Island retains its rural charm

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LOOKING into the distance, the whole coastline stretched before us untainted and wild.

However, we were not on some unexplored archipelago but admiring the cliff faces of one of Spain’s best known holiday hotspots.

Menorca has been a popular destination for British holidaymakers for many years, but unlike its Balearic neighbours Majorca and Ibiza, much of its shoreline remains development free.

This status has been acknowledged at the highest level with UNESCO giving the island the distinction of Reserve of Biosphere in recognition of its natural beauty.

Our walk along the recently re-opened Cami de Cavalls – or The Path of Horses – had given us ample opportunity to see for ourselves just why this Mediterranean destination is definitely worth the short two hour flight from the UK.

After 400 years the medieval coastal path circumnavigating the whole island is now welcoming riders and walkers and giving them access to hidden beaches and coves which are easier to reach by foot than car.

It was originally built as part of Menorca’s defences, with lookout posts designed to alert inhabitants to marauding pirates.

But now the only invaders are tourists enjoying the stunning scenery as they make their way to beaches such as Macarella, its smaller neighbour Macarelletta and on as we did, to Cala Turqueta and Son Saura.

We enjoyed this experience in the company of Laura, a guide for walking and excursion company Menorca Viva, who as well as leading us to these coastal gems, also entertained us with her knowledge of the island’s history and biodiversity.

Walking holidays are growing in popularity on Menorca which is looking at new ways of attracting visitors.

You can devote your whole holiday to completing the full path, or as we did, sample one section in an afternoon of walking and then return to your favourite beaches for a relaxing sunbathing session on another day of your holiday.

There are so many beaches and bays to see, it is hard to know where to start.

But a hire car is definitely worth recommending because it opens up your choice and driving is easy, with the main resorts accessible from the central road across the island.

From the busy town of Gala Galdana for example, it is an easy and pleasant walk of half an hour or so to Macaralla, from where you can carry onto Macarelleta.

Be warned though - there is no room for modesty on some of the more remote beaches where for many bathers it is a case of no swimsuit required!

But there is so much choice that whether you are looking to go back to nature, or prefer amenities nearby, there will be a beach for you.

Many, such as Cala Blanca and Cala Porter, boast shallow, sheltered bays, great for kids and young families.

When the sunshine gets too much, options away from the coast including exploring Menorca’s two main towns – Mahon and Ciutadella.

We started our day in Mahon by boarding the Yellow Catamaran for a tour of the historic harbour.

The hour long trip packs in loads of sights in what is considered one of the best harbours in the Mediterranean.

Of course you cannot visit an island nation without sampling fish, and after our boat trip we shared a sea bass lunch at the excellent Le Minverva restaurant on the seafront.

At the other end of the island to Mahon is Ciutadella with its cobbled streets, terrace cafes and pretty squares where it is also easy to spend a few hours exploring.

Built from stone, the buildings retain their mediaeval traditions recalling the days of Turkish pirate invaders and battles to keep control of the island.

There is plenty of holiday accommodation to choose from whether you want to base yourself in one of the main towns, by the coast or - as we did - inland.

Our base was the Rural Hotel Morvedra Nou, tucked away about 7km from Ciutadella and surrounded by fields and unspoiled views.

This intimate hotel has just 17 double rooms and a junior suite. It was originally built as a country house dating from before 1650 but in 1997 was tastefully restored in a way that delivers comfort but retains the ambience of a rural villa.

Nightlife is relaxed - either spent at the hotel, or perhaps popping out for tapas and a glass of wine.

If you fancy something a bit more exotic, how about a nightclub built inside caves perched on the side of a cliff?

Legend has it that Cova d’en Xoroi, outside Mahon, was once the refuge of a mysterious shipwrecked sailor who fell in love with a local girl.

Now it’s a magnet for clubbers into the early hours. But the best time to visit is sunset when you can enjoy a cocktail overlooking the dramatic cliff face.

The accompanying chill-out music is so popular you can do as we did, and buy a CD, in the hope of recreating a little bit of your holiday back home!

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