The Balearic Islands form an archipelago in the Mediterranean, opposite the Gulf of Valencia on the east coast of Spain. They consist of four islands and a scattering of uninhabited isles which together form a province of which Palma de Mallorca is the capital. The highest point of the islands is Puig Major on Mallorca, which reaches 1,600 metres. Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza have airports, all with regular service. There are ferry services between the islands and also from Barcelona, Alicante and Valencia.
There is an abundance of vegetation throughout with carpets of flowers in spring and early summer. Pine trees offer shade along the coast, oak and juniper trees on the higher slopes. On lower slopes and plains almonds, figs and olive trees are cultivated. On all three of the larger islands, the uplands of the interior offer an attractive contrast to the lively animation of the coast.
The first settlers reached here in 5000 BC drawn by the advantageous position, the fertile soil and the beauty of the land. Between 1500 and 1000 BC, the Talaiots Civilisation emerged – the name is derived from the stone, tower-shaped constructions, thought to be dwellings, that are found all around Menorca. These people were civilised navigators from eastern Mediterranean lands. Later settlers were Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and in 121 BC the islands were conquered by Romans, followed by Vandals in 426 AD and Arabs in 848. From 1708 to 1802 the islands were ruled by Britain.
During the time the islands were annexed to the powerful Cordoba Emirate, the current day architecture and place names were influenced. The small white houses seen everywhere descend from this Andalucian style.
Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands with an area of 3,500 square kilometres. It measures 75 kilometres from north to south and 100 kilometres from east to west. It is an island of ruggedly picturesque beauty. A mountain range runs along the coast facing northeast and rises to 1,400 metres in places. Elsewhere lower ranges and hills slope down to the sea, with many stretches of fertile land. The coastline is indented with sheltered sun-drenched, sandy bays and the climate is consistently benign.
Palma is the capital of the island and the province, situated in a large bay in the southwest, it has an antique port and gothic cathedral begun in the 1306 and finished in 1601. The interior of the cathedral has one of the widest naves (55 metres) in the world and was reconstructed at the beginning of the 20th century by Antoni Gaudi. In all, Palma is a beautiful city with narrow streets and spectacular buildings.
Menorca measures just under 50 by 20 kilometres. It is a green island furthest from the mainland with a gently rolling plateau, only 350 metres at the highest point. The northern coastline is formed of cliffs, with good beaches around the other shores. Mahon, the capital, lies on the southeastern coast at the end of a long, deep bay.
Menorca is rich in pre-historical settlements and historical sites, such as at Mahon and Ciudadela.
Ibiza has an area of 880 square kilometres. The scenery, particularly on the northern side of the island, is luxuriant with pine forests contrasting with fig, olive and palm trees. Windmills and water wheels bring irrigation to fields that rarely see a rainy day. Near to the town of San Josep there are salt lakes that are now a sanctuary for flamingoes and other birds. For many centuries the salt was a principal resource of the islands and vast quantities were exported to Spain and other parts of Europe. The resorts of Ibiza have become a paradise for young people looking for fun with plenty of large pubs and clubs open until dawn.
Formentera is the smallest of the Balearics and the wildest and least inhabited. It is completely flat, except for the headland where an 18th-century lighthouse stands. Little coves and deserted beaches, such as Illetas, Llevant and Mitjorn can be admired from the small plateau of La Mola. San Francisco is the main town and Sa Savina a small fishing harbour.