Mallorcan monasteries and castles are secreted away within forests and sprawl around summits, so the monks could be closer to heaven, and the attention of smugglers, pirates and invaders could be avoided. These Mallorcan monasteries and mountaintop retreats offer peace, tranquillity, and a rustic room with a view.
Mallorcan Monasteries and Mountaintop Retreats
While the peak European summer period officially ends with August, the holiday season continues until the close of September, when the sun beds and umbrellas are finally packed away. However, European summer time doesn’t finish until the end of October, so there’s still plenty of light for other activities, especially on Mallorca.
Autumn (Fall, for our American readers) is a fantastic time for walking, hiking, birdwatching, cycling, or simply soaking up some sublime views. Whether you’re on foot, bike or by car, these Mallorcan monasteries and one castle-sanctuary are special spots to visit for their history and handsome architecture as much as their spectacular locations.
They also offer some memorable accommodation and note that you don’t have to be religious to stay.
Mallorcan Monasteries and Mountaintop Retreats – Our Picks
These days, most Mallorcan monasteries are bereft of monks – many have left the religious orders and the monasteries have had difficulty recruiting. However, most monasteries still continue the tradition of offering hospitality to travellers and pilgrims. While it’s no longer possible to stay at La Reial Cartoixa, the former Carthusian monastery where Sand and Chopin stayed, there are other Mallorcan monasteries you can experience.
A warning: while some are as comfortable as good hotels, at others accommodation is simple, facilities basic, and there’s no mini-bar, turndown service or air-conditioning/heating. On the plus side: they’re quiet, they’re nearly always surrounded by tranquil gardens or at the very least offer peaceful courtyards, and prices are low.
Monestir de Lluc
A centre of pilgrimage since the 13th century, the Augustinian Monestir de Lluc, above, is nestled in the foothills of the fragrant Serra de Tramuntana mountains. It was established after an Arab shepherd boy called Lluch, newly converted to Christianity, discovered a dark wooden statue of the Virgin in the pine forest. Local villagers built a chapel to house it.
Today, the chapel is just one part of a colossal ensemble of pink-tinged stone buildings, including 100 monks’ cells, now used to accommodate guests. Visitors are predominantly cyclists, hikers and birdwatchers, or travellers staying overnight on a Tramuntana road trip.
This is definitely one of the more developed and more comfortable of Mallorcan monasteries, with rooms furnished with antique beds, good bathrooms and heating. There’s also a café and not one, but three restaurant-bars (try the local goat if it’s on the menu), although the loudest sounds you’ll hear are the hymns being sung by the famous blue-cassocked Els Blavet choristers.
Hospederia Santuario de Cura de Randa
The magnificent mountain of Puig de Randa rises abruptly out of the olive groves and fruit orchards of the central plain. At its summit is the first Mallorcan monastery and hermitage, the beautiful Santuari de Cura de Randa.
Established by a 13th-century mystic and scholar to atone for a life of excess, Ramón Llull spent ten years here in isolation, penning treatises. Today, the handsome building with its arcades and olive groves is popular with weekend cyclists as much as pilgrims and travellers.
There’s little to do, however, people seem happy explore the courtyard gardens, dining on traditional dishes at its excellent restaurant (the suckling pig is recommended) or sipping something beneath the cloisters while savouring the sweeping vistas that stretch across most of the island.
Santuari del Puig de Maria
Another of the Mallorcan monasteries that offers a special experience for the adventurous traveller is situated on Puig Maria (Mary’s Mountain), 330 metres above sea level, overlooking the atmospheric town of Pollença and Pollença Bay beyond.
This monastery is not as comfortable as the others, and requires a bit of hard work to get here. It’s an hour’s uphill trek to the peaceful 14th-century stone sanctuary, built as a plea for protection from the Black Plague.
Call ahead to book an overnight stay in one of the 12 monk’s cells. While there are hot showers, accommodation is Spartan, and signs in the corridors remind you to respect the need for silence.
Take food and drink. If you forget, the caretaker might rustle up a tortilla and a glass of local vino to save you the hike back into town for dinner.
Bookings: Tel 971 184 132
Castell d’Alaró and Hostal Nostra Senyora del Refugio
Even more isolated is the lofty sanctuary of Nostra Senyora del Refugio, which is now part of the Castell d’Alarao complex. To get there, you have to drive up a 5km pot-holed donkey track then do a one hour 40 minute hike up a vertiginous, stony 7.4km path. Don’t be surprised if you pass someone dragging a donkey up the track. The sign-posted path is part of the Ruta de Piedra en Seco GR-221 group of hiking trails.
Once impregnable, the ruins of the Castell d’Alaró date back to at least 902AD, when they’re mentioned in Arab chronicles documenting the Muslim Saracen invasion of the island. The castle was abandoned in the 15th-century as a military outpost, however, the site was used as a place of worship and sanctuary after a chapel, Oratory of Mare de Deu del Refugi d’Alaró, was built in 1622. There are still archaeological ruins for you to scramble and photograph.
The site is now home to the Castell d’Alaró guesthouse (dorm rooms with 30 bunks only, no showers), rustic restaurant and bar offering spectacular panoramic views across the island. While accommodation is austere – it can get cold at night – the rewards are peace and tranquillity, and breathtaking views of the mountains, fertile plains, below, and the sparkling sea in the distance.