We may be embarking on a romantic break in Mallorca, but apparently that doesn’t mean we can’t have a colossal ding-dong on the way to Gatwick airport (but then, we’re the kind of couple who use ‘I hate you’ as a term of endearment). Let’s hope our boutique hotel in Sóller is all it’s cracked up to be, or it could be a very long weekend. I’m already quite hopeful, though: a brief exchange of emails with Tania at L’Avenida hotel means we’re armed with restaurant reservations, massage appointments and a suggested itinerary for our stay. So at least we’ll have fewer things to argue about once we get there.
At 35,000 feet, this Mrs Smith is still sulking, but Mr Smith passes me a Bloody Mary and, by the time the plane is banking over the lush Tramuntana hills and sunny shores of our Balearic-island getaway, incandescent rage is replaced by a happy glow. We’re picked up from Palma airport by Tania’s husband Paul, and his people carrier heads to Mallorca’s sophisticated northwest coast. Maybe it’s because I’m in holiday mood, but the smell in the car makes me think of gin-clear seas and fresh outdoors air. He confesses he’s just spritzed (‘I’ve just spritzed!’), with a blend of juniper berry, black pepper and mandarin oils – made specially for the hotel and used to scent the bedlinen at turn-down time. I think I love L’Avenida already.
Paul chats affably on the 30-minute drive from the airport, describing the landscape as we pass through the tunnel that has only recently made Sóller accessible by road (unless you’re a cycling enthusiast, in which case you have a climb of thigh-burning intensity to contend with). In February, fallen almond blossom carpets the valley in white ‘Mallorquin snow’; soon, spring flowers will reach up to meet branches weighed down by ripe citrus fruits in the orchards. It’s April, and the weather’s beautiful.
We pull up outside a plate-glass door on a flagstone street just beyond Sóller’s pretty town square, where alfresco tables are full of bikers, hikers and shoppers enjoying the late-afternoon sun. Within moments, we’re checked in, bags whisked out of our hands and replaced with chilled face towels and ice-cold drinks – I have champagne; Mr has beer.
Relaxation is clearly the most important thing on the menu at L’Avenida (with tasty tapas and fine wines coming a close second). As we sip our drinks on the balcony overlooking the riad-reminiscent courtyard and proper-swim-sized pool, it’s clear just how much elbow grease has gone into making guests completely oblivious of all the hard work involved; Paul and Tania have done an incredible job of transforming this turn-of-the-century townhouse into a polished modern retreat. The lounge bar has cowhide chairs, leather sofas with laser-cut felt cushions and faux-fur throws you can sink your fingers into; the marble staircase is dressed with decadent lighting, and original plasterwork is picked out in a stylish palette of dove greys. Mr Smith reminds me to tell you that there are also some pouffes that look like albino hedgehogs. Do with that what you will.
The sun’s setting, which means Agapanto – a restaurant down in Port de Sóller – will be expecting us. Although we’re only in our hotel room long enough for a quick day-to-night spruce-up, it’s enough to make me consider going to bed at 7pm: at L’Avenida, the phrase 'room with a view' has impressive clout. There can't be many better ways to enjoy a painterly scene of sun-grazed roof tiles, mountains and orange blossom than from between crisp sheets, head propped against a padded leather headboard. Buttery light pours through wooden-shuttered French windows, the bed’s big enough to lose your partner in (not to mention ‘spritzed’ with that divine juniper scent), and a black glass chandelier swings suggestively from the high ceiling. If only we weren’t so famished…
It’s a bit late to catch the wooden tram that runs between Sóller and the port, so Tania calls a cab. Five minutes later, we’re on Agapanto’s terrace. Mr Smith has the most delicious beef tartar topped with caviar and sour cream – my fork keeps snaking over to steal some. A jazz trio trills in the background, and with stars twinkling, sea lapping, and distant boats bobbing, it’s so romantic even the torchlight seems brighter. ‘Um, is that actually on fire?’ asks Mr Smith, interrupting my reverie and pointing to flames creeping down the torch stake. ‘Shouldn’t we do something?’ Since no one else leaps up to dowse the inferno, and we’re way too relaxed to do anything as energetic as fire-fighting, it’s left to one of the waiters to put on a pleasingly comical show of flinging the torch onto the beach and kicking sand at it.
We head home to L’Avenida, but due to a delectable menu of digestifs and soft soundtrack of Balearic beats, we end up burning the midnight oil in the cosy bar instead of fanning flames of passion in our boudoir. In the morning, we wobble down to breakfast with fuzzy heads. A sterling spread of fruit, cheese, charcuterie and pastries cheers our hearts and fills our bellies, and off we go exploring. Tania suggests a gentle walk to Fornalutx, the next village, so we strike out through Sóller, peeking into Sant Bartomeu church, passing market stalls selling local produce and browsing boutiques on Carrer de san Lluna. Hand-painted signs point in various directions, but ‘we’ left the map behind, and after an hour of climbing – through olive groves, past stone cottages, trees laden with lemons and a cuddly donkey – we begin to realise the folly of setting off with hangovers and flip-flops, but without water or sun block. Even the professional walkers with their clever knapsacks and special socks have given up.
Weary and on the brink of a bicker, we debate the merits of turning back (we know the way) versus carrying on (possibility of ice-cream). Now we’ve stopped to look, the views across the citrus farms of Biniaraix are remarkable; distant Sóller sits in the dip of the valley like crystallised ginger in a green saucer and, at the foot of the opposite hill, there is Fornalutx. ‘I hate you,’ pants Mr Smith. ‘I hate you too,’ I wheeze back. We reckon Scott of the Antarctic wouldn’t have got within 500 yards of the pole and then said, ‘Bugger this, I’m tired and a bit cold, I’m going home for a cup of tea.’ So we do a final push and, around the next bend, find the path that leads to Fornalutx, where we repair to the tiny town square for some well-earned lemonades. Thank goodness Tania has us booked in for pampering treatments in our lovely room at L’Avenida – now the only thing left to argue about is who gets their feet massaged first…