Think of sport in Majorca and one name above all comes to mind. Rafa Nadal is not just the best known of the island's sportspeople, he is the best known of all Majorcans. An ambassador for the island, but especially for sport, Rafa is the standard bearer for the many other top athletes that Majorca has produced - his uncle Miguel Ángel, the one-time Spain football international; Marco Asensio, a current international; fellow tennis professional Carlos Moyà; MotoGP world champions Jorge Lorenzo and Joan Mir; basketball's Rudy Fernández.
An island created for cyclists
Behind the more celebrated names, there are a host of others - Olympic medallists among them - and there is a history of sport that dates back to the late nineteenth century and to the development of one sport in particular. Cycling became part of the culture soon after the first bicycle appeared on the island in 1869. Clubs were formed and velodromes were created - El Tirador in Palma was inaugurated in 1903. Now there is an altogether grander velodrome, the Palma Arena (renamed Velòdrom Illes Balears). But while track cycling has produced great homegrown talent, such as Olympic and world champion Joan Llaneras, it is the road that has most inspired Mallorca's cycling tradition, for the road is so diverse - mountain climbs and descents, flat stretches through rural settings and villages, coastal routes just metres from the Mediterranean.
It's as if Majorca had been created for cyclists, as so much variety is packed into one small space. The climate makes Majorca perfect for cycling, especially in the cooler months of spring, autumn and winter. Professional teams have made the island their training destination of choice. This, combined with a boom in amateur and recreational cycling, has resulted in first-class infrastructure and facilities. Some 2,000 kilometres of road and lanes; hundreds of hotels which specialise in cycling; numerous bike shops; repair and rental ... . And on top of all this, there is the experience of cycling in a marvellous natural environment with its views from the peaks and its varying landscapes and seascapes - pine forest, the almond blossom of late winter, a glistening Mediterranean.
Cycling routes have been established that show off Majorca at its finest and most diverse - through villages in the interior, to lighthouses, past hermitages and churches. Wherever you cycle, it is a cultural tour of examples of manmade and natural heritage which contribute to making Mallorca so precious and an absolute dream to be experienced on two wheels.
What is an island without the sea? Nautical tourism
At the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the Semana Deportiva (Sports Week) was conceived as a means of attracting tourists. The first was held in 1909, and its components give an idea as to which sports were by then becoming firmly established and consolidated. There were to be road races for runners and cyclists. There were to be horse races (trotting). And there were to also be regattas.
A nautical tradition is obvious for an island people, and this tradition was at the forefront of what was then the new industry of tourism. Whether competitive or recreational, whether sporting or for the simple pleasures of boating, the island's nautical industry has been serving visitors for over one hundred years. From superyacht to dinghy, from racing yachts to canoes, never forgetting more recent developments, such as kitesurfing and stand-up paddle, Majorca has everything covered, making the island a Mediterranean leader for holidaymakers, boat owners and sportspeople.
Majorca's charter boat fleet is one of the largest in the Mediterranean, with over 500 boats for leisure. Nautical tourism is increasingly more affordable and inclusive and has enjoyed a recent boom through demand from visitors who look to the sea as a means of avoiding crowds in these Covid times.
A boat offers the perfect way to get to know the island's coastal environment - from cliffs to small coves and long sandy beaches. There are parts of the island that are only really accessible by boat, offering the experience of a whole "new" Majorca, an alternative to the busy resorts that combines the freedom of the sea with the nature to be discovered on the island's coast. Easy and safe sailing is available throughout the year. Although storms are inevitable in winter, Majorca is nevertheless a choice for top international sailing teams for their winter training.
There are over forty marinas, certain ones like Club de Mar in Palma and Puerto Portals playing host to the yachts of the famous. Others, such as Cala Ratjada, Portocolom, Puerto Pollensa or Puerto Soller, retain the charm of traditional fishing ports. The island's ports and marinas are committed to environmental protection and to sustainable development, users ever more aware of the vital need to conserve the marine environment, as with, for instance, avoiding anchoring on posidonia sea grass meadows.
Qualified expertise characterises Majorca's nautical tourism and nautical industry, as with the island's yacht refit and repair sector. Some of the most prestigious shipyards in the Mediterranean are to be found in Majorca. Companies with long and proven experience, operating according to the highest of environmental standards and of qualifications, are based in a number of ports. Palma is the most obvious, but there are first-class facilities elsewhere, e.g. Alcudiamar in Puerto Alcudia and Port Adriano in El Toro.
The marine reserves of El Toro and the Malgrats isles highlight the absolute commitment to conservation of the marine environment. For divers, therefore, there are strict regulations which help to enhance the diving experience because of the conserved status. There are twelve diving sites that are home to rich Mediterranean marine life - moray eels, barracudas, grouper fish and hundreds of other species.
Majorca currently has six marine reserves. The others are for the bay of Palma, the Marina del Migjorn that covers a wide area of southern Majorca, the island of Dragonera off Andratx, and the Marina del Llevant in the northeast. Dive centres, affiliated to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, know these reserves and heighten the experience of scuba divers, as they observe the enormous diversity of marine life and the flora of the seabed, of which the posidonia meadows are the most remarkable. These meadows provide habitats and they are vital to the ecosystems in the sea and on land. Posidonia absorbs carbon dioxide, while the remains on beaches are crucial in combating erosion.
Returning to where the island's nautical tourism first started - the regattas of the early twentieth century - many small ones are organised each summer, some of which form part of the annual fiestas. Then there are the grand regattas, the international class events, such as the Trofeo Princesa Sofia and the Copa del Rey (King's Cup), both of which are held in Palma - King Felipe is a regular participant in the Copa del Rey, when he and the rest of the Royal Family spend their annual summer vacations in Majorca.
The island's waters host numerous competitions, and in this regard one can't of course overlook swimming. There are open water swim competitions, such as in Colonia Sant Jordi, and there are also the swimming stages for triathlons. Majorca is a top location for international events - Ironman (based in Puerto Alcudia) and other triathlons - and so swimming has been added to two of the sports that comprised the first Sports Week all those decades ago. Cycling has been a constant feature, as also has been running, and to the triathlons have to be added the half-marathons and marathons, the biggest of which is the Zafiro Palma Marathon in October.
Mallorca on two feet - Hiking
Around the time of the first Semana Deportiva in 1909, the Grupo Excursionista Lo Fèmur was formed. Take away the accent, and the Catalan "fèmur" is the same word as in English. The name of the group was in recognition of the fact that the femur was crucial to one of its key activities. The excursionist group and its successors took excursions to various parts of the island and by different modes of transport, but underpinning these excursions was walking.
Destinations for the group included the Tramuntana Mountains. In effect, therefore, the Lo Fèmur group paved the way - almost literally - for a tourism sector that has grown significantly in recent years. Hiking is one of the most popular of pastimes for the people of Mallorca and also for visitors, especially in the cooler months of the year.
Hiking trails draw on tradition far older than the Grupo Excursionista. Centuries-old dry-stone paths, restored by the Council of Mallorca, form much of the GR 221 Ruta de Pedra en Sec (Dry-Stone Route) in the Tramuntana Mountains. These paths, together with other dry-stone work that created terraces for cultivation, for instance, and further examples of human intervention from centuries, shaped the landscape of the mountains. This landscaping was the product of different cultures - Christian and Muslim - and it was a combination of these physical and cultural elements that contributed to Unesco declaring the mountains a World Heritage Site in 2011.
To go hiking in the mountains is therefore an experience that recalls a thousand or so years of the island's history. Hiking can mean walking on heritage and on asset in which Mallorca takes great pride and to which island authorities are committed to preserve for future generations. Stages of the route cover the whole of the mountain range - from Andratx in the south to Pollensa in the north and ultimately the Cape of Formentor with its nineteenth-century lighthouse.
Spectacular views of the Mediterranean, shady groves, garriga and maquis scrub - these add to the diversity of a landscape treasured by the people of the island and which has inspired painters since the late nineteenth century.
The GR 222 Arta to Lluc hiking route has created a link between the two mountain ranges on the island - the Llevant in the east and the Tramuntana in the west. At one end is the Llevant Nature Park and historical sites in Mallorca's northeast, such as Capdepera Castle and the Betlem hermitage. The route crosses the maquis scrublands of Santa Margalida and the farmlands of Mallorca's plain (Pla de Mallorca) to the lower reaches of the Tramuntana and up to Lluc, where the sanctuary is one of Mallorca's most spiritual sites and home to the Black Madonna, the image of the Virgin. Our Lady of Lluc is Mallorca's patron.
Specific walks have been created for family groups, while there is a series of refuges for overnight stays. Away from these two main routes, there are coastal routes, such as those for Calvia, Cala Millor and Alcudia. What they all have in common is first-hand experience of Mallorca's natural environment - the birdlife, the flora and more - while they are also steeped in the island's history and heritage.
Fore! Golf in Mallorca
In Mallorca, there are a number of ancient wetlands. Now strictly regulated with systems of protection, this wasn't always the case. Albufera is the largest of the wetlands, but some of it was reclaimed - the tourism centre of Alcudia was largely built on reclaimed wetland. While the main development was in the 1960s, there was an earlier one, which is how golf came to the island.
A project in the 1930s planned a tourist and residential zone. Wetland was reclaimed, with a feature having been the first ever golf course. Rudimentary, there were no bunkers. Stones were used to mark the fairways. The golf course opened in 1934. It closed two years later. The Civil War put an end to the development, and the golf course was turned into an airstrip.
Alcudia has since got another golf course. Originally conceived by Robert Trent Jones, Golf Alcanada opened in 2003. It is as close as Mallorca gets to having a links course. By then, golf had become established on the island, the first proper course having opened in 1964, when Prince Rainier of Monaco performed the honours in inaugurating Son Vida Golf.
Famed course designers have been at work in creating new courses and remodelling existing ones. Robert Trent Jones drew up the plans for Alcanada. Jack Nicklaus's company was responsible for the Golf Park Puntiró on the outskirts of Palma. José Maria Olazabal redesigned Pula Golf in Son Servera.
There are over twenty courses in Mallorca. Developed with the utmost respect for the environment, they incorporate water and energy-saving techniques. Some have five-star hotels right by - the Sheraton Mallorca Arabella Golf Hotel at Son Vida is an example.
An all-year activity, golf in Mallorca benefits from the Mediterranean climate - sun 300 days a year - but also the breezes that make for an additional challenge to any round.