Minorca - overview

Minorca - overview

The Island

Minorca is 30 miles long by 10 miles wide. For the most part the landscape consists of gently rolling hills with a sparse cover of vegetation. The northern coast is very rugged whereas the southern coast tends to be flatter with large expanses of sandy beach. The coastline is 125 miles long so that the sea is always part of the landscape. There are no mountains as such; the highest point on the island is Monte Toro (1,100 ft) on the summit of which is a shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin - the patroness of the island - and from which there is a splendid view of the island.

The agriculture of the island is poor though the cultivated areas are most assiduously tilled. The main crops are wheat, barley and vegetables. There is a fairly thriving dairy industry with manufacture of milk products and leather as a by-product.

The surface relief of Minorca does not allow for any permanent rivers - for most of the year the beds are dry. There are a number of underground streams which feed wells, some of which date from pre-historic times.

Wildlife

Although by no means densely forested, 15% of the island is tree covered. Amongst the species of vegetation can he found myrtle, rushes, canes, wild fig, prickly pears, camomile and capers. The predominant tree is the wild olive.

Very few wild mammals live on the island apart from wild wood rabbits. Fifteen species of bats have been identified and birds are magnificently represented, many of them being resting migrants. There is a profusion of birds of prey - hawks, kestrels and in particular, red kites, booted eagles and Egyptian vultures. Hoopoes and colourful bee-eaters can be seen and the old salt pans at Ses Salines collect migrating waders, including Kentish plovers. In the spring and early summer there are many goldfinches.

The clear waters around Minorca are also teaming with life - making it an excellent location for snorkelling and diving.

Temperature

Average daily temperatures can reach 21 degrees centigrade in May and October. The hottest months are July and August with temperatures around 28 degrees centigrade.

History

Steeped in history, the island has for centuries been the crossroads of varied civilisations. The Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Visigoths, Arabs, British and French have dominated it in turn. In the days of pre-history a primitive culture existed and flourished. Minorca has also, with good reason, been called an outdoors pre-historic museum; such is the quality of monuments to be found.

Main towns

Mahon (Mao) is the island capital. Its architectural style combines local characteristics with English influence, which can be seen in the streets, the houses without balconies and the buildings around the harbour with guillotine windows. The old part of the town is centred around the church of Santa Maria. There is a beautiful natural harbour reckoned to be the safest anchorage in the Mediterranean. The town has many shops and some fascinating markets. lt is also the home of the gin distilleries - introduced by the British.

Cuitadella was the old capital of Minorca and retains much of the atmosphere of the past. The town itself is very picturesque with narrow, arcaded streets and architecture showing a Moorish influence. The Cathedral dates from 1370 and is in the Gothic style. The town has a pretty, bustling little harbour.

Cycling and other activities

Minorca is particularly noted for its beaches and coves of which there are nearly a hundred. Many are small with crystal-clear water and fine white sand, and are perfect for swimming and snorkelling. Other activities easily accessible on the Island include golf, tennis, kayaking, scuba diving, water skiing, horse riding and even flying.

Cycling is very popular on the island and the roads are generally in good condition. Basic bikes may be hired locally. Better quality road bikes are available from hire shops in Mahon and Ciutadella, and these may be able to offer a drop off and collect service to other parts of the island.

Fornells harbour
Es Mercadel, in the centre of the island
Market stalls