Climbing the Calvario: a Pilgrim’s Trail in Pollença, Majorca

From the bottom, it looks a long way up….

“One hundred!” says my husband, stopping in triumph on a broad limestone step. He’s got there first. Or has he? I tramp on past him, another three steps. “No,” I correct him, “this is one hundred.”

We stare at each other without animosity and then we look back down and decide as one that it isn’t worth going back down to the bottom and starting again just to settle the matter. Whoever is right we’ve only to glance upwards and we see the steps sweeping upwards and we know we’ve got another 265 (or possibly another 268) to go before we reach the top.

The Pilgrimage Steps of Pollença

Here in the town of Pollença, on the island of Majorca, the Calvario (a flight of steps up to a medieval chapel) serendipitously combines three things which define the island of Majorca – religion, tourism and limestone. The 365 steps which scale up the hill from the centre of the ancient town are the scene of a dramatic pilgrimage every Good Friday as holy relics are carried down them in a torch lit procession.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • Majorca is an historic place and there’s more to it than beaches.
  • You’ve eaten too much already and you need some exercise to burn off some of those calories.
  • Great for pilgrims – religious or otherwise.

For the rest of the year, the pilgrims have a rather more mundane purpose. Sun-worshippers by and large, they scale the broad staircase to reward themselves with a spectacular view from the top. We climb on, still counting. The rest of the party have taken advantage of our halt to make good way and are well ahead. We charge on upwards. He gets ahead. It isn’t that he’s fitter – it’s that I’m talking a little more time to enjoy the walk.

At the very top of the steps, a small chapel

And it’s a pleasant walk, if not altogether an easy one (the steps are too wide and uneven to allow you to get into a rhythm). The route is lined with houses and apartments, most of them very old and offering frequent glimpses of old Spain: with the sun on my back I amble up, stopping to admire the opulence of their window boxes and the fierce tangle of cacti in their gardens.

Views – and Ice Cream – at the Top

I overtake a few other would-be pilgrims as I near the top. An elderly man strums contentedly on a Spanish guitar and the strains of Amazing Grace accompany me on the final push. Pausing for breath I wipe the sweat from my scarlet face and look around me for the rest of the family. They’re sitting on a bench looking smug: they’ve reached the object of their own pilgrimage, the ice cream kiosk.

Ancient buildings line the pilgrims’ route

We stay at the top for a while. It’s a rewarding place, offering a contrast to the beaches where visitors pack themselves in the sun like sardines on a griddle. Although you’d be foolish to imagine that Majorca is more traditionally-minded than anywhere else in Spain, Pollença’s Calvario offers a sense of a society that seems, at its heart, devoutly religious. There’s a tiny chapel at the very top, open to visitors: it’s popular but still offers a hint of peace and a cool shade.

We admire the view, which encompasses limestone mountains, the turquoise sea and another, higher calvario to the south of the town, and return to the top of the steps, balancing for a moment like divers on a board. “How many did you make it?” asks my husband.

“I lost count,” I admit.

He nods. “So did I.”

And we tiptoe on downwards towards the town. Counting. One…two…three….

Practicalities

  • Pollença is just a few kilometres inland from the tourist resort of Port de Pollença and is easily accessible by bus.
  • The climb up to the chapel isn’t steep but it’s long and there are a lot of steps. It can be hard work in the heat, too, especially if you aren’t used to the exertion. Take your time and take a bottle of water.
  • The town is a great place to browse the shops for souvenirs and, once you’ve climbed the steps and earned your reward, there are many palces to get a cold drink and a cup of coffee.

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