Thursday, 10 January 2013

Mallorca Day 2, Serra de Tramuntana

The plan for our second day in Mallorca was to go for a hike in the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range. I had been looking forward to this day since I received my email invite. My enthusiasm meant I had no trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I am certainly not a morning person unless I know I'm going to climb a mountain. Even before my alarm went off I was showered, packed and eating breakfast. I sat with Jytte at a breakfast table on the Passeig de la Platja outside the Hotel Marina soaking up the beautiful scene across Repic Beach and Port de Soller.

Repic Beach, Port de Soller, Mallorca

Jytte is a journalist from Denmark, a fellow invitee and staying at the same hotel. Jytte has written many travel guide books in Danish including one for Mallorca. As we sat eating our tasty continental breakfast a huge murmuration of Starlings gave us one of their famous acrobatic displays across the bay. It is something I had never seen before on such a large scale, I always imagined the first time I saw this would be over a wild moorland or cold beach in Britain not a warm Mediterranean scene like this.

Passeig de la Platja, Port de Soller

The mini bus picked us up from the Hotel Marina. The others had already been picked up so we made our way to the start of our hike. The minibus drove up the steep winding Ma-10 road towards Mirador de ses Barques. The scenery out of the window was incredible. If I'd been driving myself it would have taken hours as there were photo opportunities on every bend. Looking down towards Fornalutx on the right was mesmerising. Mountain sides covered in literally thousands of olive terraces and orange orchards. At the road's highest point we passed through a tunnel under the Sierra de Son Torrella, the long south western ridge of Puig Major, Mallorca's highest mountain.

Donkeys by GR221 sign near Font des Noguer, Mallorca 

After the tunnel we rounded a hair pin bend by the military base and a few minutes later reached the parking area near Font des Nogeur above the Embassament de Cuber reservoir. As the minibus door was opened we were all shocked at how cold it was. I immediately reached for my rucksack so I could put on my wind shirt. It must have been at least ten degrees colder than it was just half an hour earlier at Port de Soller. Winter snowfalls in the Serra de Tramuntana are not as uncommon as you would think. Last winter they had over a foot of snow in one week that caused the cancellation of the famous Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana road cycle race. From the parking area we had a great view up to the summit of Puig Major. Most fascinating to us though was the presence of so many friendly wild donkeys. The tourist board had invited Balearic TV to come along and film us at the start of our hike.  A few of us gave short interviews then we set off along the GR221.

Ammonite Fossils near Embassament de Cuber, Mallorca

We followed the GR221 route rounding the north eastern tip of the Embassament de Cuber reservoir. Our walking guide for the day was Lluis Rullan Oliver. Lluis is president of the Hotel Association Soller. His passion for hiking in the Serra de Tramuntana and Soller was obvious throughout the entire day. His local knowledge and enthusiasm made the hike an even greater experience. One of the first things Lluis pointed out to us was a chunk of limestone rock by the side of the path containaing  ammonite fossils.

GR221 route at Embassament de Cuber, Mallorca

As we walked along the northern shore of the Embassament de Cuber reservoir there was the constant gentle ringing of sheep bells that added to the already deeply relaxing atmosphere. By the side of the reservoir I got my first sight of the dry stone walling. Mallorca is famous for its centuries old dry stone walls, built in the same way that our dry stone walls are in Britain.

Dry stone wall under Puig Major, Mallorca

We continued along the GR221 route along the north side of the Embassament de Cuber reservoir until we reached its far south western tip. Here there was a small unmanned refuge on the other side.

Embassament de Cuber reservoir, Mallorca

After the reservoir we stayed on the GR221 route and followed it through the valley of the Torrent de Binimorat. The path snaked its way through a very dry desert like area of with lots of cacti and other spiky plants.

GR221 route with Puig Major in background, Mallorca

The path entered a dry forest then ascended out of its far end to reach the mountain pass known as Col de l'Ofre. I spotted a rather scary looking long black beetle on the forest floor. I bent down to take a look and as I did it raised its back in a defensive stance that told me it didn't want picking up so I took his advice and left him alone.

GR221 route in forest approaching Col de l'Ofre, Mallorca

As you will see from the photo below, the view north east from Col de l'Ofre over Embassament de Cuber towards the highest of the Serra de Tramuntana was fantastic. There was a cairn of rocks, sign posts and a weather vane.

Col de l'Ofre, Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca
At Col de l'Ofre we stopped to eat and drink. I couldn't resist the urge to scramble over some of the surrounding grippy rocks. There were some impressive boulders and between them plants like I had never seen before. The one below with huge patterned leaves really caught my eye. I looked it up when I got home and found that it is known as an Arum Pictum.

Arum Pictum, Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca
Lluis walked us down to a view point just a hundred metres north west from Col de l'Ofre between two small rocky ridges. The view point gave us a stunning panoramic view over Soller to Port de Soller on the coast. After Col de l'Ofre we headed south east along a track rounding Puig de l'Ofre to reach another view point. This view point is known as Coll d'en Poma. The view from Coll d'en Poma is one I'll never forget. The view south east is to the unique peaks of Puig de s'Alcadena and Puig d'Alaro. Their tall fragile walls make them extremely inaccessible. Lluis told us fascinating stories of how centuries ago humans took advantage of their inaccessibility. There is an old castle on one of the summits and once a self sufficient community. It really was a stunning view, like a fictional movie landscape from Jurassic Park.

Puig de s'Alcadena and Puig d'Alaro from Coll d'en Poma, Mallorca
Early in the day Lluis had been pointing out and naming the surrounding mountains for me. I told him that although our planned walk looked good on the map I had secretly hoped to have summited one of the peaks. Knowing this Lluis offered to take a detour with me to the summit of Puig de l'Ofre the 1093m high mountain we were conveniently at the foot of. We mentioned this option to the rest of the group and I was delighted to see that I wasn't the only one up for it. Felicity, Claudia, Jytte and Ralf were all up for the ascent. We said goodbye to the rest of the group and started the ascent path up Puig de l'Ofre. I was rather excited by the prospect of an airy summit looking out over these stunning surroundings.

Cornador Gran and Cornador Petit above pines on Puig de l'Ofre

The ascent path was surprisingly difficult at times with a few short scrambles in places. The views were opening up as we got higher and the wind picked up, which helped clear away the haze. The slopes of Puig de l'Ofre are blanketed in a beautiful fragrant pine forest. After a short and steep ascent through the forest we finally reached a flat area just below the summit. I stopped to take photos of the view to Puig Major and the ariel view of our route along the Embassament de Cuber reservoir.

Puig Major from Puig de l'Ofre, Mallorca

Ariel view of our hike route, Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca

The wind was now very strong and it did put a few people off walking to the summit. Being used to the noise of wind in my ears on high mountain tops, I continued the short ascent to the summit. The summit was airy and had just a small cairn of loose stones. The wind was very strong but also warm and extremely invigorating.

Cornador Gran from the summit of Puig de l'Ofre, Mallorca

Lluis and Ralf on Puig de l'Ofre summit, Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca

At the summit Lluis pointed out the entire route we had taken so far. He also explained the order of the mountains height wise in Mallorca and how they are ranked and measured. He explained that Puig de l'Ofre is the fourth highest in Mallorca as some of the higher mountains I could see around us were actually satellite peaks of their connecting high neighbours.

Puig des Tossals Verds, Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca

Myself on Puig de l'Ofre summit, Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca
We descended from Puig de l'Ofre down the same tricky path through the fragrant forest. We could now enjoy the views over the forest towards Puig de s'Alcadena and Puig d'Alaro which were to our backs on the ascent. The view to the right to the dome of Cornador Petit also caught my eye.

Puig de s'Alcadena from Puig de l'Ofre, Mallorca

Cornador Petit from Puig de l'Ofre, Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca

After a while we rejoined the track from earlier at Coll d'en Poma and headed back to Col de l'Ofre. At Col de l'Ofre we followed the GR221 route on a lovely descent through a wooded canyon. There was a huge mushroom on the side of the path in the woods, it was by far the biggest I have ever seen, several inches in diameter.

Huge mushroom near l'Ofre, Mallorca

This path eventually reached an area of farmland at l'Ofre. From the side of the terraced fields there was a great view looking back up to Puig de l'Ofre. I looked up at it with a smile knowing I had stood on its airy pointed summit.

Puig de l'Ofre from l'Ofre, Mallorca
When I looked at our route on the map earlier in the day I spotted the valley marked on the map as Barranc de Biniaraix. On the map this looks like a simple short mountain valley. At l'Ofre we got our first glimpse down through the Barranc de Biniaraix and I was absolutely in awe. It is a huge canyon that you have to see to believe, no photo can really give a true perspective.

GR221 signs, Barranc de Biniaraix, Mallorca

Barranc de Biniaraix, Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca

In winter months when the rivers are fast moving the Barranc de Biniaraix has some excellent canyoning routes and is very popular with visiting outdoor enthusiasts. As we descended into the canyon the path turned into an incredibly well laid and engineered dry stone path. As we got further into the canyon we could see its opening which gave an equally awesome out over Biniaraix to Soller.

Soller from the Barranc de Biniaraix, Mallorca

GR221 dry stone path in Barranc de Biniaraix, Mallorca

As we descended through the canyon along the dry stone path the canyon seemed to get bigger and more imposing. The overhanging cliffs above us had the kind of colours you only see in rocks at a shoreline.

Colourful cliffs in Barranc de Biniaraix, Mallorca

The plan for lunch was that we would be eating at a small mountain refuge near Can Stilles. We followed the dry stone path as it zig zagged down towards the canyon floor. It was zig zagging round the hundreds if not thousands of olive terraces that clung to the sides of the lower half of the canyon. There were so many that it was hard to believe our eyes. The thing that struck us most was when we got up close to the terraces and realised that every single one of them was completely man made using the dry stone technique. We passed a few people who were repairing one of the walls. We later learned that these people were tourists who had taken a dry stone walling courses they offer on the island, designed to educate people on the centuries old techniques. When we eventually arrived at the refuge the locals and the guides explained to us the importance of the olive exports. The local community existed purely from export of its local produces.

Olive terraces, Barranc de Biniaraix, Mallorca

As the refuge came into view we spotted the others we had left earlier waving their arms to us from the canyon floor, so waved back. They were absolute stars and waited for us before they ate. The refuge was a lovely old stone built building. The locals turned up a few minutes after arrival and with them to our surprise and delight, donkeys carrying all the supplies for our meal.

Donkeys carrying food, Can Stilles, Mallorca 

I immediately sat down and took off my boots. My feet were quite sore after the lengthy dry stone path descent. Lluis handed me a cold beer which went down very well. We shared experiences with the others as we joined them at the table which was being slowly filled with delicious looking Mallorcan cuisine, fresh breads and wine.

Mallorcan cuisine, Can Stilles, Mallorca

After the meal we said goodbye to our excellent hosts and made our way through the next section of the canyon. You could tell that in winter months a fairly substantial river runs through this narrow section of the canyon. The path continues through the narrowing canyon which narrows to just a dozen metres wide in places, crossing the dried up river bed ever now and then. When the canyon starts to widen again there are yet more of the impressive olive terraces.

Dry stone olive terraces, Biniaraix, Mallorca

The path became a track and and an easy stroll got us to the edge of Biniaraix. The villages around Soller are absolutely stunning and Biniariax was no exception. The buildings were all stone built with red tile roofs. Narrow streets, stunning architecture and relaxed friendly locals typical of every village we visited around Soller.

Soller from Biniaraix, Mallorca

Wash house at Biniaraix

At Biniaraix our minibus picked us up and took us back to our hotels for an hours rest. The bus would be coming to pick us up in an hour to take us out to Magaluf where we would be shown a multi million pound sports complex and meet and dine with the head of the areas tourism department. There will be details of that evening in the final trip report which will include our visit to the watersports mecca of Colonia de Sant Jordi.

3 comments:

  1. That's a great bit of mountain range right there. Remember some of those exact paces so well, though much of our trip was rained/snowed and tummy bugged off! Cheers for bringing back happy memories

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  2. Spectacular looking landscape and sounds like a great day out! Not somewhere I've ever been, yet another one to add to the list....

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  3. Brings back some great memories. Now longing to go back.....

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