A local’s guide to La Calatrava and Cort, Palma de Mallorca

June 20, 2017
Marialaura Dolfi

Ever since I came to live on Mallorca, I’ve always loved walking the medieval streets of the neighbouring Calatrava and Cort areas in Palma de Mallorca. I like to observe the people on the streets and the personalities here — the servers, the shop owners, the residents. I came to the island two years ago because my husband, Damià, is from Mallorca. As soon as I arrived, I started going out in these neighbourhood with Damià’s friends, and I felt like I was a part of this place. I felt at home. I was born in Tuscany (Italy), and during my trips I discovered that we have something in common with all the Mediterrenean sea cultures. Here in Palma, especially in Calatrava, I felt like it was home. That’s why I’ve loved it since the beginning.

In Calatrava, there are nice creative shops, artists’ workshops, old churches, beautiful hidden patios, incredible boutique hotels, and decadent building with glorious pasts.

I love Plaza Sant Francesc because it is always quiet and calm. The patio of the monastery is impressive and Damià went to secondary school here. I’ve been inside the school and on the patio many times because Damià knows everybody here and they always welcome us. I love it because it was and is a special place in Palma. It is right in the middle of the Palma centre, but behind the shopping centres and touristy streets. It is a real place where people have lived and worked throughout Palma’s history.

When you walk along the narrow streets, you feel like you’re passing through different centuries at the same time: you can be in the glorious Arab century, when the patios were decorated with water fountains and the sound of water could be heard from the streets; then you see some old shops and you feel like you’re in the Middle Ages, when the streets all specialised in artisanal crafts (go into Mimbreria Vidal, where they still sell the best handmade straw baskets, just like artists have done for the past 500 years); then you feel like you’ve stepped into the beginning of this century when you see the workers’ houses, now (sadly) transformed into tourist rental houses. And at night you feel the contemporary era of Palma, with all the amazing tapas bars.

This area has different layers and you can decide to just see the first layer or go deeper into the past. When I walk the streets I play a time travel mental game. And it makes me dream a lot.

seawall in Palma de Mallorca

Don’t leave Palma without going for a walk along the walls | Photo by Marialaura Dolfi

La Calatrava and Cort used to be the working area of the town. Here, people practiced the “solidariedad de barrio,” which means “the neighbours help.” People helped each other, especially during the dictatorship when things were harder than they are now. They specialised in handmade products such as pottery, and everybody knew everybody. Now, with tourism, little by little the neighbours are abandoning the area because it is too expensive for them to live here. So the remaining residents have organised a movement to raise awareness and discuss public opinion about this problem of “turisticalization.”

They love their area and they want to keep it real and alive, and have an entire local movement dedicated to the cause. They dream of a town for the citizens, not just for tourists. I know this is a problem affecting many cities around the world. So as traveller and as local guide, I think this is a good point to reflect upon and to respect. I love that this area make me reflect about our contradictions.

Why you should visit La Calatrava and Cort

To eat!

The food here is gorgeous, with lots of surprises to be found in tiny places and informal bars — delicious dishes you could never find in the gourmet-chic restaurants in town. Plus, I love the good vibes of these bars; they’re all very close to one another, but instead of competing for customers, they are friends and have learned to cooperate by offering special evenings. One example is the Ruta Martiana — every Tuesday night the area is packed (come here to believe it) because some of the bars offer one pincho and one zurito (of beer or wine) for just EUR 2.50! They’ve been doing this every Tuesday since 2008 when, because of the financial crisis, the bars were empty and people could not afford to go out. Now it’s tradition.

To spy on historic patios

Another beautiful hidden gem of this area is its patios. These courtyards originated with the ancient Romans as a away to collect rainwater and to bring light into the house. In Palma, this architecture further developed in the Arab period and became a feature of the 13th century. In Cort and La Calatrava, there are spectacular patios from the gothic, renaissance, and baroque periods. Every patio is completely different and I love them all. It is always a surprise to discover the patios, because they are typically inside private homes, so, depending on the owner, the door may be open or closed. If the door is open, you can stick your nose inside the gate and have a little look inside. Although the patios are not museums or public places, many of the owners are really nice and will let you admire them. You’ll feel like you’re in another century with the beautiful marble pillars, arches, greenery, central wells, and maybe even carriages.

sunset in Palma de Mallorca

Palma’s sunsets are pretty spectacular | Photo by Marialaura Dolfi

To walk along the old walls

The old walls are in front of the sea and they run from the Es Baluard (Puig de Sant Pere) to the Calatrava area. Along this last part of the walls there are always only a few people (no tourists!), and it is really romantic to see the sunset from here. Sometimes there are some skateboarders and some graffiti artists but it is a calm area, recently restored, with a modern architectural style that meets the old traditions in a perfect way. From here you can see the sea and the cathedral without having to dodge tourists taking selfies.

My top 10 things to do in La Calatrava and Cort

1. Have breakfast at Ca’n Joan de S’Aigo

This is the oldest chocolatier in town and where all the locals go for breakfast or a little merienda (snack). They specialise in all kinds of local pastries, some with recipes that are 300 years old. The decor is so classic and the food is delicious. Make sure you taste the ensaimada and the almond ice cream!

Mallorcan pastry

Put a traditional pastry on your must-snack list | Photo by Marialaura Dolfi

2. Buy handmade straw baskets at Mimbreria Vidal

There’s no souvenir more classic than one of these baskets. At this shop you find all sorts of straw products that really are handmade in Mallorca (some of the more touristy shops sell ones made abroad). Mimbreria Vidal is part of our history.

3. Drink a glass at Sa Sifoneria

Owner Uta can offer you a local vermouth in a very cool canteen bar full of old siphons, wine bottles, and wine barrels. You can even come here with your empty bottle and fill it with some local wine or local vermouth. Local and delicious!

4. Visit Sant Francesc Church

This 13th-century church was the monastery of the most important Mallorcan figure: Ramon Lull (1235–1316 CE). Everybody knows of him in Mallorca because he was the first person, at that time, to write in Catalan. He was a mystic, hermetic, writer, and scientist, and inside the church is his tomb. Visit him for an important piece of Mallorcan history.

5. Admire the patios in Carrer de Can Savellà

There is the Can Vivot patio (Carrer de Can Savellà, 4) that is almost always open and the baroque-style patio is one of the biggest in town. On the same street you can admire the Can Catlar del Llorer (Carrer de Can Savellà, 15). This one is a gothic-style patio with Muslim heritage. At night the lights give it a special atmosphere.

tour guide at a patio in Palma de Mallorca

Damiá admires the patio at Can Vivot | Photo by Marialaura Dolfi

6. Buy homemade biscuits at the Santa Clara Monastery

Enter the monastery square and turn right. You will find a door, which is where the nuns sell their biscuits. These sales help to finance their lives in the monastery and maintain the religious tradition. Plus the biscuits are really good!

7. Have a coffee inside El Bazar del Libro

This old bookstore sells very old books and papers, photos, and maps that carry a lot of history. The last owner sold the business to a young couple and they decided to add a coffee bar to let you drink a coffee while you have a look around.

8. Follow the Ruta Martiana on Tuesday night

Jump from one bar to another and enjoy the local atmosphere of the area.

travellers on a tapas tour in Palma de Mallorca

Happy travellers on a tapas tour | Photo by Marialaura Dolfi

9. Go for a walk along the old walls

Walk along the town walls in front at the sea in Passeig Dalt Murada. Or enjoy the urban park in the late afternoon under palm trees.

10. Get a haircut at an old barber shop

Cut your hair in one of the oldest barber shops in town! (It’s at Carrer del temple, 6.) You’ll really feel the old-world atmosphere of Palma.

How to get to La Calatrava and Cort

Palma has a very small city centre, so you can easily walk anywhere. The Cort area is a bit inland and La Calatrava runs along the sea.