Friday, October 28, 2016

Which Is The Prettiest Village Of Them All?

Which is the prettiest village in Mallorca? Common consent has it that it is Fornalutx. Nestled in the Tramuntana, the only unpretty aspect of this small place is what they do with bulls. But tormenting animals doesn't appear to enter the equation when the inspectors are out and about. These aren't animal-welfare inspectors, they are pretty village inspectors.

Rather like restaurants and chefs need to meet strict criteria for Michelin scrutineers, so a village must also come up to standards if it wishes to be among the prettiest - a pueblo that is among the "más bonito".

Los Pueblos más Bonitos de España is an association that was founded in 2011. It took as its model Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Its aims are: to promote, disseminate and preserve cultural, natural and rural heritage as well as raise awareness of the values of this heritage while also promoting cultural tourism and areas with low levels of industrialisation.

To qualify for inclusion as más bonito a pueblo must have no more than 15,000 inhabitants. In the case of Mallorca, therefore, most "municipalities" could be eligible; most municipalities in Spain could be as well. Having 15,000 people makes a place pretty big when one considers that Fornalutx can muster only around 700. Indeed, having up to 15,000 people would suggest that village status is no longer feasible. There again, we're talking pueblos here; the definition, as in village, town or even hamlet terms can be difficult to pin down precisely.

But Fornalutx, population-wise, unquestionably has village status. What, however, makes it pretty and one of the latest pueblos to be added to the más bonito hall of fame? Experts from the association say that all criteria are met. There is notable architectural heritage. Urban (sic) cleaning is of a high order. There is preservation of building fronts, even of car parks. There are plants on the streets. Water is well managed (though maybe the drought might have something to say about this).

There must, one feels, be rather more to it than this lot. By these criteria, one would think that a whole host of Mallorcan villages (hamlets, whatever) could make the list. Perhaps they will, but then the más bonito list is pretty exclusive. If there were hundreds, thousands of pretty places, the list would no longer be pretty exclusive. As it is, Fornalutx can boast that it is not just the prettiest pueblo in Mallorca, it is the island's only pretty pueblo. Until its recent elevation to the ranks, Mallorca and the Balearics didn't feature on the list.

There are parts of Spain which, according to the list, are prettier than others. Of the 48 in all that are now on it, there is a significant bias in favour of two regions - Aragon and Castile and Leon. Which isn't to say that they don't deserve to be; just that having around half of the prettiest pueblos between them seems a little odd.

The judging committee is presumably immune to outside influences, such as those of social media and the internet. There are other más bonito-type listings. In the case of the website Toprural, it doesn't just have más bonito, it has "maravillosos": the seven wonders of Spain's rural environment. Among the candidates this year isn't Fornalutx but Valldemossa. Of the remaining nineteen against which Valldemossa is pitched are some pueblos familiar to the más bonito list. Valldemossa would appear to need to go some to force itself on to the seven wonders' podium. Much will probably depend on how coherent its social media campaign will be. Rather like Trip Advisor and its best-of lists, anything that is decided by social media and the internet needs to be treated with a touch of scepticism. Still, it does wonders for internet traffic if you invite users to vote for wonders.

Likewise, there is an entirely different más bonito list. The news website 20minutos has one. Sixty pueblos in all are up for voting grabs. There can be only one winner, and the front-runner at present is San Vicente de la Barquera in Cantabria. It has some 55,000 more votes than the first entrant for Mallorca. Which is? Fornalutx? No, it's Pollensa. Fornalutx doesn't get a look in. Is Valldemossa among the sixty? No, but Portocolom is. The only other place in Mallorca, it's way down among the also-rans.

The judges from the más bonito association are likely, one would feel, to be more objective than internet users who might vote for a place purely because they live there or have been there on holiday. The association's list also carries cachet. Fornalutx will take its place on the international tourist stage when it is honoured at Madrid's travel fair. So well done, Fornalutx. Just don't go complaining that there are too many tourists, now that the accolade has been bestowed.

* Photo of Fornalutx from Wikipedia.

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