Never mind the Baleriac beats… here’s the real Ibiza
‘Have you packed your glow sticks?’ I was asked when I told friends I was off to Ibiza.
It’s an old one, but still considered a goodie. ‘Beefa’, in the common imagination, is about ecstacy, superclubs and all nighters. In truth (if you’ll forgive the almost profanity), this popular view is a load of old Balearics. Yes, the smallish island just under 100 miles from the Spanish mainland is a clubbing mecca, but that’s a tiny part of its appeal. Because it is also a piney-smelling delight of lush forests and turquoise coves that’s been a destination for the yachting set, well-heeled hippies, package tourists and celebs, for decades now. (James Blunt, in particular, spends a lot of time here and thinks it’s er… beautiful.) Labeling Ibiza a party island is like saying Cornwall is only about Newquay’s hen and stag shenanigans. There really is so much more to discover.
CROSSHEAD: Early season atmosphere
At the early end of spring my wife, Gargi, and I, with three-year-old Cody in tow, cobbled together a cheap trip. On arrival, we drove on to our destination, Portinatx, a well-established family resort in the north of the island. After settling into a roomy apartment with tired silverware and stunning sea views, we skipped down to the curved smile of sand and shallow bay, hurried towards the water and…shot back out again. Yes, this was mid March and the Med hadn’t quite remembered it was the Med yet. It was like a Devon or Cornwall beach in balmy mid summer – absolutely freezing.
Similarly Portinatx itself, a laid back resort of adjacent coves overlooked by restaurants, hadn’t quite remembered it was Portinatx either. Most eateries were closed, the air wafted fresh paint as the pleasure boat owner spruced up his pride and joy, and the emerging lizards were woozy in the just-warming sun. For some, no doubt, this would prompt Morrissey-like musings about out-of-season seaside towns. But we loved the quietness, the pleasant 21 degrees and the empty beach where even the most territorial of Germans and Brits could co-exist in harmony.
CROSSHEAD: Hippy Heritage
Ibiza is a driver’s paradise. We spent the first day or two pootling through valleys filled with wild flowers and climbing piney hills (the ancient Greeks called Ibiza Pitiusas, the ‘the pine-covered islands’) overlooking glittering coves and bays. Several of the more remote beaches we discovered sat near empty or completely empty. These were the perfect site for the adults to undertake elaborate sandcastles and beachside excavations, under the watchful eye of Foreman Cody.
But there is more to Ibiza than cove hopping. We were keen to down tools and explore some of the island’s cultural hotspots. For northern Ibiza, in particular, that most definitely means checking out its hippy heritage. Even before David Bowie referenced Ibiza back in the early Seventies (those ‘mice in their million hoards’), the north of the island has been a counter culture haven. Cheap farmhouse rentals and tolerant locals attracted alternative types. They promptly tuned in, turned on and dropped over to Bar Anita in the village of Sant Carles. This legendary meeting spot for the expat community now sees its far share of Spaniards, old time hippies and tourists gathering to enjoy roast chicken, tapas and Spanish omelettes in a dappled courtyard under winding wisteria. We found it a great place to eat a lazy lunch and watch the clientele while sparrows chirped in the vines above.
Of course, where there’s hippy heritage gurus are never far away, preaching love for mankind, nature and shiny Rolly Royces. Sant Joan de Labritja was home to the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) cult in the Seventies. The charming, whitewashed village of boutiques and cafes now celebrates its alternative vibe every Sunday during its market. As church bells pealed across a dazzling blue sky we joined the local Ibizans, expats and tourists to browse the knick-knacks, hippy chic ponchos and veggie savoury treats. (Although, as with Ibiza generally, do watch the prices – a little meditative breathing is highly recommended prior to looking at price tags and menus.)
As with most arty-crafty markets, it was mostly about the people watching. Sinewy yoga types with bronzed limbs and sun-honeyed hair browsed and posed. A nonchalant Ibizan senior weighed up bell peppers the size of melons. Meanwhile, an elderly American stall holder reminisced about her earlier days with the band. Which band did she mean? The Band?
If she did, you would hardly have doubted it. A rumour of celebrity whispers on the fragrant breeze and greets you on every coastal road as you glimpse yet another villa overlooking the waters below.
CROSSHEAD: Climbing the old town
If you’re searching for heritage a bit older than baby boomer hippies, you’d best be off to Ibiza town. In particular, the fortified hilltop Dalt Vila, which looms over the narrow alleyways below. The Dalt Vila’s colossal walls were built in the 16th century to repel Moorish attacks. They now mark the boundaries to a labyrinth of cool, cobbled streets that rise to a castle and panoramic views of Ibiza town and beyond.
This has to be one of the most spectacular old towns in Europe. There are a few restaurants and ice cream shops in the lower reaches, but soon you lose yourself among narrow streets where cool yellow and pale pink houses give way to flashes of the bright blue Med beyond.
Yes, Ibiza has its celebrated clubbing culture, but there are vast swathes of the island where the tunes barely reach 60 beats per minute. Providing you’re willing to tolerate a cool reception from the sea and the smell of fresh paint on the breeze, springtime really is a wonderful time to discover them.
How they did it
* Martin, Gargi and Cody flew to Ibiza from Bristol Airport with Ryan Air on 5 April for £163.94, which included return flights and booked seats for all passengers and one checked bag. Car hire for one week cost £76.09 with HolidayAutos (with an additional £23.91 for damage excess waiver purchased in the UK). Eight nights self-catering accommodation with one double bedroom, two further beds in the living area and a sea view balcony cost £440 via Booking.com.