For me, there is nothing better than spending my Sunday on a long hike to build up my appetite for a well-deserved roast dinner - how British of me! After a long season at sea, there is nothing more rewarding than sussing out a restaurant, and I have found just the place, to satisfy that prolonged craving to feast on a roast.
Hidden in the Puig de Alaro Mountains, in the West of Mallorca is the village of Alaro where sits the beautiful and traditional Spanish Restaurant Es Verger. It is a popular jaunt that combines a challenging walk, a bit of history and quite possibly the best Sunday lunch at Es Verger you are ever going to taste. Perfect!
From Palma, the best way to get to Alaro is by either car or train. It is super easy to jump on a train from Estacio Intermodal Station that will take you to Consell Station. From Consell, there is the 320 bus that will then transport you to this charming Spanish town. Alaro is set in a remote and peaceful valley at the foot of the Sierra Tramontana Mountain range. If you have a car then the most direct route to take is via the Palma - Inca - Pollenca Road.
Es Verger Restaurant is accessed by a road that even mountain goats would think twice about! If you are feeling brave enough to tackle the steep, narrow, winding road by car, then you will need to take care on the corners, s ome of which have a steep drop to one side. On my first visit, I hired a car and slowly coaxed it up and around the narrow roads, having to reverse twice on meeting cars coming from the other direction. As I progressed higher into the hills, the road grew steeper and even more narrow. On finally reaching the top, there is a spacious car park with a spectacular view.
During my last visit, I decided to ditch the car and work up an appetite by hiking up from Alaro to the restaurant. A coffee in Alaro beforehand set me up for the walk, which then took me an hour and a half to navigate my way through the almond groves. Once I reached the top of the track, it was a pleasant surprise to find the simple white painted barn - Es Verger. However, I was not going to visit the restaurant just yet - my hike was not complete. I wanted to earn my feast, so I continued further up the mountains to Alaro Castle which sits perched on the top at nearly 800m above sea level. It is a steep climb but I enjoyed wandering through the olive groves and looking down at the view that stretched for miles! The route to the summit starts off as a wide, rough road that then joins a cobbled donkey track with steps along most of the way.
Hurrah! I had reached the top!
I entered the castle grounds through a fortified gate and portcullis. As I ascended into the ruins of the castle, the views back to Palma began to open up. Fortunately, it was a clear day, so I could see across the bay of Palma to Andraxt and towards the island of Canberra over to the east. From the summit, I admired a bird’s-eye view of the lush Orient Valley and the highest peak of Mallorca, Puig Mayor, which is easy to spot with its radar station on the summit.
The castle dates back to the 15th century and was initially the final island stronghold of the Moorish occupants of Mallorca. There is a recently restored cafe and hostel here, the perfect place for refreshments after a climb.
Satisfied with my dose of panoramic views, I set off down the same route I came, back to the restaurant.
The cooking aromas, and bustling atmosphere, enticed me into the main barn area. The barn has a concrete floor and benched tables. Hanging on the old, timbered barn walls are worn leather harnesses, saddles and bridles, deer heads, budgerigar cages and other ancient agricultural artefacts. All the interior appears to be as it might have been originally from when it was a working farm. At the back of the barn is the vast ancient wood fired oven, that is used to slow roast the lamb - the chef’s signature dish.
The service is as charming as the location, rustic and authenitc. The owner of the restaurant often emerges from her kitchen; the great grandmother of the family. She perches on the end of a wooden bench along with her customers to enjoy her own homemade Creme Brule.
The menu is extremely diverse. It includes snails (Caracoles), fresh fish, frito mallorquin and suckling pig. But the lamb shoulder, locally known as Paletilla de Cordero, is the main reason for my visit. The lamb is super fresh and is reared locally on the surrounding land. It is slow roasted in beer, in the restaurant’s huge, wood-fired oven and served with tiny roast potatoes and a simple salad. The red wine is Es Verger’s own, homemade from the farm’s own Spanish grape and is the perfect accompaniment to the meal. If you are not driving, then a perfect end to an incredible meal is the punchbowl of Cremat. This is a pot full of brandy, rum, cinnamon, whole coffee beans and lemon peel which is set on flame once served.
I went to bed content that night - it was the perfect Mallorcan walk followed by the best Sunday roast in the world (sorry Mum!).