Mallorca Demystified, Part 4 (Arta and surroundings)

Arta, in the northeast corner of the island, is more off the beaten tourist path and offers great riding as well as a nice town for exploring and dining. Perched atop the center of town is the Santuari de Sant Salvador, a walled fortress built on top of a Moorish enclave. Castle walls surround this area with a small chapel and offer views of the surrounding countryside.The chapel itself is unremarkable, save for the mosaic floors.

Santuari de Sant Savador

We have always had good luck driving to Arta and stashing the car, finding a parking place is not difficult. From there, riding up to the top of the Santuari is an easy pedal as the town’s layout is somewhat radial. The views are excellent, and it’s worth a bit of exploration. To the south side, a large promenade (not really rideable) leads to a nice street with multiple restaurants.

Southwards to Arta center.

If you ride to the west of the Santuary, you can head out along MA-3333 towards the Ermita de Betlem. The road passes a large parking lot at the northwest corner of the Santuary (follow the well-marked parking signs), then bears left. The road will sweep through citrus groves and work its way gently upwards for about 5 kilometers before splitting at the entrance to the Parc National de la Peninsula de Llevant. Go left and start climbing on grades between about 5-8%.

Climbing towards the Ermita de Betlem from Arta

The road is narrow, but does not have the traffic load found on other island roads. After about 3 km, the road crests, with great views to the north. There are some large, blocky rocks here that make a good place to stop for photos.

Ocean views across Badia d’Alcudia from above Ermita de Betlem

A quick, twisty 2 km descent then takes you to the Ermita itself, a tiny chapel in the woods, surrounded by fields and pastures. This is a very quiet place, and is a great stop for a rest. Plus, the road ends here, so it’s not like you’re continuing on. There’s no water here to fill bottles, but there are toilets. Enjoy your visit, then climb back up for the return to Arta.

Descent to Ermita de Betlem

Another beautiful ride, and one that’s much marger than the map implies, is to the northeast of Arta. From the edge of town, you’ll find a soccer field along Carrer de s’Abeurador, which turns into the Ctra. Cami Dels Raco. Keep the field on your right side and head out of town. A pleasant climb takes you through the notch-like Coll de Raco, but this is not the top of the climb by a long shot.

Look like the top. Isn’t.

The road continues generally upward, but with some amazing views to the northeast and across the water. There is a single restaurant out here, Sa Duaia, but don’t arrive too early in the day (like say, 1PM) if you want service. Their patio is wonderful, their service is glacial.  The countryside here is wonderfully open, and compared to the hustle and bustle of Platja de Muro, it provides a nice respite form the crowds.

Nice views, few people
The lure of wide, open spaces

Heading east from Arta along MA-15, there is more traffic, but like most Mallorcan roads, there is enough shoulder. Head about 6 km to Capdepera, where a very cool castle and watchtower await. Once in Capdepera, just keep climbing and look for castle signs. Follow the steep roads and signs, the lower-angle roads lead to a hike-a-bike up a lovely staircase.

Capdepera Hike-a-Bike

Eventually, you will find yourself at the castle gates, where 3 Euros can save you the trouble of storming them. This 14th Century fortress also includes the newer Governor’s residence, which has a cool museum inside. As in, it’s air-conditioned. Stop in and enjoy the displays. Climb to the top of the castle and go inside the watchtower, from here you can clearly see Minorca. On your way back to the gate, follow the guide signs to get an idea of how the entire community could pack themselves into the castle in times of trouble. It’s a fun stop to explore. On our last visit, there was a display of raptors and owls inside one of the rooms. We were amazed at how lifelike the live, somewhat tame birds were. The birds, apparently bored, stood stock still, without blinking, then would suddenly all move in unison, waking the audience out of any lecture-induced stupor.

Once out of Capdepera, heading southwest on MA-4040 opens up several roads back towards Arta. You can basically follow your nose to find any road that takes off to your right and looks interesting.

Although the tourist load in this area is not as heavy as other places, there are some world-class tourist traps. The Dragon Caves in Porto Cristo make the Disney empire look amateur. Not only do you leave through a gift shop, at this place, you start in one as well. The caves themselves are interesting, and an amazing example of Karst topography, but the one-hour tour is not as good as many of the other cave tours on the island. The concert, held deep in the cave and performed by an orchestra on little boats, is pretty cool, but getting everybody seated in the benches, and then getting them out again, takes about twice as long as the performance.

Dragon Caves, where a fool and his money discover a cliche