While the west coast of Mallorca gets the most attention, and you certainly have to dive off the rocks of Deià after a seafood lunch at least once in your life, the southeast of the island is arguably more beautiful. Avoid the resorts of Cala d’Or and stay inland at Santanyí, a golden stone town that dates back to the 13th century. It’s almost too perfect; every narrow street looks like a meticulous film set, especially when the golden hour casts the sharp shadow of palm trees on the walls of the church of Sant Andreu. The town is as peaceful as it is pretty. About 3,000 people live here, but sometimes you’ll barely see a soul as you walk across the town square.
It’s that tranquillity and visual patina that brought people here to open chic little interior design stores, art galleries and restaurants with walled gardens and citrus trees. There are relatively few places to actually stay, which keeps it uncrowded – there’s the mid-range Hotel Santanyí (hoteletsantanyi.com) on Plaça de la Constitució, and a few cute Air BnBs, including the artfully furnished two-bedroom apartment Can Ponç Parra (airbnb.co.uk/can-ponc-parra). However, last year the hoteliers behind Sant Francesc – one of the most luxe, contemporary hotels in Palma – opened the doors to Can Ferrereta (see below).
They transformed a 17th-century mansion into what might well be the most perfect place to holiday in Europe, from the monochrome interiors and artwork by Joan Miró, to the wine list, seafood croquetas and suckling pig. Despite having just 32 rooms, it’s had more attention than anything else in the Balearics in years. You’d barely know the hotel was there though; it blends perfectly in with the rest of Santanyí. There’s no late-night bar scene, and it seems implausible that the town is on the same island as Magaluf.
Can Ferrereta’s success is likely to be the first tremor in seismic changes – the 16th-century city walls, built to keep out Ottoman invaders, are now as much an invitation to newcomers as anything. Go now, while you don’t have to book a month in advance for tapas.
10 reasons to head for Santanyí this summer
1. It’s really tiny
You can walk from one side of the town to the other in 10 minutes, and you’ll get the lie of the land in an afternoon. From the centre of town to one of the main tourist attractions – the stone horse sculptures of the late artist Rolf Schaffner – it’s nine minutes. Santanyí is the kind of place where everyone knows one another, and people stop to chat while talking their dogs for a walk. The landscape is totally flat, and the narrow lanes give plenty of shade, so it’s never arduous to navigate, even in the harshest heat wave.
2. It’s close to Palma, but not too close
You don’t have to pass through the city to get to Santanyí when you fly in, so you’ll steer clear of traffic jams. But you’re also still just an hour from Palma, the Mallorcan capital, if you want to go shopping, have a squid ink paella at one of the city’s beach clubs, or dinner at El Camino (elcaminopalma.es), the Palma sibling to London’s Barrafina restaurants. Parking in Palma can be the stuff of nightmares, so you could also just take a taxi back and forth – particularly as car rentals have rocketed in price in the last couple of years. But if you do have a car, it gives you the option to explore more beaches, and there is free and plentiful parking in Santanyí.
3. It has the most perfect beach
One of the most incredibly beautiful beaches in the Balearics is Cala Llombards, a six-minute drive or 10-minute bike ride away, down a tiny winding road. There are always plenty of loungers and parasols to hire for the day and a beach bar serving great chips, bocadillos with jamon, and sangria. The beach is set into a rocky cove, with steps carved into each side, leading to stone ledges perfect for diving off, into luminescent blue water. If you were able to design the perfect sandy beach, you couldn’t do better than this. Swim out with the tropical fish into deeper water, to the mural of a single eye carved into the rockface, and then back to shore for a piña colada.
4. It has surprisingly good restaurants
For such a tiny town, there’s a solid week’s worth of dining rooms and their gardens to eat in, fancier than you may expect. Most of the places around the town square are fairly predictable, and fine for a snack and a spritz, but Laudat (restaurantlaudat.com) and Es Cantonet (es-cantonet.net) are both doing inventive things with traditional local ingredients. While the car park and façade of Henry Like’s Pizza (henrylikespizzasantanyi.com) suggests something lacklustre, it’s actually a really pretty al fresco leafy space beyond the gates, with decking and a bright orange Aperol-branded bar for an aperitif. For some of the best traditional tapas on the island, go to Es Molí (00 34 971 65 36 29). Wherever you are, work your way through the local Mallorcan reds – 12 Volts is a particularly good fruit-forward blend of Callet, Fogon, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
5. It has possibly the best hotel in the Balearics
The pool at Can Ferrereta (hotelcanferrereta.com), surrounded by olive trees, is the stuff of dreams. Under 14s are banished from the hotel, so it’s very much a couples place, with people speaking in whispers on plush sunloungers. All is calm and perfect, with attentive service and fantastic food from chef Alvar Albaladejo in Ocre, the hotel’s restaurant. Superb locally caught seafood, grilled meats and lush salted chocolate dessert are served in the courtyard or chic dining room inside. Can Ferrereta’s predominantly black, white, and natural wood interior design mixes rustic restrained minimalism with sleek modern art and furniture and will make you want to redecorate your whole house the minute you get home. Even the smallest “Nest” rooms (from €276/£235 per night including breakfast) are wonderful. Read Telegraph Travel’s full review here.
6. It comes with a pinch of salt
There are good wineries a short drive away, but the most famous local produce is the artisanal fleur de sal from Es Trenc, a gorgeous beach town (popular with nudists as well as families), a 20-minute drive away. It’s definitely worth a visit, but you can also buy all the brightly packaged fancy sea salt you could ever want at Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc at 15 Plaça Major right here. This is great gift shopping: there are myriad flavours, from smoked to saffron, beetroot to orange and chilli, and the circular boxes are as pretty as anything you’d find in a high-end chocolatier. flordesal.com
7. It’s a market town
While Santanyí can seem deserted at times, on Saturdays and Wednesdays it transforms, with a mass of German and British tourists coming to town for the market. Every table at every café is taken, and the Plaça Major and adjoining streets become jammed with people haggling over the price of dubious Gucci accessories. Ignore the unremarkable tat and head to the stalls close to the church for artisanal foodie offerings of olive oils, cheeses, sobrassada and priapic-looking salamis.
8. It has festivals galore
Mallorcans love a festival, and Santanyí has its fair share of quirky annual events, including the Santo Domingo de Guzmán festivities in Es Llombards on August 8, with massive outdoor dinners, dance, and all manner of games and strangeness to celebrate the patron saint of astronomers. Before Domingo has his day, the town is taken over for the last two weeks of July by the Saint Jaume Festival, with live music and fireworks and the “parade of giants” on July 24. On January 17, Santanyí joins in the island-wide festival of Saint Antoni, with animal blessings, bonfires and devil-chasing.
9. You’ll always know what time it is
The bells of Església de Sant Andreu ring on the hour and every half hour, and echo through the streets. The bell tower is also the best way to help navigate your way around town. The church dates back to the 18th century, and was remodelled to accommodate the organ, one of the most impressive and ornate in Europe, built by celebrated instrument maker Jordi Botsch in 1762 for Santo Domingo in Palma. When the church in the city was demolished in 1835, the organ was moved east to Santanyí. It was restored to its original glory in 1999 and is regularly used for concerts by visiting artists. Even if nothing is scheduled, go and take a look – it’s a fantastical object straight out of a Disney movie.
10. It’s a great place for a retreat
Cal Reiet (calreiet.com) is one of the nicest places to stay in Mallorca, a 15-bedroom holistic retreat with yoga programmes, wellness treatments, raw and vegan workshops and a 20-metre swimming pool in the garden. Rooms are from €300 (£256) per night, and it’s worth booking even if you have no intention of eating healthily or meditating while you’re in town (calreiet.com).
Visitors over 12 years old must show valid proof of one of the following: being fully vaccinated; a negative Covid-19 test (either a PCR taken within 72 hours prior to departure, or an antigen test taken within 24 hours prior to departure); or evidence of recovery from Covid-19 in the last six months.
For more ideas on where to stay on the island, see our complete guide to the best hotels in Mallorca.