The good, the bad and the ugly sides of Mallorcas tourist development meet along a 25-km stretch of coast. Tacky resorts sit next to exclusive retreats, it seems that everyone wants a slice of Palma Bay. One moment you can be in Portals Nous, with its chic marina crammed with millionaires' yachts, the next in seedy Magaluf, all British pubs and wet T-shirt contests.
Starting at the eastern end is the tiny resort of Cala Blava, quiet and charming with cliffs and little coves. Next come the resorts of s'Arenal and Can Pastilla, which bookend one of the longest beaches on Mallorca, the Playa de Palma. This whole area is one big resort, with hotels lining the promenade, and bars and clubs one street back. The beach is glorious, long, deep and soft. Just behind Can Pastilla is the airport.
As you move closer to Palma, you pass through Ciutat Jardi and Portixol, both essentially are suburbs of Palma with their own cafe and restaurant scene. The beach at Ciutat Jardi is slightly nicer. Palma itself then dominates the coastline for a while. The eastern end has beaches, whilst the western end is devoted to marinas and ferry ports.
To the west of Palma is the suburb of Cala Major, a fairly built up area with a small lovely beach and several excellent hotels. Beyond here come the more upmarket resorts of Illetes, Bendinat (both of which are small and charming), and Portal Nous with Puerto Portals as it's exclusive marina.
We then come to the big British resorts of Palmanova and Magaluf. Both have wonderful golden sand beaches and turquoise seas, and both have promenades lined with bars, cafes and restaurants. Palmanova is deemed more family friendly whilst Magaluf still has it's boozy reputation despite recent efforts to make it more upmarket.
Beyond Magaluf we come to the end of Palma Bay on the western side with the small resorts of Cala Vinyes and Portals Vells. These are prettier options with small cove like beaches; you are more likely to find a quiet spot here than anywhere else on the Bay of Palma. Note that these beaches face east.
Once upon a time, a fisherman casting his net into the sea at S'Arenal could have gazed around an empty coastline where the only buildings to stand out would have been Palma's cathedral and castle. Nowadays he would barely be able to distinguish them among a continuous stretch of hotels - a concrete jungle extending all the way to Magaluf. And he wouldn't be there anyway as there are few fish left to catch.
Occasionally you come across a glimpse of what this coastline must once have been like. Follow the road beyond Magaluf through the pine woods. Suddenly you are among tiny coves where, out of season, you might still find your own private beach. Eventually you reach the headland of Cap de Cala Figuera where you can look back at sweeping views of the entire bay. Cliffs plunge into the clear blue sea, with not a hotel in sight. Come up here at midnight for utter peace and solitude; but listen carefully and you might just be able to hear the disco beat of Magaluf pounding away beneath you.
Like it or loathe it, you are bound to spend some time in Palma Bay. Even if you are not staying here, you should visit it at least once to see some of the best, and the worst, that Mallorca has to offer. Each of the resorts has its own character - young or old, British (Magaluf) or German (S'Arenal), cheap-and-cheerful or jet-set rich. And despite the (over)-development that has taken place, you cannot say that the beaches in the bay are anything less than glorious.
Plans are afoot for a regeneration of the area from s'Arenal to Can Pastilla. The Town Planning Consortium for the improvement and landscaping of Palma Beach was set up in 2005 with the aim of promoting the refurbishment of hotels, complementary tourism services and the area in general. You can find out more about this plan on this page, Playa de Palma regeneration plans unveiled.
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