Mayonnaise, gin, cheese and taulas ……..what do these words bring to mind? No, you got it wrong! The answer is ………Menorca!
Yep, not many people know that mayonnaise (and who doesn’t love dollops of it on chips) was invented by the Duc de Richelieu on encountering and adapting the Menorca aioli. As for gin this little island is home to Xoriguer Distillery and is well-known for producing its own distinctively fragrant variety of the spirit.
But where is Menorca might you ask? This Balearic Island is located in the Mediterranean off the Spanish coast not far from Mallorca. Menorca means windy island and hardly surprising as there is a gentle breeze on most days due to its relatively flat relief. A little wind is welcome if you consider that the island enjoys 300 days of yearly sunshine.
Booze, sea and sun ….convinced? Well what enticed me to the island were none of the aforementioned but more the opportunity to take part in what I consider to be a fantastic and scenically beautiful trail race. The Cami de Cavalls is the backdrop of several trail races organized on the island in May. It is an ancient hiking trail/path of 186km that takes you around the coastline of the island. This long-distance walking route is the GR223 of the Senderos de Gran Recorrido network in Spain. Historically-speaking the Cami de Cavalls was built in order to connect the watchtowers, fortresses and cannons distributed along the coast. It was patrolled by soldiers mounted on horses hence the word cavalls meaning horses in Catalan.
In the 2015 edition there were several distances: 185km, 100km, 55km (trekking), 32km (trekking).
The 85km race (TMCS, Trail Menorca Costa Sud)) takes on the whole southern coastline from Es Castell to Ciutadella. This is the trail race I decided to do as I really wanted to experience as much of the historic Cami de Cavalls as possible but had only just recovered from Marathon des Sables 4 weeks prior. Taking that into consideration it seemed the best and most reasonable option. I arrived in Menorca on Thursday and my race start was on Saturday so this provided me with the opportunity to relax a little, do some sight-seeing and pick up my number and chip without too much stress. Thursday on arrival in Ciutadella I picked up my number and chip after some leisurely tapas and rosé in the port and attended the race briefing in the late afternoon for the 185km. This was followed by a cocktail with some local dignitaries involved in the sponsorship and promotion of Trail Menorca .
The Friday was spent walking around the cobbled streets in the old quarter of Citadel and having fresh grilled squid al fresco with 2015 MDS winner Elisabet Barnes near the town-hall and an early night in anticipation of the early race start the following day. Saturday I was woken by my alarm at 5am. Some instant porridge and I was off to catch the shuttle bus at 6am to the start in Es Castell. What is practical about the different races is that they all finish in Ciutadella, the 185km and 100km (TMCN Trail Menorca Costa Nord) starting a day before. Shuttle buses at the finish in Ciutadella take the runners to the start of the different races so logistically it makes sense to book your accommodation at the finish and it is completely hassle-free. Also should you drop out (highly unlikely of course) or not make the cut off times shuttle busses are laid on at the checkpoints to take you back to the finish).
An 85km drive along the coastline and the bus of excited runners arrives in Es Castell. During the journey Elisabet and I exchange worried looks as the rain starts pelting down – this must be one of the 65 days of rain on the island! However, it proves to be just a short-lived downpour and at 8am we start the race in cool and pleasant temperatures.
The course is well marked with the over 2.200 GR 223 landmarks making it hard to get lost with added signage and red & white tape in urban areas on lamps or posts. These are reinforced with spray paint, biodegradable tape and red leds for runners running at night.
There are 7 well-equipped feed stations on the TMCS offering water, coca cola (ice-cold), isotonic drinks, fruit juices, fruit, nuts, dates, bread, Nutella and local ham and cheese. I found it unnecessary to take any additional food supplies although the race is supposed to be “self-sufficient” and runners are encouraged to do so. The support, friendliness and encouragement at the feed stations are amazing. When you do this race you really don’t feel like a number when you are cheered as you enter the feed station and cheered when you leave!
I was incredibly surprised at the beauty of the course. I had been told that the TMCN along the North Coast was more scenic although much more technical but to be honest the TMCS was absolutely stunning. The variety of the course is unrivalled – beach sections, little coves of azure turquoise water, tiny coastal villages, luscious green flowered fields and cliffs overlooking the island’s multitude of pristine bays.
The course is partly exposed and partly shaded providing a certain amount of respite from the midday sun. Temperatures at this time of the year can vary and although the day spent sightseeing was quite hot (36°C), on race day it was pleasantly mild. The only technical parts of the course are along the sea-front on hardened rock formations where you can easily trip up especially once fatigue starts setting in and the last section of the course although flat was quite technical and rocky with the head-on wind from the North Tramuntana complicating matters! At this point I was walking as I really didn’t want to trip up on the rocks and no longer had the energy to battle against the wind.
The final kilometres of the race take you through the coastal seaside resorts into the finish area at Ciutadella where a welcoming crowd of local supporters and giant paella and free beers await the finishers. The icing on the cake? The beautiful medal with the words Live the Legend……..and I really felt I lived the Cami de Cavalls ….. until 2016 that is!
Ciutadella and the surrounding area is extremely Spanish and beautiful – take a look.
Race images are available to view and purchase HERE