No visit to Menorca would be complete without a visit to the island’s former capital, Ciutadella. On the Western side of the island, this small city is a hub for travellers, creative types and a bustling local community that thrives year-round. The old town is largely built out of the golden-coloured sandstone characteristic of this part of the island and fans out from a small harbour on a boat-lined creek that cuts deep into the heart of the settlement.
Ciutadella was originally founded by everyone’s favourite underdog empire (the Carthaginians, of course), and by the 4th Century was already an important seat of Christian power in the region. However, turbulent times were to follow – the whole town (3099 people) was taken captive by a Turkish army in 1558, and sold into slavery in Istanbul.
Thankfully, this isn’t such a common ocurrence nowadays, and the only real danger to tourists is the blazing summer sun and the risk of eating yourself silly at one of the town’s excellent local restaurants. Here is our guide to Menorca’s golden city.
Where to stay
We would recommend the exquisite Hotel Tres Sants for a real treat: think twisty-turny palace converted into an arty hotel with elegant details including four-poster beds, antique furniture and a roof terrace looking out over the rooftops of the old town. The same company also has self-catering apartments round the corner at El Carme.
For modern luxury, the Hotel Port Ciutadella has sleek rooms, a good pool for when you get tired of Menorca’s pristine beaches, and a spa with full treatment menu.
What to see
Take a long walk around the old town and enjoy getting lost in the whitewashed backstreets. Check out the long-suffering gothic cathedral, which has been sacked and desecrated so many times (most recently in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War) that everyone has lost count. Just around the corner, the market is traditional and the fishmonger’s hall is the best place to buy fresh seafood for lunch (or just ogle the strange-looking creatures that are for sale).
Ciutadella also has two small museums, both of which are worth a look. The Diocesan Museum is housed in a 17th Century former convent and exhibits archaeological bits and bobs from around the island (including the famous Talayotic culture), as well as select works by local artists. The Municipal Museum has a good collection of artifacts from the Talayotic and Classical periods.
Take a walk South along the coast out of town for fantastic views (on a clear day you can see all the way to the mountains of nearby Mallorca), and you will eventually get to the Castle of Saint Nicolas (Castell de Sant Nicolau). This is now an empty shell but once served to defend this part of the coast from marauding invaders (see above).
Where to eat
The food is generally very good. We would recommend La Guitarra and Ses Voltes (local cuisine with a twist, served on a hidden roof terrace) for dinner in the old town or Can Rafa for laid-back tapas in the market square at any time of day. Down on the harbour, Des Port does a mean selection of fish just a stone’s throw from the sea. Ulisses – also by the market – is a good place for a relaxed cuppa, or check out their daily menu, and the Aurora (on Placa Alfons III) is a local favourite for watching the world go by into the wee hours.
Where to drink
La Margarete is a wonderful garden bar hidden away in the old town and open until late. Grab a gin, settle into a deckchair and, if you’re lucky, you might just catch one of their arts events that run throughout the summer season.
Many of the town’s nightspots are concentrated around the port: try Sa Clau for live jazz (in a cave, no less), Oniris Lounge (garden bar arranged over a series of rustic terraces) or Shisha Club (for, you guessed it, Shisha).
When to party
Ciutadella’s fiesta (Sant Joan, in mid-June every year) is legendary and involves horse racing in the streets, parading a sheep through the streets of the old town and drinking lots and lots of local gin. What more could you ask for?