I’m not sure whether somewhere in my subconscious I was influenced by the name, but the moment I entered Artà, the little town nestling on top of a hill deep in the countryside in the North Eastern corner of Mallorca, I felt that it had something inherently arty about it. Not that the place was full of galleries – far from it – but rather the town had a kind of avant-garde artistic spirit which could be seen in the small touches added by locals to characterise the town, such as the knitted socks placed on the tree trunks like winter warmers or tea caddies, and the little shops and cafés, each of which appeared to have their own whimsically creative character.
This was no more so than in the Café Parisien, our first stop as we entered the town, and a fine place to rest after the long drive across the island from Palma to Artà for a spot of lunch in a sun-dappled patio courtyard garden perfumed with jasmine and filled with herbs and other aromatics. Sitting on a juxtaposition of differently designed chairs, eating off rustic tables, the paint peeling from years exposure in the sunshine, and surrounded by a panoply of old advertising paraphernalia, pots, plants and a carnival of flowers, it was rather like being welcomed into the garden of an ageing artist after years of taking inspiration from the natural world. It felt old and at the same time freshly bohemian. The food was great too.
The Café Parisien
But the real age of Artà was to be found not in the old café gardens, but up on the hill which dominates the town. Up through winding streets and climbing a gently rising but extensive stone staircase, we headed up to the Sanctuary of Sant Salvador, a site oozing the history of this ancient town which has been occupied for some 3,000 years. With a charming small church at its centre, with its tiny ageing Madonna looking like a porcelain doll glowing above the altar, and an outer ring of authentically moorish ramparts offering stunning views over the surrounding mountainous countryside, the hill was the high point of the visit, not just in geography but in experience. It was like taking a trip to Granada and Salamanca, in the time of the Moors and the Medieval conquistadors, all rolled into one.
Thus we concluded that little Artà, this town almost lost in the mountains so far from Palma down in the south, was well worth the drive from one corner of the island to the other and made for a perfect little visit, and a fascinating insight into the history of Mallorca.
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