The most tranquil of the Balearic Islands, Menorca was declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in 1993. Its 135-mile coastline is dotted with fortified baroque towns, untouched beaches, coves and ravines. The island’s green interior, meanwhile, harbours unique wetlands and ancient archaeological sites.

Dating from 2,000 BC, Menorca’s pre-historic structures include tombs and sanctuaries shaped like a horseshoe. If you only visit one site, let it be the Torre d’en Galmés, southwest of Alaior (9am-8.30pm Tue-Sat, 9am-3pm Sun, 9am-2.30pm Mon; £2.60).

A legacy of British colonial rule (1713-1802), gin was first distilled here in the 18th century. Buy and taste the aromatic Menorcan spirit at the Xoriguer Gin Distillery in Maó. Do as the Menorcans do and ask for a gin con limonada, with real lemonade (Moll de Ponent, Maó; 8am-7pm Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat).

Founded by the Carthaginians, Ciutadella was Menorca’s capital until the British arrived. It has a distinctive Spanish baroque style, embodied in the façade of the cathedral and its elaborate churches, Església del Roser and Església dels Socors.

The Parc Natural S’Albufera des Grau is the nucleus of Menorca’s Biosphere Reserve status. The largest freshwater lagoon in the Balearics, it is home to many species of wetland birds (00 34 971 356303; Es Grau; 9am-6pm Apr-Oct, 9am-5pm Oct-Mar).

Exploited until 1994, the vast sandstone quarries of Pedreres de s’Hostal are now used for summer concerts. Lithica quarry features a charming medieval garden with a fountain (Camí Vell; 9.30am-2.30pm and 4.30pm-sunset Mon-Sat, 9.30am-2.30pm Sun; £3.50).

Eat and drink
Featuring authentic Menorcan cuisine, the menu at Ca’s Ferrer de Sa Font is based around meat and vegetables from the owner’s organic farm. Dine on the patio of this 18th-century building or inside, below beams (00 34 971 480784; Carrer del Portal de Sa Font 16, Ciutadella; lunch and dinner Tue-Sun; mains from £8).

Café Balear is one of Ciutadella’s classic seafood stops. Eat outside while tucking into local prawns or fish, hauled in that day off Café Balear’s own boat (00 34 971 380005; Placa de Sant Joan 15, Ciutadella; lunch and dinner Tue-Sun; mains from £10).

Restaurant N’Aguedet serves some of the finest island cooking, with a stamp of approval from Catalan mega chef Ferran Adrià. Dine on melt-in-yourmouth suckling pig or wild rabbit with onion (00 34 971 375391; Carrer de Lepanto 30, Es Mercadal; mains from £10).

The lamps don’t match at Itake . Nor do the glasses, but it doesn’t matter a jot when the Basque menu has delightful dishes such as pato Itake – duck in a port-based sauce (00 34 971 354570; Moll de Llevant 317, Maó; lunch and dinner Tue-Sat, dinner Sun; three-course menu £18).

Fronting Maó’s harbour, Jàgaro is best for traditional fish and rice dishes. The menu also features a catch of the day Try the ortiga de mar (sea anemone) if you are feeling adventurous (00 34 971 362390; Moll de Llevant 334, Maó; mains from £15).

Run by a delightful couple, Residencia Oasis is a quiet place located in the heart of Ciutadella’s historic quarter. Rooms, some without en suite bathrooms, are set beside a spacious garden courtyard. The homely furnishings, though trim, appear to date from the 1940s (00 34 971 382197; Carrer de Sant Isidre 33, Ciutadella; from £50).

Explore the area’s colonial past with a stay at Collingwood House, once home to Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, Nelson’s commander-at-sea. With its maritime souvenirs and paintings of great vessels, you could almost be in a museum (00 34 971 362700; Maó-Es Castell; from £60).

Climb the central stairs with their wrought-iron banisters at Casa Alberti to your vast room with its whitewashed walls. Each of the six bedrooms in this 18th-century mansion is styled with traditional Menorcan furniture, while bathrooms are contemporary (00 34 971 354210; Carrer d’Isabel II 9, Maó; Easter-Oct; from £80).

In Sant Lluís, Biniarroca Hotel is a rambling retreat with heavy, country architecture, terracotta tiled floors and rooms furnished with four-poster beds. Ducks peck and sheep graze just beyond the fence of the lovely garden (00 34 971 150059; Camí Vell 57, Sant Lluís; Easter-Nov; from £90).

Set in open country, two miles outside Ciutadella, Hotel Rural Sant Ignasi is a beautiful country mansion. Each room has a sunny Balearic colour scheme. From the Cala Morell road, take a narrow lane signed “Hotel Rural” for one mile (00 34 971 385575; Carretera de Cala Morell s/n; from £130).

When to go
In March and April, spring flowers brush your boots as you walk the hillsides of the interior. In July and August, you can catch the nightly, torch-lit historical re-enactments at Maó’s forts.

Getting around
The island is well served with local buses operating between Maó, Fornells and Ciutadella. However, the best way to visit the interior is to hire a car. Autos Mahon Rent hires out cars and bikes (car/bike £30/£13 per day).

How to go
and bmi fly to Maó Airport from May to October. EasyJet flies from London Gatwick (£170), Manchester (£170) and Liverpool (£230). At other times, connect with local flights via Palma de Mallorca.

The article 'Mini guide to Menorca, Spain' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.