|Platja de Cavalleria, north coast|
Menorca?!! A tiny island in the Meditteranean known for 'sun, sea and sand' holidays (or as the travel industry insiders say, 'fly and flop'). But, unknown to many, Menorca has UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status, reflecting its unique ecosystem, with some hidden gems and some easy walking in attractive countryside inland and along isolated coastal paths. And, the weather is quite predictably hot and sunny as well!
|Path to Cala Macaralleta|
The island is mainly limestone in the south, so much of the walking is across limestone pavement, intersected by gorges and featuring some large caves in places. To the north, there is some sandstone, giving rise to hummocky landscapes. Vegetation is richly diverse, but I won't embarrass myself by pretending to know much about that!
So, to the walks.
If your heading down this way, I'd start with the Cami de Cavalls coastal path. This is now a well-signposted network of mainly coastal paths that attempt to circumnavigate the island. Wooden posts and specific signposts mark the way, and the paths are generally well maintained and some have been subject to recent re-routing, closing off some inland paths that used to be rights of way. This means that many of the day routes are 'out-and-back' affairs, but with changing light during the day, it's good for photography and a more even sun tan!
|Cami de Cavalls pathways|
I recommend the Cami de Cavalls trails on the north coast, from Platja de Cavalleria to Cala Pregonda, and on the east coast a short section (2-3 hours) from Es Grau to Ca le Sa Torreta, both out-and-back routes, and delightfully devoid of people apart from the bays at the start point. Start early in the morning to avoid the heat, and have the paths to yourself.
|Path to Ca la Sa Torreta, east coast|
|View from Es Colomar watchtower, north of Es Grau|
On the south coast, there's some impressive walking along low cliffs from Cala Turqueta to Cala Macarella and beyond. One notable bay, only accessible on foot and via steep rocky trails, is Cala Macaralleta, quite beautiful, and a lot less busy than most. And, inland from Sant Tomas, walk to the huge cave of Cova des Coloms, up through a densely vegetated gorge.
|Cova des Coloms|
|Hotel Rural Morvedra Nou|
If you want to experience 'hidden Menorca' I'd recommend Headwater, a UK based walking and cycling tour company. Good route notes, hotel selection, and transport for your luggage on point-to-point routes they organise elsewhere in Europe.
And, one final surprise. I happened upon a Tibetan Buddhist centre, a few minutes away from my hotel. Just on the outskirts of Ciutadella is the Ganden Choeling Buddhist Centre, established in 1994 by the Ven. Kyabje Khensur Rimpoché Tamding Gyatso, emissary to Spain for His Holiness the Dalai Lama from 1987. Now part of a network of eighteen Buddhist Centres on Spanish territory, the Geshe lama is now the Ven. Geshe Tenzing Tamding. The centre follows the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Of course, given my academic interest in Tibetan Buddhism, I paid a visit, the entrance way marked by an earth stupa adorned with prayer flags, and the centre itself a modest construction with small assembly hall. Thangkas featuring Maitreya, Tsongkhapa and Padmasambhava surrounded the central Buddha feature, and the whole atmosphere was very understated, the air of calm palpable.
So, an island full of surprises! A pleasant, relaxing spot only two hours away by air from the UK.
UNESCO Biosphere Reserve - an explanatory note
The main characteristic of the Menorca Biosphere Reserve, last expanded in 2004, is the diversity characteristic of nearly all Mediterranean island ecosystems. The most notable habitats are the gullies, caves, wetlands made up of ponds, lagoons and marshes, dune systems, coasts and islets.
Some 220 species of birds, and 1000 species of plants (60 of which are endemic) have been recorded. One of the most important landscape features of the Biosphere Reserve is the number of gullies that cross it in the direction of the south coast, which offer spectacular landscapes and have an abundant and varied flora and fauna. Menorca has many natural land caves and underwater caves, situated in the north and south of the island.
Also important are the nesting sites of birds of prey and aquatic birds nesting close to small permanent or seasonal water sources. The coastal wetlands include Albufera de Es Grau (a Natural Park and the core area of the Biosphere Reserve), as well as Addaia, Son Saura and Son Bou.
The rocky coast, mainly the limestone cliff provides habitats for marine birds such as the Cory's shearwaters, cormorants, seagulls and various birds of prey.
Oak woods are abundant only in the central part of the island and in a few gullies. The woods of wild olive trees, known on the island as ullastrars, appear in areas of thin soils, and is the dominant tree species on the island.