GR221 Bimbling through the mountains of Mallorca

A high-level traverse of the dramatic Serra de Tramuntana mountains in Mallorca, from south to north in May 2013, by 5 club members and 1 guest, (3 single men and 3 married women) – what could possibly go wrong?

The Serra de Tramuntana lie along the northern coast of Mallorca; the highest point, Puig Major, reaching 1436m with many peaks over 1000m. Being limestone, the mountains provide excellent walking and scrambling, the going being consistently hard and rough, with almost no loose rock.

The GR221 starts in the south at Port d’Andratx and finishes on Puig de Maria above Pollenca in the north. The central and northern sections are generally well marked and used but the southern section is not as reliable. The lack of accommodation between Port d’Andratx and Estellencs encouraged us to omit that section; it was a wise decision. The route makes use of some excellent paths and tracks established for the ancient industries of charcoal burning and ice-making, but many sections are pathless through some rough and thorny areas, requiring good navigational skills.

There are many guidebooks in several languages for the GR221, but most omit to mention that it is a work in progress. The Mallorcan system seems to be to establish the route, mark it on maps, and produce guidebooks before getting all the landowner’s agreement. Bearing in mind most of the GR221 passes through private land used for hunting, and the intractable nature of the Mallorcan landowner, the result is dry-stone walls built across the route in places, complete with threatening notices, which everyone ignores.

Our party split into two on the first day, on leaving our palatial base at the Hotel Maristel, Estellencs. Some in our group were keen on achieving as many Puigs (tops) as possible, so the Puigers took the high level option over Serra des Puntals, while the low-level group took the GR221 to Banyalbufar. Our base there was Hotel Mar I Vent, where the terrace and pool gave an impression of opulence not quite matched by the kitchen and restaurant.

The next day was exceptional as our group stayed together the whole way, through Esporles to Valldemossa. For months before the trip the lines were humming with 1000+ emails to ensure that we got the cheapest possible flights and places to stay. Our planning included a “street-view” search on Google-Earth to ensure we got the correct addresses for the booked accommodation. That did not work at Valdemossa, where we arrived at a block of flats near the centre, but a short bus-ride put us right on track to the Hotel Apartments el Encinar, where the kitchen could not get everything right in spite of only 3 out of the 50 tables being occupied.

After morning coffee in Valdemossa the next day we set off as 2 groups, briefly re-united at Deia at lunchtime, then arrived at the Citric Hotel, Port de Soller as 3 groups coming from 3 different directions. The Puiger group took in Puig Gros and Puig de Vent before dropping down to Soller, while the non-Puiging A-team stuck to the GR221 route direct to Port de Soller. The B-team arrived after a cheap but crowded bus ride from Deia.

The climb out of Valldemossa through forest emerges onto a rocky ridge leading to the summit of es Caragoli 945m. When returning from the summit to the GR221 look out for the path as it drops northwards off the ridge into the forest; it is not well marked, so is easy to miss.

Our rest-day at Port de Soller was utilised in many ways. One intrepid team set out on a 2-hour walk to Cala Tuent which turned out to be a 6-hour walk. They arrived just in time to make the return by a boat loaded to capacity. Others took a more traditional attitude to a rest-day, the train to Soller being very useful.

On our walk out of old town Soller we passed through the olive and citrus groves of Binibassi and Biniaraix before the thousands of stone steps which climb in endless zig-zags to the Col I’Ofre. There were shady Holm Oak groves on the lower slopes with many dark-coated  Mallorcan goats. The Puiging group was in form, taking in Puig de l’Ofre, na Franquesa and sa Retata en route to the refuge at Tossals Verds.  Others followed the GR221 around the reservoir Ebassement de Cuber, dropping to the refuge from the north. The refuge is served by a track, so has everything the walker needs. (ie, beer, food, wine and bunks).

Sanctuari de Lluc was our destination next day, being originally a Carthusian Monastery, but is now run more like a conference centre, with very good visitor accommodation and restaurant facilities.

The final day of the walk took us over Tomir (1104m), first climbing through Beech forest, then over barren mountainside, to Puig de Ca then dropping down towards Pollenca. The compact mediaeval town is invisible until rounding the hill guarding its western edge, but it was a welcome sight; our haven for the night, the Hotel Juma in the Placa Major, where friendly staff made us very welcome.

Every trip opens new delights, and this was no exception. Apart from the magnificent mountain scenery with its Mediterranean blue backdrop we learned new skills. Magician’s tricks come in useful when making sandwiches at the breakfast table and secreting them away in an innocent-looking bag or other receptacle (in one case, a hat). We learned from our Brittanique friend the dire consequences of not looking directly into the other person’s eyes when toasting each other over the dinner table; a disconcerting thought for those who have for many years innocently clinked glasses across the table.

What did go wrong? Not much: a few lost items; those in trail shoes suffered on the testing terrain whereas those in boots did not; mountaineering boots are essential to cope with some  monumental foot-bashing descents. The Puiger’s trip achieved 9071m of ascent and 22 Puig summits along the way. The whole trip had continuous Mediterranean sunshine with a couple of drops of rain one morning.

Gillian (what’s the Wi-Fi code?)Travis,

Susan (another Puig mountain and Puig top to do!) Melia,

Maryannig (let’s all go to the beach for a swim!) Horsfall,

Dennis (Leki pole to “thwack” Andrew when he snores) Chapman,

Andrew (five-course breakfast on a lightweight day) Dyson,

John (hard man…last seen on a sun-lounger in FBI sunglasses) Anderson.

May 2nd to 11th2013.

From above Valldemossa

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