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Posts tagged ‘Sóller’

Discovering Mallorca: Botanical Soller

Were I forced to choose between a beach and a garden, I would take a garden any day. For as enticing as the charms of a beach may be, it is the dappled shady paradise created by a sunny, richly planted garden which for me represents earth’s most sublime elysium. While the island of Mallorca may be famous for its beaches, the proportion of gardens is far lower. Having paid a visit to pretty much all of those beautiful gardens which do exist, amongst them the lush Renaissance terraces of the Raixa, and the arabic tilled patios of the Alfabia Gardens, I had one left on the list to enjoy – the Botanical Gardens in the citrus rich mountainous valley of Soller.

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Soller’s Botanical Gardens did not disappoint. Created in 1985 as a centre for the conservation, study and understanding of Mediterranean flora, the garden is carefully split into diversely collected plant zones, from the cacti of the Canaries to local Balearic fruit varieties. And while many consider the Spring as a perfect time to make a visit to a garden, the autumn turned out to be a fine alternative, blessing our visit with an exquisite caramel light, and enabling for the enjoyment of a ripe harvest of shiny pink apples, ruby red peppers and yellowing citrus.

Surrounded by the dramatic landscape of the Tramuntana mountains, and benefiting from the coverage of numerous tree varieties, the garden was filled with both inspirational views and sun dappled corners made for meditative enjoyment. My favourite corner had to be the wetlands area, where a pond full of bountiful waterlilies was alive with the diving dance of dragonflies, whose rare and occasional pause on a leaf or bulrush enabled a truly unique appreciation of this fragile and elegant creature.

As ever, a garden proved that in life, the best moments are those which enable us to pause and appreciate the beautiful little things that occur naturally all around us.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

Soller: First touch of summer

Although, as I write, some clouds have descended over Mallorca, this moment is the first in a long time when the sun has not shone. And while the sunshine in March often came accompanied by a chilly wind, reminding of winter, last weekend an intensity of heat seemed to welcome in the first touch of summer.

The moment I really felt it was when I was sitting with my family at a sunny table on the Port of Soller. As sun rays bounced across the water of that tranquil marina, through my glass of chilled white wine and onto my face, I became truly entranced by the elysium of summer. Around me, I was enveloped by one of the most beautiful harbours in Mallorca – a natural almost 360 degree inlet ringed by spectacular mountains and packed with a few rows of little white washed houses which to me recall the French Riviera.

Soller FINAL

Soller (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

It was in that moment that this painting clarified as a mental vision in my mind. I jumped up, asked the waitress for a pen and paper, and on the back of a till receipt made a sketch. A few days later the painting is done. Its key is its simplicity of composition, which allows the viewer the space to breath and reflect on a work filled with the soft colours of the Mediterranean, and to think of their own encounters with this most wonderful part of the world, when the sun first touched them after a long dull winter…

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

Soller lemon posset with gold-covered raspberries and a ginger crunch

It’s been a long time since I shared a recipe on The Daily Norm, but the recent occasion of a dinner party with special friends Alejandro and Maria in our new Mallorquin home meant that it was time to take out my pots, pans and finest dinnerware and to show my Spanish friends what the English do best. And with that in mind, and after a locally-inspired starter of Mallorcan tumbet on puff pastry, and a main of pistachio-stuffed chicken with caramelised oranges, I decided to give the final course an English twist, with a theme characterised by the delicacy of afternoon tea, all brought together in a bone china tea cup.

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The dessert was a lemon posset, certainly an English favourite, although given the Mallorquin twist thanks to the abundance of citrus fruit grown on the island (I used lemons from the lush mountain valleys of Soller).  It’s awfully simple to make – in a small saucepan you simply bring 300ml double cream and 75g of caster sugar slowly to the boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar, and allowing the cream to bubble for 3 minutes, while stirring, once it has come to the boil. This mix should then be removed from the heat, and the juice of 1-2 lemons added (adapted to your taste – sweet and tangy is best) while continuing to stir. At this point the mix should thicken slightly and can be poured into containers of your choice and refrigerated over night.

I gave this indulgent creamy dessert a much needed crunch with some crushed spiced ginger biscuits, and topped this with a few golden covered raspberries. Refined English elegance for a sultry Spanish summer’s evening.

The Daily Sketch: Norms take the tram in Soller

Travelling from Palma de Mallorca to the little town Soller, on the old rickety Ferrocarril railway, is like stepping back into the time of Agatha Christie. You fully expect someone in a trilby hat or a feathered tiara to shout murder! at any second. After making it to the charming little town of Soller, set near the North coast of Mallorca deep in a vast mountainous valley, further rickety old wooden trams, running from the Ferrocarril station down to Soller’s picturesque port, give the town its undoubted charm, taking tourists and locals alike back to the good old days when transportation was slower, yet undoubtedly more reliable.

Norms in Soller (2013, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Norms in Soller (2013, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Take a glimpse in Soller today, and you can see the Norms trying the tram out for speed. Queuing in a little group, waiting patiently in the shadow of the imposing facade of Joan Rubio i Bellver’s Sant Bartomeu church, and besides the town’s charming little restaurant-filled square, these Norms are all prepared to take a ride on Soller’s iconic tramline. One Norm has even dressed for the occasion, bedecked in top hat as befits such a classical mode of transportation. There’s really no beating the good old golden age of the trams, as these Norm-packed carriages prove. Happy tramming Norms!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mallorca (Part V) – Day 3: Moorish Mallorca and the Sóller Ferrocarril

Palma de Mallorca is every bit a city living for the present. Its vibrant city streets are bursting with a thriving cosmopolitan cafe culture and lined with all the latest shopping brands, at its centre it welcomes visitors through a state-of-the-art transport hub, and its galleries and architecture have very clearly embraced the modern art movement, from the avant garde to the daringly contemporary. Yet at its very core, Mallorca, and in particular its capital city, is an island rich in historical heritage, from the few surviving influences of the Moorish occupation, and the gothic spendour of grand churches like La Seu, through to the exquisite examples of modernista architecture which are bounteous in and around Palma’s centre.

Today we went on a voyage back in time, both metaphorically, and literally, starting the day by exploring Palma’s Moorish heritage, followed by a journey on Palma’s century old Ferrocarril de Sóller, a rickety old railway which takes visitors from the centre of Palma, through some stunning mountain passages, across to the idyllic little town of Sóller on the North coast of the island.

The Almudaina

The Almudaina

and its Moorish gardens

and its Moorish gardens

Unlike some of the cities in the South of Spain, it’s not always terribly obvious that Mallorca was once ruled by the vast Moorish kingdom of Al Andalus, before being wrestled back from Moorish rule by the Christians as part of the 2-century long reconquista in 1229. However, one not insignificant building sat bang opposite Palma’s iconic cathedral makes the connection to Mallorca’s Moorish past more obvious: the Palau de l’Almudaina. The palace is, in its very fabric, a manifestation of Palma’s long and complex occupational history, with its Roman foundations built in 123 BC, its Moorish enlargement, and a series of changes and refits being made to the building across the centuries, from the reconquista, right up to the last major restoration in the 1970s. Today, what was for centuries a royal palace for Mallorca’s Kings (for example when the kingdom of Mallorca was annexed to Aragon) is now largely a museum, but retaining as it does the essence of Moorish Spain, it provides something of a bubble of tranquility in an otherwise bustling city.

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We started by exploring the beautiful gardens which extend horizontally along the lower terraces of the palace, from the bottom of the Passeig de Born to the sea. Stunning in their tranquility, and bearing all the hallmarks of a perfectly geometric Moorish design, these gardens are thankfully free to enter and consequently form the backdrop of one of my favourite walks in Palma. Meanwhile, inside the vast stone palace, a roof terrace planted with cacti and aromatic herbs provides a picture-perfect vantage out to sea, while at the centre of the palace, a courtyard garden is a regal proclamation of the building’s importance, with its stone lions and grand central water feature. The rest of the palace was a little sparse, what with its large lofty banqueting halls and various stone chambers. It was interesting to see how more recent inhabitants had attempted to introduce some comfort to the cold interior with large rugs and soft furnishings. Still it’s no surprise that today the palace is better used as a museum piece rather than as a place of work or residence.

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The clock was ticking and up in the Plaça España, Palma’s main transport hub, a rickety old train was awaiting us. Passing under the Victorian-looking wrought iron gateway spelling out the name of the Ferrocarril de Sóller, we made our way onto a delightful wooden train which looks and feels like something straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. The railway, which these days serves largely tourists, has been running for 100 years, providing the remote Northern town of Sóller with a life-line link to Palma, originally so that the town could sell its bounteous harvest of citrus fruits and almonds in the capital. The trains which now take tourists along the 27 kilometre route are almost exactly the same now as they were then (save for the electrification of the railway in 1929). As you travel along the old rumbling rail track, initially through Palma, but then through the dense countryside before ascending through a completely stunning mountain pass, it feels like you have gone back in time.

The Ferrocarril de Soller

The Ferrocarril de Soller

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Around midway through the journey, the train heads into a narrow dark tunnel under a huge mountain (one of 12 tunnels on the journey) and coming out the otherside the train stops so that passengers can literally gawp in disbelief at the completely stunning panorama which unveils itself beyond the rail tracks. The vista is like none other I have ever experienced. The gigantic mountains, which rise up almost incessantly to the skies, make us, mere mortals, feel like tiny insects in their wake, while in the sprawling valley below, the idyllic town of Soller springs up amongst splatterings of citrus trees and almond trees in full bloom. Breathtaking is certainly the word.

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From there, the train made its slow spiralling way down the mountain side before arriving in the centre of Sóller, where another rickety old tram awaited to take us to the beautiful little port, another natural harbour like the Port d’Andratx, but this time hemmed in by even larger mountains giving the impression of a cosy, idyllic port-side paradise. Down on the port, alongside pastel coloured buildings reminiscent of the French Riviera and next to the quietly lapping waters, rows of yachts and fishing boats, we sat out to eat another utterly hedonistic luncheon, sipping upon a chilled bottle of albariño and eating innovative tapas, such as “hairy prawns” coated in a crisp angel’s hair and dipped in wasabi mayonnaise, and a juice-dripping melon with salty-sweet serrano ham.

The tram

The tram

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and the harbour

and the harbour

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After lunch, and with time on our hands until the rambling little train journey back to Palma, a stroll along the harbour side turned inadvertently into a hike up the steep slops of the little streets between the shops and houses as our adventurous side kicked in. And once at the top where we could climb no further, we were greeted by a stunning view over the other side of this narrow natural harbour, so that while, one one side, we could look back to the tranquil little port, on the other we could look out to the severe ruggedness of a stark, sheer cliff drop down to an unforgiving sea thrashing against the rocks. Hard to believe that these two ocean environments were only a narrow strip of land apart.

One side...

One side…

and the other

and the other

With that discovery, we took a little tram back into Sóller, having just enough time to look around the little town centre, and gaze in admiration at the unusual Modernista architecture of the Sant Bartomeu church by Gaudi-fan architect Joan Rubio i Bellver, and also appreciate the unbelievably comprehensive collection of both Picasso ceramics and Miro lithographs which were held in beautiful galleries either side of the Ferrocarril railway station – can you believe the wonder of this place, where even the train station has an art gallery stuffed full of priceless Spanish art? And with that final hurrah we boarded the train home, allowing the rumbling train, the darkening evening and the pinkening skies to slowly lure us into a semi-hypnotic state of calm and utter satisfaction, as after a day of historical adventure we travelled, through the most stunning mountain passes, back to the future.

The Ferrocarril de Sóller is a must-see of Palma. For more details, look at the website here. Trains run every day, fairly regularly (5/ day in the winter, going up to 7/day over the summer).

In the meantime, I leave you with some more photos of the day…

Moorish arch at the Almudaina

Moorish arch at the Almudaina

The Port de Soller

The Port de Soller

The port viewed from a plant-filled balcony

The port viewed from a plant-filled balcony

The colourful buildings of the port

The colourful buildings of the port

The church in Soller

The church in Soller

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And finally, the sunset on the journey home

And finally, the sunset on the journey home