The drive or bus ride to the small mountain village of Estellenchs, in the southwest corner of Mallorca, is quite breathtaking in its beauty. If sand, sangria and discos are your thing then read no further. However, for the discerning lover of pure and unspoiled Mediterranean countryside read on. How to get there? If you have a car at your disposal, so much the better. If not, head to the Plaza España underground bus terminal in central Palma and take the red and yellow IB 11 or 217 (beware, the numbers are frequently changed just to keep you on your toes! Obviously, the key is to look for the names of the villages (Palma) – Esporles – Banyalbufar – Estellenchs). If you are fortunate enough to miss the last bus back (18.05, when I enquired) you could do a lot worse than to check into the small, family run hotel called Sa Plana, but more of that later.
I recommend starting the day with a stop for coffee and croissants at the Bellavista in Banyalbufar. As the name suggests, the views over the village rooftops and out to sea are quite stunning. In the distance the bow of a lone boat silently cuts a V shaped trail in the millpond calmness of the sea, while a little closer to land a huge, indefinable shadow glides majestically just below the surface of the water. A huge ray? A whale in the Mediterranean? Or possibly a shoal of llampuga, the Mediterranean snub nosed blue fish in season at the moment.
On the horizon the sky and sea merge in a purple blue haze. Taking in the morning sun, my neighbours sip their aromatic morning coffee while silently meditating the ocean, speaking in hushed tones, almost whispering as if in reverence to the calm beauty of their surroundings. A wander around the village would do no soul any harm whatsoever (though in wintertime it tends to wind down – some places are closed during my visit). Here you will find charming bakeries, small hotels, shops selling local produce and ‘artesania’, cafes, bodega representation, restaurants and tapas bars, as well as the occasional goat or ewe wandering along the high street! A few minutes’ drive along the coastal road to Estellenchs and you will find a striking sculpture of a horse made out of rusting old engines, nuts, bolts, tin cans and all sorts of discarded metal.
I was fortunate to find a parking spot in front of the Ayuntamiento and a friend pointed me in the direction of Bodega Thomas Isern where I was due to meet with the owner. One of a number of producers of Malvasia wine in the Tramuntana region, the bodega operates a barter system whereby neighbouring land is used to produce wine in return for quantities of the finished product. The idea came about when a French gentleman bought land in the area and didn’t know what to do with it. Thomas suggested he plant Malvasia vines and from this a partnership was formed. More people from the surrounding area became involved in the venture with the resulting production of considerable quantities of wine. Bodega Thomas Isern was formally formed in the year 2004 and continues to grow. The prestigious Malvasia grape variety is thought to derive from Greece. It thrives on poor soil in the coastal regions of Mediterranean islands. It was very nearly lost to a parasite called phylloxera in the 1800s; the only area to escape the problem at the time was Formentera. Following a lot of research, and with the help of the laboratory Agromillora in Barcelona, the pest has been successfully eradicated.
When I arrived, Thomas Isern was enjoying a tapas lunch in front of his bodega. He tells me that one of the reasons he began his venture was his fascination for wine and the wine making process. Though tastings cannot he had ad hoc, Thomas is pleased to arrange tastings by appointment (tel: +34 699 721 706) accompanied by seasonal tapas ‘casera’ (home made) which may consist of chipirones (deep fried baby squid), albondigas Bacalao (salt cod croquettes ), mejillones rellenas (stuffed mussels) and boquerones, (fresh deep fried anchovies). This, plus a trial glass of wine, for the price of 15 euros per person.
The wines from this bodega include Ambarï a smooth, fresh dry white wine; Ambrassia – a sweet wine reputed to be the nectar of the gods; Ambrull - a red wine that I am told can be compared to no other. ‘Amb’, incidentally, relates to the colour of the wines – amber.
There is also the wonderful red wine, Malvasia Negre Garnache 2009. Here the ageing process includes one year in Hungarian oak barrels. It is intense in colour and very full-bodied with hints of blackberry and fruits of the forest.
If this inspires you to try the wines head to one of the local stockists; El Gourmet at the Corte Ingles, Vinoteca in Calle Bartolome Pou, Palma, or the Mercado Olivar shop 'd’Origen'.
A short uphill walk through the narrow stone streets takes me back to the main road where, 20 metres out of the town on the left hand side, in the direction of Andraitx, you will find the entrance to Sa Plana, marked ‘Petit Hotel’. This cosy, stone built hotel is run by Thomas’s wife, Paquita. It has pretty gardens, a stone terrace and swimming pool. On arrival you may be given a friendly and curious welcome by Turb and Turbina the hotel pet dogs. The Ca de Rata is a very popular, intelligent and nimble Mallorquin breed of dog which looks rather like very miniature Doberman Pinschers.
The five bedrooms at the hotel are named after the different winds of the Mediterranean. Tramuntana, Ponent, Llevant, Xaloc and Mestral are spacious and have magnificent views of the countryside, sea and village. Each has a functioning wood burning stove and charming oil paintings, painted by Paquita herself. While the hotel does not operate as a restaurant to non-residents, Paquita prepares typically Mallorquin three course meals for the guests if they wish to dine in the hotel. The only prerequisite is that the hotel must be informed in the morning as the produce is bought fresh from the local market. Typical meals would consist of arroz de pescado (a fragrant fish and rice dish), tumbet consisting of aubergines, tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes (similar to ratatouille) and roast lamb served, of course, with wine from the family bodega. Breakfast is included in the room price and the three course dinner is available at 18 euros per head (prices are 90 – 110 euros for the spacious double rooms and the largest come with a sea view veranda).
The dining room has a lovely, relaxed atmosphere. After a busy day at the bodega, Thomas sometimes plays the guitar, with renditions of Mallorquin folklore songs and, if plied with enough wine, guests often join in.
There are several ways to unwind during your stay in Estellenchs. Paquita recommends taking a fishing rod down the local cala (cove). The hotel has a number of rods for use by hotel guests. There are currently two walking/ hiking excursions. One is a five hour trek to the Puig de Galatzo - the Puig is a mountain and this is quite a tough trek so adequate clothing and footwear is essential.
The second trek is to Port des Canonge, a less strenuous two hour walk. Admire rare wild flowers such as the bumble bee orchid (springtime) or go on a fungi hunt (autumn). In summer, take a swim in the hotel's outdoor pool or walk to the local 'cala' where you will find an unspoilt pebble beach and an authentic tapas bar.
Please note Sa Plana is closed December until mid-Janaury.
To view more rural retreats or ‘fincas’ across Mallorca visit our Boutique Hotels & Fincas section.