“One of the most dangerous roads in Spain…” These few words in our Lonely Planet Guide on Spain were enough to convince us that Sa Calobra, a stretch of 13 kilometers set in the scenic mountains of western Mallorca, were a worthy destination. Knowing full well we were going to rent a car and explore as much of the island as we could, we couldn’t pass up the idea of driving Mallorca’s most famous road. The fact that it leads down to some of the most beautiful beaches on the island was just a bonus.
Northwestern Mallorca is covered with a small mountain range and national park called the Serra de Tramuntana. It is a wild, hard-to-tame environment filled with craggy rocks, deep river gorges, and steep inclines, making it a difficult area to cultivate and eek a living from. The industrious islanders found a way, terraced their crop fields, raised goats, built towns on the hillsides, and have conquered the harsh terrain. Due to this industrious task and having made the area livable for over 1000 years, UNESCO inscribed the area as a world heritage site in 2011.
The mountains, with their spotty clumps of tough grass and stunted trees, makes me think of an old man waking up with a five day stubble on his chin. The rocks and soil are dry, almost white from the limestone, and gives the entire region a washed-out look. However, once you get up close, you can see the trails of goats, the vibrant colors of the short desert-like flowers, and the towns are sleepy but colorful with their terra cotta roof tiles nestled into the valleys.
We drove along route 10 until almost to the end of the road where Sa Calobra begins. From the top, it takes you down through 26 hairpin turns, dropping 800 meters. For the short 13 kilometers to the coast, you are not only careening, like a rock star head-bobbing all the way down, you have the added obstacles of dodging bicycle after bicycle. Apparently this is a training ground for bicycle teams, and while the rest of Europe is still gripped with the end of winter, the temperatures are just right to start training. What better road to get fit than one that is all up and down and turn after turn. It was great fun in a car, and I imagine it’s even more so on a bike. There were plenty of bike tours doing the route as well.
At the very end of the road, there are two choices that lead to beaches and lunch. The more popular road is to the right. We took that option to begin with, and couldn’t believe our eyes when we reached this gargantuan parking lot filled with tour buses, cars, bicycles, and people everywhere. We promptly turned around, went left, and found a quiet, almost empty beach in a tiny cove. There was only street parking, and not much of that, a small fisherman’s hut, and not much more. It was a perfect way to spend an hour near the water.
While we explored the Serra de Tramuntana, we stayed a few nights in the Santuari de Lluc, a well-known monastery where both pilgrims and tourists stay. It hosts a restaurant as well as everything from dorm rooms to doubles. It’s not a luxurious stay, but it’s quiet and convenient, and if you are lucky enough you might get to hear the choir sing.