Just off the southwest coast of Mallorca is Sa Dragonera or Dragon's Island. While the outline of the island looks like a slumbering dragon, it is also home to countless numbers of tiny dragons, or rather lizards. While no one lives on the island today, Talayotic, Roman and Moorish ruins have been found, proving that people have eked out a lonely existence on the rugged rock for many years. The fresh water spring near Cala Lledo would have made it a good stopping point and a tiny harbour was built nearby over the years.
King Jaime I's fleet stopped in the bay in September 1229, on his way to conquer the island from the Moors. While his men refilled their water barrels, and the knights stretched their legs, their horses were rested. Jaime himself pitched his tent on the tiny island of Panteleu, a short distance from St Elmo's beach. Read more about the fleet's visit on the Sant Elm webpage.
Over the years, furnaces were built and pine and olive trees were burnt to create charcoal, a material used for by several trades as for domestic fires and cooking. Kilns were built to cook limestone, creating lime for mortar, whitewash and disinfectants.
Farmers also raised cattle and grew crops to live off while their wives picked fan palm leaves to make baskets and collected orchella lichen to make purple dye. During the Middle Ages falcons were taken from the island and bought by the rich and powerful to practice falconry.
During the 1500s, when pirates frequently threatened to attack, watchtowers were built on Na Popia, the highest point in the centre of the island, and at Cap des Llebeig at the south end of the island. They would warn the small garrison in St Elm tower if pirates were approaching so that messengers could gallop off to warn the villagers in Andratx.
Over the years, the farmers left the island until no one was left. However, there was pressure to build on the island during the tourist boom in the 1970s. The local people fought against the developers and saved Sa Dragonera, making the island a symbol of conservation. Consell de Mallorca bought the island in 1987 and it was immediately turned into a Natural Area of Special Interest; the island and surrounding waters were made into a Natural Park in 1995.
Sa Dragonera Natural Park is made up of three islets, Sa Dragonera, Illot des Pantaleu and Sa Mitiana, covering 274 hectares, while the surrounding expanse of sea is a Site of Community Importance and Area of Special Protection for Birds. Sa Dragonera's rocky slopes and dry climate give the island a rich array flora and fauna.
There are 361 different plant species and 18 can only be found on the Balearics. There are large areas of wild olive and spurge olive while the cliffs are a perfect habitat for many species. Several kinds of wall lizards can be seen everywhere if you look closely and one cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Many types of sea birds nest on Dragonera and you can spend time watching their antics as they soar in the breeze. You may see the Audouin gull and the Balearic shearwater, a bird which is only found around the Balearic Islands. There are also several types of birds of prey, including a large number of Eleonora falcons, a bird unique to the island, which heads to Madagascar for the winter.
To get to the island we have to cross the channel of water which is 800 m wide and up to 15 metres deep. You can catch the ferry from St Elmo's quayside several times a day (cost 10 euros in 2011) and then find your sea legs as the captain heads for the island. Ferries also cross to St Elmo from Port d'Andratx. The sea floor is also a thriving ecological landscape covered with areas of Neptune Grass which are home for a wide variety of marine species and corals.
There are four walks on the island; a short one around the harbour area, and one to each of the three automatic lighthouses. Far Vell is at the summit of the highest peak, Far de Llebeig is at the south end of the island and Far de Tramuntana is at the north end. If you head to the northern point, look across to the mainland and see if you can see the Trappist monastery of Sa Trapa
French monks settled there in the 18th Century, built a tiny monastery and built terraces so they could live off the land. They had to leave in 1820 and the monastery fell into ruins and eventually burnt down, however, the Friends of Trapa and the Balearic Ornithological Group bought the area recently and are in the process of restoring the monastery and surrounding area.
If you are looking for solitude and wonderful views, Dragonera is just the place. However, take plenty of fluids and some food because there you cannot obtain any on the island.
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