Early one morning last week I got up and headed straight for Palma de Mallorca’s train station. Well, not the city’s main commuting station, but rather the station serving the Ferrocarril de Soller, a vintage, 100 year-old train.
The picturesque old train, comprised of half a dozen wooden cars dating back to the railway’s opening in 1912, was the island’s first electrified railway. It was constructed to connect Mallorca’s largest city, Palma, with the then-booming town of of Sóller, located about an hour’s tug away, over the mountains on the northwest side of the island.
What awaited on the other side of the mountain shouldn’t be missed. Here are five reasons that Sóller makes a great day trip (or escape) from Palma:
1. The train ride from Palma
The vintage train is reason unto itself to visit Sóller. Originally constructed to transport olives and oranges (and their growers) between the town and the city, the train today serves mostly tourists. Still, it’s a worthwhile endeavor, offering interesting views of Palma as you pull out of town, before climbing the nearby Sierra de Tramuntana mountains. Winding its way up, crossing bridges, and heading through tunnels, the hour-long train ride offers great views and plenty of photo-ops.
The ride costs €19.50, per person, round-trip. Seven journeys a day run between the two towns during high season. (Read more on the train’s Web site.)
2. Medieval town.
The train depot, constructed in 1912, is situated just steps away from the city’s medieval place of worship, the Cathedral of St. Bertholomew, named after the patron saint of this town of 15,000. The cathedral, which celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2010, offers three distinct styles in one building: Medieval (the original structure), Baroque (the church’s ornate interior and extension), and Modernist (the curvy, Gaudi-esque facade).
Once outside, wander the narrow, Medieval streets, with buildings constructed closely together to block the powerful summer sun. Indeed today, the streets, nearly always in shadows, offer a cool respite.
As you walk, smell: The air carries a floral scent. The town is surrounded by orange groves and mountainsides packed with olive trees. This sweet smell seems to settle far below along the Sóller’s narrow streets.
3. Art Nouveau / Modernismo
It’s not all Medieval in Sóller’s old center. During difficult economic times during the 19th century, many Mallorcan’s fled the island, seeking opportunities elsewhere, including in the United States. Some of these former residents of Sóller (and their descendents) made their fortunes and returned to Sóller, bringing with them great wealth and in interest in constructing new homes in the “hot” style of the day, Catalan Modernism (Art Nouveau), a look made famous by Gaúdi.
Walking through the center of Sóller, modernist facades sit comfortably next to structures constructed 400 years prior. Interestingly, the modernist style was so en vogue 100 years ago that many of these tell-tale elements (fanciful, curving doorways, windows, staircases), were standardized and picked out of a catalog. A student of Gaudi’s even spent time in the city, working on the cathedral’s facade.
Fans of art nouveau architecture shouldn’t miss the Ca’n Prunera, an early 20th-century mansion that opened as the city’s Modernist Museum in 2009. The museum lets visitors wander through a painstakingly restored modernist residence, and offers a selection of modern paintings, photographs and sculpture.
4. Another tram!
There’s more to Sóller than the old town, of course. A few kilometers away beckons the port, with its beach and harbor. To get there, you can walk it, or hop on another wooden tram (again operated by the Ferrocarril de Soller). The tram departs every 30 minutes (in high season / 60 minutes during the winter) from the street just outside the train station. Round-trip tickets are €10 per person.
This ride, passing along the city’s main street, past stores and residences, is less thrilling than its mountain climbing sibling, but it still offers a pleasant 15-minute stroll. Things get more interesting, of course, when it makes a final turn, pulling along…
5. The Port de Sóller
Arriving into the Port de Sóller by tram is a bit of a thrill, as you cruise straight down the main drag, hugging the harbor, easing past couples flopped onto blankets and children frolicking in the calm waters of the bay, which stretches out into the Mediterranean. And wrapping around its shores, the purple-green mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana look down.
To the right side of the tram, a line of hotels and restaurants offer a respite from the sun. Indeed, I recharged with a favorite, local drink: freshly squeezed orange juice. Enjoy a glass, while contemplating the role that this sweet fruit played in the town’s history.
Getting there: This post is part of a series sponsored by airberlin, which now offers flights between New York and Palma de Mallorca. Find rates and special offers on airberlin.com.