Wander the old city
I love the maze of Moorish-feeling little streets in the historic district between Plaça de Cort and the seafront. If you just wander towards La Seu, the cathedral, you always come across something surprising. A lot of the old mansions have been done up and are now hotels, cafes and restaurants, which is great to see. You only need to walk for 10 minutes or so to see all sorts of architectural styles and you get a sense of the history of Palma going back over 1,000 years. You emerge from this labyrinth of lanes and suddenly the bay opens up before you. I still find it magical.
Carrer de la Missió was a pretty dodgy little backstreet when I opened the restaurant there a decade ago – it was not the sort of area the well-heeled citizens of Palma would go to for dinner. It has gradually improved over the years, and now all sorts of galleries and boutiques are opening. There’s a wonderful bookshop just around the corner on Carrer Arabí, La Biblioteca de Babel (pictured), which has a cafe with tables on a terrace outside. We’re really lucky to have the tiny Rosevelvet Bakery (15 Carrer de la Missió) right by the restaurant. I have my breakfast there before starting work. It’s run by a lovely couple who bake wonderful cakes and pastries, and make really good coffee – the smell wafting down the street is irresistible.
Carrer de Sant Feliu leads off Passeig des Born – the short, tree-lined promenade that has been at the heart of city life for more than a century – and is lined with galleries, little shops and bars. Rialto Living (no 3, pictured) occupies an elegant old palace and is a treasure trove of books, clothes and beautiful things for the home – and it has a lovely cafe, too. A friend took me recently to a little place called 13% (no 13a), which I must have walked past loads of times. It’s nothing fancy to look at, but does great tapas and an amazing range of unusual wines at good prices. You just sit down and they talk you through what they’ve got that day and suggest wines you might find interesting.
You can cycle for miles along the coast. The Paseo Marítimo, the promenade that runs right around the Bay of Palma, has bike lanes so it’s really safe and easy, with wonderful views of the city and the golden-stone Gothic cathedral as well as the sea. I stop off in Portixol, a short way east, where there is a marina with bars and cafes with attractive terraces. For lunch, I like Sa Roqueta and usually order one of the rich rice dishes, such as fideuá mulata(seafood and squid paella), or a whole fish. It’s not cheap (two courses €50) but the quality is excellent. There are loads of places to hire bikes, such as Palma on Bike (from €14 a day).
To get an idea of how good the food is in Mallorca, wander around Palma’s amazing market, the Mercat de L’Olivar, to see the glorious stalls piled with fabulous fresh produce from the island and from mainland Spain. The tomatoes are sensational. The best thing is that you can buy some prawns or a bit of fish, and they will cook it for your lunch in one of the bars upstairs. It’s also a good place to get some Mallorcan charcuterie and wine to take home, or some flavoured salt from Es Trenc down on the south coast.
• 7am-2.30pm Mon-Thurs, some stalls until 8pm Fri, 3pm Sat, mercatolivar.com,
Peruse a Picasso
Es Baluard is Palma’s contemporary art museum and is worth a look as it always has a few interesting temporary exhibitions. It’s a fantastic space in a revamped 16th-century fortress that was originally part of the town walls. The permanent collection has works from the end of the 19th century until the present day, with paintings and sculptures by Picasso, Miró and Barceló.
• €6, Plaça Porta de Santa Catalina 10, esbaluard.org, closed Monday
Lunch at Vida Meva
One of my former chefs, Toni Martorell, is now running the brilliant Vida Meva restaurant with his wife. It’s astoundingly good value. He only opens for lunch and only Monday to Friday – you need to book – and does a set three-course menu for €13.90, or a quick workers’ lunch for €11.90. It’s near the parliament building and they get a lot of lawyers in too. The dishes change every week, but a couple of favourites are always available, such as his famous roast chicken.
• Carrer del Socors 23, on Facebook
I like traditional but slightly modern tapas bars, where you can have a bite to eat and a glass of wine at the counter if you don’t want to sit at a table and make an evening of it. Vermutería La Rosa, south of La Rambla, is always packed and has a buzz about it. The atmosphere is a big part of the experience, although everything is really tasty here, such as octopus (€15.90) and made-to-order tortilla (€7.60). Order a vermouth while you are deciding.
• Carrer de la Rosa 5, on Facebook
Adrián Quetglas now has a Michelin star at his restaurant Quetglas by the river. But it is really good value for money (set menus from €33 feature, say, smoked avocado with shrimp mousse and spicy coconut, and salmon with beetroot tartare). He’s got a terrific wine cellar which you are welcome to have a look at. I like to drop by for a glass of wine at the bar as he’s always got something interesting to try, with a simple tapa such as a superb piece of cheese or ibérico ham.
• Paseo de Mallorca 20, adrianquetglas.es
Palma has some spectacular rooftop bars for before or after dinner. My favourite is the Sky Bar at Hostal Cuba on the edge of the fashionable Santa Catalina neighbourhood by the port. You can relax and gaze at the Mediterranean and the skyline of the old town with a mojito or two (€14). There’s a rooftop pool bar at the Saratoga Hotel, which is also home to the Blue Jazz Club. I often go there at weekends to hear some live music: it has a great laid-back vibe.
There are lots of flights to Palma from UK airports, with airlines including BA, easyJet and Ryanair. Non-fly options include the train to Barcelona, then the ferry to Palma; full details at seat61.com.
The Marc Fosh restaurant is in the refectory of a 17th-century convent, which is now Hotel Convent del la Missió (doubles from €180 room-only). For a cheaper stay, former textile factory Fil Suites (doubles from €104 room-only) in the Sa Gerreria neighbourhood has stylish rooms and apartments.