Life Travel

Sunday 21 September 2014

Ibiza discovered: From chic retreats to family resorts

The 'White Isle' is more than a clubber's haven

Aoife Carrigy

Published 15/06/2014 | 02:30

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Ibiza
Ibiza
Ibiza

'Please respect that this is a shared space," repeats the good-natured but no-nonsense air attendant. It's the 7pm Saturday flight from Dublin and for the majority of the mostly young male passengers, the party has well and truly started.

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Nobody seems fazed, not even the toddlers who are giving as good as they get. The check-in lady had handed me an alcohol policy advice slip with a rueful smile: all duty-free alcohol had been removed from passengers before boarding and drinks were being served on a strict discretionary basis.

Even if Ibiza's party island reputation did not precede it, drilled home by stories of dancers turned drug mules and the series 'Ibiza Uncovered', there's little doubt what kind of holiday most Ibiza-bound passengers are planning.

But as the toilet rush subsides and everyone hushes down to be fed and watered, the drunken roars become periodic hoots and a spectacular sunset paints the wing of the plane a milky, gold-trimmed mauve. I watch the inky purple sky darken and dream of hidden coves and crystal waters, of lazy tapas lunches and local herb-infused digestifs, of cliff-top drives to whitewashed villages fragrant with the smell of the surrounding pine forests.

Ibiza has more than one reputation after all. I make a silent wish that there's room on this world-famous 'White Island' for all of our holiday plans.

I needn't have worried. Neither our party-pumped nor bucket-and-spade friends were to be found the next morning at the Puig de Sa Creu church in Santa Eulària where the locals had turned out in full traditional regalia, slim young fingers dripping with silver and underskirts flashing (the more layers, the richer the family apparently – bling is no new thing in the Balearic Isles).

Nor was there a hint of them amongst the orange trees and olive groves in the island's interior, nor in the sleepy village of Santa Carles de Peralta where the original 1960's Poste Restante boxes – the pre-email traveller's hub of communication with the rest of the world – still line the shady courtyard of Bar Anita.

And I doubt they even knew about treasures such as the pioneering Bodega Sa Cova winery in Sant Mateu d'Albarca, where Juan Bonet and his Irish wife welcome visitors for winery tours, tastings of their excellent wines and a hearty feed of home-cooked fare at their winery restaurant.

That's the beauty of Ibiza. The island's 110,00-strong permanent population are used to sharing their space. And in contrast to the confines of the inflight cabin, there's ample room for many realities to co-exist without risk of encroaching on one another – perhaps one of the reasons it attracts everyone from David Cameron to the Saudi Arabian Queen Mother, from Kate Moss to Robert Plant.

First settled in 654BC as a trading post for the Phoenicians – who incidentally named it after Ibossim, their god of music and dancing – this Mediterranean island has seen its share of coming and going over the years. They've arrived in pirate ships, sending the locals scurrying into one of several fortress-style churches dotted around the island; or on night ferries full of hippies returning from a winter in India and looking to set up stall and sell their exotic wares. They've turned up in private jets with complicated entourages and in cattle-class flights depositing a jumble of lager lovers, beach-bound families and glammed-up clubbers. All arrivals are welcome and pretty much anything goes.

Where these parallel universes do meet – elderly couples and eternally young drag queens passing one another on Calle de la Virgen at the base of old Ibiza town, or families souvenir shopping at Saturday's hippy market at Las Dalias – they do so with mutual respect and a live-and-let-live attitude. But for the most part, the yin and yang elements of this unique island nestle cheek by jowl while remaining world's apart.

Take Ibiza town, where the haut-bling of the Marina's Golden Mile couldn't be more different from the cobbled street charm of Dalt Villa (old town), an immaculately preserved example of a Renaissance walled town. Within these walls and amongst the warren of laneways leading down to the marina are gathered a smorgasbord of restaurants, boutiques, markets, bars and top-class galleries, such as The MACE, Ibiza's Museum of Contemporary Art (eivissa.es/mace) where a free retrospective of Joan Miró runs until mid-August.

On the outskirts of town, on the edge of protected wetlands perches Pacha, the mother of Ibiza nightclubs, which began life in 1973 in a converted farmhouse.

Further on, the town is flanked on either side by two utterly different stretches of beach. Playa d'en Bossa offers high octane nightlife and a glut of five-star hotels chasing the tails of Ushuaia (ushuaiaibiza. com), a pre-party beach club turned hedonist-central hotel from where guests can watch world-famous DJs pulse the night away from their private balconies.

Meanwhile, north of town is Talamanca beach, a local family favourite with relatively few hotels, making it popular for winter walks. From here, excellent roads traversing the island's 571 sq km (think Corfu or the Isle of Man) mean that nothing is much more than an hour's drive away, yet each element on offer seems well contained.

A young family based in the north-east could enjoy the Butlins-style buffet and organised fun offered by Invisa Figueral Resort (invisahoteles.com/ibiza/hotel-club-cala-verde) and never have to leave the sandy safety of Figueras beach.

Or they could mosey westwards, past the family-friendly coves around Cala Portinatx, to the caves at Can Marca where dramatically lit underground lakes and waterfalls, stalagmites and stalagtites, and tales of the smugglers who stored their booty here all add up to an exciting afternoon's diversion. There's even the option of island hopping, with the slow boat to neighbouring Formentera leaving directly from Figueras.

Meanwhile, holidaymakers seeking well-being and a connection with nature could base themselves in the island's northern interior, where boutique hotels such as the chi-chi Giri Residence (thegiri.com) and agroturismo havens such as Can Gall's chic farmhouse (agrocangall.com) or the Zen-styled Atzaró (atzaro.com) attract a sophisticated clientele with the promise of excellent local food and calm poolside lounging or indulgent spa treatments.

Atzaro is a favourite of Colombian star Shakira, and a meander through their idyllic Zen-styled gardens gives a hint of the draw of unwinding here. Choose between yoga by the pool, forays into the interior on mountain bikes or an afternoon's kayaking amongst some of the island's 56 coves dotted along 200km of coastline.

Some of the northern beaches even offer low-key party options, such as the early-evening drumming session at Benirràs beach every Sunday, where distinctive rock formations such as the locally dubbed 'God's Finger' create unique back-drops for Ibiza's famously spectacular sunsets.

Over on the west coast, the natural bay of Sant Antoni may have morphed into the kind of 24-party resort town that gives Ibiza its less salubrious name, but even here there are pockets of charm. A cool cocktail at Cafe del Mar – from where decades worth of chill-out soundtracks were produced – remains the kind of Ibiza cliche that is hard to resist.

Or for a more original sunset tipple, head to the northerly point of the bay where the Aquarium Cap Blanc (aquariumcapblanc.com) in Cala Gracio offers a glimpse into underwater life, followed by jugs of sangria in their shack-style bar.

Wherever your base, no-one should miss the island's south-westerly coastline with its incredible diversity of beachlife. Choose the crystalline waters and cliffs of Cales de Compte, where naturalist coves and bucket-and-spade beaches share shoreline. Or Cala d'Hort with its views of the magnetic Es Vedrà outcrop. Or Cala Jondal with it wag-tastic Blue Marlin beach club. Or the dune-lined Platja de ses Salines beyond the dazzling salt plains.

Whatever you're after, it's probably here. This is Ibiza after all. It's whatever you want it to be.

Ibiza on the cheap

Unless you've bottomless pockets, you'll need to approach Ibiza with a clear budget. Here's a few tips for cutting costs:

Go self-catering: Local produce is affordable and excellent quality, whether from supermarkets or markets in Ibiza town.

Rent a car: There's some great value to be had – but you'll pay more to collect from the airport.

Seek out cheap local haunts: Such as Bar Costa in Santa Gertrudis village where hanging jamon and modern art jostle for attention.

Bring a towel to the beach: Avoid the cost of sun loungers (a picnic and cold bottle of rosado should set you right too).

Take to the water: At just €4 an hour, kayaking has got to be the best value activity going (see kayak-ibiza.com).

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