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Mallorca's dry stone heritage

Unesco declaration

Last week Unesco's World Heritage committee declared the dry stone walls which criss-cross many European countries as an intangible heritage of humanity. The title was given as the dry stone walls meet specific criteria which include the technique being a living one and the fundamental role it plays in maintaining the environment and landscape.

Here in Mallorca dry stone walling has been employed since time immemorial to divide up the land and protect it and over the years an incredible amount of walls have been constructed. It's reckoned that just in the Sierra Tramuntana area of the island, there are over 20,000 kilometres of these walls, which if built in a straight line would stretch around the globe almost two times.

Building the walls is a skilled technique; the only ingredients required are stone, sand, a few tools and lots of patience. No mortar or cement are used in the construction, the stones are held together by carefully selecting the size and shape of the stones to fit together – the larger ones at the bottom as foundations, and smaller ones towards the top, with sand to fill the gaps – and gravity to hold them all together.

Apart from forming the boundaries to land, the walls also were used in mountainous areas like the Sierra to make the land more manageable for crops on terraces which helped to irrigate the earth and prevent avalanches and flooding. The same technique was also used in the country to build shelters for animals and people working in the hills for long periods like shepherds and charcoal makers.

You can see these incredible agricultural terraces in many places but special mention must go to Banyalbufar, rich in olive, vine and tomato groves and the famous Barranc de Biniaraix hike near Fornalutx.

One of the best ways to experience Mallorca's countryside is to walk its dry stone route - La Ruta de la Pedra en Sec – which covers the entire length of the Sierra Tramuntana mountain range and beyond. I hasten to add that you don't have to do it all in one go!

The clearly signed GR-221 route is actually 164 km long at the moment with plans to expand it to around 300 km so that nearly all of Mallorca will be covered. It takes you through some stunning countryside with incredible views, and in the cooler season the beautiful scent of pine, rosemary and thyme along the way.

One of the best things about this route is that it can be hiked in small sections and you can use the excellent bus service from Valldemossa and Deia to get down to Puerto de Soller and from there to Fornalutx and Biniaraix.

Maybe my holiday snaps in the gallery – all taken in October and December – will inspire you to have a look?