any large hotel complexes such as those on Majorca, the largest of the Balearic islands.
After leaving Pregonda Bay, perhaps the wildest and most impressive coastal scenery awaits. But it is also strenuous hiking, with steep up-and-down stretches of trail. One moment you are at sea level, the next you have a climb of up to 120 metres.
After all that, a day of rest is in order in the old historic city of Ciutadella on the western coast. Sitting high above the harbour, the city is a charming mixture of Spanish and Moorish architecture with walled fortifications and a cathedral dating back to the 13th century.
From here, the trail along the southern coast offers a completely different landscape. It is flatter, with fields of grain and pastureland – and much more civilisation.
Here, the trail eventually leads through holiday resorts and residential areas, but also offers pretty bays such as Turqueta, Macarella and Trebalugar, and white sandy beaches surrounded by pine forests.
TEXT: MANUEL MEYER, DPA | PHOTOS: WWW.MENORCA.ES