By far the biggest Hero of my entire Menorcan adventure was the man I now warmly refer to as my adopted Dad – Mr David Smith.
Smith’s Private Tours
David, the father of a Tier One Colleague, has been living in Menorca with his lovely wife Annie for the last eighteen years. He’d been warned that a calamitous blonde cyclone was heading over to the island and asked could he share his contact details, just in case I get myself into any bother.
A week or so into my visit and David kindly offered up a Smith’s Private Tour. He greeted me outside Monkville with a friendly, fatherly hug and spent the afternoon chauffeuring me around the North East of the island telling me the stories of how he ended up living there and everything else he’s come to know and love about this Balearic hidden gem.
Absolutely no amount of Googling can bring you close to the precious insight of a local tour guide. There’s just something about Wikipedia pages and travel guides that lack that local zest. Maybe it’s because they’re overloaded with facts, maybe it’s because they’re too busy operating as checklists for must-sees and must-dos, or maybe it’s because their authors simply haven’t been there long enough to notice the hundreds and thousands of microscopic nuances that give a place its personality.
Es Grau, the first place we visited on our whistle-stop tour, was a perfect example. There’s a small beach looked upon by no more than a handful of dinky little seaside restaurants serving up catch of the day. People sit outside on small wooden chairs, at tables bedecked with baskets of pan and bottles of agua y vino, filling their bellies with salted cod and mussels bathed in garlic. Along the side of the railings, there are baskets of greenery dangling their leaves over crystalline waters swarming with tiny silver fish. The streets are narrow, winding and steep and the houses are compact; everybody lives in close proximity to one another with nothing but small whitewashed boundaries.
As a visitor, passing only for a brief moment, you wouldn’t know that when you look out towards the East, there’s a small island which is privately owned although you can’t actually build on it due to planning regulations. Or that if you walk for an hour or so along the coastline you can reach a perfect viewing point to look back on Es Grau from a distance. Or my favourite fact, which I’ll never forget, that every year the residents of Es Grau host their very own cardboard boat race.
Using nothing but cardboard and sellotape, they create sailboats, rafts, catamarans and canoes out of paper, large and sturdy enough to carry one or two sailors. People stand on the beach, cheering them on as they paddle aggressively across the bay and back to the finish line. The boat race goes under the radar so that it can’t be shut down by authorities, hence why you’ll never read it in a tour guide or the local newspaper.
It’s without these local secrets that fall-in-love-with-able places like Es Grau remain hidden to the outside world.
Mi Casa Su Casa
When David found out that I had decided to escape Monkville and spend my last week or so couchsurfing my way around the island to see it properly, he kindly offered me somewhere to get my head down for a couple of nights.
He walked me down the small woodland trail, under the mulberry tree, past the dry-stone wall smothered in tangerine-coloured Bougainvillea and over the gravel path to Villa Biniali. The whitewashed facades and dark green shutters deceived me into thinking this would just be like any other Menorcan villa, the ones I’ve become accustomed to having already spent almost six weeks here…but oh no, I was about to enter my very own Spanish episode of MTV Cribs.
I must have taken the Lord’s name in vein a thousand times before he told me to shut up, and after that I was just left completely and utterly lost for words.
Walking into Villa Biniali was like taking a paintbrush and, using dreamy pastel shades of watercolour, painting the holiday home of my dreams. Every footstep around the villa was another stroke of the brush.
There’s a fitted kitchen with pine cabinets, a large clock above the oven and earthenware pots and fine crockery resting neatly on corner shelves. Passing by the well-stocked larder and through to the right is an en suite twin bedroom with white floor-length drapes gently guarding the glass doors that lead out onto a patio of rattan furniture and a huge stone barbecue.
There’s a master bedroom with a large double bed, huge fitted wardrobes and a sofa that looks out onto a quiet corner of the garden. In every room there is a different piece of art to entertain your eyes and my favourite is here in this room; it’s a large oil painting of cows in a field and one of the cows has the map of Menorca subtly painted into his hide. Up the steps, past the dark green door is the main family bathroom with a heavenly large bath and through the corridor, to the left, are the bunk beds.
The living room is a homely haven full of natural light and more long white drapes that wave in the gentle breeze from an opened window. There’s a dining table lit up with light bulbs hidden inside rattan shades and on every little table there’s an ornate, antique-looking lamp which gives the room a warm coral glow at night. In the corner there’s a white bookshelf holding years of cherished entertainment and on the dark oak coffee table in the centre of the room is a guestbook full of gratitude and love.
Through the south-facing doors you can see my favourite morning coffee spot; a table and chairs sitting beneath an archway decorated with brightly coloured ceramic bowls and a huge rustic Welsh dresser, looking out onto a stepped patio where a towering dark green Cypress tree beckons the distant ocean. And the West-facing doors look out onto your very own little Secret Garden.
Four white arches line the central patio where you can sit on a bench and have your face drenched with the rays of an egg-yolk coloured sunset every evening. Then, if you wander down, tip-toeing along the narrow stepping stone path and through the foliage, you’ll find six sun loungers and a kidney-shaped piscina. There’s nothing and nobody around as you swim around under blue skies listening to the birds. This place is heaven on earth.
The Socialite of Sant Lluis
My adopted Dad’s kindness and generosity didn’t stop there.
We had breakfasts together on his patio, eating eggs laid that morning by one of his friendly chickens and then he took me around the local area of Biniali and Torret delivering more eggs to his friends and regular customers. He took me for a coffee in Mahon and una in Punta Prima and even bought me a friendship bracelet in the colours of the Spanish flag to remember my trip.
He introduced me to the social scene of Sant Lluis, took me to my first ever basketball game, bought me a basketball T-shirt and even played wingman chatting to a load of seven-foot-tall ridiculously good-looking creatures at the bar after the game. We dined in an incredible restaurant one night and the next enjoyed a moonlight barbecue with some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met. We sat for hours sharing stories and watching the planes fly over apricot skies. It was magic.
Even today, a week later, I still have tears in my eyes from it all – it was just so overwhelming; the kindness, the generosity and the totally unexpected sweetness. It’s not really any wonder he’s the socialite of Sant Lluis and the mate-magnet of Menorca – what a wonderfully lovely and amusing human being, my adopted Dad.