The Balearic Islands are located in the Mediterranean off the east coast of mainland Spain. The three main islands are Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca. There are also the two tiny and unspoilt islands of Formentera, to the south of Ibiza, and Cabrera, off the southern coast of Mallorca. The islands are a favourite holiday haunt of royalty, the seriously rich and famous and package tourists from all over the world. Each has a different landscape and distinct character; between them, the Balearics offer something for everyone.
Ibiza is the nearest to the mainland, 100 kilometres off the Costa Blanca coast. It's just 45 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide at its central point but this is the party capital of Europe. It has some of the biggest and best nightclubs in the world, attracting big name DJs, a celebrity clientele and hordes of Britain's most hardened partygoers. The wild antics of Ibiza's clubbers have attracted plenty of media attention - notably in 1988 when the British vice-consul resigned in disgust over the "degenerate" behaviour of the lager lout element from his homeland.
But travel a short distance from the two club land areas of Ibiza town and San Antonio and you'll find the other, lesser-known Ibiza - an island of traditional Spanish villages amid the orange and lemon groves, stunning mountains, cliffs and delightful hidden coves. There are colourful street markets, local fiestas and Spanish tapas bars where the locals gather but foreigners rarely tread.
The island is just over two hours flying time from London and can also be reached by ferry from the Spanish ports of Denia, Valencia, Alicante and Barcelona. If you take a trip over to Formentera (an hour by ferry from Ibiza town) you'll discover one of the Mediterranean's best-kept secrets - an island paradise of dunes, cliffs and coves with some of the cleanest unspoilt beaches and clearest waters in the Mediterranean.
To the north west of Ibiza lies Mallorca, the largest of the Balearics and one of Europe's top holiday destinations attracting some six million visitors a year. The island is about 100 kilometres from east to west and 75 kilometres from north to south. It's an island of huge contrasts with frantically busy international tourist centres in the south west and a beautiful, unspoilt mountainous region in the north. The capital, Palma de Mallorca, is fast gaining a reputation as one of the Mediterranean's most exclusive holiday resorts whilst nearby Magaluf is a magnet for package holidaymakers, particularly "the lads" who snap up the "Shagaluf" T-shirts on sale at the beachfront kiosks.
Most tourists head for the south of the island but if you take the time to explore the hinterland and northern coast you'll find a rural heartland virtually untouched by tourism and dramatic, rugged mountains concealing lovely unspoilt beaches.
From the southeast tip of Mallorca, you can take a boat trip out to the beautiful archipelago of Cabrera which has been declared a National Maritime Territorial park. The crystal clear waters here are a paradise for divers and snorkellers.
Menorca is the easternmost of the Balearic Islands - it's also the most lush, tranquil and unspoilt of the three main islands. It's not a place for party animals. But if you're looking for endless miles of uncrowded beaches, delightful fishing villages and historic towns, you've come to the right place. King Juan Carlos pops over here on the royal yacht from Mallorca for fresh seafood lunches.
Visitors to the Balearics should note that a fiercely resisted "eco-tax" was introduced in May 2002 to combat the increasing threat to the environment posed by mass tourism. You pay per night at a rate dependent on the style of holiday accommodation. Five star hotels attract the top rate of two Euros per night and environmentally friendly rural accommodation, classed as "agrotourism", has the lowest rate of 25 cents. Children under 12 are exempt.