Travel

Forget Ibiza, This Spanish Island Is a Sea-Cliff Dream

Relax on cove beaches or drink in an oceanside cave in the tranquil Mediterranean.

Max Bailen/Image Source/Getty Images
Max Bailen/Image Source/Getty Images
Max Bailen/Image Source/Getty Images

If you know anything about the Balearic Islands, you probably realize Ibiza is the wild child. Mallorca is the biggest, Formentera is the smallest, and then there is Menorca. Oh, Menorca. Of Spain‘s four principal coastal islands, this 431-square-mile land strikes such a stunning balance of quiet seaside bliss, history-loaded cities and, when you want to turn up, sure, a cave to party in.

The summer season, June through August, is when the island is busiest. But even then, with 100-plus beaches and the destination being comparatively under the radar, it doesn’t touch the more bouncing nature of its counterparts.

To explore and make the most of this island destination, you’ll want to rent a car (taxis are scarce and rideshares are nonexistent), select a home base, and plop on a beach as much as possible. And when you do want some activity, there’s a hiking-filled national park, lobster stews, and watersports aplenty worth venturing out for. Here’s how to get your Menorca on.

Restaurant Cafè Balear
Restaurant Cafè Balear
Restaurant Cafè Balear

Pair iconic lobster stew with a dreamy lemonade gin drink

As you would probably imagine with a Spanish island… tucked in the middle of the Mediterranean… with thousands of years of culinary history… the food in Menorca is out of this world. If you’re into seafood, stick to the fresh catches, often including a rockfish and scorpion fish option on the menu del día (which is like the deal of the day).

The most famous Menorcan dish is the caldereta de langosta, a spiny lobster stew often made with garlic, parsley, tomatoes, onions, and peppers. From five-star restaurants to mom-and-pop seafood shacks on the coast, it’s a menu staple often served in two-person-or-more portions. The most celebrated versions of the caldereta de langosta may be found at the waterside Café Balear in Ciutadella and, for a northern adventure, Es Port in the heart of the northern town of Fornells.

Additional names you’ll see on Menorcan menus over-and-over include the ensaimada at bakeries, an often-circular pastry coated in powdered sugar; queso de Mahón, a yellow-edged cheese with a slightly salty-meets-spicy hint; and the pomada de Menorca drink, made with the island’s gin (Gin Xoriguer), lemonade, crushed ice, and sometimes mint. Venture to Binibeca, 11 kilometers south of Mahón, for a pomada at the Bucaneros bar on the water’s literal edge. Between the lemony goodness and turquoise waters, you’ll never want to leave.

Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

Unwind on as many of the island’s 100-plus beaches as humanly possible

There is absolutely no better way to harness this island’s vibe than quietly cozying up on a beach for the day (or every day, until you unfortunately have to go back home). Menorca has 134 miles of coastline and more than 100 beaches, often complete with white sand bliss, jagged rock banks, and plenty of wiggle room. Fun fact: You’ll see the word cala in front of a number of beach locations, translating to cove-more often than not, this is where you’ll find some of the island’s most stunning inlet landscapes.

For the best spots, there is an incredible stretch of beaches along the southwest shores of Menorca between Cala en Turqueta (named for its turquoise waters) to the quiet resort town of Santo Tomás. Options include the limestone-cliff enclosed Cala Mitjana and Cala Macarella, which are family and boating hotspots, and Cala Excorxada, a totally secluded, clear-water oasis that requires an hour-ish hike from Santo Tomás to get there. For a beach town with several restaurant and souvenir shop options, the village of Cala en Porter is it.

Bill Heinsohn/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images
Bill Heinsohn/Photographer’s Choice RF/Getty Images
Bill Heinsohn/Photographer’s Choice RF/Getty Images

Stroll the quiet city life in Mahón and Ciutadella

Okay, the beaches are off-the-chart breathtaking here and should keep you entertained for days. But sometimes you do need a little civilization. This island’s city landscapes are generally Mediterranean-white meets Spanish-tiled euphoria, with cultural staples aplenty to be explored. Menorca has two urban hearts, Mahón and Ciutadella, found on the eastern and western edges of the island, respectively. It may seem like a trek between them, but you can do the 28-mile drive in under 45 minutes.

Ciutadella is full of palaces and churches that give off serious ancient vibes. You’ll also find a busy nightlife here, in the island’s largest city.

lunamarina/Shutterstock
lunamarina/Shutterstock
lunamarina/Shutterstock

Mahón (often labeled in traditional Catalan as Maó on road signs) is the capital of Menorca, the island’s second largest city, and it very much exudes a port city vibe with a historical knack. A must is strolling along its winding, water-adjacent promenade dotted with restaurants, cafés, and watersports shops.

History lovers should head straight to Museu de Menorca for the most comprehensive look of the town and island’s culture, art, and archaeology. Otherwise, nearby landmark draws include the Forteleza de Isabel II, a seaside fort dating back to the mid-1800s, and the Iglesia de Santa María, the town’s central church that’s tucked in the heart of the town’s pedestrian-friendly shopping core.

Cova d'en Xoroi Menorca
Cova d’en Xoroi Menorca
Cova d’en Xoroi Menorca

Party in a cave or tour a winery

If Menorca has a party scene, it is to be found in Ciutadella on Fridays and weekends. Along Passeig des Moll is the island’s highest concentration of discotheques, including the open-air Iguanaport and live music haven Jazzbah. For craft beer lovers, Grahame Pearce is quickly becoming a Menorcan fave and has a brewpub within minutes, too, located next to seafood hotspot Ulisses.

There is one other party hotspot in Menorca that cannot be left out. Cova d’en Xoroi is a nightclub built into a cave on the water-adjacent cliffs near the village of Cala en Porter. For the early birds, it’s also open during the sunset hour, before the oft-DJ-led spectacle goes into the early morning hours. You’ll want to book admission well in advance, as they typically sell out and, well, there is only so much room in a cave.

Menorca does have a handful of wineries, too. The largest is Binifadet, tucked about 10 minutes south of Mahón. It has hour-long tastings seven days a week.

Kite_rin/Shutterstock
Kite_rin/Shutterstock
Kite_rin/Shutterstock

Hike the island’s national park or paddle the oceans

Outdoor enthusiasts will always have a place to stroll in Menorca. The Camí de Cavalls trail encircles the entire island, with 20 often well-paved “stages” measuring three to nine miles.

And Parc Natural de s’Albufera des Grau is the national park. Here you’ll find ponds, lagoons, inlets, and prairies aplenty. For longer, more rugged hikes on Menorca, this will be your spot.

If you prefer to be active with a splash of sea spray, the watersports shops in Mahón offer up glass-bottom boat tours, yacht chartering, and sailing excursions. From the boat, you can opt to go snorkeling or cruise around on paddle boards. For those trips, Yellow Catamarans and Divina Charters Menorca are trusted options.

Photo courtesy of Villa le Blanc
Photo courtesy of Villa le Blanc
Photo courtesy of Villa le Blanc

Stay in Menorca’s first carbon-neutral and grand luxury hotel

Lodging options in Menorca span private villas with Spanish tile roofs, historic flats with vivid shutters in the country’s urban cores, and seaside resorts with Mediterranean views. Amid the options, head to Villa Le Blanc, a Gran Melía hotel, that opened in 2022 and is a true trailblazer for the entirety of the Balearic Islands. Billed as Menorca’s “first grand luxury” and carbon-neutral hotel, Villa Le Blanc sits centrally on the island’s south coast in Santo Tomás.

The property has 159 guestrooms, including 45 suites, many of which have their own private balconies with spiral staircases, daybeds, tubs and/or pools overlooking the most turquoise of waters. Its on-site restaurant offerings include an intimate S’Amarador outpost (the original is in Ciutadella), regarded as one of the best seafood restaurants and homages to Menorcan cuisine in all of Spain. It’s the best of all worlds, kind of like the island as a whole.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Jesse Scott is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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