Saddle sore in the mountains of Majorca

Me at the wheel of After more than a half century travelling the world, I thought I had Majorca sorted.  That I knew all I needed to know about that most popular of holiday islands.

I have just returned from a few days which taught me that the "Now" of Majorca is not a bit like the "Then" of my many previous visits.

So I'll dispense with the usual stroll down memory lane, and introduce you to the Ma-10 road which runs from Andratx in the south-western corner of the island, to Pollenca in the north west.  Runs, I should mention, for many twisting and turning kilometres, many steep gradients, up and down and along the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range.

You did not know there was a mountain range on Majorca?  Do not fret.  Most people do not, because the majority who go there on holiday end up on the opposite – flat – side, with its popular resorts, high rise hotels, good beaches, smiling service. and even tea as mother makes, if you insist.

The north coast is a different Majorca altogether.  And the tiny community of Banyalbufar even more so.  There you will find the hotel Mar i Vent.  It's been a hotel since 1931, run by three generations of the Vives family.  It is three-star plus, radiating the grace and poise of an elderly dowager who has experienced the ups and downs of life.  Its rooms are well appointed, its service impeccable, its location superb.  The sort of hotel which draws people back year after year.

Banyalbufar (the name is Arabic in origin) is 30 kilometres from Palma airport.  We planned to hire a car and do some gentle exploring during our brief stay.  Things did not go exactly as planned.

The view from the hotel Mar i Vent, over the terraces and terraced landscape. In the first place, I had forgotten what a tremendous hassle and time-consuming process it is to pick up a hire car at an airport.  It took the best part of an hour to wait in line, sign a couple of forms, discover that the low rate quoted on the web site was but the tip of the financial iceberg, and make our way to where "the Beast" was parked.

Because I had chosen an automatic, the car was larger than we really needed, brand new and stuffed with more electronics than NASA needed to put a couple of men on the moon.  We christened it the Beast, and set out to tame it.  More or less successfully.

I hardly got lost at all on that first journey to Banylabufar, and only a little bit on our subsequent excursions.  This was not because the roads weren't excellent and well signposted, but I see no reason to dwell on the matter.  I need to tell you about the cyclists.

Which brings me back to the Ma-10 road.  (You thought I'd forgotten it, didn't you?)  It runs through Banyalbufar, right in front of the hotel, and is unavoidable.  It is the main road along that coast, for all its twists and turns and gradients.  A difficult enough road at the best of times.  But our visit was not at the best of times.

Between mid-March and mid-May, tens of thousands of cyclists descend on Majorca from all parts of northern Europe – and from farther afield for all I know.  The vast majority are large men.  They come as individuals, sometimes with their spouses, or, overwhelmingly, in club groups.

Cyclists in Banyalbufar These men (and spouses) are more than enthusiasts.  They are zealots, convinced that right is on their side, motorists are evil polluters of the planet, and – most important – by virtue of their straining leg muscles, straining Lycra shorts and feelings of superiority, that they really do own the road.  They certainly thought they owned Ma-10.

They rode in groups, three and four abreast, labouring up hills with a convoy of cars in their wobbling wake.  They came, like Kamikaze pilots, freewheeling downhill around blind bends, assuming that no oncoming motorist would have the temerity to overtake their chums.

The Beast did not like them.  It longed to charge into their rear wheels and send them flying into ditches, or even over precipices.  It positively quivered with evil anticipation as it crept up behind their unsuspecting Lycra-d backsides.  It hoped against hope that the freewheelers would come rushing around the blind bends to impale themselves on its front bumper.

I had the devil of a job restraining it, and thought this strange, as the Beast was French – named Picasso – and was presumably aware of its nation's unseemly addiction to cycling.

The cyclists occupied all the restaurant tables, making life difficult for ordinary holidaymakers On the road, the Lycra hordes were bad enough.  In restaurants they clattered about in their studded shoes, occupied all the tables and made life difficult for hard-pressed waiters, to say nothing of non-cycling holidaymakers hoping for lunch.

At the Bellavista restaurant in Banyalbufar (which serves massive and sensational salads), the owner had to stand at the door telling them they couldn't bring in their bikes.  They argued with him in several languages, including Profane.

In view of all this, I am puzzled as to why that short break on Majorca was such a success.  We had an absolutely wonderful time, thanks mainly to the hotel, the sunshine, the superb panoramas of coast and countryside, the food and the wine.

On our last evening, as we finished an excellent dinner in the Cuina de Banyalbufar restaurant, The Lady In My Life, contemplating her second (or possibly third) glass of wine, remarked:  "If I had known that being 71 would be so much fun, I would have got here sooner."

Which, in a way, sums up our trip.  I hope we return one day, to the hotel Mar i Vent, Banyalbufar's super restaurants, and that lovely landscape.

Not, however, in the cycling season.

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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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