Trotting along the narrow path, high up on the cliffs, I spotted a flash of white sand down below – Cala Macarelleta. This tiny cove in Menorca gets packed in the summer, but in April it looked deserted – and it was, apart from a lone nudist, who seemed unperturbed by six horse riders shattering his peace.
We were exploring the ancient Camí de Cavalls (Path of Horses), which encircles the island. The 185km route is thought to date back to the 1300s and was originally built as a defensive circuit, connecting the coastal watchtowers and fortresses, many of which still stand today. The path fell into disrepair, but was restored and reopened to the public in 2010 as a beach-to-beach walking, mountain biking and horse-riding trail. And now, new this year, there are packages aimed at those who want to sample part of the route while staying in a boutique hotel.
It takes about a week to complete the circuit on horseback, but you can see a lot in just a couple of days. The Camí de Cavalls is divided into 20 stages, so you can dip in and out. We started our first three-hour ride on stage six, in the north of the island. This is one of the most rugged parts of the coastline, with red beaches and volcanic outcrops. We trekked across Binimel·là beach, which is backed by wetlands and is popular with snorkellers. We rode through the dunes and let the horses splash in the sea at s’Alairo, before entering a red landscape around Cala Morts, dotted with thorny socarrell, an endemic shrub that would be more at home in a desert. This part of Menorca is reminiscent of lunar Lanzarote, a far cry from the white sands in the south of the island.
From here, the long beach of Cala Pregonda was a good spot for a canter, then the trail passed through woodland before we reached the final beach of the day, Cala Barril.
Day two was completely different. We were on stage 13, in the south, where instead of passing cacti-like plants, we rode through sweet-smelling Mediterranean herbs and wild flowers. The path teetered on the edge of the cliffs that plunged down to postcard-perfect beaches. After riding through the oak forest leading to lovely Cala en Turqueta, we climbed high for panoramic views across the south coast, then descended to the little cove of Es Talaier. We passed bunkers used during the Spanish civil war on our way to the long bay of Son Saura.
Heading back, we stopped at Cala en Turqueta for a swim – bracing, but a good way to ease saddle-sore legs. Afterwards, we had the ultimate post-ride pick-me-up, pomada – gin with cloudy lemonade.
I hadn’t ridden much since my pony-mad childhood, but my mare, Ortela, was a delight: surefooted on extremely steep and rocky paths, and responsive to the lightest touch. The riding company, Rutas Ecuestres, specialises in beautiful black Menorquin horses, the island’s indigenous breed. The stallions are associated with doma menorquina, a sort of dressage that is the centre of local festas, but the mares seemed more than happy to be out hacking. The two days were a great taster, but the full circumnavigation would be even better.
Most meals are included in the two-day riding package. Before the first ride, we had a simple picnic in a spectacular setting by the beach near Cavalleria lighthouse. We tucked into crusty bread and jamon, olives, fruit and Menorcan viognier. In the evening, we tried the tasting menu at our hotel, Torralbenc, in which local specialities are given a gastro twist. A crispy “cigar” was filled with sobrassada (raw, cured, spicy sausage), honey and Mahón cheese; oliaigo (chilled tomato and pepper soup) was served with prawns; hearty braised beef cheeks followed a mixed fish ceviche.
Torralbenc is a converted farm in a peaceful spot on top of a hill near Alaior, surrounded by vineyards. Guests can borrow bikes and cycle around the vines – we stopped for tastings of the hotel’s first vintage (wobbling our way back after a glass too many, two of us fell off). The design is gorgeous, a blend of rustic Menorcan – exposed stone, whitewashed walls covered in pink bougainvillea – and modern luxe, such as enormous rain showers and rosemary-scented toiletries. There are 27 rooms, from cosy doubles to garden cottages.
Es Molí de Foc, a cosy restaurant in nearby village Sant Climent, is an excellent place to try the definitive Menorcan dish, caldereta de langosta (lobster stew). Mahón, the capital, is a further 10 minutes’ drive away. This charming city, built on a hill around a harbour, has dozens of cute boutiques and no-frills bars, plus some seriously good restaurants. We helped ourselves to copious free samples at the Xoriguer gin distillery, before heading to El Rais for an incredible multi-course lunch and harbour views.
One of the must-buy souvenirs from Menorca is a pair of avarcas (sandals). They are sold everywhere, but many in Mahón are cheap, factory-made versions. It is worth seeking out a proper atelier, such as Ca’n Doblas in Ferreries, where they are still made by hand. It is another one of Menorca’s traditions that is still going strong – much like horse riding, on a trail custom-made for it seven centuries ago.
Way to go
Riding, meals and accommodation were provided by Torralbenc. Two nights’ B&B, guided horse riding, transfers, picnic, and dinner with paired wines costs from £450pp. Flights were provided by easyJet, which flies to Menorca Mahón from £38.48 return