“Las Islas Baleares“ in Spanish (Illes Balears in Catalan) are a group of islands in the western Mediterranean Sea, each of which was ruled by the Vandals, then the Byzantines and Moors, before falling under the Crown of Aragon. Then each had a different story.
The four main islands are:
- Majorca or Mallorca. The name is derived from the Latin “insula maior” (larger island). The capital, Palma, is also the capital of the autonomy. La Serra de Tramuntana in Catalan (“La Sierra Tramontana” in Spanish) is a protected mountain range, due to its ability to sustain life despite its inhospitable environment, forming the island’s backbone.
- Minorca or Menorca. From the Latin “insula minor” (small island), it is rich in wild flowers with more than 900 species and bird-life including Bee-eaters and the Egyptian vulture. The main towns are Port Mahon and Ciutadella de Menorca, where you can find stash windows common in the UK on many buildings, due to the island being under British occupation twice in its history.
- Ibiza comes from the Phoenician language (יִבּוֹסִים “Yibosim”) and in Catalan is: Eivissa. Apart from the trend setting nightlife in the towns of in Ibiza town and Sant Antoni, the island offers such wonders as “God’s Finger” in the Benirràs Bay and ruins from the first settlement in 650BC.
- Formentera is the smallest of the islands. The name derives from the Latin frumentarium (“granary”). To get to its unsoiled beaches and relaxing towns, you have to take the ferry from neighboring Ibiza.
The Balearic people generally identify themselves by their island [“Mallorquín(es)”, “Menorquín(es)”, “Ibicenco(s)”, & “Formenterense(s)”] rather than as a group. Many speak a version of Catalan with the same island based name as well as Spanish (“Castellano”). The weather, water temperature and nightlife, are the main drawing points for visitors during the spring and summer seasons, meaning you’ll hear a blend of English, German, Dutch, Italian and French, when out and about.
Seafood makes up a big portion of the diet on all of the islands. The lobster stew of Menorca is good enough to draw the King of Spain for repeated visits. La sobrasada malloquina is a pork based spread for toast that typical of Majorca. The word “mayonesa” (mayonnaise) is said to derive from the Menorcan city of Maó, which also produces its own cheese. La ensaimada, meanwhile, is just one of the pastries that are so good that people buy them by the boxes before they leave. It’s even rumored Ryan Air has added a 20€ fee as a result.
Here’s a promotional video for Formentera, which has a reputation for being the most relaxed island. It’s still Spain. You aren’t getting home before sunrise if you go out on the town.