Ibiza travel feature
'Avin' it . . . small
Ibiza means package holidays and Brits abroad, right? Wrong, says Clara Suess, as she goes in search of the hidden treasures of the White Island
If you’re in search of a relaxing holiday, then Ibiza probably isn’t high on your list. After programmes like Ibiza Uncovered in the 1990s followed hoards of football shirt-bedecked British tourists throwing up in the streets of San Antonio’s notorious West End, mention of the White Island still makes many people think of 24-hour hedonism in the island’s several cavernous superclubs.
Yes, Ibiza is still one of the main clubbing hot spots in the world, but for those able to look beyond the bustle of the main package-holiday resorts, it’s also one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean with numerous unspoilt beaches, secluded white-washed villages, rolling pine forests and some of the finest cooking in Europe. This is why I’ve always regarded it as such a special place; it really does offer the best of both worlds, whether you’re after quiet escapism or non-stop partying. On my most recent visit, I decided to fully explore the island’s hidden gems.
The bus service on the island is good, but to get to the less populated areas you really need to hire a car, and as many of the island’s best beaches and vantage points are often down dusty, winding roads, good suspension is also advisable. Ibiza is certainly not short of sand, but if you really want to get away from the crowds and the pounding beats, there are several isolated areas around Portinatx in the far north with some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen (making them ideal for snorkelling). Just look out for the signposts on the road out of Portinatx and take your pick.
Although you won’t be alone, Benirras beach, also in the north beside the sleepy resort of San Miguel, has a relaxed vibe and is framed by two steep cliffs. You can see Ibiza’s hippy roots here – local musicians tend to stage impromptu drumming sessions to accompany the sunset, culminating in annual crusty celebration Day of the Drums on 28 August. The hippy scene dates back to the 1950s, when young beatniks first settled on the island having fallen in love with its beauty en route to Morocco. As a result, many artists, musicians and Spanish lefties made Ibiza their home and remain there to this day.
One of the first landmarks you’ll see as you fly in to the island is the imposing, almost hypnotic island of Es Vedra, jutting out of the sea in the south west. It will be familiar to fans of the musical South Pacific, in which it doubled as the backdrop for Bali Hai; it also appears on the cover of Mike Oldfield’s album Tubular Bells II (Oldfield lived nearby, and Noel Gallagher upped the celebrity count when he bought a home there in the 1990s). Es Vedra is one of the best places to watch the sunset in this part of the world. Forget San Antonio’s Sunset Strip, Torre des Savinar, a defence tower accessed by a steep ascent from the dusty car park near the beach at Cala d’Hort, offers amazing views without the clapping masses. If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s also a steep descent from the tower to Atlantis, an ancient quarry that has long been a sacred site and retains a magical atmosphere.
After overdosing on scenery, we needed a bit of Ibizan culture. Tucked away on Salinas Beach, the Sa Trinxa beach bar is a perfect example of the sadly overlooked, laid back Balearic vibe. It’s all presided over by the eponymous Jon Sa Trinxa, who has been the resident beach DJ there for years, long before the British invasion. As the website has it, ‘Sa Trinxa is the place preferred by people who enjoy night time as a resting and strength-recovering spot for a new magic night’ – beach massages and yoga classes are available for anyone needing to chill out that little bit more, while the restaurant has a pretty impressive selection of fresh seafood. If you’re feeling very relaxed, carry on along the sea front to Es Cavallet, the island’s first designated nudist beach, which attracts straight and gay couples and families.
Renting a car also lets you visit the small villages set apart from the tourist traps, where you can get hold of excellent traditional cuisine far more cheaply than in the resorts or San Antonio. San Juan in particular is fabulously picturesque; after wandering through the centre and into a shop selling crystals and incense, we found ourselves in a wooded oasis of tranquillity complete with hammocks, fish pond and Buddhas galore, once again gesturing towards the island’s more spiritual roots. This is the Eco Café, still largely undiscovered by tourists; the food is (of course) vegetarian and largely organic.
Elsewhere, some of the finest cooking on the island, combined with fantastic views, can be found in Sa Capella, a restaurant built into an 18th-century chapel on a hillside a couple of miles from San Antonio, and Sa Punta, a fish restaurant owned by superclub Pacha located at the far end of Talamanca beach, from where we gazed at the capital illuminated in the distance. Ibiza Town has good food, too, of course – a wander around the monumental Renaissance walls of UNESCO heritage site Dalt Vila (Old Town) turns up extensive menus of Mediterranean cuisine.
Ibiza Town is also the best place from which to get the ferry to nearby Formentera, a tiny island half an hour’s journey away. The landscape is a world away from Ibiza’s, which means you get an idea of what the White Island would’ve looked like back in the 1960s, before tourism left its heavy imprint. We explored by moped – they greatly outnumber any other form of vehicle, which makes it much safer than elsewhere.
At the end of the day, we realised we were still on Ibiza, and couldn’t resist the lure of dancing the night away. If you want to steer clear of superclubs, check out Ibiza Rocks, a much-loved, new-ish night from the people behind Manumission. Taking place at Bar M in San Antonio, it has already brought credible dance/rock crossover artists such as CSS, The Go Team! and LCD Soundsystem to the island, proving that there is so much more to its music scene, and to Ibiza itself, than just house and techno.
Be sure to book your accommodation and flights separately, so you’re not restricted to just the main resorts. EasyJet flies direct to Ibiza from both Glasgow and Edinburgh.
www.hotelopia.co.uk has a good selection of well-priced hotel rooms and apartments, whilst www.holiday-rentals.com is the best place to look for villas, which often work out as extremely good value if travelling in a larger group. Money not a problem? The Hotel Hacienda in the far north of the island with its spectacular cliff-top setting and individual private terrace with jacuzzi is an unforgettable experience.
There are many car hire places on the island. Moto Luis (www.motoluis.com/en) is one of the best.
Don’t attempt to drink the tap water in Ibiza due to its high salt content. Bottled water from the supermarkets is extremely cheap, although sadly less so in many bars, restaurants and, in particular, clubs.
Useful site: www.ibiza-spotlight.com