Updated: Dec 20, 2020
El Terreno could easily have fallen into the category of twee Mediterranean cliché, but it never does. For in the next street there’s always the derelict house, the former disco with boarded-up windows, the alco-brothers without teeth who live on mattresses and drink beer at 8am.
As your cruise ship glides into Palma Bay, glittering gold under the sparkling blue Mediterranean skies, the first thing you notice is a huge castle perched on top of a tree-clad hill.
This castle, surrounded by a dense park so large you can easily get lost in it, is only one of the wonderful things that await you when you visit El Terreno, half an hour’s walk from the centre of Palma de Mallorca.
It is Castillo de Bellver, built in 1310 and one of only two circular castles in all of Europe. The king of Spain built it as a holiday home, to come and take the breezes when the summer heat of mainland Spain got too oppressive.
But after one visit he got tired of it (or something) and decided to turn it into a “home” for political prisoners instead.
Now, of course, anyone can visit, and in addition to stunning views of Palma and the Mediterranean from its roof, the castle also has a very well curated museum showing the history of Mallorca.
Palma, like Mallorca itself, has everything you want from a holiday in Europe packed into one, manageable space: Culture, history, beautiful architecture, shopping, food, Old Town, Cathedral, all that.
And yes, the Old Town is indeed stunning, majestic, imposing - but perhaps a bit intimidating in a Spanish Inquisition sort of way? No, not Spanish Inquisition, that’s crazy talk. But, you know, a bit stern with its palaces and narrow streets cowering dankly in eternal shade.
El Terreno is the opposite of stern – it’s colourful, sunny, open, airy. In fact, in the olden days, before tourism and motorised vehicles, the wealthy of Palma took their cue from the king and came out here on weekends to escape the stifling heat of the city. They used to load up their wagons with provisions and spend hours getting here by horse or donkey. Which is quite funny, seeing it only takes 30 minutes to walk. But of course, the roads of Mallorca weren’t the wonders of modern technology that they are now.
One such road is the Paseo Maritimo, on which you can reach the centre of Palma in a couple of minutes. A six lane highway built on reclaimed land, it sadly shuts off El Terreno from the sea, but town planners have left the small boat harbour of Darsena de Ca'n Barbera (below) as compensation. From here you can enter the Bellver Forest the back way (the forest gates are closed at night, opening every morning at 7:30 or whenever the man with the keys gets there) or skip into El Terreno proper, by way of a narrow staircase past the most ridiculously exuberant hanging bougainvillea tree in Palma.
El Terreno, like any self-respecting Mallorcan barrio, has no shortage of bougainvillea. Nuclear pink, burning orange or just white, it hangs over the thick, whitewashed garden walls like so many colourful duvets hung out to dry.
Yes - the cobblestoned streets, the broad stone steps, the flowers, the little houses set in manicured gardens gentrified to the point of Swedishness; El Terreno could easily have fallen into the category of twee Mediterranean cliché, but it never does. For in the next street there’s always the derelict house, the former disco with boarded-up windows, the alco-brothers without teeth who live on mattresses and drink beer at 8am.
And then there are the dogs, or rather, the Beware of the Dog signs.
You notice it at once: The porcelain tile with the badly painted cartoon showing a man with his arms bent in a strange, swastika like stance, looking as if he is running or Morris dancing while doing yoga. A dog is in hot pursuit, in fact it has already bitten a chunk out of the man’s trousers so his bum is showing. Alerta al ca says the sign -Mallorcan for “beware of the dog.”
You peer into the garden on whose stone wall the tile is embedded. No dog.
A few metres down the street is a different sign, this time showing only the head and neck of a dog, looking quite rabid, eyes rolling back in its head, mad spittle flying, spiky collar gleaming menacingly. But also crappily drawn. “Cuidado con el perro,” it says, in Spanish this time – beware of the dog. All right, you are being ware! But where is the dog?
Around the corner is another Morris-dancing yogaist, this time wearing a hat, being buttock-mangled by a large fox. The house is surrounded by a metal fence and you have a clear view of it and the garden. There is no sign of a dog, not even a bark.
Is it possible that the people who have these tiles embedded in their garden wall or gate are the people who don’t have dogs; indeed, that El Terreno is a place that is all tile and no trousers?
For painted tiles are all the rage in El Terreno. Fruits, flowers, animals and people in traditional Mallorcan garb are popular motifs, as are the names of the houses lovingly painted on porcelain or enamel. There are casa (house in Spanish) this and ca’n (house of in Mallorcan) that. There’s even a Cas Ca, House of Dog.
As if all this visual joy and quirkiness wasn’t enough, the area has so many bars and restaurants it would take you several months to visit them all. Strangely, the place is not overrun by tourists. The ones that do visit tend to go to Bellver Castle by bus and then disappear, or zip through El Terreno’s busy thoroughfare Avinguda de Joan Miró, on high speed bikes, missing everything the best kept secret of Palma has to offer.
Perhaps that is why all the locals are so friendly and smiling, nodding a cheerful “Buenos dias” to everyone they meet?