5 Days in Menorca (aka Paradise) on the GR-223

5 Days in Menorca (aka Paradise) on the GR-223

Menorca may be the least-known island in the Islas Baleares, taking backseat to party haven Ibiza and vacation hotspot Mallorca, but it’s definitely not bested. It’s like meeting your crush’s cousin and finding out she’s gorgeous, fun, and likes to keep a low profile.

For being ‘third-best,’ it’s pretty freaking amazing. What it lacks in nightlife it makes up for in crystal clear turquoise water, flying boats, and rocky cliffs.

The Islas Baleares have been on my to-visit list since we arrived in Spain. I was originally thinking we would go to one of the two islands I was familiar with, but Chris did some research and found the GR-223 in Menorca. I was sold. I’ve been interested in doing more hikes around Spain after first checking out the GR-93 last fall. They’re well-marked winding trails that make it easy to see the countryside, even if they aren’t super difficult.

How many steps does it take to circle an island?

The GR-223, or the Camí de Cavalls, is a 186k path that goes around the perimeter of the island. It’s broken down into 20 steps (etapes in Catalan) that are between 5 and 13k long each.

The trail dates back to the 16th, or even the 14th century. Historians suggest Menorquins would use the path as part of their defense against pirates or other invaders, connecting  a network of watchtowers and lookouts around the island.

Now, it’s a trail that makes it easy for tourists – like yours truly – to tromp from unspoiled beach to unspoiled beach. And I ain’t sorry.

 

It wasn’t possible to do the entire route in the five days we were on Menorca, so we decided to focus on the southern portion of the GR-223. This part is better known for its steep rocky cliffs and amazing swimming areas. The northern part is more rocky beaches a la Maine.

Here’s a map of the route we took:

Hiking the Gr223 in Menorca

 

I know it’s kind of scattered, but that was the best way to log some miles and have time to do badass things like KAYAK IN CAVES and spend an entire day at the beach drinking beers.

Day 1: San Bou to Cala Galdana (17.2k)

Son Bou is the largest beach on Menorca. The 2 kilometer stretch of white sand was already filling up with people when I hit the trail at 11 a.m.

It was so inviting that Chris and I kicked off our shoes and sunk our toes right in. We decided to walk along the beach rather than veer off to pick up the trail that runs behind it because the sand was nice … at first. Soft and warm, it created an illusion that this whole trek was going to be all sunshine and coconuts.

But within a few minutes, it got crazy hot. I’m talking walking-on-coals hot. I had sweat dripping down my face and back, I had downed nearly an entire liter of water and the soles of my feet stung.

The trail on the GR223 in Menorca

It was misery. Every step I took hurt. I think I became delusional, replaying biblical stories in my head of people wandering through deserts, and wondering how they ever survived. After walking a mile in no shoes, I felt I suddenly had a better understanding of history.

But once I put my shoes back on, everything got better.

Although I’m somewhat a technophobe, I can now say that I’m extremely grateful for the advances we’ve made in footwear. They’re light. They’re breathable. They’re not made of rope. Putting those suckers on felt like I was walking on motherfucking clouds.

The rest of the walk to Sant Tomas was great. It’s a short 5k from Son Bou. One minute you’re the only person on the trail, then suddenly you turn a corner and there’s a resort town. People floating around in the water, babies building sandcastles on the shore. A complete – and welcome – 180.

Sant Tomas is technically the end of that step on the trail, but we just used it as a breakpoint before continuing on to Cala Galdana. It’s a nice place to take a load off, cool down, and refuel.

Beaches on the GR223

After a cheap lunch in town, we embarked on the second stage between San Tomas and Cala Galdana. It’s longer (12k) and off the coastline, going through forests, rambling up hills, and passing through cow fields. It was an interesting window into island life beyond the sections groomed for tourist consumption.

However, it doesn’t seem to have mass appeal. During the four hours it took us to get through this section, we only saw five other souls. Three mountain bikers and two other hikers.

This section took longer than I expected and the signs were misleading. After about an hour of hiking, we saw signs indicating we had 8k left to go, and then an hour later said we still had 8k more to go. WTF?? By the end of it, I was ready to be done. My feet were busted from the fire-walking we’d done earlier, and I was exhausted.

But this is where the Menorca magic happens. We stumbled into Galdana and were greeted by this welcome sight:

Cala Galiana at the end of day 1 on the GR223

 

Day 2: Kayaking the cliffs near Cala en Porter

We didn’t hike the second day because we made reservations with a kayaking company to go on a guided tour of some cliffs.

Although the company said no experience was necessary, it took us out into the open sea on a particularly windy day. I’m no skipper, but even I recognized that it was getting rowdy when we were cruising up and down waves so high that we briefly lost sight of our guide.

Kayaking in the caves of Menorca

Despite the rough water, we navigated our way into pitch black caves where the sound of waves against the walls was like an enormous crashing – not unlike the noise a seabeast would make as it was awakened from a century’s long slumber.

By the time we finished the four-hour tour, my arms were sore and I was drenched. But the views and experience were totally worth it.

And we got done in time to spend the rest of the afternoon on the beach, and even head up to the famous Cova d’en Xoroi cave bar for a happy hour cocktail.

Relaxing at the Covo d'Xoroi bar

Word to the wise: You pay 12.50 at the door after 5 p.m., or 8 euro at the door before 5 p.m., and the cover charge comes with a free drink. They have a dress code, so you can’t show up in your swimsuit. And there are some sweet tables on the deck. Don’t settle for a spot inside. Wait it out until one opens up there.

Day 3: Cala Galdana to Cala en Turqueta (10.8k roundtrip)

On day three, we hiked out of Cala Galdana in the morning towards Cala en Turqueta, making stops at both Cala Macarella and Cala Macarelleta. This whole step is about 5.6k each way. The trail was easy and well-traveled by other beachgoers, including a handful of people doing it in flip flops and carrying beach chairs. So, that gives you an idea of what to expect in terms of difficulty.

It’s on this hike that you’ll get the stunning views of the flying boats on the water. (Chris kept mistakenly calling them floating boats, but I reminded him that isn’t much of a phenomenon.)

 

The flying boats on Menorca

Because the water is so clear there, you can see the boats’ shadows on the sea floor. It was windy the day we went, so the water was ripply, but I’ve still never seen anything like it.

Right on the other side of the hill was Cala Macarelleta, the most secluded beach we came across. There’s no road access, which means everyone has to walk or bike there on the GR-223. I think it would have been really nice if it wasn’t windy. The beach is pinched between two cliffs, with bright blue waters and a shallow swimming area. Unfortunately, the wind wouldn’t quit and we left after an hour of getting pelted with sand.

So we made the last leg of the trek to Cala Turqueta. It was the answer to our prayers. No wind. Bathrooms. A zany fruit vendor who was challenging the lifeguards to a swimming competition.

Oh, and of course the beautiful water and cliffs.

Chris’ favorite part was that this beach had a spot where people were cliff jumping from a lip at the edge of the inlet. All afternoon, we watched as a line grew and shrank. People would walk to the end and then back away from it at the last minute, or scoot on their butts to the precipice and then leap off.

After observing and confirming that no one was dying from this leap, Chris was ready to try it out. He tested it out several times to prove to me that it was safe.

Cliff jumping in Cala Macareta

And just to prove that I’m not a total wimp, I did it, too.

We stayed at Turqueta until the late afternoon, then finally made the hike back. We  stopped off at Cala Macarella, which had emptied out for the day. It was the perfect place to sneak in a final swim and also snag a drink from the bar. They offer 3.50 tinto de veranos (sangria for the locals) and 5 euro cocktails that you can sip on the sand.

Sticking around for sunset was tempting, but we thought twice upon realizing we’d be walking back along the trail in the dark. Tame as it was, it’s not worth the risk. So instead, we caught  it from the miradors (lookouts) along the trail and made it back to Cala Galdana just as twilight fell.

Day 4: Cala Galdana

On day four, we took a break from hiking to enjoy the wonderful beach at Cala Galdana, the second-largest on the island. Or, what I refer affectionately to as ‘Wee Britain.’ True story, Cala Galdana was the vacation destination for Brits. It’s the most English I’ve heard spoken in ages, and for once I wasn’t the palest person around.

We did nothing but frolic in the sea and drink beers.

playing in the water at cala galiana beach in menorca

Day 5: Binibequer to Caló Blanc (10k roundtrip)

For the last and final leg of our trip, we set out for two unicorns we’d heard of when doing research about Menorca: Binibequer and Caló Blanc.

The first is a cluster of white-washed stone buildings along the seashore, a fishing village that looks to have been plucked from the breezy streets of Greece and dropped onto the coast of the Spanish island. In truth, Binibequer Vell is a community designed by an architect to spark that exact feeling in visitors. Some people turn their noses up at that kind of trickery, others just use it as the backdrop for a photo shoot.

 

Binibequer on Menorca

The second is a tiny beach tucked among vacation homes on the water. It was so small it’s hard to see as you’re passing by unless you know it’s there – just a sliver of sand between craggy low cliffs where beachgoers were sunning themselves like seals. But the water was gorgeous and I read it’s great for cliff jumping.

Cala Blanco beach on Menorca

 

While I’d managed to stave off sunburn the entire time we spent in this summer utopia, one set in as soon as we caught our final bus back to the city center. My shoulders glowed red the whole time we waited for our ride back to the airport and stood in line at the gate, revealing me for the tourist I am. In the end, it was the only souvenir I took home.

Still not sorry!