Follow in the footsteps of kings and composers. Here are facts about Mallorca’s most visited town. We are leaving Palma behind and heading for the hills, agricultural land, almond and olive trees gradually giving way to pines and holm oaks. We start to climb the lower slopes of the Tramuntana mountain range, and a lush fertile valley appears below us to the left.
Suddenly the tower of the Carthusian Monastery of Valldemossa comes into sight, its turquoise tiles glinting in the sunlight, and at last we see the honey coloured stone houses of the town, descending haphazardly down the hillside into a green valley of cultivated terraces, surrounded and watched over by the higher peaks of the mountain range.
I can’t help wondering what Chopin’s first thoughts were when he arrived here in 1838. The road was not so good in those days and the journey would have been tortuous, but I am pretty sure he was impressed. Judging by the work he composed during his short stay in Valldemossa he must have been very inspired indeed!
Only 18 km from Palma, Valldemossa is the highest town in Mallorca at over 400 meters above sea level, which means that in winter it’s not so unusual for the locals to wake up and find their town covered in a blanket of snow! People have lived here for thousands of years - archaeologists have discovered human traces going back to 4,800 BC! However, the name of the town goes back to a comparatively more recent time - that of the Arab occupation in the 10th century when it was known as the Valley of Mussa, who was at that time the overlord of these fertile lands. After the Christian reconquest in 1229 the name evolved into its current form.
Well, we have now arrived and are ready to explore. We leave our car in one of the ‘pay and display’ car parks to the right of the main road. This is also the location of the bus stop, and there is a tourist information office here. If you visit the town on a Sunday morning, you will find that one of the main car parks has been taken over by the colourful weekly market which is well worth a visit.
AM Tip No. 1: As there are less parking spaces available on Sundays, come early to beat the rush!
AM Tip No. 2: If you are using the Pay and Display car parks, take a photo of your parking ticket and show it at the Carthusian Monastery ticket office for a discount of €1.50 on your entrance ticket. This offer may not be permanent - look for the notice on the parking meter (Not applicable for tickets to Chopin’s Cell)
Now on foot, we cross to the left side of the main road (the Ma-1110) - this is where most of the historical part of the town lies, with its attractive pedestrianised cobbled streets, and a profusion of flowers and pot plants adorning every house along the steep, narrow lanes. The main street, tree lined Via Blanquerna, with its shops and cafes, leads us towards the monastery.
Ready for some refreshments? #
Pop in to the bakery, Ca’n Molinas at Via Blanquerna 15. Founded in 1920, it serves up the local speciality, potato cake (coca de patata) as well as an amazing selection of very reasonably priced cakes, sandwiches and sweet and savoury pastries, and to go with them - hot and cold drinks, all of which you can buy to take away, or eat in the pleasant garden at the rear.
The Bardolet Collection #
Further along Via Blanquerna at number 4 we find the Coll Bardolet Cultural Foundation. Josep Coll Bardolet was a Catalan artist who loved the light, the landscapes and folk dances of Mallorca. He settled in Valldemossa in the 1940s and lived and worked here for over 60 years until his death in 2007. His paintings of village women in colourful skirts dancing at the local fiestas are simply delightful and you can buy postcards or prints of these and many of his other works in the gallery shop. This building houses a collection of Bardolet’s paintings which he bequeathed to the town, and also temporary exhibitions by other artists.
The Carthusian Monastery #
At the end of Via Blanquerna we turn right and walk uphill into the Plaça Cartoixa. We have now arrived at Valldemossa’s number one attraction, the imposing Royal Carthusian Monastery.
The older of the two main buildings in the Monastery complex is the Palace of King Sancho. It was built originally as a royal residence in the early 14th century by King Jaume II for his son Sancho who used it as a hilltop retreat where he could recuperate from respiratory problems, and it was also a hunting lodge. After the end of the Mallorcan royal dynasty the palace fell into disuse and in 1399 was handed over to the Carthusian monks who developed and enlarged it to become their monastery for over 400 years.
Valldemossa's Most Famous Visitor: Frédéric Chopin #
Everything changed in 1835 when the Spanish government confiscated and disbanded the monastery, and it was sold to private owners, who rented out the cells to visitors, many of whom were painters, writers or musicians. One of the most outstanding of these was Frédéric Chopin who spent the winter of 1838 -1839 renting cell number 4 together with his lover, French writer George Sand and her two children.
Chopin was ill with tuberculosis at the time, and not helped by the cold and damp of the Mallorcan winter, but he did compose many of his famous works whilst here including most of his Preludes op.28, one of which, nº15, is the Raindrop Prelude. George Sand loved the Mallorcan countryside but disliked the local people and wrote disparagingly about them in her book ‘A Winter in Mallorca' (available in the local shops). The local people of Valldemossa probably did not like her very much either - she wore trousers, smoked cigars and was not married to the man she was living with, in accommodation which only 3 years earlier had been a consecrated monastery - all rather shocking to the country people of Mallorca at that time!
Today we can visit Cell number 4 and see Chopin’s Pleyel piano which in fact only arrived three weeks before he left the island. Most of his music was composed on a poor quality Mallorcan piano. Many other exhibits relating to the famous visitors are also to be seen here. The entrance ticket costs €4. Opening times vary throughout the year, so better check out their website.
Monastery Museum and Piano Recitals #
We have plenty of time so we decide to take a look around the rest of the interior of the monastery and attend a piano recital. This requires a separate ticket which costs €9.50. Opening times again these vary throughout the year, so, please check beforehand.
Contact: www. cartoixadevalldemossa.com
Monastery Highlights #
- The Monastery Apothecary with its ancient glass bottles and ceramic jars. Some of the bottles still contain the remains of medication and potions from over a hundred years ago!
- The beautiful frescoes in the neoclassical church - painted by Manuel Bayeu, Goya’s brother-in-law.
- The prior’s cell and garden which give us an idea of how the monks lived.
- The Contemporary Art collection with works by Juli Ramis considered to be the most important Mallorcan painter, and also some interesting works by Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso.
- The section dedicated to the Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria with original photos, manuscripts and drawings giving an insight into his life in Mallorca.
- King Sancho’s Palace with its cloister and medieval rooms
- The excellent 15 minute live Piano Recital which takes place several times a day in the music room of King Sancho’s Palace.
- On leaving the cloisters we take a look around the attractive Monastery gardens from where we are able to get some good photos of the belfry tower with its beautiful turquoise tiles.
A Breathtaking View #
We head back out of the Plaça Cartoixa and take a sharp right into Carrer de Jovellanos, an ancient narrow street which leads us along the rear of the Palace of King Sancho, through the archway which was previously the main entrance to the Monastery, and at the end of the street we find the Miranda dels Lledoners, a lookout point which has spectacular views over the town and the magnificent surrounding countryside. Yet another good photo opportunity!
Ready for A Bite of Lunch? #
We return to the entrance to Carrer de Jovellanos and turn right into Carrer Uetam - this leads downhill to the lower part of town. By this time we are ready for some lunch so keeping to the historical theme we choose to eat at Restaurante Hostal Can Marió, at Carrer Uetam 8. This iconic Valldemossa restaurant has been run by various generations of the same family since 1890 when it opened as a ‘hostal’, or guesthouse, for visitors to the town. Now, no longer operating as a guesthouse, the family dedicate themselves to providing a delicious selection of typically Mallorcan dishes and tapas at affordable prices.
We could be forgiven for thinking we had walked into someone’s house by mistake as we enter from the street into a very traditional entrance hall and living room. Up to the first floor and a quick glimpse into the kitchen as we note some delicious aromas wafting our way, and on into the lovely dining room. It feels as if we have stepped back in time - classical Mallorcan furniture, open French windows with stunning views across the valley, and walls decorated with old photos and paintings - family heirlooms and mementos of some of the artists who have passed through the doors of this historical establishment.
AM Tip: As Restaurante Can Marió is not very big, avoid disappointment by booking your table in advance. Tel. +34 971612122. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.
Valldemossa's Very Own Saint #
After an excellent meal and with renewed energy, we continue on our way down the hill to visit the parish church of Sant Bartomeu. It was originally a gothic church founded in the 13th century soon after the Christian reconquest, and has undergone many additions and alterations over the years as it grew to meet the needs of the expanding population. The church has a chapel dedicated to Santa Catalina Thomás, Mallorca’s only homegrown saint, who is much venerated all over the island but particularly here in Valldemossa, her birthplace, where she is affectionately known as ‘La Beateta’.
We leave the church and turn to the right where at the side of the church we see a beautiful bronze statue of Santa Catalina Thomás, and then a little further on in Carrer de la Rectoria we come to the saint’s birthplace at number 5. The ground floor of this humble house has been made into a shrine commemorating her life. She was born in 1531 and from an early age experienced spiritual ecstasies and visions of angels and saints. She had an aptitude for prophecy - and even foretold the date of her own death. Catalina joined a convent in Palma at the age of 21 and spent a life of prayer and humility until her death at the age of 42. During her lifetime she was widely respected and recognised for her exemplary virtue, and was beatified in 1792 and finally canonised in 1930 much to the joy of the people of Valldemossa. We see that each of the houses in the town has a tile on the wall showing a scene from Santa Catalina’s life and the words ‘Santa Catalina Thomás pregau per Nosaltres’ - Santa Catalina Thomás pray for us.
Having now seen the main sights of Valldemossa, we head back to the car taking our time and wandering through the quiet back streets enjoying the historical atmosphere. We note the huge sense of pride in their town that the local people must have, manifested in their beautifully restored and well looked after homes and gardens. What an amazing day we have spent stepping back in time in beautiful Valldemossa!
By Cas Dollamore
9 September, 2021