This past winter, I lost my job in a round of layoffs, in the middle of dealing with a persistent health issue. For the next few months, I alternated between climbing into my laptop’s LinkedIn blackhole and shuffling to doctor visits, both irritable and irritating to be around. Rationally, I knew that I wasn’t in that bad of shape. I had saved an emergency fund, I was thankfully in a career that allowed me to work freelance, and the health issue turned out to be very treatable. Even so, I felt down and out, and embarrassed by my wavering resiliency.
By early spring, things started looking up. I was well again and had a few writing assignments underway. Determined to keep the upward momentum, I decided to check off a trip on my solo travel bucket list—something I had told myself I would do if I ever had a gap in work but had pushed aside for months. My mother and I had visited a friend of hers on Mallorca, Spain, a decade before. At the time, our host was writing a book, and living in a little 18th-century farmhouse in the Sóller Valley. I fell in love with the long hilly walks from village to village, the afternoon organic co-op visits and figs from the garden, painting on the back porch.
The largest of the Balearic Islands, Mallorca sometimes gets looped in with its rowdier sister Ibiza, unsurprisingly so as the capital city of Palma is filled with sun-seeking, beer-drinking revelers come half term breaks and bank holidays in England. The northwest coast though, along the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, is exactly the opposite: Tiny stone villages, some only accessible by foot, have maintained a quiet pace of life that attracts artists (Chopin and Miro both called Mallorca home), families, and athletic sorts hoping to hike or bike the surrounding peaks.
This time, I knew I wanted to hike from town to town, so I reached out to On Foot Holidays, a British charter that equips intrepid and outdoorsy tourists for self-guided walking and hiking trips of various difficulties. I spoke with a handful of women at the company who provided me with maps, a GPS app just in case I got lost, and route notes, from Valldemossa, to Deià, to Sóller, and around a looping path of small villages called the Biniaraix Circuit. I plotted a few fincas (country cottages) to stay at along the way, and set out with a backpack.
Taking in the valley dusk and settling my nerves. It's the first night of the trip and the day before my big hike along the Archdukes Path.
Green shutters and bright sky in Valldemossa the next morning; clouds in the mountains above. I had been warned by On Foot Holidays that clouds on the ridge line would make for a nervy, dreary hike. At this point, I toyed with skipping the big hike and spending the morning here.
I knew this was my one day to complete the trek and I love dramatic weather so I (perhaps foolishly) set out anyway. Save for spotting the occasional hiker, I was alone for a cold, blustering, beautiful trudge through the clouds—and it was fantastic.
Clouds finally part to give me a little glimpse of the Deià Valley below.
Finding my way towards town after a long, winding path down the mountainside with grazing goats.
After lunch in Deià and another walk, I arrived in Sóller in time to rest in the shade of the town’s church, ice cream in hand, just as the bells above started ringing.
Sóller is the biggest town on the journey, and the one I had visited nearly a decade ago. After a big sleep, I set out to visit the haunts of that past trip: an organic co-op on the outskirts of town, a linoleum-floored coffee bar, a short hike up to the postage-stamp sized village of Fornalutx.
My legs are crying, “There's your mode of transportation for the next solo soul-search, please!”
Shade break on the way to Biniaraix. Local almonds and citrus under the trees.
Back in Sóller for siesta time, which turns out to be a quiet respite for non-nappers too. The curving cobblestone streets are emptied and free for unhurried walks.
Determined to stop and smell every last rose.
I found little bottles of sea salt and vinegar, and packets of almonds here to bring home.
The residents of these little hilly towns are mostly aging. Like many Mediterranean towns, younger populations have moved to larger cities, and the streets are instead filled with ambling older generations, holding court at the bus stop.
Scene from my second gelato stop of the day. A fierce battle for the ball. Afternoon sun. The next batch of painted postcards dispatched.
An easy walk down to the port for a dip revived my legs on my last morning and made my wonder why I hadn’t planned a seaside week to follow. Maybe the next solo trip will be swimming around the Balearic Islands instead of trekking through them.