A few days ago I drove the Sa Calobra Road in Mallorca. My weapon of choice? A rental spec 2wd diesel Jeep Renegade, a car that I really wanted to like, but one which turned out to be full of niggly ergonomics and some woesome quirks. This is not a Jeep Renegade review.
My co-pilot and fiancé was tasked with containing her fear and taking some stunning shots as we went down one the greatest driving roads in Europe, all while we were to be pressured by coaches and cyclists on what is essentially a single track road.
If you’ve never been to Mallorca before, the whole island is a mini nirvana of roads, and car hire is cheap. Plenty of twists and turns, scooting up mountainsides and down towards the many coves and beaches that litter the coastline, and all fabulously maintained saving for the odd encroaching tree (which is swiftly turned into a signpost).
Our AirBnB was in the quiet little town of Deia, where I had proposed just two days earlier. Thankfully, she said yes, stopping me from ditching the Renegade and becoming a hermit in the Mallorcan olive groves.
As we headed from Deia along the North of the island; the MA-2141 to Sa Calobra, officially called the Coll dels Reis, revealed itself off the main road through the Serra de Tramuntana mountains.
An engineering masterpiece, it was designed by the appropriately named Antonio Parietti Coll. Built in 1932, when Sa Calobra had only a few habitants, there was little economic motive to join Sa Calobra to the rest of the island by road; the sinuous route down the mountain was built to attract tourists, and Parietti Coll had every incentive to make the road as much of a draw as its destination.
Built without any machinery, it was designed to be as efficient as possible without tunneling through the mountains. As such, it sits like a strand of spaghetti, hugging the mountainsides for over 9km. This feat involved the excavation, crushing, and subsequent re-laying of 31,000m³ of geography. A heroic feat for a road of little economic value.
The road includes the infamous Nus de Sa Calobra, or ‘necktie’, one of the most famous curves in the world. The 270-degree hairpin was Coll’s creative solution to a high drop in the rock that made a standard hairpin impossible. It was also an excellent way to rid the build of excavations which would otherwise have to be transported away.
The Necktie is very much the ‘lest ye’ dare’ in the Sa Calobra road. It is the last available parking and turning spot for the next 8km. If you don’t want to drive the road, this is where you get off. Conveniently, if you’re still undecided on your descent, the café here offers some Dutch courage in the form of German Schnapps and Spanish liquors.
Setting aside my penchant for tasty alcoholic beverages, we started the 8km leg at around 12:30. We were (luckily) only preceded by an X3 and an Ibiza. Both set a really good pace for the descent, and as soon as we hit the main ribbon of tarmac the Jeep’s foibles and hideous little IAMAREALJEEPLOOK bits were instantly dissolved.
The view is spectacular, the heat-soaked tarmac snaking away into the distance even more overwhelming. Any car would be a riot on a road like this, and my immediate thought bled to Porsche’s test driver who once got to drive a closed Sa Calobra for the purpose of an advert. Lucky b...
Turn after turn, the little Jeep kept its grip, as did Jenny with her hands and my phone out of the window. Wide sweeps, narrow hairpins, up down ‘WATCH OUT GRASS!’ ‘ROCK!’, it had me grinning like I knew something that Sa Calobra didn’t.
We had the windows open and the weather on our side. The first 4km are absolutely exhilarating. And what’s more is we met barely anyone else on the way down except for some free-wheeling cyclists.
On the subject of ‘ROCKS!’; The road has it’s narrow points, but it is nowhere near as narrow as legend would have you believe. However, there are certain points on the way down where - aided by gravity - you really have to concentrate to avoid the stony outcrops and the blind corner boulders. Rocks don’t bend as much a Jeep Renegades.
As you close in towards the end of the road, you encounter another famous landmark. Two more slabs of rock, leaning up against each other like failed domino rally pieces, and leaving the narrowest of gaps in their void. Seemingly a man of my own heart, Parietti Coll decided to pave the road right in-between these slabs. While not a particularly daunting prospect when up close, from afar it looks like the road ends at a cave, and anyone in front is tentatively swallowed whole, brake lights flaring.
Then, at the base of the road, you’re presented with a choice: Turn around and do it again, enjoy the beauty of Sa Calobra beach, or hang a left towards Cala Tuent. After watching coachloads of tourists disembarking at Sa Calobra, we struck left and continued our drive - and boy am I glad we did.
What we found at the end of the 10 minute detour was a secluded pebble beach, with three boats anchored in the bay and barely anyone else there.
Cala Tuent was a hidden gem. I don’t enjoy busy beaches at the best of times, and coming down from the high of driving the MA-2141 just to be lumped into a distant parking spot for a packed beach would not have been my ideal end to the descent. Instead, we were treated to crystal clear waters, a 270 degree panorama of Spanish mountainside, a horizon that wanted to blend into the sky, and almost complete privacy.
If you ever manage to do ‘Sa Calobra’ - Turn left, and don’t do Sa Calobra.
Snorkeling complete, baguettes eaten, sun bathed- we walked up to the car and readied ourselves for the drive back up. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but up is not the same as down, and we were both hoping for a different viewpoint and experience of the same road.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what we got.
Just a few minutes into the drive back up we encountered a coach. These roads weren’t designed for coaches. Three-point turns on the hairpins, constant stops due to oncoming traffic, coaches on the ascent find a snail’s pace exhausting. If the strike across to Cala Tuent bites you in any way, it’s that you can’t time your journey back up the mountain to avoid them.
The super chilled pace allowed us to bash a couple of extra photos out, chat wedding and honeymoon (around Italy in a Giulia Spider!), and really contemplate just how awful the arse-end of a Juke is.
Finally, our bus-shaped slave master left us, turning left at the t-junction where we turned right on the road back to Deia - thankfully complete with central markers and plenty of passing places - where we had cold beers awaiting our return.
This was something that I hadn’t researched, and only found out about once I was on the island. Considering the superb roads around the whole of Mallorca, this road is but the jewel in the well-ordained crown for the Mallorca driver, and is absolutely something I would return for.
Put the road to Sa Calobra on your bucket list- just make sure to avoid the coaches. And consider not going to Sa Calobra.