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Finding a New Perspective in Mallorca

To get these incredible shots for the Mallorca story that ran in our October issue, photographer Francesco Lastrucci took his first helicopter ride while on assignment for AFAR. Below, he chronicles his adventures.

I first heard of Sloane Helicopters and skilled pilot Jonny Greenhal on my first day in Mallorca, when I met Dominique Carrol from the Mallorca tourism office in Can Alomar, a fancy art boutique hotel in the heart of bustling Palma. We opened the maps of the island and started to plan my schedule upon my arrival. Among all the information that Dominique provided, there was one that made me jump: the helicopter ride.

Sloane Helicopters is a UK-based company which has been in operation for over 40 years. In 1995, they opened a base in Mallorca specializing in Heli Tours, Aerial Photography, Sightseeing Flights, and Heli Dining. I was enthusiastic about it from the moment Dominique mentioned the possibility to me. I knew it would be an unique chance to get a different view of the island, but considering it was my first time there, I also knew I had to be patient. I wanted to visit the island first, in order to have knowledge of it and understand what I should focus on.

I booked the helicopter ride for my last day on the island. Before then I would have all the mallorca-310time I needed to explore and photograph from the ground level. I rented a brand new red Vespa and drove on two wheels over 1000km through the winding roads of the Serra de Tramuntana. I discovered nearly every hidden corner of it.

The Tramuntana mountain range, dropping directly into the blue Mediterranean Sea, runs the length of Mallorca’s north coast and is home to the island’s most spectacular landscapes. Finally ready to view from above the roads and the views I’d traveled and seen in the previous 7 days, I headed to the airport.

I met on a cloudy humid morning with the cheerful British pilot, Jonny, in the small airport of Son Bonnet, just a few kilometers outside of Palma. Jonny has lived in Mallorca since 1993 and has been flying for 15 years with Sloane Helicopters Mallorca. It was my first time on a helicopter and I couldn’t hide my enthusiasm, adrenaline, or fear. A storm was approaching, and it was definitely not the ideal day to take aerial photographs for the first time. All I could do was trust Jonny’s skills.

After the usual procedures and the visit to the hangar, we discussed the itinerary I wanted him to follow and we were ready to go. He secured me to the helicopter seat and, to my surprise, took my side door off. Before I could even realize that I was completely exposed to the elements, we were already taking off.

Jonny led the small helicopter over golden fields, stone walls and mansions heading towards the mountains. It didn’t take me long to realize that without the door I was completely free to photograph what I wanted and how I wanted: wide angles, details, patterns.

By the time we approached the first slopes of Tramuntana mountain range and the enchanting village of Valldemossa—which Frédéric Chopin, who spent time and composed there, declared The Most Beautiful Place in the World—the clouds had opened, permitting rays of sunlight. I had visited the village just the day before and watching it and photographing it from above, perfectly lit and with the intense Mediterranean blue in the background, gave me that extra kick I needed to start shooting like I was in some sort of trance.

mallorca-306I was in the pilot’s hands and I was trusting him blindly, as he would basically do anything I wanted in order to get me the best views, the best angles and the best light to photograph, moving as free as can be. Passing by the edge of the mountain, we found ourselves right on the water, looking at the cliffs, the villages, and the roads below us. All the charming villages I had visited—Deia, Soller, Fornalutx, all in the Unesco World Heritage Site’s list—were close below us. So close that I didn’t even need a long lens to capture them.

We followed the dramatic coastline back to Palma and the airport, creating the perfect loop. As we got off the helicopter, I realized my hands were shaking; adrenaline and overexcitement, I suppose. Something that even Jonny admitted feeling every time he flies.

I turned my Vespa on and slowly started my ride back to Soller, back on earth but hoping to ride the sky again soon.