The Allure of the Almond

Almonds in MallorcHistorically Almonds became popular in Mallorca in the 18th century at the expense of the vineyards. Almond trees were planted in their thousands to replace the grape vines that had been devastated by the outbreak of phylloxera.

Today Mallorca has close to five million almond trees and the island’s landscape is at its finest when the almond trees blossom. The incredibly picturesque scenes of the almond blossom attracts thousands of tourists each year. Almonds are now one of Mallorca’s main crops. They cover a surface area of over 60,000 hectares in the Balearics, of which 90% are in Mallorca, and produce around 14,000 tons of this precious dried fruit.

The Almond nut is highly prized by chefs for both savoury and sweet dishes. Mallorcan almonds are particularly sweet and have a high percentage of oil – sometimes reaching 60% – compared to almonds from other countries. Their low water content makes Mallorcan almonds a great source of nutrients with high energy and protein levels, similar to the protein contents of meat and fish. Thanks to these benefits, Mallorcan almonds have become a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. They are especially well suited to baking.

Almonds are eaten natural, toasted or as an ingredient in many of the islands’ typical dishes, especially pastries. Almond products packaged in Mallorca are sold under the brand name, “Ametla de Mallorca”. We now even have beauty products made with almond ingredients that can be found in perfumeries throughout Spain.

Popular Mallorcan Almond dishes include the Christmas delicacy of Turrón, Amargos (almond pastry), Gató (almond sponge cake), ice cream, marzipan, almond milk, biscuits and a typical almond liqueur Flor de Ametla. Traditional cooked dishes range from almond soup to rabbit, chicken & fish cooked in almonds.

For the ultimate Almond treat you need to visit the famous Palma café lounge Can Joan de s’Aigo. It  is Mallorca’s oldest ice-cream parlour. In the 19th century Mateu Jaume used to make an exquisite almond and pine nut “horchata”. The price for a cup was set according to the amount of sugar in the drink. Today the almond “horchata” (which originates from Valencia) can be found mainly in Valldemossa – it’s a cool, refreshing almond milk drink.

The Almond is now so important in Mallorca that the Baleares government are producing guides and web pages highlighting its nutritional benefits and the best places on the island to view the almond blossom, as well as describing the many different almond products and popular almond recipes. More information can be found here: www.itineraris.org or www.balearsculturaltour.com

Walking at “almond blossom” time is fabulous, romantic and unique. Hence many hotels, tourist offices and walking associations on the island all feature their own version of walks to take in the spectacular countryside in full bloom. Our very own Almond Blossom walk is featured in a previous blog article, as is our Blossom Fever holiday itinerary.

Make sure you stock up with some almonds before coming on one of our walks – they’re a fantastic high energy and nutritional snack and they’re light to carry too!

Christmas in Mallorca

Christmas turrones MallorcaAs we are posting lots of information about how our guided walking tours and tailor made holidays are not just a great escape but good for your health and fitness, we do not feel too guilty about telling you about all the great traditional Christmas treats you can find in Mallorca.

The month of December features all the Christmas fayres with hundreds of little stalls set up for the many shops and hand made gifts on sale. The Plaza Mayor and Plaza España in Palma city centre are always a great place to visit.

Another Christmas tradition (and only for sale throughout Spain in December) is Turrones – chocolate, marzipan and mousse style bars, sweets, candies and thousands of different varieties. From the 1st of December shops start clearing the shelves surrounding their tills to fill them ceiling-high with Turron – who knows where they go in January!

Carol singing is also very popular in Mallorca and the place to find these singing spectaculars are La Lonja and the Plaza Cort, again in Palma centre. The tradition here is for local schools to bring along their choirs, of all ages, to serenade the crowds that gather to listen. This really sets the Christmas mood!

Traditional Christmas decorations MallorcaThe Belen or Nativity scenes are prolific throughout Mallorca with many church halls, interior patios, shop windows and schools displaying impressive scenes depicting the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the three wise men. Palma’s Town Hall at the Plaza Cort has a particularly impressive Nativity scene, and has a queue of people waiting to see it, snaking in and out of the building right through to January.

As the main Christmas celebrations in Spain were traditionally for the arrival of the Three Kings on the 5th of January – the children in Spain are now really happy that the internet and commercial pressures have given them Papa Noel, or Father Christmas on the 25th of December as well. In reality though, nowadays their presents are probably just divided between the 25th of December and 5th of January. However, on the 5th of January there is an added bonus when thousands of sweets are thrown to the children on over-crowded streets,  straining to see the processions working their way from the port of Palma where the Kings arrive, to their destination in the centre of the city.

On the 24th of December, Christmas Eve, everyone stays at home and enjoys the evening with close family. Some go out for a late night drink while many others go to the magnificent cathedral (or their own village’s church) for Midnight Mass, also known in Spain as the Misa del Gallo.

The 25th, Christmas day, a big lunch at home used to be the norm, but eating out is also very popular now, so we recommend booking early if you’re planning to go to a restaurant.

While December the 26th is a normal day throughout Spain, this is not the case in Mallorca – here the Segona Festa de Nadal (Second Christmas day) will be in full swing. This is an ancient local custom, and as in the UK, it is a bank holiday.

December the 28th is the Spanish equivalent of April Fools day, so be on your guard for crazy newspaper articles or practical jokes.

New Year’s Eve is celebrated in much the same way as in other countries – by welcoming in the New Year.  Plaza Cort (Palma Town Hall) is the centre of the festivities with thousands gathering to see in the New Year in traditional Spanish style – by eating twelve grapes, one on every chime of midnight. You can even buy tins of grapes that contain the exact number required for your midnight munch!

The Christmas lights and various festivities carry on until Three Kings is celebrated on the 5th of January, and after that the shops start their New Year’s sales bonanzas, or rebajas.

So, there’s lots to do and see over the prolonged festivities if you’re visiting Mallorca. If you hanker after a white Christmas you can usually find it on the hilltops and the mountains around Lluc and the rest of the Tramuntana – so there’s something for everybody on our Christmas island.