If you heard that I was headed to Menorca you probably thought I misspoke and said Mallorca. You’re mistaken. But that’s definitely a point in the column for local af vacation spot. In case you’re geographically lost, Menorca is an island just off the coast of Barcelona, Spain.
I spent a few days in Menorca with a friend had been living and working there as a teacher and along with some other ex-pats and Spaniards from the peninsula who gave me the local Menorcan experience (and let me practice my Spanish!). I was actually having so much fun on the island, I actually extended my stay so I could party it up on the biggest party of the year–Fiestas de Sant Joan (more on that later).
So what does a day in the life of a local Menorcan look like? Beach, bars, repeat. Synonymous with heaven in my book. Here’s how to do Menorca like a local (and why I never wanted to leave)!
Ignore the touristy stuff
I found some parts of Menorca to be a bit like Destin, Florida: full of tourists, gelato shops, and over priced boat excursions, while reportedly being a ghost town during the winter. I stayed a few blocks away from the port and city center in Mahon and had my fair share of walking through the souvenir shops to get to the local spots. Everywhere I went I saw loads of menorquina shoes. They’re gender neutral, come in every imaginable color and are an island staple. Confession: I bought a keychain version as a souvenir!
At one point, I did stop for coffee at a shop along the port to people watch and hang out by the water. As a total coffee noob, I learned that it’s best to order a café con leche for a larger coffee–otherwise you’ll get stuck with a tiny af espresso. Also like most of Europe, you’re fine to hang out at a restaurant as long as you like. If you want the check, you have to go inside to find a server or aggressively flag them down.
Menorca is also known for its tayalots which are ruins from 1000 BC. They kinda look like Stonehenge and are scattered all over the island. You can go on tours to see them and learn about their history, but tbh you’ll see a bunch just driving around getting to beaches, which for me was plenty of history exposure. There’s also church in Mahon. I didn’t go in because a) it costs 2€ and b) once you’ve seen one church you’ve seen them all.
Vamos a la playa
There’s over 90 beaches in Menorca and everyone has an opinion about which one is the best and which has the best water. The color of Menorcan blue water is a heated debate and you’ll even find shirts that resemble paint chips boasting favorite colors like “Azul Fornell” and “Azul Macarella.” Spoiler: I fell in love with every Menorcan beach I went to.
This beach was the first we visited and a total local spot. It’s a tiny hidden cove off the side of a highway that required some legit hiking to get to. I may or may not have ruined my sandals hiking downhill while the Spaniard I was with did it all barefoot. The beach itself was pretty intimate–not only was it a small cove, but it was also full of
topless full-on nude Spaniards. The water was a bit warm until your got out to the deeper parts where the deep currents were cooler. The air temperature was hot af, so definitely glad we had a few beach umbrellas with us.
This “beach” was mostly rocks and def my favorite color of blue! The water everywhere was insanely clear and deep–perfect for cliff jumping! We had to legit rock climb a bit to get to this spot, but it was totally worth it. Plus, hanging out on rocks is actually pretty lovely because sand doesn’t get everywhere! I even managed to fall asleep on them 😉
Son Bou is a popular destination and a touch touristy. It was a 30 min bus ride (cost €2.55 – here’s the bus schedule!) from Mahon. At the beach, we had the option to rent beach chairs under tiki umbrellas, as well as little paddle boats with slides attached to the top (tbh super cool). But of course we were doing the local thing so we just staked out a spot on the white sand for our umbrella. At this beach, I whipped out the goggles and found quite a bit of fish!
Eat your fill
I ate at many delightful local-approved spots. As you do in Spain, I had to get some tapas. The favorite spot for the ex-pats was Taps Can Avelino. We had patatas bravas, wild asparagus, and these ravioli-like pastas. While I didn’t try it myself, the Guinness Cake there is apparently to die for. A favorite bakery in town is Valle. The best spot for burgers in Paput–it’s a lovely patio bar that honestly reminds me a bit of some Houston spots like Edison.
For groceries we hit up a local corner store and the bigger Mercadona. In both spots, I enjoyed seeing the combination of Spanish and Menorquin (a dialect of Catalan) labels. Fresh orange juice is big in Spain and I spontaneously bought a fresh bottle of it at the market.
One day after the beach, we also enjoyed some traditional dishes at Txoko, including berejena (eggplant) on toast, Menorcan cheese (made fresh on the island) and gazpacho.
Talk the talk
I know a fair amount of Spanish from studying abroad in Chile and just about everyone in Menorca was down to speak Spanish with me. But if for some reason I didn’t understand something, I’d just attribute to the fact that they’re probably speaking Menorcan or Catalan.
While in Menorca I picked up a bit of the local lingo. For example, when you’re making a purchase in a store you don’t say “thank you” since the store is technically serving you. Instead after the clerk or waiter says “gracias” you acknowledge him and say “a ti.” I also learned that when you pass a friend on the street and want to say hey but don’t actually have time to talk you say the equivalent of bye; for example “‘tal luego” (see ya later).
Stay out till dawn
Every night we went to a different bar on the island, which had a whole range of crowds and vibes. First night we went to La Cava Del Ars and sat outside, listened to live music, and drank Estrella Galicia beers. We then ventured over to Claustre Del Carme–still holding our beers by the way, drinking in the street is a thing–and finished out the night in this museum/church like courtyard.
The following night we went to Fifty One Bar in Arenal Den Castel for karaoke. At most places, I stuck to cañas (beer) of Estrella Galicia. There’s another version called Estrella Damm which is produced locally, but was advised against trying it. I did, however, drink a Damm Lemon (caña con limón) which was a fruity shandy–big fan!
Menorca also produces its own gin. The typical label is Mahon and has lovely little windmills on the bottle. It’s used in the typical cocktail on the island called pomada with lemon and sugar. The pomada was the drink of choice during the Sant Joan festivities.
Party it up with Sant Joan
I was originally intending on flying back to the peninsula and spending the whole weekend in Barcelona, BUT everyone was raving about the biggest party of the year for Sant Joan, so I just couldn’t leave. BEST DESCISION EVER. It’s an annual party honoring St. John the Baptist (in Catalan: Sant Joan) and a celebration for the summer solstice.
We hopped on a bus from Mahon (cost €5.10) and headed over to the city of Ciutadella. Everyone was decked out in maroon (the color of the party) and was armed with giant water bottles full of strong pomadas. The similarities with a A&M tailgate were uncanny.
Early in the evening there was a big event involving hazelnuts, so when we arrived all the streets were covered in the nutshells. While many sources debate the origin of these traditions, my friends said that allegedly, if you have a crush on someone or want to talk to them you throw a hazelnut at them–or in the case of Ciutadella a whole bushel of them. All the buildings had maroon flags with an 8-sided cross (the symbol of Sant Joan) flying from the balconies.
Around 10:30pm, the horses began to parade through the town. The “Caracol Des Borns” was quite a site to see. They’re ridden by men from the top families in Ciutadella and rear up onto their back legs occasionally–much to the delight of the crowds who are singing all sorts of songs and chants. Whenever they would do this, the crowds would rush forward and try to touch the underbelly of the horse. IT WAS INSANE. I don’t understand how more people didn’t get hurt, especially given the amount of pomadas everyone was drinking. I was in the middle of the crowds near the end of the parade route and smack dab in the middle of the action. SO MANY HORSES AND CRAZY PEOPLE. It was a Spanish mosh pit with local chants instead of rage music. And yes, I ended up touching a horse because they get so dang close to you! This madness ended around midnight and I managed to snap a [blurry] pic with some of the horses posing the square.
While I couldn’t find anyone who could really explain why this all happened, I found this site to give a particularly nice explanation of the party.
Afterwards, the real party begins. The clubs stay open all night and people party in the street to dawn. If you don’t watch the sunrise–did you really go to Menorca?
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