Ibiza: an island for everything and everyone
It is easy to develop misconceptions about Ibiza. Dubbed the undisputed party capital of the world, the island is often used as a byword for excess. The television documentary Ibiza Uncovered – featuring a series of inebriated, semi-naked 20 year-olds cavorting about in beach bars – has a lot to answer for. It was a little disconcerting to witness similar scenes on our easyJet flight to the island, even though it was a 6am midweek departure from Gatwick.
So it was with some trepidation that I first set foot on Ibizan soil two hours later. Despite the promises in the hotel brochure of a more refined experience, I was still expecting to have my senses assaulted by thumping music and hordes of overexcited party goers, to be confronted by the stench of fried food and to be unable to see the sea because of all the great lumps of concrete masquerading as hotels hugging the coastline.
And, in order to escape all this, I was also bracing myself for an interminable journey on meandering roads stuck behind a succession of hired Seats, each occupied by bewildered drivers all trying to find the same strip of already overcrowded beach using badly drawn, misleading local maps.
I was right about one thing. The maps are badly drawn and misleading. Perhaps this is a prerogative of a holiday island to ensure visitors have trouble finding the good places, allowing the locals to get there first and bag the best spots. But in every other way my preconceptions were way off beam.
I have tried all the obvious places: France (too crowded), Italy (too expensive), South Africa (too many sharks), Australia (too many Australians), Greece, the Caribbean, Portugal (all boring food), mainland Spain (too man-made), New Zealand (iffy weather), Thailand (too touristy), Sri Lanka (too hot), Cornwall (too cold.) I could go on. And then… a blissfully easy drive from Ibiza airport, I found it. Within five minutes of leaving the airport you are driving alongside low, bush-clad hills and glinting salt lakes with few other cars, and within 10 minutes you are parking under conveniently located wooden awnings and emerging through tall trees on to a beautiful curving swathe of sand lapped by calm blue water. This is Playa des Salinas.
It was quiet at 10am. The sun loungers with little parasols were mostly unoccupied (the day doesn’t really kick into life in Ibiza until midday at the earliest), there were a few kids paddling with their dads and several couples stretched out, but otherwise the place felt private and a bit of a discovery. The air was already warm, a gentle breeze with a hint of citrus wafted across the beach. It had a very laidback atmosphere. A casually dressed waiter from the nearby chiringuito sidled between the sunbathers offering coffee and snacks but without heavy persuasion. There was no one pestering you to buy anything.
The beach sloped gently into beautifully warm, clean water; within 20 metres it was waist deep. A bit further out the view across the bay and round the low, rocky headland was idyllic. At the back of the beach, merging with the trees, is an open-sided restaurant of timber construction: the Jockey Club. I have never eaten such delicious food in an informal beach environment before.
We had chillied calamari and an amazing tuna and mango salad which was incredibly fresh and zingy and washed down with sangria. I have been back twice since and the food is always light and truly scrumptious – just what you want during a shady break from the beach. The restaurant is also a superb spot for people watching as the younger contingent gradually materialises after a heady night to be revitalised by some low-level, cool beats from the resident DJ.
Even when it is quite crowded, the Playa des Salinas has a relaxed vibe. You will not see or hear a car, jet ski or tattooed Aston Villa supporter. Just kindred spirits drinking in the warm air and gazing out at the glistening sea. It’s a happy place.
OK, a word of warning. The music, unobtrusive at lunchtime, does increase in volume as the afternoon wears on – though it’s never overpowering. It gets busy about threeish, so it might be the moment to stroll beyond the beach across rocky outcrops, through trees and past little coves of frolicking families, round the headland to El Cavallet, a longer beach backed by dunes with very calm water and a divine open-plan restaurant with white leather sofas, incredibly delicious salads and great cocktails. Although it is regarded as Ibiza’s gay beach, it doesn’t feel like it. Anything goes.
We stayed at the Hostal Salinas, five minutes’ walk from Salinas beach. There are many smart hotels on the island, ranging from luxurious spas to rustic converted fincas, but most are pricey, and none is quite so convenient.
This is a low-level building partly hidden behind a wall that describes itself as a boutique hotel. If that is a euphemism for small and more expensive than it looks, that would be right. But in fact it is perfect. For about £150 you get a comfortable, adequate room, an airy breakfast café, a stylish outdoor bar with cushioned seating areas arranged around small palm trees and, perhaps best of all, excellent local knowledge from the English couple running it. With all that Playa des Salinas has to offer, you could spend several blissful days here: it would be that unique thing, an excellent holiday barely 10 minutes from an international airport (which you can’t hear or see).
But the great thing about Ibiza is its variety and accessibility – you can get everywhere within about half an hour. Fifteen minutes to the west is the sweet, secluded Cala d’Hort, a small sandy beach looking out at a huge monolith in the sea – Es Boldado – where local families mingle with the odd tourist and you can sit at wooden tables with your feet in the sand and eat good tapas. A little further round to the west is the gorgeous Cala Comte, a slightly rockier beach attracting a younger crowd stretched out on pockets of sand or eating in a round, open-sided clifftop bar with spectacular views of the sun going down. Sunset Ashram is a great spot to watch the sun go down, hear live music and eat surprisingly good Asian-style food.
On the other side of the island up in the north-east is my other favourite beach, S’Aigo Blanca. You park at the top of a very steep hill and descend the road until you reach a narrow strip of orange sand backed by red cliffs. There are sun loungers, a simple restaurant serving mainly pizzas or mussels and a large rock to swim out to and sit on. Clothes are optional here – but the nudity is neither intimidating nor unappetising, and again you can be what you want. Right at the top of the island is the easily missable but idyllic cove Cala Xucla with a simple little cafe serving unexpectedly excellent and original fish dishes.
The rich variety of restaurants on Ibiza may surprise you too. At Aura, in the middle of the island, you sit outside in a secluded, fairy-lit courtyard with cicadas clicking in the trees and eat melt-in-your-mouth beef carpaccio and fantastic seafood. In the cool, luxurious, Bedouin-style KM5, a bar-restaurant under stylish layered canvas close to Ibiza Town, the food is more eclectic, including Thai-baked fish and other Asian delicacies. In the romantic setting at Les Terrasses, an old finca in the hills which also has great rooms, you sit among twinkly-lit citrus and olive trees and the chef does amazing things with lamb and couscous.
And then there is Pacha. Look, even if people tell you you’re too old for clubbing, you have to go. It is exorbitant to get in (€50/£40 – though there are cheaper options) but it is worth it, not least for the experience of standing on the balcony overlooking the main floor watching people go mental as the music is cranked up. If the average English youth put this amount of energy into their work, our economy would be in better shape!
But the great thing about Pacha, like Ibiza in general, is that there is always somewhere (relatively) quiet you can escape to – in Pacha’s case a huge open-air bar with comfy seats and various chill-out spaces where the music is a good deal less overwhelming, and the food is surprisingly good, too.
Overall, I was absolutely stunned by the quality and variety of a place not significantly larger than the Isle of Wight. I can’t wait to go back and wouldn’t hesitate to take my children for a family holiday. And, after a stay on Ibiza, contrary to common belief, you don’t need another holiday straight afterwards to recover.
- Hostal Salinas http://hostalsalinas.com is in the south of Ibiza. In June, double rooms cost from £150 per night b&b for a minimum stay of five nights. British Airways (ba.com); easyJet (easyjet.com), Monarch (monarch.co.uk), Ryanair (ryanair.com) and Thomson Airways (flights.thomson.co.uk) all fly to Ibiza.