Spanish island paradise awaits explorers

Once a fortress, a royal residence and now a museum, the Palau de l’Almudaina houses several royal artifacts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sarah Gregory)

Once a fortress, a royal residence and now a museum, the Palau de l’Almudaina houses several royal artifacts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sarah Gregory)

Aviano Air Base, Italy -- With its rugged terrain, golden beaches and Arabic influence, the Spanish island of Mallorca is a summer paradise offering visitors a wide variety of activities. 

The capital, Palma de Mallorca, is a bustling port city and home to a majority of the island's residents. Here visitors can lounge on a Mediterranean beach, explore one of Europe's best preserved castles and see unique examples of Arabic and Renaissance blended architecture. 

The largest and most popular of the Spanish Balearic Islands, Mallorca is easy to get to by ferry from Barcelona or via air. Mallorca is also a popular cruise destination. 

For a classic example of Gothic architecture, visit Palma's cathedral, Sa Seu. Towering over the port, the cathedral was completed in 1587 and features a vibrant rose window, 20 chapels and a seaward wall of buttresses. The cathedral can be approached from the Parc de la Mar, allowing visitors to take in the entire structure. The cathedral is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday April through October and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday November through March. Admission costs €3.50. 

Directly across from the cathedral's front entrance is the Palau de l'Almudaina, once a fortress, a royal residence and now a museum. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. The museum houses tapestries, suits of armor and the Queen's and King's rooms complete with period furniture and tapestries. Entrance fees are €3.20 for adults and €2.30 for kids and free for everyone on Wednesdays. 

Behind the cathedral and Palau de l'Almudaina lie the narrow, twisted streets of Palma's old town. This is an interesting area for shopping for local crafts and Mallorca pearls as well as a great place to try regional specialties. 

Overlooking the entire bay of Palma is Castell de Belver, a 14th century royal fortress and later, royal prison. Since the castle is actually outside of Palma's center, its best to take a taxi or catch a city bus. This castle is well-preserved and has been standing for more than 700 years. The cost is €1.80 for adults and €.90 for children and includes entrance into the castle museum, which contains city artifacts. 

While Mallorca is known for its beaches, Palma is limited in its beachfront. Most of the coast has been built up, but the island is small, so beaches are readily accessible. Traveling to other beaches also allows visitors to see some of the rugged terrain of the island as well as some of the smaller, less crowded seaside villages that Mallorca has to offer. 

For more information on Palma and Mallorca, visit: http://www.mallorca.com/ or http://www.palmademallorca.us/.