When I was 13, I came on a school trip to Mallorca, with a day trip on the vintage train and tram from Palma to Puerto de Soller with its enclosed horseshoe bay, the safest port on Mallorca’s west coast. It was memorable for the wrong reasons as I was stung across my calf by a jellyfish whilst trailing my legs from a pedalo. Colin too had been here before, aged 8 with his family.
When we sailed into the Med 6 years ago, it was high on our list of places to visit. However, on hearing tales from friends who were there of an over crowded anchorage and boats being damaged by others when they dragged, it no longer appealed. We put it on the try again on the way out of the Med list.
We did try again in September last year on our way between France and our winter marina in Cartagena, thinking being out of high season would be less busy. We were scuppered in our attempts by the savage Gota Fria storm and detoured to find shelter in Sant Carles de la Rapita instead. In our minds, Soller was sadly moved to the not to be list of places.
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.
As we motored into the bay, from a distance it was difficult to ascertain the amount of space amongst the forest of masts. There are moorings dotted about to be avoided, concentrated mainly over towards the marina and a line of swim buoys to protect those on the beach. 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, so we took an opportunity the next day and moved there. Now we could see there was definitely sand into which the anchor was dug.
We can understand it’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, cafes and ice cream shops a plenty 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, lying in a natural bowl below the towering Tramuntura mountain range and located away from the coast to provide safety from pirate attack in those days when those arriving by boat came to plunder rather than as tourists.
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 in the 19th century were built on the citrus trade, resulting 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 a train line was cut in 1912 through the mountains to link to Palma, with the tram joining the port to the town.
It seems crazy though, in this age of easy travel, that it wasn’t until 1999 that a road tunnel was opened; 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. The lush foothills are dotted with fincas (farms), the steep hillsides tamed by rows and rows of terraces lined by mile upon mile of dry stone walls that provide a level platform for growing citrus and olive trees. Caramel and terracotta coloured stone cottages, and larger estate houses are scattered about or grouped into pretty villages. Between them is a myriad of cobbled or dirt tracks, once used as 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 might 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 it’s way in. We’d be lying bows pointed north to the wind with the swell rolling in from the entrance, putting the waves beam on. A beam on roll (when waves hit the side) is far worse than pitching (where the waves hit the bow first) on Emerald so there were some stomach roiling, uncomfortable hours to be endured.
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, fortifying ourselves with a Spanish empanada (pie) and eventually finding our way out of the maze of narrow streets, we left the town behind for a walk 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. From the lighthouse, we joined onto the GR221 track and into the welcome shade of trees. We passed through the gates of a couple of private properties with the evidence of horses or donkeys underfoot, but 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 were beautiful but our decision to combine them with a walk back to Puerto de Soller was a mile too far in 30c heat, 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. We saw 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 my heels are not up for that kind of terrain at the moment, so 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 the downhill section into the village and along the way stopped briefly to admire the view across an orchard. We started a fowl stampede! Chickens, geese, a turkey and even a peacock began running toward us. They probably thought we had food and we felt a little guilty that we only had Jelly Babies, which I suspect are not good for them.
We were surprised to see a small brook with water cutting 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, where we found a shady place to sit as well as a water fountain to top up our badly depleted water supplies.
Perhaps we should have returned to Soller and taken the bus back to the port, but we had agreed we would walk down. It was 4 miles, not so far really, but with the detours involved with a badly signposted section and a track that turned out to be private, it ended up as 5 miles. That last mile was the killer.
It was another lizard free day.
Section of the Port de Soller to Soller Route – 4.5 miles
This walk took us from the north of the port around the back of a hill to enter the port on the south side. It forms part of the Port to 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 wood of pine and Holm oak, criss-crossed with dry irrigation channels and with that lovely warm pine scent. There was a small bit of up as the views to the mountains opened up.
From the woods, we walked through an area of cultivation – lemon and olive trees and so many cute cottages. A short section of main road, then we joined onto the GR221 back into the southern side of the port.
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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