Ibiza’s other side
Jorge Alonso is a worried man. As the manager of the Ibizan Tourist Board over the past 25 years Snr. Alonso has seen Ibiza transformed from a bohemian backwater into a Premier Division global tourist destination.
Now though Snr Alonso fears that the whole of island’s tourist economy could be about to go belly-up. “The number of families coming to Ibiza is dramatically decreasing,” explains a grey-haired Snr Alonso, “and this is our most important market. In their place we’re getting more and more young and predominantly British clubbers.”
What keeps Snr. Alonso awake at night is the worry that once the island becomes dominated by and dependent upon pill-chomping clubbers, it then becomes a vulnerable hostage to the whim of international fashion and trends – a flimsy foundation on which to base a hugely valuable tourist industry.
And the reason for the flight of the families from Ibiza’s beaches?
Snr. Alsonso brings out a bulging file which he throws onto his desk. Contained within are pages of Spanish and European newspaper clippings of the latest headline-grabbing antics of ecstasy-fuelled British clubbers on the streets and beaches of San Antonio.
To counter this steady stream of bad press, Snr. Alonso and his team are now working furiously on a damage-limitation exercise. “We want to explain to British people that there is much more to Ibiza than clubbers and discos.”
Snr. Alonso is absolutely right.
Sure, you can find lager-lubricated lads from Liverpool and Luton larging-it, but crucially these same lads hardly ever stray from the square kilometre that is the beer ‘n chips nightmare of San Antonio.
Once you get away from this vomit-splattered hell-hole though, the rest of Ibiza is blissfully free of mad-for-it clubbers.
“There is very definitely an alternative side to Ibiza still out there,” believes James Ledden who as the producer of the online Ibiza guide ibiza-spotlight.com should know about these things.
“The key is to get a car so that you can get to the best out-of-the-way places,” adds James.
Most people agree that the place where the Ibizan magic still resides is in the still relatively undeveloped north east of the island.
Here amid the rolling pine-clad hills, the beautiful agricultural heart of Ibiza still beats, the deep-red earth supporting groves of almonds, olives and oranges.
By virtue of its isolation and precipitous coastal cliffs, the area also lays claim to some of the quietest beaches on the island.
Cala Benniras about 5km north of Sant Miquel is the long-standing hang-out of the island’s dreadlocked division who also provide a dramatic drumming accompaniment to the sunset on Sundays.
A little further east along the coast Cala Xarraca is a great spot for swimming, whilst east of the quiet, unassuming village of Santa Carles lies Cala Mastella.
With no beach bar or hotel to spoil the peace, Cala Mastella is just a perfect, small, sandy cove surrounded by pine-woods. Its other notable feature is that it’s but a short walk across the rocks on the left of the beach to one of the best fish restaurants on Ibiza.
With simple wooden benches and tables perched practically in the sea, El Bigote eschews all the trappings of a conventional commercial restaurant – most notably a menu – and instead cooks up in a monstrous pot over a fire in the corner what was caught that morning.
Diners turn up for lunch around two dressed in their swimwear fresh from the beach. They are then presented with the choice of just gutsy dish – sometimes sardines, sometimes a garlicky fish stew – but always washed down with brimming jugfuls of the local vino tinto followed by fruit and a special sweet liqueur coffee.
The whole experience is quite wonderful and leaves you convinced that you’ve just tasted a little bit of hidden Ibiza.
Some of Ibiza’s most beautiful apartments and hotels are also found in the north of the island.
Can Marti, nestled among the hills outside Sant Joan lies at the end of a long dirt road and surrounded by lemon and olive trees with farm animals quietly grazing is the very picture of an Ibizan rural idyll.
The 11 hectare working farm, or finca, has been lovingly restored and extensions added in the traditional Ibizan cubic design which house four separate self-catering apartments.
“We try to run the whole finca on planet-friendly principles,” says Swiss-born Peter Brantschen who with his wife Isabelle owns the finca. Peter then points out the solar-powered hot water system, the compost loos and the organic vegetables which are then sold to guests in a little shop in the finca.
Can Marti is also child-friendly and with safe beaches nearby it’s the ideal centre for family holidays. Children are given rides on the farm donkey and can scoot about on the bikes that are provided free of charge. Peter and Isobelle have even built a tipi in the grounds for over-night sleep-outs.
Equally stunning, but a little closer to civilisation with Sante Carles just down the track is Can Curreu, a rural upmarket hotel with a swimming pool from where there are terrific views across the rolling Ibizan hills.
Sante Carles is also the place where every Wednesday night the Las Dalias restaurant is reincarnated into a vision of hippy heaven.
The Namaste Experience consists of a three course Indian meal, a (dodgy) display of world folk music followed by the chance to chill-out in the ambient-filled celestial garden complete with ‘energising tea’ whilst next door trance DJs whip-up a storm on the dancefloor.
If this sounds like a load of old tantric-tosh you’d probably be right – it is, but it’s also brilliant.
So whilst the north east of the island is the perfect spot for some serious chilling, for those in need of somewhere with a little more of a buzz, then Ibiza Town is the place to head.
With the 16th century battlements of the old town – the Dalt Vila – rising to a commanding position overlooking the modern-day port, the bustling, buzzing capital of Ibiza is a complete delight, night or day.
Such is the cultural and historical value of the Dalt Vila that it’s been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. And tucked away within its heart lies the La Ventana Hotel. Built at the side of a tree-lined square, the long established hotel is the perfect base from which to get to know what is still a living and working town.
During the day leave Ibiza behind whilst you check out the nearby beaches. Top of your list should be Ses Illetes, a heaven-sent endless stretch of the clearest water and cleanest sand in the nearby island of Formentera which is just an hour away by ferry which you can catch from the port in Ibiza Town.
After a hard day on the beach you’ll have earned you evening meal. La Brasa whose enclosed garden of palms and banana trees backs onto the battlements of Dalt Vila offers traditional high-quality meaty Spanish cuisine.
For a meal with a view however head up the hill into the Dalt Vila.
Here you’ll have a vast choice, but to be honest you really can’t go wrong as the setting and night-time ambience of the Dalt Vila is just so sumptuous that any meal you order will be utterly upstaged.
Of note though is the Studio at 4, Calle de la Virgen in the heart of the gay district which not only produces terrific value French and Spanish influenced food but whose roof-top location gives a grandstand view of the street-action below.
After dinner amble back towards the port along the battlements and through the narrow, dimly-lit cobbled streets. Check out the exotic pan-European and poly-sexual crowd at the Dome bar at Calle Alfonso XII before aiming for the Mao Rooms at D’Emili Pau. The bar is a welcome oasis of chilled cushion-strewn calm amidst the frenzied night-time action of Ibiza Town.
Further afield be sure not to miss KM5 out on the Ibiza Town- Sant Josep road with its Bedouin chill-out tents, open-air bars and furiously funky dancefloor.
Not surprisingly with over two million visitors a year, Ibiza’s environment takes something of a battering. With this in mind, ex-pat Yorkshire man Chris Dews recently opened the first phase of Ecolandia, an environment centre on the main Ibiza-San Antonio road which now acts as a focal point for the island’s many environmental activists and downshifted lifestylers.
“Ecolandia is a place where visitors can see directly how an ecological lifestyle is possible for everyone,” explains Chris. Currently the centre houses an organic vegetable shop which also sells all manner of eco-goodies, an extensive information centre and a craft market every Sunday which serves some of the best veggie food on the island.
One way to immediately reduce your impact on the Ibizan environment is to get out of your car and discover the island’s countryside on foot. You can explore Ibiza’s vast network of footpaths yourself with the aid of the excellent Sunflower Guide to Landscapes of Ibiza.
However if you don’t trust your navigational skills let the Ecoibiza tour company guide you round the island with their programme of full or half-day walks. As well as walking tours Ecoibiza organises mountain bike and horse riding and also act as agents for nearly 100 country hotels and apartments.
With the steaming heat and gridlocked crowds of July and August now behind us, September and October are without doubt the best months to visit Ibiza.
Incredibly, despite the full-scale commercial onslaught of recent years, Ibiza is still clearly a special place and though the fickle wind of clubbing-fashion may not always blow in its favour, the other side of Ibiza is here to stay.
Can Curreu – tel: (00 34) 971 33 52 80
Can Marti – Tel: (00 34) 971 33 35 00, www.canmarti.com
La Ventana – tel: (00 34) 971 39 08 57
El Bigote – No telephone so arrive at midday to reserve your place
La Brasa – c/Pere Sala 3. Reservations recommended tel: 971 30 12 02
Namaste Experience – Reservations recommended tel: 971 33 51 56
Ecoibiza – tel: (00 34) 971 30 23 47, www.ecoibiza.com
Ibiza Spotlight- www.ibiza-spotlight.com – online guide to Ibiza
Ecolandia – tel: (00 34) 971 198 802 www.ibiza-spotlight.com/evissaecoexpo
Spanish Tourist Board – tel: (020) 7486 8077 www.tourspain.co.uk
Landscapes of Ibiza and Formentera – Sunflower books