Thoughts of an island vacation in the sun have always held an almost magical and universal appeal to us all. The combination of the sea, sand, warm sun, swaying palm trees and the laid back, relaxed, easy-going atmosphere of island living, has an irresistible attraction for everyone. But all islands are not created equal and choosing the right island to vacation on is an important planning step worth taking a little extra time over.
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Chances are the Caribbean or perhaps Hawaii are among the first island groups that come to mind for many contemplating an island escape. Look beyond these American or decidedly Americanized islands, some of which have social and economic problems that belie the dreamy images depicted in their advertising. Think just a little outside of the usual box and there are easily reached islands in other parts of the world where you won't be surrounded by throngs of your vacationing neighbors; places where you can enjoy a truly international atmosphere and a decidedly European flair with all of the pleasures and experiences that brings -- world-class golf included.
There may be no better example of such very special places than Spain's Balearic Islands, an archipelago of four main islands; Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera, each with its own distinctive character, personality and appeal. Set like precious gems in the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, these handsome islands sit less than 100 short miles off the Spanish mainland, yet this is an entirely different Spain.
Glorious beaches, the crystal clear Mediterranean and an idyllic, year round climate, were the reasons for the Balearic's initial popularity with Northern Europeans, who still flock here during the traditional summer holiday months of July and August. Then, as abruptly as they arrived, the sun-worshippers all but vanish, quietly replaced in far smaller numbers by a more discriminating group.
These are the experienced, seasoned travelers, who have seen much of the world and they know which corners they prefer. Included are sports and entertainment celebrities, politicians, captains of industry, even royalty, along with others from the ranks of the rich and famous. They arrive on their expensive yachts and private planes, to relax and savor the true beauty and sophistication of these very special, paradise islands.
Those looking for pure tranquility and the opportunity to soak up Mother Nature's brilliant handiwork amid surroundings virtually void of people and man-made development, are drawn to tiny, low key Formentera. Others will be attracted to the island of Ibiza, a Mecca for jet-setters and would be jet-setters, who come to enjoy the numerous sandy beaches, sample the restaurants and lap up the night life of the bustling capital, Eivissa. For the really eager golfers, the Ibiza Golf Club, located only a few miles from town, welcomes visitors.
Relaxing Menorca has a totally different character, with often deserted beaches and bronze-age monuments that dot a low lying landscape still very much devoted to agriculture. The island capital of Mao offers a delightful old town, easily discovered on foot. On the opposite end of the island, yet still only 20-miles away, sits Ciutadella, the original capital chosen by the Romans as their main harbor, which today is perhaps the most atmospheric port-town in the entire Mediterranean region. Retaining a charming, aristocratic feeling of an age gone by, wander Ciutadella's winding cobblestone streets, past baroque churches, ancient convents and Gothic monuments to discover the true beauty of this utterly enchanting ancient gem -- and be sure to bring your camera.
The shining star in the small galaxy that make up the Balearic Islands can only be Mallorca, the largest and most dramatic of all. Don't be alarmed, the word "largest" is only used in comparative terms and at approximately 60-miles long and 40-miles wide, it remains a very manageable size - but it's an island packed to over-flowing with an astonishing array of so many different things to see and do. Whether you are looking for history, culture, scenery, beaches, fine dining or entertainment, Mallorca simply has more of everything and golfers are especially well catered to. With some two-dozen golf courses, including a share of the very best in Spain and Europe, Mallorca is a true golfer's heaven.
There are very few countries in this world where both avid golfers as well as those less enchanted by the game, can thoroughly enjoy a vacation together. Spain is definitely one of the few and the dream island of Mallorca does it in grand style, with a very special Spanish and uniquely Mallorcan flair.
The island has been inhabited for at least 9,000 years -- from cave dwellers, to warrior tribes from central Europe, to the Greeks and Phoenicians, then the Romans. Three centuries under Arab rule were followed during the 13th and 14th centuries by some bickering over Mallorcan control, between the competing governments in Catalan and Cordoba, eventually leading to Mallorca coming under the flag of a united Spain. It's a long and colorful history that has contributed to the cultural richness that is so evident throughout the island and history is everywhere.
Mallorca is filled with surprises to delight each and every visitor and nothing is quite as astonishing as the wealth and diversity of natural beauty that abounds here. From the Alpine-like mountains of the Northwest, with its spectacularly dramatic coastline and endless collection of ancient towns and picturesque villages, to the lower range of hills in the southeast, the scenery is breathtaking. There's the fertile, central plain where vineyards thrive alongside groves of olive trees, fig and citrus orchards. Drive to the ruggedly handsome east coast and there are gigantic underground caves and yet another world waiting to be discovered. And everywhere along the coastline, an infinite array of glorious sandy beaches, both large and intimately small, each calling out to beach-lovers from January until December. Miss the busy summer months and you might be the exclusive occupant.
And Mallorca doesn't stop here in her tireless effort to seduce visitors, adding some big city charms to allure any remaining doubters, still not convinced that this enchanting, Mediterranean island paradise literally, has something for everyone. The capital city of Palma de Mallorca may only have a resident population of about 375,000 - no larger than Wichita, Kansas -- but Palma's heart ranks up there alongside cities ten times as large.
Packed with history, culture, fascinating museums, galleries and a myriad of shopping opportunities, this small city is a visitor's delight. There are Moorish palaces, a Gothic castle, sumptuous private mansions, historic churches, impressive public buildings and an intriguing Old Town, including an important ancient Jewish Quarter. Dominating the entire city is its cathedral, a magnificent triumph of 13th century Gothic architecture and one of Spain's most stunning.
But Palma is not only about the past, it boasts a thriving modern art scene, great restaurants and lively cafes that never seem to close and with all of this, a night life that is as vibrant as any in all of Europe. The night-birds may not get into top gear until around midnight, but they keep popping until the early dawn hours to compensate, so be wary if you have a morning tee-time.
With so much going on and so many things to see and do, it may not be possible to do everything and there will be decisions to be made. But in this relaxed island setting, there's no real reason to do anything at all, the only time-table you have is your own. This after all is a vacation, so take full advantage and wind down, kick back and enjoy whatever takes your fancy.
But don't forget the golf - Mallorca's two dozen, top drawer golf courses are all calling out to be played and if you don't have time enough to play them all, just decide which you are going to leave until your next visit to this magical island -- and the chances are, you will return.
You could spend a month on Spain's Balearic Islands and still not have enough time to see and do everything, but if a week is all the time you have, you will at least obtain a good sampling of all these islands offer. Make this the family's primary vacation, extending your Spain trip to a full two weeks and discover how easily the Balearic Islands combine with other fascinating parts of the country.
The frequent short flights to the Spanish mainland from Palma, take little more than 45-minutes to reach Barcelona, Malaga or Valencia, opening up an exciting range of combination possibilities. The opportunity to experience more of one of Europe's most interesting countries is a temptation too good to resist and whichever city you may choose, there will be more world-class golf nearby -- there's good reason why Spain has earned the title of being Europe's Capital of Golf.
For more ideas and suggestions on how to get the most out of your trip to Spain, whether golf is to be included or not, click here.
©2009 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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