A little peace of heaven in Menorca
It has been more two decades since I last visited Menorca. As a young teenager, chaperoned by two weary parents, I vividly remember two things: the stunning beaches and their crystal-clear waters, and the nighttime entertainment.
Anybody who has seen the TV series Benidorm will know what I’m getting at.
I looked forward to returning as an adult to see if my treasured memories of the island stood the test of time.
Travelling this time with my friend, Assets model and actor Tulio Menezes, we headed to the smaller of the Balearic islands. Under no illusions, we knew it was also the quietest one.
We were not expecting Ibiza-style hedonism and, having been to club Mecca previously, and survived the week-long hangover that followed, I was happy to head to a less frantic destination.
After a seamless three-hour flight, and quick airport transfer, we arrived at the two-star Binimar Apartments in Cala’n Blanes, one of the cleanest resorts I have ever been to.
On the extreme west of the island, Cala’n Blanes is the largest tourist development on Menorca.
The apartments were spacious and there was two fabulous swimming pools. Immedialty, I thought that this place was short-changed when they were dishing out the status stars.
We booked the self-catering package with Sunway, although an all-inclusive offering was also available, and seemed to be popular with other guests. There’s only two hotels in Cala’n Blanes, the rest of the accommodation is self-catering apartments or villas - which means that the resort is brilliantly served with excellent supermarkets.
I found everything I could need to cater for a model gym-rat and me, a chocaholic who’s a very fussy eater. Cooking was a pleasure, with my fab travel partner Tulio sharing his dietary secrets and cooking up a storm in the kitchen.
There was also a brilliant gym nearby, which kept Mr Steel Abs busy and happy. I was equally busy and happy ensconced in the on-site ice-cream bar, downing vats of creamy coconut concotions.
I am at the awkward age of 30-something; childless, but surrounded by people the same age who have kids. Mine and theirs are two very different lifestyles.
At Binimar, I found that although I was surrounded by people my own age, they all seemed to be married, with a gaggle of children trailing after them. But they were certainly enjoying the amenities as much as gym-going Tulio and me, in the ice-cream parlour.
If you have kids, Binimar is perfect. The pool slides and play areas had me yearning to be a couple of decades younger again.
The entertainment at night was exactly what you’d expect in a typical European resort; kids happily dancing on stage to Macarena-style songs, and the adults willingly making shows of themselves in honour of their little ones. Good, clean, harmess fun. The stuff that memories are made of.
But it all comes to a screeching halt at 11pm, when the complex becomes a ghost town. The early closing is ideal for families, but not so much for those looking for a late night. As I’m partial to a late-night boogie, Tulio and I had bags of fun exploring the Menorcan nightlife beyond the resort.
Within walking distance, we found an Australian bar called Jimmy Hill’s. It hosts some of the best-quality holiday entertainment I have ever experienced, from the band, Pop Idols, singing all the modern hits, to a boyband tribute act.
The cheese factor was high, but it was impossible not to love.
Kids are welcome until the first family-friendly acts are finished and bedtime beckons, and then the adults can dance away until the early hours of the morning. Even the barman, Martin, busts some cool moves.
Menorca as a sun resort is stunning. The beaches are picture-perfect, and there’s plenty of them to choose from. Cala’n Blanes is known to be home to the best beach in the area, but it can get a bit packed during the peak times. Not far from it, Cala’n Forcat beach is more secluded, and perfect for swimmers and rock-jumpers.
And, of course, there’s great excursions - every sort of boat trip imaginable, the world-renowned horse show, Somni, with dancing stallions, and jeep safaris or historical tours of the island. We choose the latter, hoping to see as much of the place as possible in one day.
This coach trip began with a stop at Monte Toro, the tallest hill on the Menorcan isle. From this point you can see the full island from tip to toe - the view is outrageously pretty. There is also the Sanctuary of the Virgen del Toro at the top, an old Gothic church with fascinating stories attached to it.
We travelled through the cutest little fishing villages, stopped off in various markets to feed the shopping pangs, and took in miles of glorious beaches. A highlight was stopping at the home of Somni, where we were able to watch the stallions warm up for their show that night.
I have always found eating out in restaurants difficult - my friends say I’m “the fussiestt eater in the world”. I am the kind of person that asks for ingredients to be added to or removed from perfectly balanced culinary offerings. Chefs despair at me.
Menorca was the exception for me - I loved eating out there, and the grub ticked all my scrupulous boxes. The choice of foods and restaurants was exceptional, and the prices were bang on.
One restaurant I must recommend is Forum, located opposite Bininar Apartments. It was so good that we went back four times! They served up fab breakfasts for just a couple of euros, and write-home-about dinners catering to seafood, steak and pizzas-lovers. The paella was a big hit - so fresh and absolutely huge. Another favourite of ours was a succulent half roast chicken dinner, crisp, fresh salad and chips for a purse-friendly €6.99.
Meals and drinks across Menorca averaged at just under Dublin prices. You will, however, find beautiful crisp, aromatic wines from just €2.50 per glass.
It’s undeniable that Menorca is beautiful, picturesque, idyllic and all the other clichéd adjectives – but it also has a serenity to it that is unlike any other island. It hasn’t been over-developed like its sister islands - it is a step behind the rest of the fast-paced world, and that can only be a good thing.
So, when to visit? Menorca enjoys a Mediterranean climate with a year-round average temperature of 20-21°C, and an average of more than 300 days of sunshine throughout the year. The summer months are sun-seeker heaven, but September is glorious as the temperatures drop slightly, as do the prices.
If true relaxation is what you are looking for, this is the island for you. And you’ll be in good company - the King of Spain has a holiday home there, and it’s top on the list for Spanish holidaymakers. Given the Irish love affair with Spain, as a holiday destination this can only be seen as the highest compliment.
I would love to recommend Menorca to all, but it will not suit everyone’s tastes. It’s perfect for families, couples and gal pals on a low-octane break. But young party hunters need not apply.
Tulio and I had an amazing time. We had the best of both worlds; the perfect balance of relaxation with a healthy does of late night fun. Best of all, it was extremely affordable.
GETTING THERE: Sylvia and Tulio travelled to Cala n Forcat, Menorca with Sunway and stayed seven nights in the 2*+ Binimar Apartments on a self-catering basis. Holidays to the Binimar Apartments start from €399pp. Package holidays with Sunway to Menorca start from €379pp in 2*+ apartments, €459pp in 3* apartments, and from €599 in the 4* Jardin de Menorca Aparthotel.
Packages include flights, seven nights hotel on a self-catering basis (B&B for 4* hotel), transfers, 20kg baggage and services of a Sunway representative. Price is per person and subject to availability. Call Sunway on 01-2311800 or visit www.Sunway.ie.