Life is just a series of peaks and troughs. And you don’t know whether you’re in a trough until you’re climbing out, or on a peak until you’re coming down. And that’s it you know, you never know what’s round the corner. But it’s all good.
Menorca’s landscape always gets me philosophising about our human existence.
It’s full of ups and downs and there’s never an easy route. Sometimes you take your time cycling down a quaint little woodland path that you think will to lead to somewhere beautiful, but you end up being cut off by a padlocked gate and being accosted by a ferocious guard dog. Gravel tracks, on the other hand, can lead to somewhere beautiful, but they’re always a bumpy ride.
More often than not, the place you want to get to looks really close but you can’t reach it as the crow flies, so you have no option but to take the long way round. And no matter where you are, there’s always this monstrously ominous mountain dominating the skyline. You know you have to climb it, in fact deep down you want to climb it, and you know it’s going to be tough. But you also know that once you get to the top, the journey back down will be the most fun you’ve ever had.
Poetic, I know.
It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves
After a month of using Monte Toro for orienteering purposes only, I decided to climb it by bicycle. It’s not actually a monstrous mountain, I said that for dramatic effect, it’s just a tall hill towering 358m above sea level that can be seen more or less wherever you are on the island.
I set off pretty early to avoid the heat of the midday sun.
The worst thing about cycling before the sun rises is the insects; it’s as though there’s an army of evil people hiding in the bushes firing flies and bugs at you from some sort of paintball gun. They hit you hard in the face, some fall down your top and others get tangled up in your hair, you daren’t open your mouth or you’re bound to top your cornflakes off with a bluebottle.
So, splattered with all sorts of winged creatures, I cycled along my favourite path, the Cami de Cucanya, salivated along past the cheese farm and into Es Mercadal to the foot of Monte Toro.
To reach the top there’s three kilometres of tarmac winding steeply up and around the mountain like a charcoal-coloured orange peel. Cycling up was manageable in parts but when the incline got too perpendicular to pedal, I hopped off the saddle and continued on foot. I was drenched in sweat by the time I reached the top and my calves were feeling the burn, but it was worth every aching muscle.
The views are incredible up there, and on a clear day you can see the whole of the island.
Panoramas and Pastries
Sitting down somewhere new to enjoy a coffee and a croissant is one of my all-time favourite things to do.
Nothing, and I really mean nothing, will ever compare to my mornings spent at Antico Caffè San Giorgio in Castelmola, overlooking the famous Isola Bella. I’d sit at the cliff-side tables which were clad in red and white checkered tablecloths, leaning over the ornate cast iron railings, gazing down onto the azure blue bay below while sipping my Lavazza and having a storia d’amore with marmalade croissants.
I’m confident that that level of croissant excellence, which oddly, I discovered in Sicily not France, will never be rivalled, but of course the search does continue…and having cycled twenty kilometres before 9am, I felt more than worthy of the calorific reward.
I sat myself down in Sa Posada del Toro overlooking the East of the island and sipped on my brilliantly bitter and surprisingly inexpensive café con leche. Coffees here cost somewhere between EUR 1.20-1.50, and they’re good. Back home, that would get you a quarter of a non-recyclable cup of average caffeine from one of the chains.
To my dismay, however, they don’t do croissants, so I pointed at some sort of flower shaped pastry thing and nibbled on that while scribbling down some thoughts and admiring the views.
All Across this Land
I wandered around the monastery and topped up my Menorcan education.
Menorca has been at the hands of various acts of territorial greed over the centuries. Like a custody battle over their favourite child, it was passed back and forth between Spanish, the Brits, the French and the Turks over many centuries. It’s had waves of Christianity, Judaism and Islam forced upon its people, just as quickly as those faiths were later outlawed according to the taste of their latest ruling power. It’s even been occupied by pirates and is said nowadays to be controlled by the Menorcan mafia.
After hundreds of years acting as an isle of battle, Menorca finally settled under Spanish rule in 1802.
It’s name comes from the Latin meaning small in comparison to it’s larger neighbour Mallorca, quite obviously meaning big. It’s rumoured to be the birthplace of mayonnaise and is home of the famously salty Mahon cheese. As a result of being passed from pillar to post, Menorca has inherited a unique culture. It’s almost as though islanders have kept tight hold of their best bits from all of the invading cultures that settled here over the years and mixed it with their local traditions.
The British influence can be seen in their architecture; small whitewashed Spanish style homes with dark green shutters have little Georgian sash windows. Another thing the Brits left behind was their gin; there are now four distilleries on the island, the most famous of which is Gin Xoriguer used in their favourite festival drink – the pomada. The rest of its colonial inheritance can be seen everywhere, sprinkled over its language, cuisine and special island traditions.
After appreciating hundreds of years’ worth of history from hundreds of metres up high, it was time to get back to my two-wheeled philosophicals, singing a song from The Sound of Music.
Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
Until you find your dream