Visiting Mahon in early autumn
The city of Mahón is the capital of Menorca, the 2nd largest of the Balearic Islands, located in the mediterranean sea about 200 miles off the coast of Spain. It’s a beautiful small town on the shore of one of the largest natural harbors in the world with a length of more than 3km. Even though it is fairly close to one of Europa’s most prominent centers of mass tourism (Majorca), the island has a reputation of being relatively quiet with only moderate touristic activities.
Mahon has a long history with known accounts dating back into the age of Hannibal of Carthage around 200 BC. Since then, it has been captured and occupied by almost every relevant European and oriental power of the last 2000 years, including the Romans, the Arabs and the Vikings. After being part of the Caliphate of Córdoba it was conquered by Christians in the 13th century and became a strategically important part of the Kingdom of Majorca. After it was sacked by the Ottomans in the 16th century, it finally fell to the British empire during the Spanish Succession War in the early 18th century. Only 50 years later, the British Empire lost the island to the French, who had to return it into British custody after losing the Seven Years War only 10 years later.
But again, the Brits were not able to keep it for long and had to hand it over to Spain only to recapture it a couple years later. Finally, in 1802, Menorca was again transferred to Spain with whom it remained until today.
In the 20th century, Mahon was again heavily disputed during the Spanish Civil War in which the island first tried to stay loyal with the Republic, but was subsequently attacked and captured by the nationalists under General Franco. During attempts to recapture it, the city was bombed and heavily damaged by Spanish and Italian (who sided with dictator Franco) air forces in 1939.
The island and its capital city spent most of the 20th century relatively isolated and the city was only renovated after the end of General Franco’s regime in the last couple of decades. It was then, when a moderate tourism started to blossom and brought in the necessary financial stability to allow the costly renovations. Today, the city is in a well maintained state with most of the historic buildings preserved to high standards and a couple of modern additions like the Cruise Terminal or the football stadium.
The climate is typical for the mediterranean region1. Summers are long and warm, winters are mild with freezing temperatures being extremely rare. Late spring and early autumn are best for visiting if you plan some activities other than relaxing, because it can get really hot in the summer months July and August, with temperatures exceeding 35℃ (95℉) frequently. Overall precipitation is low with most of it occurring during autumn and winter months.
Things to see, do, do not..
Even though the town is relatively small, there are quite a lot of things to see. Whether you arrive by ship or by airplane doesn’t really matter a lot. The airport is small and located a couple miles outside Mahon with low air traffic and direct connections available to and from some major European cities and most bigger cities on Spanish main land. A Taxi to the city costs about 10€ and there are plenty available. Same goes for rental cars available at moderate rates.
Arriving via ship is more interesting and much more scenic. The natural harbor of Mahon is fjord-like, about 3km long and only a few hundred feet wide. The water is deep enough to allow medium size cruise ships and ferries, but the really big and ugly ones have to stay outside, because the water is not deep enough and they wouldn’t be able to turn around 180 degrees inside the narrow channel. We arrived on a 200m long 42.000GRT ship, a small one when compared to the massive behemoths of more than 300m length and three times the mass, and yet, the turn before reaching our final position was a fairly difficult maneuver according to the captain’s speech.
From the port’s land side exit, the city’s center is just a couple minutes walk away. Since the city is elevated by about 30 meters from water level, you can either take some stairs or the road, the latter one being a longer walk.