Scattered across the Mediterranean off the eastern coast of Spain, the four Balearic Islands — Mallorca, Ibiza, Formentera and Menorca — possess very different personalities. Ibiza and Mallorca have been two of the most popular vacation spots in Europe for decades. In contrast, tiny, wild Formentera, the smallest island, attracts just a few knowledgeable travelers. Now Menorca is shyly stepping into the spotlight. The quietest and most authentically rural of the quartet, it has recently seen the opening of several noteworthy hotels, along with a number of excellent restaurants.
Connoisseurs of the Balearics insist Menorca has the best beaches, ranging from sandy strands to intimate coves. The 30-mile-long, 10-mile-wide island is also a terrific destination for hikers and riders. The recently renovated Camí de Cavalls, or Way of Horses, is a well-marked and -maintained 115-mile trail that circles the island. Menorca is avidly equestrian, with several stables that hire out the native black Menorquín horses. The island was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993, which partially explains why it’s so pristine. Development is strictly controlled, and S’Albufera des Grau Natural Park, which includes five small islands, is home to prolific birdlife.
The island’s history informs its distinctive personality. Coveting the huge natural harbor in Mahón, the British occupied the island for much of the 18th century. They expanded the port there, built roads and reservoirs, developed the island’s agriculture and left behind an enduring taste for gin, which is still made on the island at the Xoriguer distillery. The Georgian architecture of many houses in Mahón also bespeaks the former British presence.