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Manchester
on the Med

 

11:07am Saturday 11th July 2009

Steve Pratt gets a taste of the Balearics in Manchester’s Albert Square.

THE weather wasn’t exactly Mediterranean, but the atmosphere was. And people in Albert Square have never look so cheerful, mainly because this wasn’t soap’s most miserable location in EastEnders, but the Albert Square in the centre of Manchester.

Tourist chiefs promoting the Balearic islands – Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera – decided to entice holidaymakers to their part of the world by bringing a slice of Balearic life to them.

For four days and nights, the city centre became home to more than 200 artists, dancers, musicians, craftspeople and Minorcan horses, as they entertained crowds in two pavilions in the shadow of the Town Hall.

The islands are famous for their festivals and fiestas, so the Balearic roadshow couldn’t help adding a flavour of the Mediterranean sunshine under the sometimes overcast North- West skies.

It certainly beats looking through a brochure, with a lineup ranging from flamenco dancers to a ten-piece rock band, from an indoor exhibition by Balearic artists to Xalandri, a six-piece group formed to keep the style of music and traditions of the Balearics alive through songs by Minorcan composers.

The biggest crowds were in the giant Perspex marquee for hourly performances by nine Minorcan horses, with riders urging them on to demonstrate traditional skills dating back to the 14th Century.

Hopefully, the horses were stabled well away come dark and the arrival of the Correfoc Devils. These performers must be a nightmare for the health and safety people, with their outdoor fire, fireworks and dance show.

It was hot, explosive stuff as they paraded around their enclosed area in the street breathing fire, lighting fireworks and generally lighting up the place.

There was a daily parade through the streets of Manchester with giant figures, folk groups and musicians.

 

The people from these islands know how to throw a festival with craftsmen, entertainers and musicans coming together in a party-like atmosphere.

Mallorca has a snail fair, olive oil fair, partridge fair, melon fair, grape harvest festival, wild mushroom fair and even a sweet and patisseries fair.

Animals aren’t left out, with horse fairs and a traditional Fresian cow competition at Alaior country fair.

Many festivals aim to pay religious homage to the saints.

Neighbourhood barbecues in Pollenc honour the town’s patron.

Recent years have seen the addition of concerts aimed at a younger audience.

The festival of San Juan in Minorca draws crowds from all over the world to see horses race through the streets with riders in 18th Century costume.

The climax finds the horses rearing up and onlookers trying to touch the animals for luck.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games. The islands offer walking and hiking for visitors. The unspoiled landscape on Formentera, the smaller sister island to Ibiza, earns it the name “the last paradise”.

Majorca was the pioneer of holiday tourism in the Sixties, but offers more than sun, sea, sand and sangria, with remote coves, restored windmills, picturesque mountain villages and natural parks.