IBIZA: Party island, or Chilled Paradise?
Ibiza: The Party Island.
The land of pills, coke, mega-clubs, house beats, stag dos, and 10-euro water.
Well, that's what I thought; but Ibiza is so much more...
Whilst Radio 1's monosyllabic droids may have you believe the island is one giant dance floor, the truth is distinctly different. Ibiza’s tone is skewed far closer to the hippie and the hipster than to the pill-popping raver. Yes, the mega clubs exist, but they're scattered in obscure corners of the island, tucked away, rarely seen.
Most of Ibiza has as much to do with David Guetta as a sun-lounger has to do with barbed wire, but that still came as a surprise, even though the loafer-wearing brigade of Middle England had for weeks been telling me to expect a relaxed land of stunning beaches and succulent food. I didn't believe them. Not a bit of it. Surely the loafers were conspiring against me?
And then, on exiting the airport, there it was, the reality I feared: a giant 20-ft poster of David Guetta advertising a club night in some mega-epic-wicked venue. I knew I was right. I knew this place was just one giant dance orgy. Dammit, Radio 1 was right!
But then, on we drove, leaving clubland's billboards in our wake, as we meandered deep into sun-baked fields and pine tree forests. Not a raver in sight. Not one once of fluorescent glowstick. Not even a sniff of a drug deal. Nothing. Where the hell was I?
Surely this couldn’t be Ibiza?
Surely the loafers weren’t right?
But they always are, for the loafer brigade has been coming to Ibiza for years, staying in the hills, far from the madding crowd. Across this 571km squared island are hundreds of scattered villas, in the hills, by the coast, on the outskirts of villages, near to siesta-time towns. Nothing is far from anything on Ibiza, but seclusion is attainable… at a price.
Staying in a hill-top hotel cost around 180 euros a night, but it was worth it, for surrounding us on all sides were empty vistas, wild lands, lazy shrubs, and yawning trees, and in the distance, down the valley, the effortless, alluring Mediterranean Sea.
Touring Ibiza reveals an island of variety, of contrast, as within 30 minute's drive you can find 500 year-old fortress-churches, bar-lined promenades, hippie markets, and yoga retreat restaurants. As tempting as it is to marinade poolside, soaking up the Balearic's dependable rays, Ibiza needs exploring, and within a few days you can see most of the highlights.
Beaches are numerous, but most coves on Ibiza are relatively similar to one another, with one grain of sand being relatively similar to the next… that is until you visit Formentera, Ibiza’s horizontal neighbour. Horizontal that is because the island rises no more than 192 metres above sea level; horizontal that is due to its relaxed temperament and Caribbean-esque waters.
For a man indifferent to beaches, Formentera breaks the mould. The Trucador peninsula that juts towards Ibiza, stretching so close you could (almost) swim between the two, is unique in Europe. At least I think it is. I’ve not been to every beach in Europe, but if anything on our diverse continent is even remotely similar to the stunning of beaches of Playa de ses Illetes and Playa Llevent, I’ll retract my statement, while displaying that surprised look David Cameron mastered on the morning of June 24th 2016 – ‘They chose 'Leave'? What? Get me a pig’s head!’
But there’s more to Ibiza than Top 10 beaches and crystal clear water.
Any even slightly adventurous person should ditch their poolside cocktail for an afternoon touring the Cova de Can Marçà cave network on the north side of the island. Famed for its historic role of being the point of ingress for contraband items, it's actually difficult to imagine how even one case of rum was smuggled onto the island via this narrow network of rock pools, stalactites, underground waterfalls, and steep rises, as without modern lighting the job of hoofing goods topside would have been arduous at best. These days the cave is lit in majestic colours, with tourist-friendly paths leading you through its different layers, one of which pulsates in ultra-violet light, creating a trippy, surreal landscape reminiscent of those David Guetta posters. Fortunately your post-cave drink isn't taken anywhere near the straggly-haired DJ; instead it's sipped overlooking the coast, as the cave's management have wisely opened a bar at the top of the attraction, offering panoramic views across the northern bay of Port San Miguel. There's no finer place to re-warm your holiday bones.
The Cova de Can Marçà cave network
But the nightlife in Ibiza shouldn't be entirely ignored - it's famous for a reason - so drop into San Antonio for at least one evening to check it out. If you hate, you'll have justified your pre-trip reasons for not staying within its shabby, pub-lined streets. The town's saving grace is its pulsating boardwalk that sparkles with bars, some of which demand a visit.
A drink in the infamous Café Del Mar overlooking the setting sun is about as clichéd as a Frenchman draped in onions, but when in Rome… The DJ timed his uber-chilled ‘setting sun mix’ to perfection, finishing at the exact moment the sun dropped over the horizon, at which point the throng on the boardwalk cheered, celebrating the predictable revolution of the planet with as much fervour as a teenage boy touching his first breast.
Once you've dragged yourself to San Antonio, it’s hard not to people watch. Packs of stag-do men and hen-party women blend with short tops, tiny skirts, bulging muscles, alluring promo girls, and tanned barmen. And then there are the club promo teams who eye up potential customers faster than seagulls claiming a downed hotdog.
“Yeah, best bet for you is Amnesia on Wednesday, or Spaced on Friday… It’s incredible. A show. Dancing girls, fire acts, smoke blasters, foam parties; it’s like a West End show but on acid, and it's here, all summer long, in Ibiza…”
I felt dangerously close to being sold. It sounded amazing, but I was determined not to be lured in. Fortunately the cost of entry, and being told the party wouldn’t start until 2AM, was enough to put me off for good. Clubland almost had me hooked - almost - but not quite... there’s enough to do on the island without needing to drop 200 euros on five hours of chemical debauchery.
Needless to say, don’t leave Ibiza without a night in the Old Town; everyone should know to go to the world heritage site in Ibiza Town, with its soaring fortress that was constructed to defend the islanders from decades of pirate attacks. It's worth the battle for a parking spot, or cross-island taxi ride, as the cobbled streets and white-washed buildings are reminiscent of the finest of Spanish towns and cities, elevating Ibiza to the highest echelon of must-visit places.
Ibiza Old Town
In short, Ibiza is full of surprises.
From its culinary treats to its Caribbean beaches (on nearby Formentera) to its smuggler caves and yoga retreats, there’s more than enough to do, which is crucial if you too get bored sizzling poolside. Of course you could spend a week in clubland, drinking 10-euro water, and I wouldn’t begrudge you that… just don’t tell me that it’s what Ibiza's all about.
I can feel myself joining the loafer brigade already.
If you can't beat 'em...