The Balearic archipelago is situated in the western end of the Mediterranean Sea, in a position almost equidistant between French south coast, the African coast and the island of Sardinia. To the west, it is closer to the Spanish coast and is the most easterly Spanish region.
The Balearic Islands comprise four main islands: Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera; as well as one hundred and forty-six smaller islands and islets, the most important of which form the Cabrera Archipelago, declared a Maritime and Terrestrial National Park in 1986.
In a relatively small area of 5,014 km², the Balearic Islands include very diverse scenery and landscapes. We are convinced that no other place in Europe offers so many different settings and locations in proportion to its size. Despite being so close to the Iberian peninsula and the European mainland - barely half an hour away by plane - it seems to be another world, Mediterranean to the core, surprising and captivating.
The islands have been a classic tourist destination for more than half a century, but this does not mean that they are too overcrowded or well known. Their secret lies in being able to offer something to a wide range of tastes, depending on the visitors' likes and dislikes. Their heritage, both natural and man-made, makes the islands appear a mini-continent all to themselves.
The Balearic Islands is the Spanish Mediterranean region with the longest coastline. The islands appear to rise up from the sea, offering 1,239.9 kilometres of coastline, with more than three hundred beaches and bays, thirty-three lighthouses, high cliffs, sixty commercial and fishing ports and marinas. From the shore, you can discover the sea's many colours, deep coves with turquoise waters, or blues tinted emerald green by the underwater prairies of Poseidon's kingdom and long, white, sandy beaches.
Inland, there are pine and Holm oak woods, hillside terraces made of stone walls, hundreds of plots covered with ancient olive-trees, mountains that tower over the sea, rising to 1,443 metres, rolling hills planted with cereals and fig trees, prehistoric ravines, walled citadels, picturesque villages, medieval streets, modern avenues, impressive caves hiding geological treasures, military fortresses, churches, palaces, lagoons, lakes, marshland, roads and motorways, fishing villages, avant-garde architecture; a never-ending list of countryside and scenery to discover. The four main islands have their own individual geological form, as described below.
Mallorca: geography and landscape
This is the largest Balearic Island, with a surface area of 3,640.16 Km2. It is shaped like a large rhombus, one of whose diagonals runs parallel to the lines of longitude, while the other runs northwest to southeast. Its four points roughly correspond with the points of the compass as follows: Cape Formentor in the north, Cape Capdepera in the east, Cape Salinas in the south and Cape Llebeig on Sa Dragonera island in the west. As far as scenery is concerned, the northwestern part is very different to the southeastern.
The Tramuntana chain mountain is in the northwest, running non-stop from Cape Jueu near Andratx to Cape Formentor. This mini-range consists of several mountains, some of them being more than a thousand metres high, like Galatzó, Teix, Alfabía, L'Ofre and others, the tallest peak being Puig Major, at 1,443 metres. From Massanella (1,352 m.) onwards, the range gets lower, ending in a chain of hills some 600 metres high on the narrow and pointed peninsular of Cape Formentor, which is angled to the north-east. In the south-western part of the island, the Tramuntana turns into more or less separate sierras, the most important being in the south, the Sierra de Na Burguesa, which runs almost to the edge of Palma Bay. At various points along the Tramuntana range, there are several valleys, some of which are open to the sea at one end, like those at Andratx, Estellencs, Banyalbufar, Sóller and Pollensa, and others are completely surrounded by the mountains, like those at Valldemossa, Orient, Lluc and other smaller ones. The natural vegetation of this part of the island is Mediterranean forest, comprising essentially pine trees and Holm oaks. In the valleys, peasant men and women have laboured for millennia to transform the countryside by building stone walls to form terraces in the steep slopes, the principal crops being olives, oranges, grapes and almonds.
Southeast Mallorca is completely different from the mountainous part. It is a flat plain with a sprinkling of villages, mainly agricultural in character, a gigantic mosaic of fertile fields and orchards, where cereals alternate with almonds, beans, figs, oranges, olives, grapes, apricots and other fruit. There are only six small mountains, the highest being Puig de Randa at 549 metres. There is another mountains range known as Serres de Llevant in northeast Mallorca, which reaches 520 m in height at Bec de Farrutx in the Artà massif. From the peak of this mountain, one can contemplate the large bay at Alcudia to the west, with its kilometres of sandy beaches and a large area of wetlands known as the S'Albufera de Mallorca, which is considered a natural park and is fed by the main rivers of the great plain.
Apart from the big differences to be noted between the flat and mountainous parts of Mallorca, its coastline, which measures 554.7 kilometres in length, also varies greatly in appearance. The north-eastern coast has high cliffs, just as impressive as the Tramuntana Mountains behind them, with extensive woods reaching the water's edge contrasting greatly with colossal rock formations rising giddily from the sea.
The coast along the flat part of the island reaches the sea lined with rocks, interspersed with many sandy coves and natural harbours, like Porto Colom, Porto Cristo and Cala Figuera.
The broad unspoilt beaches of Es Cargoll, Es Carbo, Es Trenç and Arenal de Sa Rápita stretch out westwards from Cape Salines, the southernmost point of the island. From Punta Plana, near the small port of S'Estanyol, the coast becomes rocky and rises up in a long succession of high limestone cliffs that reach their highest point at Cape Blanc. This cape marks the easternmost point of Palma Bay, which, along with the previously mentioned Alcúdia Bay, are the two largest bays on the island and have provided shelter to sailors and navigators since ancient times.
Palma de Mallorca, the capital of the islands, is situated in the centre of the coastline of Palma Bay. Seen from the sea, the silhouettes of La Seu cathedral and the Royal Palace, La Almudaina, stand out, both buildings being built on the site of the old city walls next to the large harbour. Palma is a cosmopolitan city of 375,048 inhabitants, almost half the permanent population of the island, where the past and the present blend together in perfect harmony.
To the west of the city, the coastline is broken up by a great many coves and anchorages, and sandy beaches, until we reach the westernmost point of Mallorca, Sa Punta Negra, near the small village of Sant Elm. From here, we can contemplate the craggy island of Sa Dragonera, separated from Mallorca by barely half a nautical mile.
Minorca: geography and landscape
The exceptional environmental conditions on this island, along with social and economic development in harmony with the surroundings, resulted in Minorca being declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993.
The easternmost point in the Balearic Islands and Spain overall, this island is situated in the middle of the Western Mediterranean basin, which is bordered by the coastlines of Spain, France, Corsica, Sardinia and Algeria. The nearest land is 22.5 nautical miles away, the distance between Cape Freu in Mallorca and Cape Artrutx in southwest Minorca. The nearest place on mainland Europe is Barcelona, 123 nautical miles away. Minorca has a surface area of 701.84 km2 and is the second largest island in the archipelago. It has a lengthened shape, resembling a kidney or a bean. The furthest distance that can be travelled is 53 km, between Cape Mola on the east coast and Cape Bajolí on the west. Minorca can be described as generally flat, given that it lacks any high mountains or hills. The highest points are in the centre: El Toro (358m), S'Enclusa (276m) and Santa Águeda (260m). Geologically speaking, the island can be divided into two very different areas; Tramuntana in the north and Es Migjorn in the south, separated by an imaginary line from the end of Mahon harbour following the main road to Ciutadella.
The northern part of Minorca has a range of low hills, separated by short narrow valleys. This range starts on the northeast side of the island and extends almost to its northwestern tip. Five kilometres to the north of Mahon, there is the Grau Marsh, wetlands that have been declared a Natural Park and that have an interesting variety of flora and fauna. The southern part consists of a plain, slightly inclined to the south and occupying the central part of southern Minorca, which is scored by deep gulleys formed by the effect of water finding its way to the sea. When travelling on the island, one cannot fail to appreciate its great variety of scenery: marshlands and extensive wetlands, sandy areas, woods, small rushing streams, gentle hills and deep gulleys are just some of the natural treasures to be seen.
The Minorcan coastline is irregular, with cliffs and deep-sea caves interspersed with bays and incredibly beautiful sandy beaches. The north coast is extremely uneven, Cape Cavallería and Cape Favàritx being landmarks. The lighthouse at Cape Fornells marks the entrance to Fornells bay, where a small fishing port of the same name offers protection from the wind blowing from any direction except the north. On the southern side, the coastline is very even, with only one notable cape, Cape Artrutx. The deep gulleys and their rushing streams have created numerous exceptionally beautiful sandy bays on reaching the sea. Many of them are practically unspoilt, like En Turqueta bay, Macarella bay and Mitjana bay, to name a few. Among the south coast beaches, the one at Son Bou stands out, being 2.5 kilometres long.
At the eastern tip of the island, the large natural harbour of Mahon extends more three miles inland. Its natural shape offers protection to ships and as a result, it has been used throughout history as one of the most secure harbours on the Mediterranean, since the 3rd century BC. There are two islands in the middle of it, Isla del Rey, with 18th century buildings that were used as a military hospital up until a few decades ago, and Llatzaret or Quarentena (Quarantine) island, with a hospital built in 1793. To the south of the harbour entrance there are the remains of Fort San Felipe, built to defend Mahon against the Turks and used as the main base by British forces during the period of British rule on the island. On the northern side of the harbour entrance, on La Mola Peninsula, there is the impressive fortress, called of Isabel II, built between 1815 and 1875. Today, Mahon harbour has modern installations that serve scheduled passenger ferries, cruise liners, merchant ships and pleasure boasts.
Geografía y paisaje de Ibiza/Eivissa
De las Baleares, es la isla más cercana a la costa española; la distancia entre el Cap Llentrisca y el Cabo de la Nau en Denia es de 46,7 millas marinas. Tiene una superficie de 541,22 km2 y un contorno de costa de 210,1 km. Por su configuración, se puede considerar la màs redondeada de las Baleares pero su forma es la de un óvalo alargado que se extiende de noreste a suroeste con una longitud máxima de 40,7 km. y una anchura máxima de 20 km. Hacia el sur-este, Ibiza/Eivissa se adentra en el mar por la Punta de ses Portes. Se acerca a la isla de Formentera, a dos millas de distancia al sur, a través de una cadena de islotes cercanos en cuyo centro se encuentra el mayor de ellos, el Freu Gran.
En la pequeña península de la Punta de ses Portes se extienden las Salinas de Eivissa, explotadas desde la antigüedad. Hoy en día, tienen un valor excepcional para el ecosistema como generadoras de biodiversidad merced al uso y explotación de la sal con técnicas tradicionales. Dos magníficas playas de arena se extienden a ambos lados de la Punta de sa Torre de ses Portes, la des Cavallet al Este y la de Ses Salines al Suroeste.
El relieve de la isla es bastante accidentado y montañoso. Desde los 476 metros de altura de S'Atalaiassa, la cumbre de mayor altura de la isla, el paisaje se despliega hacia el noreste como un fantástico escenario natural, donde colinas y valles cultivados se suceden hasta el mar. En el norte de Ibiza/Eivissa se encuentra "Es Amunts", una gran área de interés natural formada por una pequeña cordillera de 12.000 ha. que se extiende desde Cap Nunó hasta Sant Joan Baptista. La zona montañosa, cubierta por bosques de pinos y sabinas junto a enebros, madroños y romeros, se funde con los acantilados de su accidentada costa.
En general, el contorno de la isla es de costas altas y escarpadas de configuración irregular lo que origina la formación de numerosas y abrigadas calas y bahías, alternando con bellísimas playas de arenas finas, la mayoría de ellas flanqueadas por bosques de pinos y sabinas. A consecuencia de la disposición de la costa en riberas rocosas, solamente cuenta con cuatro puertos, el de la ciudad de Eivissa y el de Sant Antoni en los que se desarrolla un intenso tráfico marítimo, y dos menores, el de Santa Eulalia y el Port de Sant Miquel, en realidad un óptimo fondeadero sin muelle donde antiguamente se varaban las barcas de pesca en la playa.
Ibiza: geography and landscape
This is the closest Balearic Island to the Spanish mainland, the distance between Cape Llentrisca and Cape Nau near Denia being 46.7 nautical miles. It has a surface area of 541.22 km2 and a perimeter of 210.1 km. In view of its shape, it can be considered the most rounded of the Balearics, but its shape is a stretched oval running northeast to southwest, with a maximum length of 40.7 km. and a maximum width of 20 km. Towards the southeast, Ibiza sticks out into the sea at ses Portes point, towards the island of Formentera. Between them and nearby, two nautical miles away to the south, there is a chain of islets with the biggest one, Freu Gran, in the middle.
On the small peninsula of ses Portes point, are Ibiza's salt flats, which have been in use since very ancient times. Today, they are of exceptional value to the ecosystem as generators of biodiversity, thanks to the salt being mined and used following traditional techniques. Two magnificent, sandy beaches extend both sides of the tower at ses Portes point, Cavallet to the east and Ses Salines to the southwest.
The island's relief is very uneven and mountainous. From the 476 metre high S'Atalaiassa, the highest point on the island, the countryside falls away to the sea in a north-easterly direction, a fantastic natural landscape of hills and cultivated valleys. 'Es Amunts' is in northern Ibiza, a large natural area formed by a small 12,000-hectare chain of mountains stretching from Cape Nunó to Sant Joan Baptista. This mountainous area, covered with pine and Sabine woods, along with junipers, Strawberry trees and rosemary, merges with the cliffs along the uneven coastline.
Generally, the island has a high, sloping, uneven coast leading to the formation of a great many sheltered inlets and coves, alternating with excellent fine sandy beaches, the majority lined with pine and Sabine woods. Because the coastline is generally lined with rocks, there are only four ports, at Ibiza city and Sant Antoni, which are very busy with sea traffic, and two smaller ones, Santa Eulalia and Port Sant Miquel, which is really a good anchorage, without a dock, where fishing boats used to be drawn up onto the beach.
Formentera: geography and landscape
Situated eleven nautical miles from Ibiza port, it consists of two blocks of land joined by a sandy isthmus. The two islands are separated by a 3.7 nautical mile long chain of islets called the Freus, which are crossed daily by the many boats that run between the ports of Ibiza and La Savina. It has a surface area of 82 km2 and a perimeter of 69 km; it is 19 km long and 1.4 km wide at its narrowest point and the district of Formentera includes the small islands of S'Espardell and S'Espalmador.
Its form is very unusual; almost totally flat, apart from the 'La Mola' plateau, which rises 192 metres above sea-level, with Formentera lighthouse standing at the top of an impressive 119 m. high cliff. The southernmost point, both of this island and the Balearics as a whole is Cape Barbería, a protected natural area, of interest for the large amount of seabirds that nest on its cliffs.
In the north near to la Savina port, there are two saltwater lagoons, Estany des Peix and Estany Pudent, as well as the abandoned Formentera salt-works, which, like those on Ibiza, are a protected nature reserve because of the great value of their flora and fauna. A long, sandy strip called Trucadors point is in the far north of the island. A narrow, submerged, sandbar, barely 400 meters long, separates it from S'Espalmador Island, which has an excellent anchorage and two wonderful beaches. Further north, the 28 meter-high D'en Pou lighthouse stands on Porcs Island; it was inaugurated in 1864 to assist night-time navigation in the Freus channel.
Formentera's coastline is very unusual: it is made of cliffs with a great many caves, formed with relative ease due to the limestone soil. Apart from these cliffs, there are many beaches, with transparent turquoise blue waters, considered the best in the whole Mediterranean.