Sometimes you daydream about a destination for years. Other times you spot a place in a TV show and book a flight. Follow Ann Hood's impulse journey to a magical Mediterranean island.
“Do you still have the seafood soup?” I ask the harried waitress. “And the paella?”
She frowns, bangs a menu down in front of me, and walks off. The man at the table beside me grins. “You watch The Night Manager?” he asks in a lovely British accent.
“Yes,” I say with a sigh, and turn my head toward the view: rugged cliffs surrounding a cove of azure water where men in Speedos lazily bob. The ocean stretches, gorgeous and blue, all the way to France and beyond.
Two weeks ago I was sitting in my apartment in Providence, Rhode Island, eating leftover pizza and binge-watching The Night Manager, a crime show based on John le Carré’s novel of the same name. In it, hotel night manager Jonathan Pine becomes an international operative who spies on bad-guy entrepreneur Richard Roper. Pine follows Roper and his glamorous girlfriend, Jed Marshall, from Cairo to Zermatt to Mallorca. In one scene—the scene—they arrive by boat at an unbearably romantic restaurant, with twinkling lights and a terrace that hangs precariously over the sea. Leftover pizza? No, I wanted to be part of that jet set. I wanted to be helped from my boat by a handsome maître d’ offering his hand. I wanted that shimmering white dress Jed wore as she walked across that stone floor. I wanted to eat at Ca’s Patró March.
And so now, this is precisely where I’m sitting; in the very seat where Jed herself sat and ate seafood soup and paella—neither of which are actually on the menu today. But who cares?
"No," the concierge at my hotel told me.
“You don’t go by boat. You take a taxi. Or you hike.” “Hike?” I repeated, because here is a little secret about me: I don’t hike. Tired of being the last one down a treacherous trail (usually on my butt to keep my vertigo in check), on my 40th birthday I swore I’d never hike again. As evidence of this I have packed only flip-flops and beach shoes. But I’d come so far—3,378 miles, to be exact—so I took a deep breath and asked how long a hike it is, and how steep the trail, and would I have to walk on those switchbacks he described?
“Oh ... 35, 45 minutes,” the concierge told me, as if that were nothing at all. “You go up. You go down. The route is marked.”
Jet-lagged and equal parts thrilled (I’m here! Like Jed and Richard!) and terrified (I’m hiking!), I located the sign pointing to Cala Deià beach and Ca’s Patró March. I admit, I was not happy on this hike. I kept replaying the scene from The Night Manager in my mind for inspiration and motivation as I went up and I went down, just as promised. Luckily, real hikers—the kind with walking sticks and proper shoes—led the way, along with families and bikers in neon laminate jackets. All of us out for a hike to dinner.
Finally, the trail came to an end, but then there was gravel, then irregular stone steps, a little bridge, more irregular stone steps, and a climb up and into the restaurant. By then I wanted nothing more than to jump in the water to cool off. But one glance at the tables creaking with platters of octopus and anchovies, the glasses of rosé twinkling in the late-afternoon sunlight, the happy people eating bite-size seafood croquettes and large grilled prawns, and all memories of the hike vanished. I was here. I had made it from my sofa to arguably the most beautiful restaurant in the world. Soon enough, I was among the happy Night Manager devotees, eating my fried squid and grilled Padrón peppers dusted with sea salt from this very sea, drinking my own glass of rosé. Ah, Jed! ¡Muchas gracias!
It takes no time for me to learn that all of the best things on Mallorca, like Ca’s Patró March, are secrets. You can’t get to them easily. And once you finally do, you don’t want to leave, which is a good thing because hailing a taxi is next to impossible. It is as if the entire island is conspiring to keep you away from its perfect beaches and seaside towns. Mallorca, the largest of the three principal Balearic Islands (the others being Menorca and Ibiza), sits in the Mediterranean off the eastern coast of Spain. It has only been 65 years since the first charter flight brought tourists here. Now, at the height of summer, more than a thousand flights a day arrive for the endless sunshine—300 days a year—the beaches, and tapas eaten outdoors under a starlit sky.
I have opted to stay at Belmond La Residencia, a former Richard Branson–owned hotel that is discreetly tucked into the foothills of the Serra de Tramuntana in the little village of Deià on the rugged north shore. The hotel adds to my fantasy that I’ve come to Mallorca just like an international spy: Olives hang from branches overhead as I climb the flat stone steps upward for a breakfast of local specialties—ham and cheese and fruit and honey and thick wedges of tortilla (a Spanish type of omelette)—and upward again to the still, blue pool, and upward yet again to my room, which throws spectacular views at me wherever I look: the tiled roofs of Deià below me, the ocean to my right, the church that rings its bells on the half hour like a fairy-tale church.
Just around the corner from the hotel is the trail to Ca’s Patró March, and a little past that is Ca n’Alluny (Catalan for “the faraway home”), the casa of the English poet Robert Graves, which is open to the public. At The Deià Parish Church of San Juan Bautista you can visit Graves’s grave, with the simple word “Poet” on it and the offerings of poems left by admirers.
But what I quickly learn is that the best way to get anywhere other than Ca’s Patró March is by boat, and La Residencia conveniently keeps one in nearby Port de Sóller, the closest port. The captain zips you along the water from beach to beach, each one dramatically ringed by cliffs. If you are like me, you favor long, sandy beaches. Mallorca’s are small, U-shaped, rocky, and gravelly, but clearly appeal to the summertime thousands who descend on them, arriving by one of only two roads. This is why you need a boat. You anchor off Sa Calobra or Cala Tuent and swim in the clear, cyanine water, feeling very much like the luckiest person you know.
Back at Port de Sóller, a town of seaside outdoor restaurants and little shops that sell locally made pottery and espadrilles, there is plenty of time for gelato made from Sóller oranges while one waits (and waits and waits) for a taxi. It is hard to get here, and it is hard to leave. And the truth is, who wants to leave? Certainly not me. When I finally return to La Residencia, there is wine chilling on my terrace, tapas plates of chorizo and papas bravas waiting, and a violet sky and cool breezes making everything appear as cinematic as a scene in a film.
“Have you seen that show? The Night Manager?” my waiter asks me, preparing to leave me to my private feast.
“Yes,” I say. “I have.”
Travel to Mallorca
Palma de Mallorca Airport (PMI) is easily reached by plane from Madrid and Barcelona. Belmond La Residencia is a 45-minute drive from the airport.
Perched on a high bluff between the Tramuntana mountains and the Mediterranean, and surrounded by citrus and olive trees, Belmond La Residencia's pair of restored 16th- and 17th-century manor houses form an unforgettable retreat amid the splendors of Mallorca. The rooms number 73 (plus one private villa); there are four restaurants, two pools, and one splendid spa; and the pleasures are too great to count. Rates start at $440; belmond.com.
The Night Manager aficionados (particularly from Great Britain, where the show has enjoyed widespread success bordering on obsession) flock to Ca's Patró March, so call ahead for a reservation. The restaurant closes for the season at the end of October and reopens in May; 34/97/163-9137.
Ann Hood is the author, most recently, of the novel The Book That Matters Most and of the memoir Morningstar: Growing Up with Books.