I’m visiting my friend Jo who’s teaching English in Mallorca. We met one of her host families yesterday and they were kind enough to invite me on their day trip to Cala Mandraga which I couldn’t accept because (a) I went to a similar beach yesterday (b) knew it would rain and (c) it’s my day for moving hotels .
So a last morning in Soller, a town with which I’ve slightly fallen in love – a mile high in the Sierra de Tramuntana it represents a face of the island I’d not encountered before, the rugged mountainous north-west, but after three glorious hot days the clouds came to meet us and I’m driving down the hillside with big teary plashets of rain on the windscreen.
My destinations are Deia, allegedly the most beautiful town on the island, and the monastery at Valldemossa where Chopin romanced Georges Sand. But first I pass the home of Robert Graves. He might be a great poet and have written ‘I Claudius’ here but exhibited considerable lack of forethought in not purchasing a house with a level car and coach park and stables suitable for conversion into tea rooms. The parking’s miles away and the rain’s threatening again so it’s a case of hello and ‘Goodbye to All That’ and I’m back on the road again. I make a note that if I’m ever a famous writer, I’ll buy a more visitor-attraction-friendly house.
It brightens up by Deia, but the queue of traffic entering the small town with its pedestrian-filled narrow streets and morons who think it’s OK to unload a van on a corner where no-one else can pass, and I’m not feeling the love. The traffic moves so slowly it’s possible to observe that almost the entire visiting population consists of defiantly L’Oreal-blonde middle-aged British women with no chin and a navy linen shirt each clutching the Rolexed hand of a golf-tanned hegefundista whose face you want to punch persistently till he acknowledges his part in the banking crisis. There are so many craft shops, tearooms and English-branded estate agencies it’s like someone tore a strip off Weybridge and threw it angrily at a Mallorcan hillside.
It takes twenty minutes to crawl through the immaculately-restored town, and of course there’s nowhere to stop without wounding several passers-by (an option which felt not entirely unpleasant) or breaking a craft shop window - there are so many twee china, linen and ‘tasteful art’ shops, tearooms and English-branded estate agencies it’s like someone tore a strip off Weybridge and threw it angrily at a Mallorcan hillside.
Fortunately it’s not much further to Valldemossa where at least the streets are wide enough to breathe and I can dump the car (and have a wee behind a council recycling bin because I am absolutely desperate) and wander the sights. There is only one real sight – the monastery and annexed palace where Frederic Chopin and this posh lady writer with a man’s name that no-one’s ever really heard of or read holed up for the winter in 1838. He bashed out a couple of Nocturnes and she wrote a pretty unexceptional what-I-did-in-the-holidays essay called ‘A Winter in Mallorca’. Let’s just say it wouldn’t make the Booker shortlist these days.
They must have been slightly on their financial uppers if they needed to stay at a monastery, and you wonder what sort of a monastic order would actually encourage the cohabitation of a Polish pianist and his girlfriend with several of her children in tow. But tourism makes much of a simple romance and they’re flogging it for all it’s worth with Chopin-themed shopping and even a passable piano concert in the quite lovely music room of the Palace, although on a highly-strung modern Yamaha that’s one piano-tuner’s keyturn short of a honky-tonk.
Valldemossa may once have been a place worth visiting, of pilgrimage even for the Chopin fans to whom it’s something of a shrine – but it nowadays concentrates on what motivates most European tourism: the ready availability of a ‘nice coffee’ and cake. Every building seems to have been pressed into service as a café, or souvenir shop, or both, and it soon palls. But I’m glad I saw it – particularly the upper floor of the monastery which has a contemporary art collection including works by Picasso and Juli Ramis who I confess I hadn’t heard of but who seems to be from the same school and a bit of a master of colour.
So it’s back down the EU-funded highway to the Palma ring road and then the familiar MA-20 motorway north via Inca to Cala San Vicente, a quiet cove in the extreme north-west tip of the island, and the Hotel La Moraleja. I should say that I’m staying in three different hotels, all of the classy and all of them normally quite expensive but thanks to several days on the internet and the almost astrological coincidence of an Expedia ‘sale’ and judicious juggling of their discount-availability dates, I got them all for the price of a Travelodge back home.
La Moraleja is a hoot, it’s such an anachronism it should be in a wax museum, as should several of the customers. Formerly a private house owned by a Spanish eccentric with a passion for all things English – I’m picturing a well-starched nanny and a spanking fetish, but apparently I just missed him, he’s 93 and had popped in for lunch and to check no-one had stolen his art collection which covers all the available walls including the vaulted living room with its oh-so-Britsh chintz sofas, faded Persian carpet and vellum-shaded table lamps. You could do ‘The Mousetrap’ right here. In fact, I might.
It’s like staying with your slightly dotty great aunt, if your great aunt was the Duchess of Devonshire. Everything’s very old-fashioned: in some cases charmingly so, but nothing works. I can’t get wi-fi despite the assistance of several members of staff, and I hear a lady complain that it’s impossible for her to operate the hot and cold taps together in such a way that she can have a shower which is more than an alternately boiling and freezing drizzle. I haven’t tried yet, although my bathroom is enormous and I may instead leave the taps to fight it out between themselves for an hour or two which is probably how long it will take them to fill my enormous tub.
A Germanic woman shows me round the property with its formal gardens and vine-crept pool terrace all of which is slightly dripping now but I am sure will be much lovelier in the sunshine. My room is number 13, at the end of the corridor on the first floor but despite the fact I bought it as a ‘single’ is the same huge size as all the others, with a massive wooden headboard like a baroque altar-piece, a sitting room and a balcony with a squint of the sea but also clear sight (and sound) into the garden of a chav-occupied villa where the family’s main sport seems to be shouting at their children. Adam is definitely the naughtiest, or maybe they scold them in alphabetical order, because his is the name I hear bawled ten or fifteen times in the three minutes before I close the balcony door and let the air-conditioning do its work.
Rather than have a siesta in splendid isolation, I make for the public rooms but the place is empty: occasionally someone will walk through the lobby, take a sighing look at the sky and retreat elsewhere. I’ve only been here two hours and I would be suicidal if I’d booked for two weeks. They showed me a menu for dinner should I decide to eat in, but the dining room is pretty formal and despite Harry Belafonte’s ‘Island in the Sun’ being muzaked on Andean pan pipes, somewhat cheerless. I counted only six tables for two laid up which is too suggestive of a Terence Rattigan play and I think I’ll scope it and its customers out first before signing up to what seems to add up to a 60 Euro meal without wine. As if a meal without wine were an option.
In the last few minutes – the rain’s not really easing off – some people have passed through but apart from one small and very polite boy who told me my laptop was getting wet, the best they can manage is a formal nod before they retreat to their crossword or novel. It’s the kind of place that just makes you want to tell a dirty joke.
About 8pm I set off for a stroll round Cala San Vicente proper. It's quite a sad place - I think it once thought itself classier and more exclusive than nearby Pollensa but perhaps unable to attract the moneyed retirees who once graced its promenades it appears to have died on its arse with many hotels and bars mothballed. A motherly Aberdonian woman who calls me 'hen' apologises for the lack of anything other than 'with chips' on her menu but explains that if it's not something that comes from the freezer, there isn't the turnover to keep fresh food on the menu. I succumb to the hotel's restaurant - there really being virtually no alternative - and dine on the pool terrace on quite nice steak, and a messy jammy dessert which will send my blood sugar numbers into orbit.
My fellow guests vary between the disinterested and the downright miserable - although after 11 the terrace livens up with what is assuredly a man of about my age in white linen trousers and sub-Gucci loafers accompanied by what's almost certainly a tart, judging by the size and vulgarity of her handbag, and an otherwise handsome younger couple who've spent the entire evening texting on their respective mobile phones.
The sky has cleared, there are stars. Tomorrow it may be fine.
And so to bed.