Camí de Cavalls: a tour of Menorca on foot or by bike
The opening up of the ancient Camí de Cavalls encircling Menorca has allowed this paradise in the Balearic Islands to tell its story via imposing backdrops that challenge even the most extreme sports enthusiasts. Take off on an adventure by flying to the island from 4,500 Avios each way.
All images courtesy of Camí de Cavalls 360°
Camí de Cavalls means ‘road of horses’ in Catalan but, in reality, it’s a road of many that has become a symbol of Menorcan identity – it’s no surprise that the path precisely follows the shape of the island.
Map created by descobreixmenorca.com
The story of Camí de Cavalls: from pirates to a social movement
Thought to have been created in the 14th century to safeguard the shoreline, this route has inspired legends linked to fascinating characters such as the pirate Barbarossa, who is said to have threatened Menorca in the 16th century. “The Balearic Islands are a borderland between the Christian and Muslim worlds, so pirate attacks were frequent. Hence the necessity for a network of coastal watchtowers,” says Miquel Àngel Casasnovas, who has a History PhD from the University of the Balearic Islands.
In the 17th century, it became compulsory for the adjacent estates to mark the path and to allow access to and passage over it. However, by the 1960s, it no longer served any military purpose and the owners were exempted from this responsibility. Consequently, as private property, free passage through it was no longer allowed. In the 1990s, the citizens’ platform Coordinadora del Camí de Cavalls was created to restore the public use of the path. It was a social movement whose efforts were recognised when the island’s government created a specific law in this regard.
185km that encircle the island of Menorca
Today, the 185km route that winds through beaches, trails and roads can be followed all the way round the island. It is listed as a long-distance walking route (GR233) and can be done on foot, on horseback or by bike. El Camí, which can be enjoyed all year round, but specially outside the summer season, fits very well with the idea of a sustainable Menorca, a Unesco biosphere reserve, and it makes it possible to discover many of the island’s landmarks. In fact, some of them can be reached only via trails. However, the island’s natural heritage is not the only narrative to be found along the path. “It passes through historical and ethnological monuments such as ponts de bestiar (buildings for livestock), water reservoirs, Roman ruins, caves, the prehistoric necropolis at Cala Morell, the Paleochristian basilica in Fornells, and more recent monuments such as the Sa Caleta defence tower (from the British period in the late 18th century), and trenches from Spain’s Civil War,” adds Miquel Ángel.
The route round Menorca as a sport
Joan Febrer is a mountain biker and the man who founded Camí de Cavalls 360° in 2012. Joan, who had biked round islands such as Lanzarote, Sardinia and Iceland, created his business to provide services to people coming to Menorca hoping to follow the path round the island either by trail running or riding a mountain bike. The company handles hotels and baggage transfers from one hotel to another and provides general assistance. The route is organised into 20 stages that have been completed by both Spanish adventurers and those from places as far away as Russia, Canada and New Zealand. Some combine the beach with a more active form of tourism. Others are athletes. For the latter, six years ago Joan launched the Epic 360°, a trail running and MTB stage race in pairs. All of these activities support conservation, as a portion of the money paid by participants goes to a Camí de Cavalls 360° project. “Although we think that the main factor behind the erosion or loss of a road is a lack of use, we want our activity not only to be sustainable, but to actually have a positive impact,” says Joan.
The races are always accompanied by an environmental impact study and the island’s government is allocating part of the sustainable tourism tax to conserving the Camí. On the island, there’s already buzz about restoring other historic roads. Doing this would help to prevent the erosion of the Camí des Cavalls and connect Iron Age archaeological sites of the Talaiotic people who once lived on the island. Joan has been dreaming of creating this itinerary through the island’s prehistoric heritage for some time now. This cyclist – who’s ridden three times round the island in a single day – likes a good challenge. And he very well may have found his next one due to a new popular demand.