Arrive on the sun-bleached shores of Menorca after a spell on Mallorca or Ibiza and notice the drop in volume – here it's more birdsong than Pete Tong. The easternmost Balearic island moves to its own mellow beat. Its twinset of sea-splashed cities, eastern Anglo-Spanish Maó and western maze-like Ciutadella, are delightfully low-key and distinctive, and the white- and golden-sand bays that stud its 216km coastline are among the loveliest in the Mediterranean. Inland, the island remains distinctly rural, with an estimated 70,000km of dry-stone walls criss-crossing fields and rolling hills between whitewashed villages.
Menorca’s north coast is rugged and rocky, studded with small, scenic coves. It’s less developed (and less accessible) than the south, and with your own transport and a bit of footwork, you’ll discover some of the Balearics’ best off-the-beaten-track beaches. Towards the northeastern end, the bird-rich Parc Natural S’Albufera des Grau makes up the core of Menorca’s protected Unesco Biosphere Reserve.
Menorca’s southern flank is home to some of the island’s finest beaches – and thus has the greater concentration of development. The jagged southern coastline is occasionally interrupted by a small inlet with a sandy white beach and aqua-tinted waters, backed by a cluster of sparkling-white villas, largely small-scale and in Moroccan-Mediterranean style. Some of the top beaches are sprinkled along the southwest coast.
The coast south of Maó is more intensively developed than the rest of the island (well, by Menorcan standards), but here you’ll find a sprinkling of pretty coves, Menorca’s top winery, several divine rural hotels, a famous seaside cave bar and mysterious archaeological sites that will delight anyone with an interest in prehistory.
The rugged coastline south and southeast of Ciutadella gives way to the popular, built-up beach resorts of Santandria, Cala Blanca and, on the southwest tip of Menorca, Cala en Bosc, a diving hub. Beyond these resorts, southwest Menorca is home to some of the island’s (and the Balearics’) most exquisite beaches and coves, which shine for their natural, undeveloped, pine-flanked beauty (though they do get busy in high season).
Halfway between Ciutadella and Maó on the Me1, in the shadow of Menorca’s highest peak (Monte Toro; 342m), Es Mercadal is one of the oldest villages on the island. A market has been held here since at least 1300, and markets are still held on Thursday mornings in winter and Thursday evenings in summer. Now, a couple of excellent restaurants make it worth a stop.