From cooking classes to sea-kayaking and battery-powered bikes, Ibiza is full of surprises
While all the young ones were going to their beds after a night of clubbing in Ibiza, I was wandering around the Finca Fluxa botanic garden (fluxaibiza.com), snipping aromatic herbs to make my very own bottle of hierbas payesas liqueur.
Into my little bread basket went sprigs of thyme, rosemary, fennel, verbena, lavender, rue, eucalyptus, camomile, juniper, mint, peppermint, sage, St John’s wort and wormwood, which I later poked into a half-litre bottle with a stick.
After adding a leaf and a sliver of peel of lemon and orange, making 18 ingredients in all, I poured in enough anis to cover the contents to halfway up the neck – and then a sneaky extra dribble for luck.
“And now,” said finca owner Juan Tur, “we seal it, take it home, leave for three months to macerate and drink as a digestif. But if you can’t wait that long to try it, here’s some I made earlier.”
He must have watched Blue Peter as a kid.
Juan’s 24pc alcohol hierbas payesas, made to his grandmother’s 100-year-old recipe, is a tip-top tipple, but I’ll never get to sample mine – I only had hand luggage with me and had to leave the bottle behind.
Nor will I get to sample the flao – a traditional Ibizan cheesecake – that I made at Finca Can Muson organic farm (ibizacanmuson.com).
Under the expert instruction of matriarch Maria, I mixed and kneaded the dough and pressed it into a baking tin, then stuck my hands into a bowl and squished together a big wobbly lump of goat’s cheese, four eggs and some finely-chopped mint.
I had just got it to a nice, gooey consistency when Maria handed me a child’s beach bucket overflowing with grass and other bits of greenery you usually see on a compost heap.
I thought the poor woman had been necking her own homemade hierbas, until she saw my puzzled expression and chuckled.
“No, no – this is for feeding the animals,” she said. “Now, pour the cheese mixture into the tin and I’ll put it in the oven. The flao will be ready when you come back.”
There’s nothing so calming as feeding cute goats, miniature pigs and Shetland ponies on a sunny day on an organic farm that smells of flowers and herbs.
My flao looked and smelled fab, but with only that carry-on bag, I had to donate it to the farm’s kindergarten, where the children learn all about growing fruit and vegetables.
I stayed in the Aguas de Ibiza Grand Luxe hotel (aguasdeibiza.com) in Santa Eulalia, which was a super-posh experience, but it could do with a few tweaks to fully merit its five-star status.
I’ve never seen a breakfast buffet so lavish, and the cooked-to-order omelettes are divine, but service doesn’t start until 8am, which is a pain for early risers; and when I asked for coffee, it took an age to arrive, cup by cup – it’s a no-brainer to deliver it in a pint pot so guests won’t have to wait so long for their caffeine kick-start.
The open-air rooftop bar closed at midnight, but maybe that’s a seasonal thing, and there were too few tables and chairs for sitting around and enjoying a drink, even though there’s plenty of space for more.
Those are first-world niggles. However, the strip lighting on some parts of the decking floor should be called trip lighting – it’s so dim and deceptive in parts that I twice nearly went on my backside on the way to the loo.
Apart from that, the staff are absolute dotes and couldn’t have been more hospitable, and my room, with its stand-alone ceramic bath, was so big I could have ridden a bike around it, although the cleaners wouldn’t have been too happy.
I did go cycling, mercifully on a battery-powered bike (kandani.es) that was delivered to the hotel door for an effortless two-hour spin along seaside tracks, past pristine beaches, through forests and beside fields of wheat that rippled in the breeze.
Ibizan-born guide Jaume, a self-employed graphic designer who leads bike tours in his free time, was great company and a font of information about the history and culture of the third-biggest of the Balearic Islands, after Mallorca and Menorca.
During a pit stop at a roadside cafe, I asked him, as casually as possible, if he had heard anything on the news about an outbreak of cheesecake poisoning the previous afternoon at the Can Muson kindergarten.
He hadn’t, which came as a great relief. Either the children loved my creation and told their mammies it was the best flao they had ever tasted, or Maria had second thoughts and fed it to the goats, which aren’t too fussy about what they eat.
Jaume’s colleague was waiting with a van to collect the bikes when we arrived in downtown Santa Eulalia, where a quick lunch provided the fuel for a kayaking adventure.
The option on the hotel’s list of afternoon activities was a poolside yoga session, God love us, but as I hadn’t brought any WD-40 with me, it would have taken all evening – and half-a-pound of Kerrygold – to get my ankle back down from behind my neck.)
So kayaking it was, off Es Figueral beach in the northwest of the island, where the sea was calm and the water crystal clear and shallow – perfect conditions for a leisurely paddle.
Paolo dell’Agnolo, whose parents emigrated to Ibiza from Argentina when he was a child, set up his business 15 years ago with two second-hand canoes and a battered old pick-up truck he drove from beach to beach, looking for customers.
Now he has his own premises (kayak-ibiza.com) and a mini fleet of brightly-coloured kayaks and holidaymakers come flocking to him. Good things happen to nice people.
While my 90 minutes of paddling with Paolo were enjoyable, they were far from leisurely. The only exercise my shoulders usually get is when I wake up in the morning and stretch before yawning and reaching for the snooze button. Kayaking is a different kettle of fish.
You know how when you’ve carried two heavy bags of shopping home from Lidl, and then you put them down on the kitchen floor and your arms spring up above your head? That was yours truly when I eventually got back to the beach – it looked like someone was pointing a gun at me.
Nevertheless, thanks to Paolo’s banter out on the water and despite the wear and tear on my shoulders, it was great fun.
Less taxing was a three-hour sunset boat trip out of San Antonio to watch a clear blue sky turn blazing orange, pink and red while sipping beer and tucking into a tortilla de patatas and slices of coca, the traditional Balearic flatbread with just a couple of sweet or savoury toppings.
When we anchored a couple of hundred metres off a clifftop restaurant, we were treated to the sight of an open-air wedding, with Bruno Mars singing “Hey baby, I think I wanna marry you” blasting from the venue’s speakers.
Unbeknown to the happy couple and their guests, in a little cove at the bottom of the cliff a model who didn’t care who could see her from the water was changing into and out of bikinis for a photo shoot.
I’m told dolphins were also leaping around the boat, but for some reason I missed them.
I miss Ibiza, too, even though I’ve only just returned, but isn’t that the sign of a place well worth visiting?
Isle be back.
Can Mussonet, in San Rafael, is open only at weekends, but do yourself a big favour and book a table for lunch or dinner – it’s the best restaurant I’ve visited in years (canmussonet.com).
Agroturismo Can Curreu, in San Carlos, has a beautiful garden for outdoor dining (cancurreu.com).
Ca Na Ribes, in Santa Eulalia, has much to commend it, especially the simple but superb baked ray with potatoes in a sensational sauce (FB @canaribes).
Es Caliu, just outside Santa Eulalia, will please those who love their grilled meats served beneath the stars (escaliuibiza.com).
Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies from Dublin to Ibiza. For more information on holidays on the island, see Ibiza.travel and spain.info.
Tom was a guest of the Spanish Tourist Office in Dublin.