itting on a deckchair, I poured myself some water from the glass bottle on an upturned crate in front of me. Faded red paint told me the crate had once held olive oil. I was at Finca S’estelrica, a smart, unfussy hotel on farmland just outside the pretty hilltop town of Arta in the east of Mallorca. The refreshingly cold water was from its own well, just filtered and bottled. As I gazed across the countryside to the mountains, I wondered how something so simple – and free – could feel so luxurious.
Most places are not lucky enough to have their own water source, but glass bottles filled with filtered tap water are set to become a less unusual sight in hotels, bars and restaurants in Mallorca in the next few years.
It’s part of a raft of measures being rolled out by the government of the Balearic Islands, which includes the bold step of banning single-use plastics. From 20 March, no plastic glasses, plates, trays, cutlery, straws, coffee capsules, cotton buds or disposable razors or lighters can be sold on the islands. And it’s goodbye to titchy plastic bottles of shampoo in hotel bathrooms too.
The legislation doesn’t include plastic bottles yet, but the islands are moving in the right direction, aiming to reduce waste by 20 per cent by 2030. The Plastic Free Balearics initiative has been set up to help hospitality firms find more environmentally-friendly alternatives and reduce the impact on marine ecosystems caused by plastic pollution.
It’s five years since the sustainable tourism tax was introduced in the Balearic Islands, and the scheme has provided funds for projects aimed at protecting the environment, restoring cultural heritage and promoting ecotourism. All tourists staying on the islands have to pay it, with daily rates ranging from 25 cents to €4 euros, depending on the type of accommodation and the time of year.
There are currently 66 initiatives underway in Mallorca thanks to the tax, including the restoration of the medieval wall around the town of Alcudia in the northeast of the island and improved signposting along the many cycle routes.
Cycling is becoming increasingly popular here, both as a serious sport and as a way of gently exploring Mallorca. The trend has another benefit in addition to being a green way of getting around: it’s really helping encourage people to take breaks between autumn and spring, when the weather is less sweltering – and therefore more suitable – for strenuous outdoor activities. Cycling groups are choosing to visit in the previously dead months of February and November and hotels are installing repair workshops and bike storage facilities to cater for them. Palma city council is extending the current 90km cycling network, with plans to have 100km of bike lanes in and around the Mallorcan capital by 2023. Reducing the pressure on the environment and tourism facilities in peak season is a key objective for the future of tourism in Mallorca.
Rural tourism has really taken off in recent years too, thanks to a new wave of visitors who are looking for more authentic experiences in the countryside and on less-developed parts of the coast. Dozens of country houses, built in the local sandstone, have been transformed into boutique hotels – usually involving one of the local chefs who are reinventing traditional Mallorcan cuisine. These include Andreu Genestra, chef at the Hotel Predi Son Jaumell in Capdepera, who already had a Michelin star, but has now also been awarded the new green star in recognition of the sustainable practices at his restaurant. It uses mostly local produce, much of it grown in the hotel’s gardens or foraged from the shore at a nearby cove.
The ecotax is also funding the transformation of Ses Porqueres de Galatzo in the Serra de Tramuntana to the west of the island. Originally a shelter for animals on the Galatzo estate, the building is set to become a refuge with dorm beds and a space for educational and cultural activities. The mountain range has Unesco World Heritage status in recognition of the ingenious techniques used to grow crops on its terraced slopes over the centuries, and the refuge is on the Dry Stone Route, a series of hiking tracks through pine forests, vineyards and olive groves – you can stop off for a dip at gorgeous coves along the way too. The walls marking the paths have been restored following the traditional Balearic technique of using only stone and sand, with no mortar or cement to hold everything together. The route covers around 170km – with varying degrees of difficulty – and can be tackled in stages. Accommodation along the way ranges from refuges to small but luxurious village hotels, where walkers can try the locally produced olive oils, fruit, cheese, charcuterie and wines at the end of each day’s walk.
While Mallorca is desperate to get tourists back in 2021 – the industry represents around 35 per cent of the island’s GDP and the UK is the second-most important market – it is also determined to build on its traditions to do so in a more sustainable way. The enforced pause caused by Covid-19, giving people a chance to think about the environmental impact of current practices, may turn out to be just what Mallorca needed.