Drinking Gin and Dancing With Horses on Menorca
Where neighbours Majorca and Ibiza have a reputation as the Balearic’s party islands, tiny Menorca, only 50 kilometres in length, is thought of more as a tranquil destination to get away from it all. Just the sort of place where it’s nice to wander the medieval streets of its old cities or to lounge over long lunches in fish restaurants beside picturesque harbours.
But Menorca has an eccentric side that may shock those who view it as the more conservative of Spain’s Balearic Islands. Majorca and Ibiza boast the best clubbing, but for an experience that is delightfully bizarre, travellers should give Majorca and Ibiza a miss and concentrate on booking cheap flights to Menorca instead.
Yes, the locals drink gin and dance with horses on Menorca.
Gin drinking might not sound so unusual; however, the favourite fiesta drink of the Menorquíns isn’t a beverage normally associated with Spain. It’s a favourite tipple of the English which begs the question why not sangria, sherry, or wine? Why did the Menorquíns opt for an English drink as opposed to a Spanish one?
Britain governed Menorca on three occasions during the 18th and 19th centuries when thousands of British soldiers and sailors were stationed on the island. The thirsty soldiers and sailors requested their favourite drink, gin, at local taverns to such an extent that a few savvy Menorquíns concocted their own version made from juniper berries and herbs. Hey presto, Mahón gin was born.
The method for distilling Mahón gin remains exactly the same today as it did in the times when Jolly Jack Tars filled the island’s tascas; it’s even made by the same producer, Xoriguer, whose gin factory can still found beside Mahón’s port. It’s best served chilled with lemonade and a slice of lemon, a concoction known as pomada, and is especially popular during fiestas, which is where the dancing horses come in.
Horses are revered in Menorca thanks to their role in protecting the island from invaders by patrolling the Camí de Cavalls, a bridleway circling Menorca’s coastline that linked forts and towers; now a recently renovated walking trail. Over the years, the role of Menorquín horses evolved from protecting the island to being the star of the show at fiestas. The horses are specially trained to dance on their hind legs over long distances and through packed crowds; a tradition known as el jáleo which means confusion in English. Confusion is exactly what you get when a huge black steed with embroidered ribbons on its tail and mane dances on its back legs through crowded streets. It’s an impressive, enthralling and even quite frightening spectacle, especially if you happen to be underneath one of the prancing giants.
Although fiestas featuring el jáleo can be seen throughout the summer months, the most popular
takes place in June at the Sant Joan celebrations in the island’s former capital of Cuitadella. Two
unmissable events are the Caragol des Born on the 23rd, when Menorquin horses dance around the
Plaça des Born, and the Jocs des Pla on the 24th which involves horsemen racing against each other
through the crowds to carry out a variety of tasks.
Possibly the craziest activity of all is when locals mob the dancing horses to try to touch their chests
as they rear up on two legs. It might be considered good luck, but there seems an awful lot of scope
for a serious bit of bad luck and accidents are commonplace.
Presumably this is why drinking Mahón gin is so popular at these fiestas; the alcohol helps bolster the spirit and the nerve.
Would you like to drink gin and dance with horses on Menorca? Have you ever visited the island?