Life Europe

Tuesday 30 September 2014

The Big Read: We're raving about Ibiza (but not the way you think)...

He doesn't dance. He doesn't party into the wee hours. But Barrie Hanley finds there's much more to this brilliant Balearic isle than clubbing.

Barrie Hanley

Published 11/06/2014 | 12:02

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Ibiza mediterranean white wall window with Formentera beach view
Ibiza: White wall window with Formentera beach view

Ibiza is trying to change the record. For years, this island in the sun has been synonymous with dance music and hedonistic ravers. But there's much more to it than that.

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For a small island, Ibiza or Eivissa, as it’s known in Catalan, packs a lot in. At about 45km long and 25km wide, it really is a little jewel basking in the Mediterranean sunshine.

You can do loads of things or you can just plonk yourself on a beach and let the hours float by, occasionally stirring yourself to have a lovely meal and a refreshing drink.

Whether you hire a car or avail of the local buses or tourist trains,  there are no excuses not to travel around and see the sights. You won’t be disappointed. There are scores of little coves and beaches, called calas, where you can spend the day.

Happy Hippies...

The locals claim one of the joys of Ibiza is that no one bothers about what their neighbours are up to. This laid-back approach probably explains why the island attracted an influx of hippies back in the 1970s. That relaxed take on life is alive and well, I’m glad to report.

Santa Eularia Des Riu is a busy resort on the east coast of the island and an ideal place for families to base themselves. The town is full of nice restaurants and cafes and the Sunday lunchtime we visited a fiesta was in full swing complete with parade of vintage cars.

Earlier, in a hilltop church, many of the natives were bedecked in traditional dress for Mass. They were greeted by a priest who was resplendent in his old-style black and white vestments. It was like stepping back into the 1950s.

We headed inland to the village of Sant Carles, home of Bar Anita. The restaurant, which oozes character, is where some of the aforementioned hippies, being of no fixed abode, used to pick up their mail. In this age of email, you can still hire one of their little wooden post boxes. Letters aside, the tapas are a treat. Well worth a visit for lunch or dinner.

One of the calas in the north of the island, Benirras, is famous for its sunset drummers and a sojourn by British Prime Minister David Cameron on his summer holidays a few years ago.

He probably came to gaze at God’s Finger, a rock jutting from the water pointing at the azure sky. Nearby you can visit the caves at Cova de Can Marca and marvel at the stalactites and stalagmites.

Our favourite beach was Cala d’Hort in the south-west of Ibiza where we tried a little kayaking under the guidance of our instructor Pablo.

As a first-timer, I paddled across the calm sea with a little trepidation. But after getting into a rhythm with my fellow kayaker, it turned into a pleasant excursion. We pulled in at a deserted beach about a kilometre away where we enjoyed a picnic.

TREATS AND EATS

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On our return to Cala d’Hort it was time for lunch in Restaurant Del Carmen, which is perched right above the beach. The seafood paella(€18 a head), a special of the house, was an absolute treat and there was loads of it. A meal to linger long in the memory.

For something a little different, take a trip off the beaten track to the Sa Cova winery in the north of the island. The Bonet family have been making wines at their vineyards in the valley of Sant Mateu d’Albarca since the early 1990s.

They use various grapes including merlot, monastrell, syrah, and malvasia. It’s obviously a labour of love because they produce really good red, white and rose wines. They welcome individuals and groups for wine tasting and food. The guided tour by a family member gives a wonderful insight into the world of wine.

Their vino de la tierra can be bought for as a little as €9 for a bottle of red. It’s just a shame they don’t sell it in the airport as it would make a nice present from Ibiza. There’s even a little Irish link as Juan Bonet, the founder of the winery, is married to a woman from Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim.

For those looking for total tranquility, Ibiza is dotted with upmarket ‘agrotourist’ hotels. These are old farmhouses which have been converted into swish state-of-the-art accommodation without losing their rustic charm. One such establishment is Can Gall in the north-east of Ibiza.

NATURAL CHILL-OUTS

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To access Can Gall, you travel down a bumpy boreen until you enter a ranch-style property surrounded by olive, lemon and orange trees. It has a gorgeous swimming pool and landscaped grounds.

Think total chill-out zone and perfect  for a wedding celebration.

Which is no doubt why Rosanna Davison and Wesley Quirke picked rural Ibiza for their recent nuptials. They went to Atzaro, a favourite of Colombian pop star Shakira, with its landscaped gardens and fountains.

You can see why they chose it as the venue for their dream wedding.

Located in the middle of the island, the hotel is celebrating 10 years in business. In high season, a double room is €390 including breakfast. A price worth paying for a couple looking for a special night of luxury.

No visit to the island would be complete without a visit to old Ibiza town. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place to imagine yourself walking in the footsteps of the Phoenicians 2,500 years ago.

The place positively teems with history. Start at the top and work your way down through the narrow streets, stopping now and then to take in the splendid views.

Speeding right back up to the present day, we had lunch at the swish Jackpot Restaurant in the Ibiza Gran Hotel, home of the casino. The beautiful three-course al fresco lunch was just €22. Great value and highly recommended.

As for the dance music and nightlife, we didn’t hear a single banging tune! But in fairness when we were there in early May, the season hadn’t really kicked in.

Either way, there’s lot more to Ibiza than Pacha, Space and Privilege.

Though I hear Flower Power in Pacha is a great night out. Maybe next time.

FACTFILE:

We flew to Ibiza with Aer Lingus. Flights operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in high season.

We stayed at the Invisa Hotel Club Cala Blanca, a three-star  in Playa d’es Figueral on the north-east coast about a 40-minute drive from the airport.

This family destination is situated on a beach and is part of a large complex with all the usual activities and kids clubs to keep everyone amused. The accommodation is bright and comfortable.

A standard room for two adults and two children, which must be booked for a minimum of three nights, costs €654 towards the end of June. Includes breakfast.

PARTYING PERILS

Checking in at Dublin Airport reinforced the idea of Ibiza as the place for 24-hour party people. The nice woman from Aer Lingus handed me a sheet of paper warning: “Any person suspected of being intoxicated will not be permitted to board.”

It added: “We strongly recommend you do not purchase any alcohol in the airport for carriage on this flight.”

Our packed flight featured a large and boisterous stag group. Cue on-board announcements about the stewards having the power to refuse to serve alcohol to rowdy passengers. But in fairness, they didn’t go over the top and the flight passed without incident.

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