The Enchanting Winter Ghost Island of Menorca
Menorca in the winter seriously could have been a nightmare.
Last January, after the thrill of booking round-trip flights for €15 plus a big apartment for €12 per night per person started to die down and the awe-inspiring photos of the stunning Mediterranean island became familiar, I realized there was a reason Menorca was so ridiculously cheap in the winter: nothing would be open.
Two-thirds of the island’s residents flee as the summer comes to an end, so the more I researched trip plans, the more problems I realized we’d run into. From public transportation running only every few hours, to airport shuttle services being completely shut down, to there being no discernible place near our lodging to get food, it looked like we were in for some issues. We couldn’t take up the suggestion that Menorca was best seen by car, since we didn’t know how to drive manual and our American driver’s licenses weren’t valid in Spain. Then the weather forecast predicted rain, high winds, and temperatures in the 40s and low 50s Fahrenheit (i.e. freezing for spoiled Californians).
Basically, there was a big chance we’d get stranded at the airport, arrive at an apartment complex that had been abandoned by its management months ago, or starve to death. Perfect. Bring on the adventure.
Spoiler alert: none of that happened, and the weekend turned out to be off-the-charts fantastic.
We arrived just in time for the last shuttle of the night to take us from the airport to Menorca’s main city, Mahon, which got us there right before the last bus from Mahon to Ciutadella, the town closest to our apartment. Once in the general vicinity of Ciutadella, we had no idea where to get off or how to get from the dark bus stop to the center of town, but some fellow passengers helped us out, and locals we later ran into provided us a number for a taxi service that would take us to our apartment.
We even found an open restaurant, solving the starving to death problem, and, although we had to wait for probably 45 minutes in the hurricane-like wind and rain for a taxi and the taxi driver then had some trouble finding our building, we eventually made it to our darkened accommodations, found a note alerting us our key would be in our door, and breathed a sigh of relief as we walked into a spacious apartment that was very much not the cold, wet streets outside the airport I feared we’d be sleeping on. (Shoutout to to California Apartments.)
We set out the next day to explore on foot, quickly discovering that an almost completely deserted, dream-like island was really freaking cool. We had the place basically to ourselves, and the weather gods even sprung for some lovely blue skies for us. The resort area around where we were staying, Cala’n Blanes, was a creepy ghost town, which made it all the more interesting. We took a bus into the closest city, Ciutadella, which was packed. Uh, compared to Cala’n Blanes, that is. We may have seen fifty people there the entire day. But it was beautiful with its quaint plazas, little marinas, and cobblestone streets. We spent the day wandering around the area on foot, later watching the sun set and the moon rise over the ocean with no one in sight, and exploring the ancient streets under yellow streetlamps.
We took a while to get going on the following day, as my friend was suffering from a dangerous Roller Coaster Tycoon addiction, and I had to physically drag him away from the computer to go out and explore. But the delay turned out to be ideal, as the rain slowed as we scrambled across coastal cliffs and into ocean-view caves and emerged to find an absolutely glorious double rainbow stretching from one horizon to the other. Unreal. And it was followed by perhaps the second best sunset of my life (topped only by one I saw over the Colorado River in Arizona). Not to mention we saw probably three other people that entire day. We ended the evening by exploring a terrifying, abandoned house and having a drink at the old man bar near our apartment that was, quite shockingly, open.
The next day, we decided that, due to the lack of public transportation that time of year, we’d simply set out on foot and see where we ended up. This entailed plenty of walking along the stormy coastline, crawling through forgotten structures, and stumbling upon a mysterious, abandoned tower. On one beach, we found an empty rum bottle, scrawled out a note pretending we had written a message in Valencia a few months prior and sent it out to sea, included my email address, and left it in the same spot on the sand. I received an email a few days later, filled with amazement that our message had managed to reach them all the way on a beach in Menorca!
The sun set as we returned to town, and we walked along the water by dusk, stopping at a creaky swing set overlooking a bay. The fresh, surprisingly warm night air and the satisfaction of yet another great day in Menorca combined to make it one of those perfectly blissful and peaceful moments you only experience every great once in a while. We walked through town, visited an old cathedral, and enjoyed wine on our patio under the light rain with the sound of waves crashing in the distance.
With one day left in Menorca, we were determined to rent a moped to explore more of the island, but we found that, sadly but not surprisingly, all rental shops were closed. So instead, we bid farewell to Ciutadella and set off to see the biggest city, Mahón. There, we explored shops, beaches, a market, an abandoned yacht club (have you noticed the theme of this trip is “abandoned”?), and more before buying some insanely cheap alcohol from a supermarket and having a mini-botellón overlooking the harbour, a perfect way to bid goodbye to beautiful Menorca before returning to Madrid.
Mallorca often gets overshadowed by its popular neighbors, Ibiza and Mallorca, but definitely consider giving quieter Menorca a chance. And definitely consider it in the off season. I was blown away by how utterly fantastic it ended up being (and blown away once again as I reminisced while writing this post), and would love to go back to explore even more of the island.
Have you been to Menorca? Had any great experiences with off-season travel?