The Spanish holiday island of Menorca is the second largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands which lies some 130km north-east of Mallorca, its big brother. Whilst the island’s megalithic monuments remind us of a prehistoric history dating back to around 2000 BC, its natural harbour has been the key factor in shaping the history of Menorca.
The island’s strategic importance in the Mediterranean together with its deep water harbour has led to its being settled by many civilizations over the centuries including the Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Moors, British and French. Evidence of many of these various cultures can be seen around the island, not least in Mahón which has a strong English feel about it having been under British rule during part of the 18th century.
Port of Menorca
As your ship enters the harbour of Mahón, or Maó as it is known in the local Catalan language, be sure to stand on deck in order to appreciate one of the Mediterranean’s most spectacular approaches. The historic castle on the port side at the entrance to the harbour is Saint Philip’s Castle which played an important role in naval battles between the English, French and Spanish during the 18th century. Other small forts scattered along the coastline are reminders of Menorca’s long and turbulent history.
From entering the world’s 2nd largest natural harbour (after Pearl Harbour) it’s almost 6km to the quayside where your ship will dock in what has become a popular port of call on the Mediterranean cruise circuit. The port area where you disembark is within a few hundred metres of the main town of Mahón.
If your cruise begins (or ends) in Mahón you’ll need to arrange transport between the port and the airport. Fortunately, Menorca Airport is only 6km southwest of the port area, a journey which takes about 10 minutes by road. Bus number 10 runs frequently from outside the arrivals area into the main bus terminal in Mahón otherwise you can take a taxi for a nominal fee. Specialist transfer companies offer very good rates on private transport between Mahón Airport and the port or to any other destinations in the city and around the island.
Getting Around in Menorca
On arrival you are only a short walk from the historic centre of Mahón following the walkway opposite the dock. Unfortunately, this is quite a steep climb so some passengers with limited mobility might find it too much for them. If that’s the case there will be taxis awaiting cruise ship arrivals which can transport up to four passengers to the city centre in a couple of minutes. Otherwise you can take the little red road train which stops next to the port area and takes passengers up the hill and on a short circuit of the old town. Unfortunately, it cannot access some of the more interesting parts of the old city centre so some walking is required.
Main Tourist Attractions
A reminder of the English influence on the island is the Xoriguer Gin Distillery which lies right next to where your ship docks at Moll de Ponent. You can take a look inside and enjoy a tasting although that’s probably a better idea at the end of your day in port rather than at the beginning!
Up in the old town you there are some lovely buildings to wander around, all of which are located within a few minutes of one another. The Church of Santa María next to Plaça de la Conquesta is one of the city’s most notable religious buildings together with the Iglesia del Carmen which is not only beautiful in its own right but also has a cloisters where a daily food market is held.
Insider Tip: A great recommendation for lunch is to head for the fish market (Mercat de Peix) on Plaça del Carme. After browsing the stalls in the fresh fish area you can head for what is effectively a food court in the same area and sample freshly cooked paella, seafood tapas and a whole range of other delicious Spanish delicacies.
An interesting place to visit if you’re interested in the history of the island is the Museo de Menorca which is home to a fascinating exhibition of artefacts collected from around the island representing the many cultures which have settled here. Alternatively, you could head back down to the quay and take a short boat tour of the harbour to learn a little of Mahón’s maritime history.
A journey outside of Mahón is hardly necessary for most passengers with just a day in port. However, if you have the option of an excursion with your cruise line the most likely destination is to Ciutadella on the opposite coast of the island which was the capital of Menorca before the British took control. Today it remains the island’s religious centre and is home to the ancient cathedral of Santa María.
One Night in Menorca
If you’re planning to spend an overnight in Mahón at the beginning or end of your cruise you should plan on sampling some of the local gin at a terrace bar in the early evening. Following aperitifs you should head for one of the city’s fine restaurants to enjoy some excellent local seafood such as lobster stew which is a speciality of the island.
Sa Gavina II (Carrer Moll de Llevant, 157) is a down to earth tapas restaurant located just a short walk east of where the cruise ships dock. They offer terrific harbour views and serve a selection of Spanish favourites including an excellent paella. Another highly recommended venue up the hill from the port is the stylish Cafe Mares (Lugar Pont d’es Castell 10-12) which is another highly rated Spanish restaurant with panoramic views across the harbour from its dining area.
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