Mallorca is the largest of Spain's Balearic Islands, an autonomous region that sits in the Mediterranean off the Iberian coastline. Along with the other islands in the chain — Minorca, Formentera and party-happy Ibiza — Mallorca (sometimes spelled Majorca) is one of Europe's most popular beach destinations. More than 20 million people come to the island each year.

While crowds clog the best beaches and numerous resorts house the massive amount of holiday makers, Mallorca has managed to maintain a more natural side. Grassroots efforts to promote conservation have been quite successful, with various parks and nature preserves being formed as the result of a movement to counter resort and hotel development. Wetlands, forests, uninhabited islets, mountains and even beaches are now protected from future development.

Eco-tourists and those seeking non-mainstream vacations will find what they are looking for in the little-visited corners of Mallorca. Quiet beaches that require an hourlong hike to reach are delightfully uncrowded, while converted farmhouses and village inns cater to people who want to spend their vacation in the inland regions of the island in relative isolation and in close proximity to nature. Mallorca, in a way, has the best of both worlds: the infrastructure to deal with the tourist hordes and plenty of places to escape the mainstream holiday scene and enjoy nature and quaint local culture.

Go green

Mallorca is a major tourist destination, so getting between resort areas and major cities and towns like Palma, the capital, is easy to do. Less-visited areas have more infrequent bus service, requiring people who want to rely on public transit to make definite plans. That said, it is possible to get almost anywhere on Mallorca with a little planning and scheduling savvy.

Two train lines run through the island. The most useful one starts in Palma and travels through minor towns, ending in the villages of Manacor and Sa Pobla. This train is ideal for people who want to visit these smaller, more rural destinations. The second train makes five daily one-hour trips from Palma to Soller, past some of the most scenic land in all of the Balearics. The Soller train is made up of vintage rail cars, so it is more of a tourist experience than a means of transportation.

Cycling is a possibility, with bike rentals widely available. Cycling infrastructure and services are well defined and cycling is somewhat integrated with the mass transit system.

Sleep green

Hotel Bon Sol was a green hotel when the environmental movement was in its infancy; it has been relying on green energy for decades. The gardens of this family-run seaside resort are the most visible green aspect, but a recycling program, solar panels, and a reliance on biofuel make this a truly eco-friendly sleeping spot.

Another green-tinted seaside resort is the Blau Mediterraneo Hotel. This hotel recently reopened after renovations and now holds ISO 14001 designation as a business with an exceptional environmental management policy. The Blau's recycling and energy efficiency measures make it one of the greenest large hotels on the island.

The smaller, rural inns have Mallorca's best low-impact accommodations. Often called agroturismos, these isolated converted farmhouses and small inns are a great way to get away from the resort scene and into a more authentic setting. The Son Bernadinet inn sits on a large piece of rural landscapes with pine and cypress trees. Aside from its delicious isolation and natural environs, Bernadinet has organic vegetable gardens that provide much of the food served to guests. Other inns, like Can Tem, are in small villages and preserve much of their classic architecture and quaint atmosphere.

Eat green

Unlike many popular island destinations, Mallorca is filled with venues for purchasing and eating locally grown foods. Palma has several grocers that specialize in organic and natural foods. Farmers markets take place around the island every day, with a majority of markets open on Wednesdays and on the weekend.

Meanwhile, people can get even closer to the source at Finca Son Barrina Organic Farm, a farm with a small shop that sells produce on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. One of the sit-down restaurant standouts in Palma is Ecorganic GastroBar Restaurant, an eatery that relies on organic ingredients to make cutting edge dishes. Ecorganic also has organic wines and offers good value with its set lunch menu.

Some eateries are located in smaller villages and have a more-rural, quaint vibe. Ca Na Toneta is one such eatery. Oils, vinegars and jams are produced onsite and other ingredients are sourced from local farmers. Limon y Chelo is another small spot that focuses on making artistic dishes using fresh and local foods.

See green

People who want to skip the beaches and crowds can head to one of the island's agroturismos. These converted farmhouses are basically resorts for people who want to avoid the resort experience. Almost all are quite isolated and surrounded by nature. A majority are located inland, so they are away from the crowded seaside. Hiking, wandering through farmlands, or exploring small towns that have been little altered by the tourism boom makes this a completely different type of vacation than the sun-and-sand holiday that most people associate with the Balearic Islands.

There is no need to find refuge inland if you want to enjoy the sea. However, Mallorca's most isolated beaches require hiking through sometimes-challenging terrain. Es Carbo Beach is one such quiet spot. A half-hour-long hike is required to get there, unless you have a boat that you can moor off of the coastline. Cala Varques is another isolated beach that requires a bit of walking unless you arrive by boat. Located in a cove, Varques is one of the more scenic spots on the island. In-the-know travelers frequent S'Amarador Beach, recently voted one of Europe's best. As part of a national park, it is protected and cannot be accessed easily by car or boat.

Palma's beaches are generally busy, but the city itself is good for foot-powered sightseeing because of its cathedrals, castles, plazas and other historic attractions. Since almost everyone passes through Palma on the way to other destinations around the island, it is a convenient place to spend some sightseeing time.

Mallorca's inland mountain landscapes are quite a contrast with the sandy coastal beaches. Pine trees and rocky summits make the island appear more like a sunny version of Scotland or Wales instead of a beach destination in the Med. Serra de Tramuntana is the most accessible and popular place to hike at altitude. This mountain range includes privately owned land, and routes are changeable as owners can close or alter paths at their will. Another place with accessible nature is Mondrago Nature Park, which is on the southeastern coast of the island. Its blue waters and white sand draw many visitors, but the park is also a haven for birds, with both migrating and endemic species found inside the park.

The Llevant Peninsula Nature Park is a good attraction for visitors who want to explore all of the diverse Mallorcan landscapes. Llevant has both hilly and mountainous sections and a seaside portion of the park that boasts some of the most remote, little-visited beaches. An onsite visitors center makes it possible to plan a lengthy hiking excursion that includes both coastal areas and hills.

The Cabrera Archipelago Maritime Terrestrial National Park is another protected area on Mallorca. This archipelago features 19 islands (only one of which is populated). There are land-based excursions, mainly hiking and ranger-guided tours, though the real action is in the water. A ban on fishing means that the seas in this area are teeming with rare fish, sea turtles and even whales. Sa Dragonera is another island preserve, founded after protesters occupied the island in the late 1970s in opposition to a planned tourist resort development. In a rare but welcome result, the protesters won and the island became a nature preserve. Now, the population of sea birds and reptiles make this a good destination for nature-spotters.

Yet another natural spot on the island is S'Albufera, which boasts a wetlands-focused nature preserve. Like other reserves in the Balearics, it was born to answer fears of overdevelopment. Birds, from falcons to harriers to ospreys, can be sighted in the park. Hiking trails and boardwalks make it possible to explore, and bird-watching hikes make S'Albufera one of the better places to view rare feathered inhabitants of the island.

Mallorca is a beach-goers paradise and an easily accessible, yet exotic, destination. While people might expect resorts and crowded sands, the island's interior and less accessible coastlines are amazingly natural, and a long history of nature conservation and rural tourism makes this a great stop for green-minded travelers as well as sun seekers.

Want more vacation ideas? Check out more eco-friendly destinations.

MNN tease photos of Mallarca and dancers via Shutterstock

Mallorca: Destination of the week
While crowds clog the best beaches and numerous resorts house the massive amount of holiday makers, Mallorca has managed to maintain a more natural side.