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A world apart
With the rise of Ibiza as the party capital of the world, the Balearic Islands are generally associated with hedonism and drink-fuelled Brits abroad.
Not so for the group’s most northern island, however. Menorca prides itself as a place where the pace of life is much slower and more relaxed, and as such is favoured by older couples and families.
Visiting the island out of season in September, when the temperature is in the high 20s rather than the uncomfortable 30s, it is easy to take your foot off the accelerator and enjoy some of the island’s largely unspoilt beauty.
The Hotel Audax takes the concept of Menorcan zen as its main selling point, offering guests a variety of spa treatments and activities to accompany the breathtaking views from its room balconies.
Our top floor room was large and airy, with its own Jacuzzi bath hidden behind the king-size bed, a huge ensuite shower room, and a fantastic balcony with a view looking out over the pool and across the town.
The hotel is situated in the very touristy area of Cala Galdana in the south of the island, one of four big hotels planted close together within a large natural cove, only a couple of minutes walk from the beach.
Faux Irish pubs, pavement cafés and gift shops selling inflatables, sarongs and the distinctive Menorcan shoes abound, with plenty of restaurants and evening entertainment for when the sun goes down.
The area seems a little at odds with the rest of what Menorca has to offer, but at the same time one can still walk around without encountering pushy salesmen or bothersome street traders, as might be found in other popular holiday destinations around the world.
And it only takes a few minutes on foot to leave the tourist haven behind. Both east and west of Cala Galdana are two beautiful clifftop walks to quiet sandy beaches.
To the west is Macarella, which can be reached by a 45-minute walk. The white sandy beach is dotted with trees, with a café/bar on the beach itself making it a perfect family-friendly spot.
The beach to the east, Cala Mitjana, is a slightly more demanding walk, but worth the effort to discover a gorgeous cove that traps the sun for most of the day, with warm waves to splash about in and exposed rocks to cool off on.
For those who find the idea of spending a holiday lounging on the beach or by a pool abhorrent, there is plenty to do and explore around the island.
Activities on offer include sailing, kayaking, diving and windsurfing, much of which can be organised through the hotel.
And there are also options to explore the island on bicycle, horseback or walking along the Cami de Cavalls footpath which encircles the whole island.
The island is linked from east to west by one 44km-long main highway, making it an easy place to drive around, and nigh on impossible to get lost in.
In the east is Mao, the island’s main town, only a few minutes from the airport. The port holds a strategic position on the Mediterranean, which is the main reason why Menorca has been invaded and occupied by virtually every army in history, ranging from the Romans and Arabs in ancient times, to the British and eventually the Spanish in the last millenium. The free museum is worth a visit, if only to get a better handle on the island’s many different historical overlords.
A tour of the 5km-long harbour with Yellow Catamarans takes an hour, complete with multi-lingual commentary and a chance to see some of the Med’s watery inhabitants through its glass bottom.
The town itself has three attractive churches breaking up its skyline, one of which is now an indoor market.
And there are plenty of great restaurants along the harbourside serving fresh fish and local delicacies. La Minerva, in Moll de Llevant, is particularly recommended, expecially for the mouth-watering dessert of sponge-cakes soaked in Menorcan gin with lemon sorbet.
At the other end of the island is the second-largest town, Ciutadella.
Its sandy-coloured buildings are best seen as the sun goes down, when the town’s inhabitants come out to promenade its winding streets and eat at the pavement cafés selling tapas, paella and pizza.
In the north is the beautiful fishing harbour of Fornells, well worth a visit after scaling Menorca’s highest point, the 357m-high Monte El Toro, which overlooks much of the island and whose summit can be reached by car along a twisting road.
There are more towns to explore – Ferries and Es Mercadal in the centre of the island, Alaoir to the east, and Es Castell and Sant Lluis in the south-east.
But what makes Menorca truly unique is its amazing collection of prehistoric remains dotted among its flat scrubland plains.
While some, like the giant tomb Naveta Des Tudons, are simply stunning to look at, other Talaiotic settlements can be explored, climbed around and lost in.
It is worth pulling off the main road from Mao to explore the caves and structures inhabited between the 4th and 2nd century BC at Talati de Dalt.
And leave some time to properly get to grips with the massive ruined village at Torre D’en Galmes, near Alaoir, which stretches down a hillside and features great examples of taulas, the T-shaped structures thought to have been altars or central pillars of large buildings, and the round lookout posts known as talaiots.
With Menorca being declared a UNESCO Biosphere Preserve in 1993, it is unlikely that this beautifully laidback island will change in the near future – and that is a great thing.
*Flights from Gatwick to Mahon airport on Easyjet in September cost £120 per person.
*Rooms at Hotel Audax, in Urb Serpentona, Cala Galdana, start at €38 per person, per day, bed and breakfast, or €46 half-board, rising to €114/€122 in August. For reservations call 0034 902356935, email email@example.com or visit www.artiemhotels.com
*Yellow Catamaran trips around Port Mao cost €11 and €5 for under-12s. Visit www.yellowcatamarans.com
*Entry fees to churches and Menorcan prehistoric sites start from €2.