Words Chris Beanland & Patrick Welch
As the sun sets over the brand-new Nikki Beach, Magaluf's emerging split personality becomes apparent. For those not up to date with their VIP beach clubs, Nikki Beach (www.nikkibeach.com), which opens again on 25 April after a winter break, has venues from St Tropez to Miami and is famed for the beautiful crowds that come to pose and sip cocktails on daybeds by the pool. Magaluf, on the other hand, is a Mallorcan resort better known for its cheap drinks promotions, foam parties and non-stop partying. So why did Nikki Beach choose to launch here last year?
The short answer is that Magaluf is trying to do what San Antonio, Ibiza, did 20 years ago: shed its reputation for attracting hard partying Brits on package holidays and go upmarket. The local council is so keen to rebrand that they're rumoured to have proposed renaming the town Nova Calvia (Calvia is the name of the wider district).
All of which is not just good news for Nikki Beach, but the whole town. There have been other new hotel openings that are raising the tone, too: mid- to high-end Spanish company Meliá Hotels now has four properties at the southern end of the beach, known together as the Calvià Beach Resort. They have just given major refits to their two older properties, the Sol Antillas and Sol Barbados, with 757 rooms between them; and last summer opened two new hotels - the Sol Wave House, which is home to two wave machines, and the elegantly whitewashed Beach House, which is next door to Nikki Beach.
"We're going for that Miami Beach look," says Francisco Ramos, the hotel director of Beach House, as he shows us round his gleaming premises. Rooms may go for as little as €40 (NOK302) a night, but the website advertises yachting events, cycle routes and the hotel's proximity to quaint fishing villages.
On the other side of Beach House, Sol Wave House (www.wavehousemallorca.com) sits beside its resplendent €2.4 million (NOK18m) surf simulators. "We think this can really regenerate Magaluf," says Tom Lochtefeld, the multimillionaire Californian who came up with the simulators and the idea of putting them in hotels. "It's going to kickstart something."
Even that old Magaluf staple - partying - is getting a relaunch. In 2010, following the legendary Ibiza Rocks 17-week music festival, Magaluf got Mallorca Rocks (www.mallorcarocks.com) - a hotel and live music arena in the middle of town, where the music is moving on from the pounding top 40 dance hits of old. So as well as an 11-show residency by electro-tinged singer Example, the hotel will also host Young British folk troubadour Jake Bugg.
"Some of the things on offer have definitely improved," says Vicki McLeod, a journalist who's lived on Mallorca since 2004. "We go to Mallorca Rocks and BCM Live every week in the summer season, and they have some excellent live acts. There has been vast investment in Magaluf, but it's only just begun and it is going to take a bit of time to appeal to a new type of customer."
Across the island, there are further subtle signs of the new move towards Miami-style glitz. There are more police in the bar areas, a new boulevard has been laid in the centre of town, and old hotels are getting rebranded as boutique hotels, barely even a concept a few years ago. You now see Porsches and Ferraris parked outside Nikki Beach, and hear more Russian accents.
Yet it will undoubtedly take time. Just a 10-minute stroll from Beach House you'll find Bonkers, one of the bars on the infamous "Strip", where you'll still find school leavers downing cheap shots, and pints of vodka and cola as the music thuds away. You just wonder how much longer they'll be there.
If Magaluf is heading in a nouveau-riche direction, Palma is settling into its tag as a genuine city-break destination. It's easy to forget that 30 years ago Mallorca's capital had buckets of authentic charm, but little to offer in terms of places to eat and sleep.
Nowadays, however, that's all changed, with quality restaurants, a decent selection of galleries and a boutique-hotel boom that's weathered Spain's economic downturn. It's small enough to explore on foot, sunny enough to eat outside throughout much of the year, and easy to get out of - the majority of the island can be reached by car within an hour.
As far as hotels go, you're spoiled for choice. Design-conscious places began to pop up around 15 years ago, including the Swedish-owned Puro and Tres hotels (www.purohotel.com, www.hoteltres.com), both exponents of classic Scandinavian minimalist-chic - from around €170 (NOK1,250) each per night. Svenn Rudow, the Norwegian manager of Tres since its 2004 opening, says: "Since we opened, the whole of Palma city centre has changed. Shops have been renovated, upscale brands have arrived and boutique hotels have really taken off. People used to think of Mallorca as being charter flights, and weeks spent in Magaluf and Alcúdia. Now most of our business comes from weekend tourists."
And there are more and more different places to choose from. June last year saw the opening of the elegantly rustic Can Cera (www.cabcerohotel.com, from €180/NOK1,315 per night), a small, independent hotel in a 700-year-old building in the city's old quarter - and a nice counterpoint to the clean lines of Tres and Puro.
The art's good, too. Es Baluard, the city's contemporary art gallery, opened in 2004, taking its cue from the Miró Foundation, which opened in 1981 in what used to be the Catalan artist's studio. It regularly hosts exhibitions and talks, and has helped establish Palma as the Balearics' leading art destination alongside the city's 40 or so other galleries.
For food, as well as many old-style delicatessens selling local olives, cheese and sobrassada - a soft, spicy local sausage - there are several restaurants that have foodies waxing lyrical about Palma's gastronomic revolution. Tast (www.tast.com) has made a name for itself for well-executed tapas in cool surroundings and British chef Marc Fosh has garnered serious column inches for his restaurant Simply Fosh (www.simplyfosh.com), set in a converted convent.
But if you're after a coffee, a snack and some people watching, try one of the ensaimadas - Mallorca's answer to the croissant, albeit one dusted in sugar - at Cappuccino (www.grupocappuccino.com), a cool chain of cafés across the island. Sitting outside their branch in the Plaza Juan Carlos, watching shoppers strut past with bags from local designer boutiques, gives the impression that Palma is now a bona fide cosmopolitan capital city.
If that all sounds a bit too much like your hectic life back home, rural Mallorca has also been attracting more top-end visitors. Its Serra de Tramuntana range, which covers the northern third of the island, is dotted with monasteries, farmhouses and olive groves, and was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2011. It's long been popular with everyone from cyclists - including Olympic teams who train on the steep roads - to celebrities who hide away in the tiny, picturesque coastal village of Deià. Opulent hotel La Residencia (www.hotel-laresidencia.com), which opens for the season in mid-February, is popular with the Hollywood set, and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones famously have an extraordinarily large house here.
All budgets are catered for, though. Agroturismos - a broad term encompassing everything from simple farmhouses to sophisticated rural hotels - are now some of the most popular accommodation options on the island and a great way to experience traditional Mallorca. Can Guilló (www.canguillo.com, from €85/ NOK620 a night) is a good option if you've got kids - they'll love the roaming cats, dogs and chickens as well as the resident pony - while parents can enjoy the pool, the cacti-filled gardens and the home-cooked food in this 400-year-old, eco-minded farm.
Not too far away, but at the other end of the scale in both design and size, is Son Brull (www.sonbrull.com, from €270/NOK2,000), a slickly refurbished 18th-century monastery near the town of Pollença, with a fancy spa, high-tech gadgetry in the rooms and yoga classes outside in the garden.
Keeping it spiritual, but this time on a budget, the Santuari de Lluc (www.lluc.net, from €36/NOK260) is a 13th-century monastery that offers simple rooms in the tranquil mountain village of Lluc. It's ideal for hiking in the surrounding peaks, the views are phenomenal, the food hearty - stews and lamb fresh from the nearby slopes - and the silence seriously relaxing. You couldn't be further away from the thumping discotecas of the seaside resorts.