Jul 01

Menorca; top sights for culture and food lovers

by in Culture, Europe, Guide

Binibeca Beach Menorca - image zoedawes

Binibeca Beach

With more beaches than Majorca and Ibiza combined, it’s not surprising that Menorca is a popular Spanish holiday destination. But there is much more to this tiny island on the edge of the Balearics. With a convoluted history due to its strategic position and a Mediterranean landscape, Menorca has inspired artists, writers, photographers, artisans and other creatives to produce a treasure trove of cultural gems.

Torre d'en Gaumes Menorca Spain - image zoedawes

Torre d’en Gaumes

The island is strewn with archaeological remains telling the story of Bronze Age people who made simple pottery and delicate jewellery. Islamic rulers left beautiful buildings decorated with exquisite tile-work. European powers took it in turns to occupy Menorca, with Spain, France and Britain adding their own distinctive taste in architecture, art and culinary style. Religion continues to play a big part in daily life; Catholic churches and cathedrals may not have the opulence of Italian churches but are home to some very fine paintings and decoration. A relatively new phenomenon is the flourishing of quirky street art, reflecting a global recognition of this art form.

Victori street art Mahon Menorca

Victori street art

In both Ciutadella and Mahon (Mao), the old and new capitals of Menorca, there is evidence of this rich cultural mix to be seen round every corner. Magnificent palaces are home to a number of fine museums and galleries showcasing both classical artifacts and contemporary artworks.

Ciutadella – West Menorca

Placa des Born Ciutadella Menorca - image zoedawes

Palaces on the Plaça des Born Ciutadella

Castell de Sant Nicolau, an octagonal tower on the Passeig Maritim, has occasional art exhibitions, with great views of the island from its roof. Higher up in the main town, a maze of narrow streets and elegant squares including the Placa des Born, are lined with Gothic palaces, high-walled churches and shady arcades of attractive shops. Situated in a former convent, the Museu Diocesa de Menorca tells the story of the island’s history, has a collection of modern and older artworks and religious art, gold and silver (it’s very close to Ciutadella Cathedral). On a recent tour of the city, we passed Eglesia del Roser; in its entrance was a huge head woven from twigs – very striking.

Roser Church art gallery Ciutadella

If you get the chance, visit one of the palaces open to the public. Palacio Olivar, opposite the Cathedral, recreates the 18th c lifestyle of Menorcan nobility and Palacio Salort is crammed  with antiques, tapestries, paintings and furniture and a grand ballroom with elaborate frescoes. On almost every street in the city centre you’ll find shops and galleries selling local art and pottery; just wander about and keep your eyes open for unusual sights.

Window Street Art Ciutadella

Window Street Art

Mahon – South East Menorca

Mahon city centre Menorca

Mahon city centre

The capital of Menorca has a wide range of options for cultural exploration. One of the newest attractions is the Centre D’art I D’historia Hernandez Sanz, which recently moved to Carrer Anuncivay 2.  Within the cool, beautifully restored of the Palau Can Oliver, is an eclectic display of drawings, painting, pottery, maps, lithographs and other objects that reflect the island’s history.

Roman pottery and paintings Hernandez Sant Museum Mahon

Many are part of an original collection by polymath Hernandez Sanz, who published a compendium of Geography and History of Menorca in 1908. There are also prints of significant figures involved in the British occupation. In the basement is a display of archaeological finds and excavations. (Could do with some signs in English for overseas visitors.) 

Talayotic etchings - Hernandez Sant Museum - Mahon

I loved these little etchings of Talyotic monuments that Hernandez produced on his travels around the island.

Mahon Museum of Menorca

Museum of Menorca

The massive walls of the 17th/18 c Franciscan Convent loom over the long harbour of Mahon. It is home to the Museum of Menorca, a relatively small, but interesting selection of the human occupation of the island. It was being renovated when I visited, but there was a small exhibition on display. Check opening times.

Museum of Menorca

Museum of Menorca Mahon

One of the oldest cultural centres is The Scientific, Artistic and Literary Centre (Ateneu Cientific Literari I Artistic de Mao). For over a 100 years, it has been hosting exhibitions of renowned and newer Menorcan artists as well as giving a platform for writers and scientists to share their work. Visit Xoriguer Gin Distillery, probably the oldest in the Mediterrean. Basket-weaving and shoe-making are traditional crafts; you can find plenty in the market in the Cloisters del Carmen next to the Fish Market in Mahon city centre.

Baskets, shoes and local produce Mahon market

Local crafts and produce in Mahon Market

Check out the Fiesta calendar for impressive horsemanship and colourful processions. The Teatro Principal, built in 1829, is the oldest opera house in Spain and regularly puts on concerts, operas and dramatic performances. During the summer months there are music recitals in Mahon Cathedral, which has one of the biggest organs in the world.

Around Menorca

Torre den Gaumes Menorca Spain

Torre den Gaumes

There are a great many pre-historic Talayotic sites around the island. Monuments including boat-shaped burial chambers (navetas), megalithic sepulchres, cone-shaped towers (talayots) and stone enclosures with T-shaped pillars (taules). These sites date from c 1000 BC up to the Roman conquest in 123 BC.  My favourites include the Naveta d’es Tudons, Torre d’en Gaumes, Talati de Dalt and Trepuco.

Trepuco - Es Castell Menorca

Trepuco at sunset

British artists in Menorca includes Graham Byfield, who specialises in landscapes and architecture and has a gallery in the small town of Es Migjorn Gran, exhibiting his work and selling his books and cards.

Graham Byfield - image artistspartner.tumblr.com

Graham Byfield – image artistspartner.tumblr.com

Liz Spooner, known as ‘The Poppy Lady’ for her gorgeous big flower paintings, has outlets in both Mahon and Ciutadella.

La Mola - street art in Mahon, Menorca - image zoedawes

If you like military history, Menorca has many places to visit. The most significant and impressive is La Mola. Covering over a kilometer, at the entrance to Mahon Harbour, this huge fortress was built to protect Menorca against invasion. It has Vickers guns (never fired in anger) and plenty of militaristic buildings and equipment to see.

Es Castell Parade Ground - image patrimoniommm2.wordpress.com

Es Castell Parade Ground – image patrimoniommm2.wordpress.com

Es Castell was founded by the British during their second occupation in the late 1700s. The main square has been renovated to give a better idea of the original army Parade Ground, surrounded by Georgian buildings, including the excellent Military Museum. It includes guns, flags, maps and a model of nearby Fort Sant Felip, which is also open to the public.

The charming Hotel del Almirante has a very personal collection of naval and local historical items, especially about Admiral Lord Collingwood, who used to live there. Once a week the owner gives a guided tour – check website for details.

Hotel del Almirante near Mahon Menorca

Hotel del Almirante

Finally, Menorca is famous for its cheeses, loved by Spaniards and appreciated by connoisseurs throughout Europe. Still produced in traditional method, Hort Sant Patrici is an interesting Cheese and Wine Making Centre, near Ferrerias.

Hort San Patrici cheeses Menorca

Hort San Patrici cheeses

Their cheese is made from pasteurized cows’ milk, produced with rounded edges and ranges from , from a light 21 day cheese to mature cheese aged over 8-9 months. You can also see how they make their wines and in the grounds there is an exhibition of unusual sculptures amongst the vines.

Hort San Patrici artworks in the vineyard

Hort San Patrici artworks in the vineyard

Visitor Information for Menorca

To plan your holiday in Menorca visit the Menorca website and www.Spain.info or follow them on social media: Twitter @Spain_inUK | Facebook | Instagram. If you need a guide to show you the sites of Menorca, I can highly recommend Menorca Guides Luis Amella.

Luis Amella tour guide in Cuitadella Menorca

Tour Guide Luis Amella with Travelator Media in Cuitadella

Thanks very much to Menorca Tourism for hosting my stay in a Travelator Media project in partnership with Spanish and Menorca Tourism.

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13 Responses to “Menorca; top sights for culture and food lovers”

  1. From Gary Bembridge:

    Fascinating insight into Menorca! Learnt a lot and makes it sound a very interesting place to visit !

    Posted on July 2, 2016 at 9:03 pm #
  2. From Zoe Dawes:

    I’ve been visiting Menorca for over 20 years and my brother lives there. It has changed relatively little during that time but there has been a great improvement in cultural offerings. The islanders seem to have become more aware of the unique significance of its pre-historic and more recent history and are developing ways to showcase the art the island engenders. It’s one of the few Mediterranean island’s that reveals more every time you visit.

    Posted on July 3, 2016 at 5:46 am #
  3. From Zoe Dawes:

    Thanks Gary. It is a fascinating little island, which at first appears a quiet holiday destination but gradually reveals its attractions to those who take time to look. It’s got an understated appeal that I find very attractive.

    Posted on July 3, 2016 at 5:50 am #
  4. From Kathryn Burrington:

    Menorca is a fascinating island on so many levels and Luis was superb. His passion for his island was contagious. I’d love to go back one day and discover more. Our long weekend was fabulous but not long enough.

    Posted on July 3, 2016 at 8:16 am #
  5. From Zoe Dawes:

    So agree Kathryn. Hope you return some day – and that the sun shines for you this time 😉

    Posted on July 3, 2016 at 8:27 am #
  6. From Heather on her travels:

    I really enjoyed Menorca for its combination of walking, a gorgeous natural landscape and the history and culture that you mention – really a lot to see on this island

    Posted on July 3, 2016 at 6:15 pm #
  7. From Iain S Mallory:

    Thanks for the fascinating reminder of all this great little gem of the Balearics has to offer Zoe. Totally agree, so much more than a beach destination.

    Posted on July 4, 2016 at 12:07 pm #
  8. From Zoe Dawes:

    As you say Heather, a lot to see and do in Menorca. Hopefully more people will go on holiday and discover its many attractions.

    Posted on July 4, 2016 at 1:20 pm #
  9. From Zoe Dawes:

    Thanks for comment Iain and yes, it is a lot more than the sum of its beaches!

    Posted on July 4, 2016 at 1:21 pm #
  10. From Carol Jennings:

    Compared to many other islands we have visited, Menorca has so much more to it. It almost doesn’t seem Spanish, maybe because of all the different people who have lived there. Very appealing.

    Posted on July 6, 2016 at 6:06 pm #
  11. From Zoe Dawes:

    Yes, I know what you mean. Menorca is much more low-key than some other Spanish islands and there is a definite familiarity for British visitors due to the length of time we occupied the island. Many Menorcans think that the overall British influence was a positive one and Brits are generally very welcome there 🙂 My brother loves it – he’s been living there for 25 years!

    Posted on July 6, 2016 at 6:13 pm #
  12. From John MacBeath:

    I recognise quite a few of those places! Been a long time since I was there but doesn’t look that much different. Nice little island.

    Posted on July 7, 2016 at 11:33 am #
  13. From Zoe Dawes:

    You’re right, Menorca hasn’t changed very much, and what changes have taken place are mainly for the best. Much better roads, signage and more visitor attractions now 🙂

    Posted on July 7, 2016 at 11:43 am #

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