Forget the clubs, shots and all-night parties. There's an alternative, peaceful side to Ibiza that Cathy McFadden knows all about. Read her round up of the best things to do on an off-the-beaten-path trip to the Balearic island of Ibiza.
Since the 1960s when the hippies arrived on the little Balearic island that had long been suspended in time, Ibiza has become synonymous with hedonism. Whatever your pursuit of pleasure, the White Island will accommodate you.
Having hung-up her glow sticks years ago, Cathy McFadden was delighted to find that Ibiza is so much more than a paradise for party-goers. In an otherwise hectic world, secluded bliss to enjoy downtime with friends and loved ones has become Cathy’s idea of hedonism and she shares her top tips on how to find this on the Island of Love.
1. EXPLORE HIDDEN CALAS
Ibiza’s rugged coastline is mostly made up of small “calas” which should not be overlooked in favour of the bigger beaches. Hire a car, scooter or bike (or, why not hike?) and head away from the main roads. Follow dusty, pine tree-lined caminos to the coast where your reward will be clear azure blue waters lapping private shores you'll only have to share with a handful of fellow bathers.
My favourite cala is S’Estanyol; a small, horseshoe-shaped cove surrounded by lush forest and home to a handful of rustic fisherman’s huts. A long-time favourite of the locals (and privacy seeking celebrities), this beach is a complete escape from the world. Drive through the village of Jesus and keep your eyes peeled for a hand-painted rock marked “Cala Bonita” - blink and you'll miss it. Although there is a sandy beach, I recommend climbing the rocks to settle on the bouncy beds of sandy, dried seaweed (trust me) or, if you are a shade seeker, continue a little further and nab the porch of a fisherman’s hut.
Once you've cooled off in the tranquil waters and built up an appetite, dry off and grab a table in the stylish onshore restaurant, Cala Bonita. A new kid on the block, this intimate restaurant manages to preserve the authenticity of the cove whilst delivering mouth-watering seafood. With its rustic interior, Cala Bonita mixes handmade Moroccan tables and chairs with geometric tribal prints and earthy ceramic tableware. In the evenings S'Estanyol is known to host special, sometimes secret, events such as live Groove Armada gigs.
On the northwest of the island you will find Cala Xuclar, a peaceful hideaway at the end of a bumpy sandy road, which travelling along is a mini adventure in itself. This tiny cove has a small beach, clear waters and a tasteful chiringuito (beach shack). Cute canvas chairs sit under a large sail providing shade as you enjoy some of the freshest fish in Ibiza. Despite the remoteness of the location, booking a day or two in advance is recommended.
Head southwest to Cala Llentrisca, a crescent shaped beach which will often be deserted and for good reason. Finding Cala Llentrisca is an adventure and your reward is natural beauty and tranquility. From Sant Josep, follow the road to Es Cubells and wind your way down, enjoying breathtaking coastal views until you reach the end of the road. Ditch the car, grab your hippy-style beach blanket (you will have purchased at least one by now) and walk the rest of the way through a small forest, along the cliff and down the headland. The cove has a rickety jetty perfect for diving into the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Swim all afternoon, read, relax with friends and switch off from the world.
2. FARM TO TABLE
Ibiza has a wealth of organic farms and a burgeoning health and wellness community that have paved the way for the island's farm to table movement. When the hippie “peluts” (long haired) travellers made a pit-stop on the island en route to India, many didn't leave having discovered enigmatic spots with a natural energy, such as Benirrás beach and Es Vedrá. Today, the island will nurture the soul with its abundance of fresh produce from the farmlands, salt fields and the daily catch pulled in from the Med.
Make a special trip, day or night, to Aubergine. Located in the countryside, this stylish farm to table restaurant offers Mediterranean healthy cuisine and juices made from ingredients freshly picked from the on-site garden. The décor is simple, chic and rustic. During the day it's easy to forget the time as the smell of rosemary drifts through the outside terrace. In the evening, the buzz of family and friends dining to the backdrop of live acoustic music adds an atmosphere to the otherwise silence of the countryside. In winter, Aubergine hosts a weekly farmers market selling organic eggs, cheese and vegetables.
Nestled in the pretty village of Santa Gertrudis, the geographical heart of the island, is vegetarian restaurant Ecocentro. Located in a large walled garden, you'll be hard pressed to choose your favourite table amongst the olive trees and large cacti. Offering a varied and inspiring selection of gluten free dishes, cold pressed juices and local craft beers, Ecocentro is the perfect spot for lunch in a village that is really worth visiting. After lunch, stroll around Santa Gertrudis to the picture perfect whitewashed church in the centre of a square which acts as a nighttime meet up spot for locals and bohemian expats.
For a dreamy lunch or a romantic dinner, head to the San Lorenzo hotspot, La Paloma. A family-run restaurant, the menu is freshly prepared each day according to seasonal produce, mixing Mediterranean with Middle-Eastern flavours, with all herbs and vegetables picked from the garden. Sit on brightly painted blue furniture amongst the citrus trees and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the garden safe in the knowledge that La Paloma allows “good vibes only.” Understandably, this popular spot is always booked so call ahead to reserve a table.
3. WALK ON WATER
Arriving on the island by boat or air, your first impressions of Ibiza will be moulded by the allure of the sea. The ochre red soil of the land is offset against a palette of blues and greens; azure, electric blue and jade, making it impossible to stay ashore for long.
The best way to enjoy the warm Mediterranean waters of the island is stand-up paddle boarding (SUP for short). Explore the coast of Ibiza whilst experiencing a serene feeling of walking on water. Jump off your board and swim in caves or snorkel in the clear waters. There aren't many operators on the island, but I highly recommend SUP Ibiza, as local lad Herman takes fun and adventure seriously whilst making you feel at ease on your board. If new to the sport, you will be standing up and confidently paddling away from the shore in minutes. SUP Ibiza runs excursions both in the morning and during sunset.
Whilst Ibiza is not short on beach front hotels, being a small island means you can base yourself in an isolated hotel and still be only a short drive from all Ibiza has to offer. Traditional fincas (farmhouses) hidden in the countryside have been transformed into agroturismos, from five-starred glamour to family-friendly hotels, all with isolation, well-being and relaxation at the top of the agenda.
My favourite agroturismo is Les Terrasses, a French-style boutique hotel with 12 rooms tucked away off the main route between Ibiza Town and Santa Eulalia. The only giveaway that you are near this slice of paradise is an Yves Klein blue rock on the roadside. Turn off the main road, up a dusty track and into the boho-riche hangout. The owner, Françoise Pialoux, has lovingly restored this finca into a warm, relaxed yet sophisticated hideaway. Two pools, a spa and a large kitchen-garden form part of the grounds whilst the rest is made up of giant palms, succulents and tumbling bougainvillea. Together with her team (and resident dog Zia) Françoise will give you an unforgettable experience that will draw you back to Ibiza time and time again.
Atzaro put agroturismo on the map, a stunning farmhouse restored into a luxury hotel which marries Indian and Ibizan styles and is home to the island’s finest spa. Atzaro, is more than a hotel, it is a cultural centre too hosting art exhibitions and DJ events. If music is your radar, Ibiza Rocks House at Pike’s (Ibiza's first rural hotel) could be for you. Being the setting of Wham’s Club Tropicana video and the venue for Freddie Mercury’s 41st birthday party, this agroturismo is not short of glamour.
Ibiza’s once shy little sister has now come of age and has its own charms which sets it apart from its bigger sibling. Formentera has a booming beach-club scene, a low-key vibe and the best beaches in the Mediterranean, as well as a Michelin starred restaurant.
A short ferry ride from Ibiza, the white sands and turquoise waters of Formentera give the Caribbean a run for its money. A small island, it is easy to get around by bus, taxi or bike. The island is cyclist-friendly with dedicated bike lanes. Hire a bike at La Savina harbour and cycle to Es Cavall d’en Borras with its crystal clear water and soft white sand - it's the stuff holiday dreams are made of. If you are feeling adventurous, continue on and explore the dunes and tiny villages of this sun-bleached island.
In the 1960s and 1970s free-spirited peluts flocked to the island. Joni Mitchell wrote “Blue” here and Bob Dylan pitched up in a lighthouse. Even though these days you are more likely to see Kate Moss at La Mola, you can still experience the hippie trail. Cycle inland to San Fernando de ses Roques to former Dylan hangout Fonda Pepe, a bar where Hendrix is known to have jammed, which now attracts locals and fellow travellers and serves up a mean pomadas (gin and lemon).