Wednesday 16 October 2019

Ibiza rediscovered - how the island has become a getaway for the glitterati

Ibiza has revamped its image in recent years as a new clientele of big-spending A-listers and oligarchs descends on the island. Katie Byrne gets behind the wheel of the new Lexus LC 500 luxury coupé and discovers how the other half lives

Cala d'Hort beach in Ibiza. Photo: Deposit
Cala d'Hort beach in Ibiza. Photo: Deposit
Doutzen Kroes does stand-up paddleboarding in Ibiza.
Rande Gerber, Amal and George Clooney, Mario Testino and Cindy Crawford enjoy Ibiza
Michael Fassbender enjoys Ibiza
The Med Sea surrounding Ibiza is unforgettable. It is an incredible blue due to the amazing seaweed forest of Poseidon which filters the water and adds a luminous quality to the sunlight
Alessandra Ambrosio (R) in Ibiza, Spain.
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Anyone who has been to Ibiza will know that there are two sides to the so-called White Island. There's the south side, which is brassy and boisterous, and the north side, which is tranquil and laidback. There's an Ibiza for hedonistic party people looking for all-night parties and an Ibiza for abstemious spiritual seekers who practise yoga in the hills.

In more recent years, however, another contradiction has begun to emerge. The hippies have left their mark and clubbers still come in their droves (even if the prices are becoming more prohibitive), but the Balearic island is shaking off its erstwhile reputation and becoming better known as a getaway for the glitterati.

If summer in Ibiza evokes images of raucous Ryanair flights, you may be surprised to discover that up to 120 private jets land on the island each day during peak season.

While Ibiza has always been popular with jetsetters, the luxury market has exploded in the last 10 years. A marina offering berths for superyachts opened for business last month and when luxury car manufacturer Lexus wanted to showcase the all-new LC 500 to a group of international journalists - including yours truly - they decided that the island was the perfect backdrop (see overleaf).

Doutzen Kroes does stand-up paddleboarding in Ibiza.
Doutzen Kroes does stand-up paddleboarding in Ibiza.

The Ibiza package holiday hasn't become any less popular, but the focus has shifted towards a new clientele of A-listers and oligarchs. Orlando Bloom infamously threw a punch at Justin Bieber in the chi-chi Cipriani Downtown Ibiza restaurant in 2014 (apparently the scuffle had to do with Bloom's now ex-wife, Miranda Kerr). George and Amal Clooney paid a visit the following year; Leonardo diCaprio moored his yacht there last summer, and Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell are island veterans.

When the rich and famous hit Ibiza, they tend to moor their yachts in the marina or rent out sprawling villas that include full fleets of staff and 24-hour security, and which can cost up to €200,000 a week.

In the past, seasonal work on the island usually consisted of bar shifts and ticket selling on behalf of the superclubs. These days, there's an emerging luxury job market for private chefs, massage therapists and chauffeurs who want to work in the sun for three months of the year.

Celebrity make-up artist Louise Maxwell, who moved to Ibiza in 2005 after falling in love with the island during a week-long holiday, says the luxury sector has grown exponentially in recent years. "There are incredible hotels and restaurants on the island now, with new five-star openings every year," she says.

And business is booming. Maxwell, who recently launched the Ibiza Darling app, which connects visitors to the island with a glam squad of hair and beauty experts, says a lot of VIP clients require daily hair-styling services during their holiday.

Ibiza may be notoriously expensive (as anyone who has paid €8 for a bottle of water in Pacha will attest) but there's no shortage of VIPs willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money for velvet-rope treatment. A meal at Sublimotion, a molecular gastronomy restaurant in the Hard Rock Hotel, costs €1,500 per person, while a table booking at the Blue Marlin beach club requires a minimum spend of €2,000.

Michael Fassbender enjoys Ibiza
Michael Fassbender enjoys Ibiza

Last month, a bill from an Ibiza restaurant, which included 41 bottles of Dom Pérignon Champagne and totalled €37,330, went viral on social media. It was suggested that it belonged to Lionel Messi, who was partying on the island with fellow footballers Luis Suárez and Cesc Fàbregas and their respective partners at the time. Messi quickly took to Twitter to deny the rumour, while others wondered how exactly a group of six had an appetite for 27 pizzas…

Yet, outrageous bills are not out of the ordinary in Ibiza, especially as the luxury offering on the island continues to grow. Elite hospitality brand Nobu recently opened a five-star resort in Talamanca Bay which offers a yacht-mooring service for guests arriving by sea. The 7 Pines Resort has a 24-metre yacht available for guests - as well as a stand-alone villa for larger groups.

The Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel, which is owned by powerful Ibiza dynasty the Matutes, ups the ante with two private yachts available to guests, while ME Ibiza, near Santa Eulalia, offers a private jet service. Ibiza Uncovered it is not.

Much of the recent investment in Ibiza has taken its cue from Las Vegas, where everything is reimagined as bigger, better and more ostentatious. Take, for instance, the new boundary-breaking collaboration between the owner of Cirque du Soleil and the famous restaurateurs Albert and Ferran Adrià at the five-star Ibiza Gran Hotel, which combines fine dining and avant garde performance.

The Ibiza Gran is a favourite among the rich and famous. There are celebrity-friendly villa rentals too. Kate Moss and Kylie Minogue like the Moroccan-themed Can Verru, which is set on one acre of lush farmland near the village of San Augustín and includes an outdoor kitchen plus an old pirate ship and treehouse for children.

Actress Kate Hudson enjoyed a girls' getaway at The Palms in San José. The five-bedroom retreat includes an infinity pool and a fitness centre and costs up to €75,000 a week.

Alessandra Ambrosio (R) in Ibiza, Spain.
Alessandra Ambrosio (R) in Ibiza, Spain.

Justin Bieber and Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, plumped for a private island, 900 metres off the coast of Ibiza. The rental of Tagomago - a nature reserve and bird sanctuary - includes a fully serviced five-bedroom villa and costs up to €95,000 a week.

Other celebrities have made a longer-term commitment by investing in property, usually in the more bohemian north side of the island. Jewellery designer Jade Jagger's former home, Can Sebastien in San Joan, was on the market last year for €3m, while Noel Gallagher bought a villa in Es Cubells with a guitar-shaped swimming pool from fellow musician Mike Oldfield in 1999. He sold it 10 years later when James Blunt moved in nearby.

There are more than 50 beaches in Ibiza, many of them tucked away in secluded coves. Lexus's new brand ambassador, Mark Ronson, who has been coming to the White Island with his family since he was a child, recommends the beach at Cala Carbo. "If you ever have a long night clubbing and you have a hangover, that's the place to go and have some fish. It's pretty amazing."

Sure enough, the water was crystal- clear, and the fish was barely out of the net before it arrived on my plate, when I visited the next day. Naomi Campbell likes the nearby Cala Bassa beach, while supermodel Doutzen Kroes, who's in Ibiza every summer, prefers the relative seclusion of pebble beach Ses Boques in Es Cubells.

Many models take a break from partying - or eschew it altogether - when they come to the White Island. Some book in for a yoga retreat with the in-demand Kilkenny-born Kundalini yoga teacher Trish Whelan, or a class in the yoga studio at La Galería Elefante concept store. Others take a trip to Formentera (just three nautical miles from Ibiza by boat) and unwind at one of Kate Moss's favourite spots, the Gecko Beach Club.

It's a popular misconception that Ibiza's celebrity status was ordained by New Order who, inspired by the emerging sound of Balearic house music, partly recorded the album Technique on the island in 1989.

Rande Gerber, Amal and George Clooney, Mario Testino and Cindy Crawford enjoy Ibiza
Rande Gerber, Amal and George Clooney, Mario Testino and Cindy Crawford enjoy Ibiza

Actually, the well-heeled started coming to the island decades earlier. Playboy actor Errol Flynn was one of the first celebrities to visit Ibiza during the 1950s. He would sail in on his Zaca yacht and drink in a small, no-frills fisherman's bar called Casa Pepe before hitting Mar Blau nightclub.

Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Ursula Andress, Aristotle Onassis and Laurence Olivier followed and, by the 1980s, Ibiza had acquired a reputation as a getaway for the rich and famous, helped in no small part by regular visitors like David Bowie and Valentino - and a hotel called Pikes.

Tony Pike, a devil-may-care English- born Australian, bought the former finca in San Antonio in 1978 and converted it into a small hotel, which quickly became known for its wild parties and celebrity guests, including Grace Jones, Kylie Minogue and Sade. Wham filmed their song Club Tropicana at the hotel's pool and Freddie Mercury held his 41st birthday bash there in 1987.

Pikes is under new ownership these days, but their appetite for high jinks has remained intact. During the weekend, when they run their infamous House Party events, it's not unusual to see guests surfacing at 5pm for a Full English and a Bloody Mary.

While the Pikes crowd tends to prefer smaller clubs like Heart and KM5, the bigger clubs will beckon at one point or another. Pacha, which is just across the road from the Ibiza Gran, was one of the first superclubs on the island. My visit coincided with the club's 50th anniversary - a golden-ticket event where our own Róisín Murphy (an Ibiza regular) kicked off proceedings. P Diddy prefers DC10, which is less about the pomp and ceremony and more about the music, while Pete Tong's International Music Summit, which culminates in a party at the UNESCO World Heritage site Dalt Vila, attracts a who's who of dance music.

Ibiza is an island for saints, sinners and sybarites, but as the team at Lexus points out, it is only from behind the wheel of a car that you can discover its many contradictions.

The coastal roads of Ibiza were the perfect backdrop for a test-drive of Lexus' s new LC 500

Most of the villas in Ibiza induce chronic lifestyle envy - the pad that Lexus took over for their launch of the LC 500 was something else entirely. The sumptuous villa in the hills of Ibiza was the final stop in a mysterious "immersive driving experience" in the new LC 500, which took advantage of the island's spectacular coastal roads and showcased the car's impeccably smooth 10-speed Multi Stage transmission.

There are plenty of head-turning supercars in Ibiza, yet even the guests at the five-star Ibiza Gran stopped to stare and take photos as we pulled out of the hotel in a white hybrid version of the LC 500. Little wonder - it looks like something Batman might drive around Miami.

Inside the car, there's a 12-speaker Pioneer sound system; a "climate concierge system", which purifies the air, deodorises the seat and - I'm not making this up - keeps skin hydrated. The sculpted driver's seat feels like it has been designed with a chiropractor (we later find out that the chief engineer tested 50 different seat designs to find the perfect combination).

This is a pretty flawless car, which one would expect from a brand that values master crafts- people. The Takumi, as they are known, are employees with at least 25 years' experience in the Lexus factory. They have a forensic eye for detail and it is part of their training to be able to fold an origami model of a cat, using their non-dominant hand, in less than 90 seconds.

The Lexus marketing team are equally ambitious. The immersive driving experience, we soon discovered, was punctuated by a series of live dance performances (at one point, a group of construction workers turned their tools into instruments and transformed into a Stomp-style spectacle), and filmed using in-vehicle GoPro cameras.

After arriving at the villa, we were introduced to Lexus's brand ambassador, Grammy Award-winning DJ and producer Mark Ronson (pictured above), who is particularly hands-on in his new role. He was a Lexus driver before the brand approached him and he says he knew the LC 500 was going to be exciting before he saw it - even if he was slightly intimidated meeting the car's chief engineer, Koji Sato.

Ronson showed us how to create a soundtrack for the footage of the drive using Novation Launchpad - an accessible, and addictive, music sequencer. It's part of the new Make Your Mark campaign, which allows car and music fans to score their own track using musical stems produced by Ronson in the studio. It's a fun campaign initiative, which begins to make more sense once you understand that Lexus is transforming into a lifestyle brand. Their musical collaboration with Ronson is part of a wider campaign that celebrates creativity and innovation.

The Lexus Short Films Project, a collaboration with the Weinstein Company, supports aspiring directors and writers, while their hoverboard video, shot at a custom-crafted skate park in Spain, is worth a watch on YouTube. For now, you can score your own soundtrack to the LC 500 driving experience at

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