On our first sail to the Balearic Islands, we’d had high hopes for sailing to Soller. But it was not to be. On our second attempt as we left the Med in 2019 the weather had other ideas.
We’d both visited the town before as youngsters, but arrived to the island by plane, rather than by boat. When I was 13, I came on a school trip to Mallorca. Whilst there, we took a day trip on the vintage train and tram from Palma to Puerto de Soller. The bay was beautiful but as I was trailing my legs from a pedalo, a jellyfish stung me across my calf. It became memorable for the wrong reasons.
Colin visited aged 8 with his family. He did not suffer any jellyfish stings as far as he can remember.
Attempts One and Two
In 2014 we first sailed to the Balearic Islands on our way east through the Med. Other cruisers had highly recommended sailing to Soller. Its enclosed horseshoe bay makes it the safest port on Mallorca’s rugged and sometimes wild, west coast. Hence, it was high on our list of places to visit.
However, this safety is also its downfall. News of overcrowding came from friends anchored there. During strong winds, boats had dragged and damaged others; its popularity had become its downfall. As a result, it lost its appeal to us, and we put it on the “try again on the way out of the Med” list.
In September last year on our way back west, we were making passages between France and our winter marina in Cartagena. Here was an opportunity to try to sail to Soller again, our thinking was that it would be less busy out of high season. But the savage Gota Fria storm scuppered those plans, and we detoured to find shelter in Sant-Carles-de-la-Rapita. We sadly placed Soller on the “not to be” list.
Will It Be Third time Lucky for Sailing to Soller?
However, the Covid19 pandemic unexpectedly presented us with another opportunity to visit. We should have been in a boatyard in Portugal now, at the start of a major refit, but with borders still closed, we’d decided to fit in a few months sailing in Spain before commencing boat work in the autumn. With lockdown having only recently ended, there was a “right place, right time” chance of there being fewer boats in the anchorage.
Sailing into Soller, from afar it was difficult to ascertain the amount of space amongst the forest of masts. In addition to anchored boats, moorings occupy the area close to the marina. And parallel to the beach is a line of yellow swim buoys to protect swimmers. Closer in, we saw large gaps amongst the anchored boats and chose an Emerald sized one. We couldn’t see the bottom – too murky even only in 8m, but a good set in reverse held firm.
Friends advised us that the better anchoring spots are in the south corner where there is more sand. The next day an opportunity arose and we moved over. The water was clearer and we saw the anchor was now definitely dug into the sand.
We can understand Soller’s popularity; it was as close as can be to our ideal anchorage:
- we felt comfortable to leave the boat to go ashore,
- there was a place to safely lock our dinghy,
- beautiful countryside with a large choice of hikes and bars,
- and plenty of cafes and ice cream shops for a post-hike reward.
To accompany this blog, we’ve made a video of our time in Soller, which you can watch here:
Tourists for a Day
A few miles inland from the port is the main town of Soller. It nestles in a natural bowl with the Tramuntura mountain range towering above. In the past, those arriving by boat came to plunder rather than as tourists. So, being located away from the coast provided safety from a pirate attack.
We’d seen the vintage tram tootling it’s way back and forth around the port and decided we would be tourists for the day. We had a carriage all to ourselves and a friendly, chatty conductor, however masks had to be worn. We rattled along through lemon groves and past pretty houses, with mountain views opening up before us, the tram giving an occasional, jaunty toot-toot. After 25 minutes we arrived into the town of Soller, passing next to the modernist style church.
The town’s fortunes grew in the 19th century, primarily from the citrus trade. This resulted in some grand architecture such as the bank now occupied by Santander and the façade of the church, both designed by a follower of Gaudí. However, Soller’s remote location limited development. So, in 1912, a train line to Palma was cut through the mountains. The tram then joined the port to the town.
But, it took until 1999 for a road tunnel to be finally opened. Crazy that it took so long in this age of easy travel! Before that, cars had to take a torturously long and winding route up and over a pass.
After a wander around the artisan shopping street and another yummy pie (this time calamari for me), we set off to walk back via the Cami des Rost track with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains. These are the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, the backbone of Mallorca, whose highest peak, Puig Major, soars to over 1400m. Fincas (farms) dot the lush foothills. Above, the steep hillsides are tamed by rows and rows of terraces lined by mile upon mile of dry stone walls, which provide a level platform for the citrus and olive trees. Scattered about or grouped into pretty villages are caramel and terracotta-coloured stone cottages. Larger estate houses stand in their own grounds. Between them, runs a myriad of cobbled or dirt tracks, once the only way to get about, now perfect for hiking.
Not so Swell
What slightly knocked the sheen of perfection off was the swell. The strong north wind of a Golfe du Lion mistral does not blow very hard within the bay. However, the swell that builds outside finds its way in around the outer headlands, ping pongs off the cliffs, and surges its way in. We were lying with the bow pointing north to the wind, but the swell was rolling in from the entrance, putting the waves beam on (when waves hit the side). A beam on roll is far worse on Emerald than pitching (where the waves hit the bow first). We endured some uncomfortable, stomach roiling hours.
There were also a couple of busier days during the nine days we were there – during the weekend as local boats visited and on a Sunday when the charter boats on their week long island circumnavigation arrived.
Otherwise, the weather was benign – there were no strong westerlies, when even the local boats on their moorings make a run for the shelter of the marina. Nor did we experience the katabatic southerlies that build up during the heat of the summer and come blasting down the steep mountainsides in the early hours of the morning at 40kts.
On the whole I highly rate Puerto de Soller as an anchorage, especially having had the opportunity to be there when it wasn’t so busy as in a typical summer. A low season experience with high season weather; we feel very, very fortunate to have had the opportunity during these strange and uncertain Covid19 times.
Walks in the Tramuntana Foothills
Soller was near perfect as an anchorage for us and we felt comfortable leaving the boat whilst we went off walking in the foothills of the majestic Tramuntana mountains. In the past, cobbled donkey tracks were the main way to get about between the villages and farm estates that dot the hills. These now provide a vast network of walking trails to choose from, many of them making use of sections of the island’s long distance GR221 route at some point.
During our 8 days at anchor, we walked the equivalent of a marathon! Good going for our usually boat bound legs.
One thing we really noticed was the absence of any lizards. We enjoy lizard spotting and during our walks through the Med we’ve become used to the rustle of undergrowth from lizards scurrying away from our feet. But in Mallorca, the silence was deafening and all we saw was the end of one lizard tail sticking out of a wall during our whole time there.
Soller to Puerto de Soller vía the Cami des Rost and Son Sales 6.5 miles
This was our favourite walk. After taking the tram up to the town we first fortified ourselves with a Spanish empanada (pie). Then, on the way out of town, we became briefly lost in a maze of narrow streets, before emerging into countryside.
Leaving the town behind the walk rewarded us with a variety of scenery. First, we wound upwards via a cobbled track over a series of long steps. It was around about midday now (we’re not good at starting early) and we were grateful for the tree coverage for some cooling shade.
Through the trees we had glimpses of fabulous views – craggy mountains in one direction, dry stone walled terraces of citrus and olive trees in the other. Mallorca seems to cultivate the most gnarly and bizarrely shaped olive trees we have ever come across.
The downhill leg took us through more olive groves, along a mostly concrete track. There was a surprise “up” as we joined the GR221 route for a short section through a wood, before arriving back in the port.
The Lighthouse Walk – 5 miles
The first part of this walk follows the road up to the lighthouse at the southern end of the bay. We caught our breath whilst admiring the great views out along the cliffs to the north. From the lighthouse, we joined onto the GR221 track and into the welcome shade of trees. Passing through the gates of a couple of private properties, we saw evidence of horses or donkeys underfoot. However, there were none to be seen, they were sadly all hiding that day.
Out into an open section of track where we had great views back down to the bay, where it’s horse shoe shape was clearly visible. We passed a cottage with a sea view to one side, the mountain ridges to the other. My perfect kind of view.
We came across a donkey who gave us a big hee-haw welcome, some goats and a few sheep. But still no lizards. Where are they all?
Soller Villages Walk to Puerto de Soller – 10 miles
The villages of Binibassi, Biniaraix, and Fornalutx are beautiful. However, our decision to combine them with a walk back to Puerto de Soller was a mile too far in 30c heat. Yes, even for walk loving me.
Starting from Soller, the route to the first two villages was easy to follow, with regular signposts and mostly tarmac underfoot. We passed through lemon groves and smallholdings with pretty houses, seeing only a handful of people along the way.
At Biniaraix, I looked longingly at the gorge where the GR221 continues up and over the mountains. But unfortunately, my Achilles heels are not up for that kind of terrain at the moment. Instead, we took a convoluted route rather than the more direct main road to Fornalutx. It went up via a zig zagging narrow road and kept going up. Occasionally there would be a small path through the trees that cut off a corner. They didn’t help much!
We were glad when we arrived at a downhill section leading to the village. Stopping to admire the view across an orchard, we inadvertently started a fowl stampede! Chickens, geese, a turkey, and even a peacock began running toward us. They probably thought we had food; we felt a little guilty that we only had Jelly Babies, which we suspect are not good for them.
A small brook with water cut through the houses, and along the side of the road ran a narrow irrigation channel with wonderfully cool, burbling water. I do miss rivers and streams, which are hard to find at this time of year in the Med countries. Down we continued, ending up in the village square. There we found a shady place to sit along with a water fountain to top up our depleted water supplies.
In hindsight, we should have returned to Soller and taken the bus back to the port. But we had agreed to walk down. We’d calculated the distance as 4 miles; however, it ended up as 5. The extra mile was caused by a detour around a badly signposted section and a track that turned out to be private. That extra mile was the killer.
It was another lizard free day.
Section of the Port de Soller to Soller Route – 4.5 miles
This walk starts in the north of the port. It circles around the back of a hill, ending up on the south side of the bay. It forms part of the Port de Soller to Soller walking route and was signposted all the way.
Having left the buildings of the port behind, we entered the welcome shade of a pine and Holm oak wood. Dry irrigation channels cross-crossed the track and warm pine scented the air. There was a small bit of up as the views towards the mountains opened up.
Beyond the woods, we passed through an area of cultivation with lemon and olive trees and so many cute cottages. Then, after a short section on the main road, we concluded the walk by taking the GR221 back to the seafront.
29th June: Cala Deia to Puetro de Soller – 4nm
Anchored first in 8.5m 39 47.619’N 2 41.525’E before moving closer in to 7m at position 39 47.576’N 2 41.557’E. At the new position we could see patches of dark weed, however the anchor was in a sand patch.
There are several places to leave a dinghy, small supermarkets ashore and bars, restaurants and cafes.
There is the tourist tram for access to Soller town and a bus to Soller and surrounding villages.
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