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Ibiza, colloquially known as ‘the white island’ due to its prodigious salt production, could scarcely be more saturated in colour; green pine-studded hillsides spring from fertile rusty red earth and vivid turquoise waters sparkle in the golden sun. Those who know it only for its lively clubbing scene may be surprised to discover it is predominantly tranquil unspoilt countryside dotted with whitewashed houses encircled by an impressive 210km of gorgeous beaches. Covering a total area of only 572 km², Ibiza is small enough to explore coast to coast wherever you are based.
This Balearic island's strategic location in the Mediterranean has attracted a multitude of visitors and invaders to its shores over the centuries, including Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Moors and Carthaginians, who collectively have left a rich legacy of architectural wonders and archaeological sites as well as customs and language that were assimilated into Ibicencan culture. In more recent times, the Hippy Movement found Ibiza an ideal host for its freedom loving lifestyle, and this welcoming easygoing spirit still enchants present day visitors who feel they can be themselves amid the veritable melting pot of people, ideas and lifestyles.
Famous worldwide for its thriving upmarket and, in many cases ultra-exclusive, club scene it would be a grave injustice to the islands myriad cultural, historical and natural attractions to allow this one aspect to dominate. Ibiza is predominantly rural and peaceful and whilst the party aspect is available it is unobtrusive and limited to pockets of nocturnal activity in Ibiza town and San Antonio specifically. During the day visitors can enjoy the ambience and amenities of these bustling friendly towns with little awareness of the club scene.
Beach lovers can choose between scores of picturesque coves and sweeping bays, which are bathed in nearly 3000 hours of sunshine a year on average and whose waters are invitingly balmy in the summer months. On the west coast, gathering to watch the sun set has become an established modern day custom with an almost sacred significance; classical and chill-out music is played in some bars to enhance the experience or impromptu rhythmic drumming starts up (Benirràs beach), whilst others prefer to appreciate the spectacular sight in hushed awe (Platges de Compte). Perhaps the most iconic image of Ibiza is the rock of Es Vedrà on the south coast silhouetted at sundown and said to hold mystical, magnetic qualities.
The capital, Ibiza town (Eivissa) has a Renaissance walled centre thought to be the best preserved coastal fortress in the Mediterranean, and is one of various sites around the island given ‘World Heritage’ status by UNESCO in recognition of its cultural, architectural and historical importance. The Acropolis is a must see in the old town Dalt Villa, whose narrow streets are regularly the stage for art and traditional events, including a weekly performance during the summer of the ‘ball pagès’, a traditional country dance accompanied by castanets. Other buildings of note are the Cathedral, the Castle and the punic Necrópolis Puig des Molins. The Madina Yabisha museum turns the spotlight onto the Islamic era of the island, when it was known as ‘Yabisa’.
Formerly inhabited by fishermen, nowadays the port district of La Marina is a cosmopolitan waterfront area full of bars and restaurants. An obelisk in the harbour built in 1906 commemorates the brave privateers who risked their lives in the Mediterranean Sea to protect Ibiza's shores. Those not afraid to get wet can explore the biodiversity of the Posidonia Oceanica Meadows, thriving seagrass prairies and coral reefs which sustain over 200 plant and animal species by joining an organised snorkelling or canoeing tour at Talamanca beach any Saturday morning during the summer months. Perhaps you will even have a lucky sighting of a sea turtle, dolphin or the endangered Mediterranean monk seal all of which patrol Ibiza's placid waters.
Forming the south western corner of the island, the municipality of San Jose (Sant Josep de sa Talaia) has more than its fair share of excellent beaches along 80km of coastline, the majority being relaxed family-friendly beaches with good amenities and water activities on offer. Cala d'Hort is one of the most popular due in no small part to the spectacular views it offers across to the rocky outcrop of Es Vedrà, claimed by some to be the tip of the sunken civilisation of Atlantis - amongst other legends. This south western peninsula along with the islets offshore are designated natural park reserves as they provide sanctuary for endangered flora and fauna indigenous to Ibiza, such as the ‘podenco’, a breed of hunting dog said to originate in Egypt and brought to Ibiza by the Phoenicians.
This region also contains the salt lakes of Ses Salines, so vital to the island's economy through the ages, and though salt is still extracted commercially today it is also a National Park inhabited by a wide variety of birdlife including flamingos.
Keen walkers could hike to the summit of Sa Talaia, at 487m above sea level the highest point on the island, to enjoy one of Ibiza's most breathtaking vistas across a rolling landscape of pine, fig and carob trees down to the sea. Furthermore a rich heritage awaits discovery in this region, with highlights including several lookout towers, the unique battlements atop Sant Jordi's church and the Phoenician ruins at Sa Caleta, another World Heritage Site. Sant Josep itself is centred around the 18th century fortified church and the town has an ‘arty’ feel with two galleries, interior design shops and fashion boutiques as well as tapas bars and restaurants offering different types of cuisine.
Further up the west coast, the lively town of San Antonio (Sant Antoni de Portmany) has a wealth of cafés, restaurants and shops. The well appointed beaches in the bay offer a host of water sports such as sailing, windsurfing, diving and jet-skiing, whilst less than 3km from the town the little bays of Cala Gració and Cala Gracioneta are more secluded. The coast is riddled with grottoes, and notable among these are the Cueva de Ses Fontanelles with bronze age cave paintings, and the Cova de ses Llegostes where visitors can see various species of native sealife in a natural underwater cave complex. Other points of interest in the wider district are Santa Agnès' underground chapel, the vineyards of Sant Mateu, and the craft village of Sant Rafel de Sa Creu where you can watch skilled craftsmen and women at work in their studios.
Sant Joan de Labritja (San Joan de Labritja) is the most rural municipality, known for the quality of its honey, its fertile hillsides and numerous brooks and springs. This is perhaps the best area to come across typical Ibicencan houses, with thick whitewashed walls to combat the summer heat, and whose square construction allows extra rooms to be added as a family grows. Don't miss the settlement of Balàfia whose dwellings were fortified with defensive towers to protect them against pirate attack, and are in excellent condition as they have remained inhabited to this day. As well as a series of attractive churches in Sant Joan, Sant Miquel and Sant Llorenç (San Lorenzo), a tour of this area should certainly include the defensive stone tower at Portinatx.
The Port of Sant Miquel is a bustling harbour town offering a wide range of water sports including sailing, windsurfing and jet-skiing as well as pedaloes for a more sedate afternoon. Head to charming Benirràs beach to experience the laidback, hippy atmosphere and some spectacular sunsets often accompanied by impromptu drumming from the bohemian crowd of spectators. Nearby the Cova de Can Marçà is a cave system formed by sea erosion with numerous interesting features including stalactites, a 20m high waterfall and prehistoric fossils. On the north east coast, another cave to visit is Es Culleram, an ancient shrine where the Carthaginians worshipped the goddess of fertility, Tanit. Artefacts recovered there are now on display in the Archaeology Museum in Ibiza Town. You can walk to Es Culleram from Cala de Sant Vicent (Cala San Vicente), which is also the departure point for boat trips out to the island of Tagomago.
Santa Eulària des Riu (Santa Eulalia del Rio) is the second most populated municipality and accordingly offers a great number of amenities and attractions in addition to well maintained beaches with a family atmosphere and crystal clear waters, including Es Figueral and the nudist beach S'Aigua Blanca. Santa Eulària's offerings include a vibrant art and craft scene, the so called Street of Restaurants and the lively marina. Boat trips can be taken from here across to Ibiza's sister island Formentera; the Greeks referred to them as Pitiusas, or pine islands. Presiding over Santa Eulària, the Puig de Missa hilltop is crowned by a fortified temple as well as a museum showcasing works by impressionist painter Laureano Barrau and the Ethnology Museum, which focuses on Ibicenco crafts and encourages youngsters to participate in workshops. From this vantage point, fantastic views can be enjoyed over the town and the surrounding countryside where flourishes of almond trees conceal traditional farmsteads.
One of several picturesque villages in the vicinity, Jesús boasts one of the oldest churches in Ibiza with a Gothic altarpiece dating back to the 16th century. Sitting almost in the centre of the island, Santa Gertrudis de Fruitera has a surprisingly lively atmosphere due to the number of bars and restaurants, artisan shops and art galleries. Sant Carles de Peralta is home to the famous Las Dalias Hippy Market, where a multitude of stalls appear every Saturday selling a wide range of clothes, crafts and accessories with an ‘alternative’ bent, and where on the spot massages, aromatherapy and diverse street performances all add to the fun. In the height of summer, night markets are held on Mondays and Tuesdays where the focus shifts more towards tapas and live music. Between April and October a similar market takes place every Wednesday at Punta Arabí in nearby Es Canar.
Heading south from Santa Eulària back towards Ibiza town, the Ibiza Golf Club offers a new 18-hole course as well as an older 9-hole course, with holes of varying difficulty.
Other sporting activities on offer around the island include horse-riding, a wide choice of water sports and sea fishing trips – perhaps on a ‘llaüt’, a local sailing boat. Hiking and cycling are ideal pastimes to practise here, with a good number of routes categorized by difficulty level. A wealth of unspoilt nature awaits, including a huge variety of wildflowers and aromatic herbs like thyme, rosemary, fennel and lavender growing wild.
For those looking to pamper themselves during their stay, there are various spa centres around the island offering saltwater treatments and other relaxation therapies.
Olives trees grow well on the island and oil has been produced using traditional methods since very early times and continues to this day with two modern oil mills producing virgin olive oil of excellent quality. Olive varieties most commonly found on Ibiza are the empletre (also known as the Ibizan), the arbequina and the picual.
Succulent meat dishes are made with locally reared poultry, pork and lamb, such as sofrit pagès (country fry-up) and sobrasada (paprika sausage). Sweet specialities include flaó (soft cheese tart with spearmint), greixonera (cinnamon pudding) and magdalenas de almendras (almond cakes).
An Ibicencan wine is the perfect accompaniment to your meal. There are three main wineries on the island, the largest being Can Rich in Buscastell which uses organic and ecological methods to produce wine from various grape varieties, as well as a liquor made from Ibizan herbs. The Can Maymó cellar in Sant Mateu offers a red wine with a twist, infused with thyme. The Vinys de Tanys Mediterranis cellar in Sant Josep predominantly uses the traditional Ibizan grape variety, Monastrell.
Food plays an important part in village fiestas, especially sweet delicacies such as buñuelos (donuts) and orelletes (ear-shaped spiced fritters). Communities often gather around a water well or spring to celebrate their local saint's day with religious processions, traditional dancing and singing.
Fashion is also a pivotal aspect of Ibiza's contemporary identity and economy, and the Adlib fashion show ‘Pasarela de Moda Adlib’ has become a major event not only in Ibiza's calendar but also for the international fashion world. ‘Adlib’ is a movement initiated around 1970 by the Yugoslavian princess Smilja Mihailovitch, whose motto “Dress as you please, but with style” translated into clothing that was light and comfortably fitting but also elegant. Typically elements of traditional attire such as delicate lacework and embroidery were fused with a floaty alternative look inspired by the hippy movement.
The artistic community also thrives in Ibiza, who are attracted by its welcoming outlook and bohemian atmosphere and inspired by its diverse landscapes and the special quality of light it seems to possess. The contemporary art museum in Ibiza town has an international collection which partly reflects the art of the island, whilst the monthly ‘Ruta del Arte’ offers the opportunity to come face to face with local painters, sculptors, potters and photographers in their studios or in village squares as they tour the island.