358 metres above sea level may not seem like much for a mountain, but if it is located on a Mediterranean island of less than 700 square kilometres, things change. From its summit you can make out the entire perimeter of Menorca, and even see neighbouring Mallorca on clear days. Shall we go up to enjoy the magnificent views offered by Monte Toro?
Legend has it that a bull guarded the top of this mountain, blocking the way of anyone who dared to approach it. Some monks climbed up there, attracted by some mysterious lights that shone in the night. The bull came out to meet them to scare them away, but on seeing the crosses they were carrying, he led them meekly to a cave where they discovered the image of a virgin, since then known as Nuestra Señora del Toro (Our Lady of the Bull). More 'earthly' voices suggest that the name of this popular Menorcan mountain comes from the word 'tor', which in Arabic refers to something high or elevated.
It is precisely the sanctuary of the Virgin of Monte Toro - run until last March 2018 by nuns of the Franciscan Order of Mercy - a pilgrimage site as it is the patron saint of Menorca. Built in the 17th century (1670) on the remains of an old Gothic church, it houses the wooden carving of the Virgin Mary. The church has a single nave with three chapels on each side. In one of them is the cave where the Virgin was found, as well as the amphora where she was hidden underground during the Civil War. The church is crowned by a small dome built over the transept and is open every day for pilgrims and visitors with free admission for anyone who comes here.
Next to the sanctuary is a solemn and sturdy rectangular defensive tower, used in the past to alert the locals of possible enemy incursions. Although its current height is 10 metres, it is likely that it was originally somewhat higher in medieval times. Until recently it belonged to the Ministry of Defence, where the army had antennas for military use; it is now being restored to be opened to the public and has been declared an Asset of Cultural Interest. A few metres away is a large statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The access is easy (well paved and not too narrow, although there are some steep slopes along the short route), and there is a large car park where you can leave your car. It will take you 5, 30 or 60 minutes to reach the summit from Es Mercadal (the nearest town) depending on the means of transport you choose for the ascent: car, bike or on foot. But don't panic! If you choose to walk up Monte Toro you can recharge your batteries at Sa Posada de Toro.
The village of Es Mercadal, about 3 kilometres from Monte Toro, is one of the most beautiful villages in Menorca. The traditional fiestas of San Martín are held there, where the horses dance to the rhythm of the music in impressive 'jaleos' which are eagerly awaited by locals and tourists alike.
Menorca is not just about beaches and paradisiacal coves; there are also must-see places in the interior, such as Monte Toro, one of the places where you can enjoy the best sunsets on the island. Moreover, once on the top of the mountain and before nightfall, you can play a game to see who can spot the bay of Fornells, the lighthouse of Artrutx or the beach of Son Bou first, among other points of interest.
As well as being the roof of Menorca and the best showcase of the island, as at a glance you can see it almost in its entirety and from a privileged bird's eye view, Monte Toro is its geographical epicentre, so it is undoubtedly one of the places you cannot miss on your next visit.