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When you think of Menorca, you probably fit into one of three categories:
1 - You've never heard of it. (Don't you mean Majorca?)
2 - You've heard of it but never considered going.
3 - You've been to Menorca - and can't wait to go back again.
Whether it's tried to or not, Menorca's done a great job of keeping a relatively low profile as a holiday destination. While it's hard to find someone who hasn't heard of Majorca or Ibiza - true story: Ibiza is so well-known that my Jordanian friend thought it was a COUNTRY - saying you went to Menorca is often met with a blank stare. Menorca is the overlooked island, the shy little sister to two of Europe's biggest party islands. And it also happens to be the Mediterranean's best kept secret.
It's an unusual place to visit. The island is largely untouched and undeveloped, waiting to be discovered, yet already has so much to offer for the few who decide to explore. It's a contrast that gives Menorca an irresistible charm and an air of nonchalance, like the quietly cool friend you secretly wanted to be. If Menorca were a person, you'd almost certainly like her and want to be her friend - but she wouldn't care if you didn't.
The island's not such a secret among older generations, it seems. One of the first things we noticed was that everyone seemed to be older than our group - by about 40 years or so. It surprised me at first, but it really shouldn't have: Menorca is the kind of place where there really is something for everyone, from the mother and daughter who have been visiting the same part of the island since 1981 to the adventure bloggers and twenty-somethings like me.
It has good food, beautiful views and a long list of sights to see, but what really caught me off guard me was the number of things to do, so here are some of the most surprising ones. Do any of them surprise you too?
1 - Kayak into darkness
Menorca's a strange place. Given how tranquil the island is, you wouldn’t expect it to be a great destination for watersports and adventure. But you might be surprised: it turns out there’s a whole lot to do if you like to stay active, with hiking, boat trips, horse riding, snorkelling and diving all available.
My highlight of the week has to be kayaking. It’s the part I was looking forward to the most, but was SO much more fun than I expected. And that wasn’t just because of the hilarious group of people I went out with...
We went out on a 3-hour tour around Cala Galdana, where the sea is the postcard-perfect colour you picture when you think of faraway islands and exotic. With 26-degree heat beating down as we took it all in, it was hard to believe we were still in Europe.
The best part, however, was paddling into “dragon’s cave” - after Emily and I initially started paddling into the wrong cave, oops! - with only head torches to see where we were going. Once inside, we all switched our lights off and sat in complete darkness.
2 - Sip cava in a cave
Menorca may be the non-party island, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own nightlife. In fact, it has a bar like no other: Cova d’en Xoroi
If you've ever fancied sipping cava in a cave, Cova d'en Xoroi is the place to do it. Trek down a few flights of steps that look like they're leading you straight to Santorini and you'll find the entrance tunnel at the bottom. Enter through the tunnels and you'll find a bar built into the side of the cliffs, with areas to sit and mingle along the cliff face, inside the caves and everywhere in-between - and it's every bit as cool as it sounds. Oh, and it has perfect views of the sunset.
3 - Explore the island in an electric car
Much of Menorca is still undeveloped. On the one hand, that means it’s safe from the touch of non-stop tourism, but it also means it’s not the easiest place to get around. Many of the best sights and views are hard to reach, so it’s worth hiring a car for at least a day to explore some of the island's hidden spots - they're well worth the journey.
Even though Menorca is the smallest of the three main Balearic islands, it doesn’t feel small at all. It took us just short of an hour to get to the lighthouse, and would have taken much longer to get to the western side of the island. Most of the best spots are tucked away up windy paths and barely-there roads, so going by car or moped is the only way to see them.
Nissan Electric ESP lent us one of their electric cars to take for a spin around the island for a day, so Emily, Emily, Scott and I did a speed tour of Favaritx ligthhouse and the Mola Fortress on the eastern coast. It started with the touch of a button and was almost silent to drive (although we may have been blasting out Dizzee Rascal's 'Bonkers' too loudly to have known...). The car is part of a larger island-wide project to transform Menorca's energy sources. At the moment, 97% of energy is produced by fossil fuels, transported to the island by boat, so Menorca is moving towards using its natural resources as much as possible. Kinda geeky, but also pretty cool - and I'll take a green island over a party island any day.
4 - Visit a quarantine island
Just off the coast of Menorca's capital city, Mahón, sits el Llatzaret - one of the quarantine stations built in the 18th Century. These quarantine islands were an essential stop for people and boats passing through to Mahón's harbour, designed to stop the spread of the Plague.
We caught our first glimpse of the island on our first day in Menorca, when we took a catamaran along the eastern coast. It's a great way to see the island from above and glimpse into the super clear sea that surrounds it, but it's also well worth exploring el Llatzaret by foot. Much like Menorca, it's surprisingly big and eerily deserted, and made a really unusual spot for the opening party of the #MustSeeMenorca conference! There's also a whispering arch to add to the eeriness of the island. If someone stands in the opposite corner and speaks to the wall, it sounds like they're right next to you - even though you can't hear the voices in the rest of the room.
The takeaway? A visit to Menorca can be whatever you want it to be. It can be fast or slow, as jam-packed or as peaceful as you like, a solo escape or fun for the whole family. One thing that's for sure is that this little spot of hidden paradise will surprise you.
Have you ever thought about visiting Menorca? What do you think of when you hear the name?