Holidays in Spain: family magic in the refreshingly unglamorous southeast of Mallorca

Sunday afternoon in Cala Sa Nau and the two-person band (guitarist and percussionist) tune in as the beautiful people hide along the narrow sandy beach and on the rocks that frame the jagged cove.

But not pretty in the look-at-my-Instagram genre. More like a sangria method of relaxation on the Sabbath.

We make our presence felt as we are eight adults and four children under three. I feel sorry for the Spanish couple reading next to where we crash – just as I felt sorry for those in rows 26 and 29 on the flight from Gatwick (we were in rows 27 and 28).

Isolated: The beach at Cala Sa Nau, where Mark and his family spend a Sunday afternoon during their visit to the “refreshing and unglamorous” southeast of Mallorca

But, somehow, the kids feel the vibe at Cala Sa Nau and respond admirably. It’s the first experience of the seaside for some of them – and the first encounter for me of the calm and, it must be said, refreshing and unglamorous south-east of Mallorca, the largest and most varied of Balearic Islands.

Around an hour’s drive away is the bustling capital, Palma, which is a must to visit if only to admire the magnificent cathedral with its modernist interiors designed by Antoni Gaudi.

But, here in our nearest village, S’Horta, the main activity of the day is the waiters setting the tables in the square of the two restaurants serving almost exactly the same food.

It’s towards the end of September (Mallorca rightly wants to be known as a year-round destination) and we don’t hear another British voice. Instead there are lots of Germans and in general they are so surly that we find it oddly uplifting.

According to Mark, the Mallorcan capital of Palma is

According to Mark, the Mallorcan capital of Palma is “must be visited if only for the view of the magnificent cathedral (pictured centre-left) with its modernist interiors designed by Antoni Gaudi”.

Together: Mark (centre) and his family on vacation

Together: Mark (centre) and his family on vacation

We are staying in a Vintage Travel villa called Sa Marina. It’s not fancy (one evening we find the lovely owner under the sink fixing the tap, and the wifi wouldn’t suit anyone trying to work while on vacation) but it sleeps 12 and all bedrooms have their own bathroom. Best of all is the outdoor space: large swimming pool, ping-pong table, a swing, beautiful lawns, a long table on the veranda for meals, doing puzzles or discussing plans for the day. On a map, I count more than 40 coves within miles on this stretch of coast.

My idea is to visit as many as possible, but I soon realize that two of the best are almost on our doorstep: the aforementioned Cala Sa Nau and my undisputed favourite, Cala Mitjana.

You can drive to Cala Sa Nau and park but, as with many Balearic coves, Cala Mitjana can only be reached by boat or on foot, the latter via a path that becomes narrower and rockier as you go. as you get closer, the sea offering enticing glimpses. of himself through the pines and cypresses.

The beach is tiny but overlooking it, on the hill, is a huge house belonging to a Frenchman who lives in Milan – or so we are told. We become fascinated by it and press on a ridge to get a better view. We are famously rewarded, not only by the luxurious lair of the gentleman, but also by the boisterous Mediterranean, with Algeria somewhere in the distance.

Catering for a group like ours means almost daily visits to the Eroski supermarket in Cala d’Or.

My wife admires the fruit section, which seems to change daily depending on what’s available, while I’m pleasantly taken with the wine – or rather, the quite decent bottle prices of local Rioja.

Above, Cala Mitjana, the

Above, Cala Mitjana, Mark’s “undisputed favourite” of the 40 coves nestled along the coast


Seven-night villa-only Villa Sa Marina with Vintage Travel from £1,606 (; 01954 261431). London Gatwick to Palma costs from £42 ( Vintage Travel can arrange Hire A Chef Mallorca ( or a local family cook to cater for all or part of a stay.

Car rental at Palma airport via

One evening we take the culinary boat out and invite Sergio Rifugio from Hire A Chef Majorca to provide a slap-up paella dinner with all the trimmings including tapas starters, chocolate brownie with ice cream dessert and , above all, a helping hand in the form of Maria, who serves us at the table and does the dishes.

Plus, Sergio brings his own huge circular gas burner and cooks the mixed paella in front of us – a vegetable base, then mussels, prawns, squid, cuttlefish, pork and chicken, before folding the rice. I made the mistake of ordering paella from restaurants in the UK. Nothing has ever tasted like this. We send off Sergio and Maria with enthusiastic applause.

The next morning the sun shyly sets over everything, so some of our group, including two toddlers, head inland to the old monastery of Sant Salvador dating back to 1348.

It was built on top of a hill by order of King Peter IV of Aragon as a place of pilgrimage when a plague raged through Mallorca and many islanders perished. Later, the small chapel could not cope with the large number of visiting pilgrims and it was replaced in 1715.

With a statue of the Virgin Mary from the 13th century and a high altar from the 15th century, it is extraordinarily sumptuous. Toddlers stare at the huge silver candelabra on either side of the altar with their mouths hanging open.

The good old Church of England still hopes to attract young people by trying to be more secular, introducing guitars and the like – but nothing works better than unraveling the mystery.

At our last supper we all agreed that we developed a strong affection for our villa and for this lesser known part of Mallorca. We didn’t venture too far and the little ones won’t remember a thing. But their parents – and grandparents – certainly will.