When I studied abroad in London in 2008, the British pound was worth roughly 1.7 times the US dollar.
Visiting my friends in continental Europe, where the Euro was worth about 1.3 USD, felt like a bargain at the time.
So when EUR and USD inched closer to equal value over this past winter, Americans started to get excited. “Thanks to a strong dollar, it is now the best time for Americans to travel abroad,” headlines exclaimed. “It’s now cheaper to travel to Europe than it has been in years.”
I took the advice of the internet at large and booked an 11 day trip to the Balearic Islands off the southern coast of Spain with a friend: Ibiza, Formentera, Mallorca, and Menorca.
Before I tell you how it went, let me be upfront about one thing: I could have done it cheaper. I could have stayed in hostels and spent eight hours on a ferry between islands instead of shelling out more for flights. I could have begrudged every 10€ admission, refused to rent a car, and never set foot in a restaurant.
But I didn’t do any of that.
In the fall of 2014, I started setting up email alerts for flights in May 2015. In December, a $777 round trip, with a short layover in Switzerland, came available and I grabbed it. Summer is the high season, so by travelling in May, the 'shoulder season,' we avoided the highest prices.
The Balearic Islands -- Ibiza, the party island, and Mallorca, the island of vacation villas, in particular -- are known for being luxury resorts and favourites of celebrities and millionaires alike. They are also extremely beautiful, which is why we wanted to go.
Our first stop was Ibiza, where we stayed for three nights in the most expensive accommodations of our trip: an oceanview AirBnb flat in Platja d'en Bossa for $860. My friend and I split every hotel cost, and we paid for flights and hotels from the US, which is why they're listed in USD. It didn't end up being anything too special, so I won't show it here.
We rented a car across the street from our flat, bought 5€ beach towels from a souvenir store, and headed off to picturesque beach Ses Salines, where we bypassed the 20€ sun loungers with waiter service offered by the beach clubs for sun-warmed towels in the sand.
On the way back that afternoon, we detoured to Cala Jondal, a gorgeous, rocky beach heavily populated with second homeowners dining by the seaside. We brought 2€ Coca Cola Lights and watched the sun go down. Like nearly everywhere we went for the entire trip, parking was free.
The next day, we forked over cash (I don't have a receipt, but it was under 40€ each) for a round trip ferry ride to the neighbouring island of Formentera, plus bike rentals. We pedaled down the island and spent the day on the beach.
We then flew to neighbouring Mallorca ($98 each) and took a bus (~2€ each) into the city center of Palma, where we rented a perfect little AirBnb flat just off the main drags Carrer de Sant Miquel and La Rambla, overlooking three little cafes with a view of the mountains beyond. For three nights, we paid $335.
After an underwhelming, 40€ meal at a touristy restaurant a few blocks away, we went to the grocery store and spent about 10€ on supplies for breakfast and dinner for three-ish days. After busy days of touring, we were more than happy to dine in.
The day after arriving, we took an antique train to the land-locked town of Soller, then a small, tourist-packed tram to Port de Soller (30€ each for the entire round trip), an unbelievably beautiful resort town on the water.
We ignored the beachfront restaurants and bought lunch from a back-alley grocery store: a baguette, cheese, and more Coke Light for less than 5€ total, which we ate while people-watching on a bench by the water.
The next day, we rented a car from the airport and took off to see some of the mountaintop villages on Mallorca's west coast. We learned that the budget rental places will not allow you to rent a car without an international driver's licence, but they won't tell you until you step up to the counter and get halfway through the paperwork, which meant we spent something like 100€ rather than 30€ to get a car from a more expensive and more lenient agency.
Our first stop was Deia, a posh enclave of second homes with a tiny main street, reached by cliffside roads.
After wandering through the village, we spent 7€ each to visit the home of the late English poet and novelist Robert Graves, which is just as noteworthy for its gardens as its sea views.
We then wound our way down a steep hill to Cala Deia, a tiny residential beach where locals park for free, and visitors shell out a few coins per spot. You can also buy lunch at the seaside restaurant, but we passed.
Next, we headed to Valldemossa, most famous as the place where Polish composer Frederic Chopin and his partner, the French writer George Sand, rented rooms in a monastery for four months in the 1830s.
The town's bustling tourism industry still revolves around their short stay, and while I don't have the receipts, I remember being charged separate admission for the monastery and the Chopin rooms. The rooms weren't too memorable. The view from the gardens, shown below, was.
Our last stop was the tiny island of Menorca (a $110 flight away), where we parked ourselves at the marvellous Hotel Rural Biniarocca, which is consistently ranked one of the top hotels on the island.
For three nights, we paid $495, which included a not-to-be-missed breakfast in the gardens. We were the first ones there every day.
Menorca is impossible to traverse without a car. We took ours clear across the island, from our hotel in Sant Lluis to the former capital city of Ciutadella.
There, we visited a cathedral where the guide talked us into upgrading from the 5€ general admission to a 10€ guided tour. 'You get to climb the bell tower,' he told us. 'I think you'll really like it.' He was right. The three of us went not only up to the bell tower, but onto the roof, with nary a safety rail to be found. We raved at the incredible views across Menorca and out to sea. 'This would never be allowed in the US,' I gleefully informed him.
We headed south to Cala En Torqueta, a breathtaking beach accessible only by winding, narrow roads, then a 10-minute hike from the parking lot.
Our last day on the islands, we drove north to Fornells, a lovely and extremely quiet fishing village on the bay which claims to be the water-sports center of the island. We paid about 3€ to climb a tower, and bought some 15€ prints by local artists.
Finally, to celebrate our last night before a pit stop in Barcelona on the way home, we went to Cova D'en Xoroi, one of the most well-known (and perhaps only) bars on the island, built into the side of a cliff. Promoters on the beach will try to sell you discounted admission, but you can get free late-night admission by showing up for cocktail hour (we went around 8:30pm) and paying the cheaper 12€ cover to stay for hours.
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