Ibiza is a holiday destination that seems to carry with it a very unjustified reputation. When people think of it they automatically conjure images of wild hen nights and the debauchery of 18 to 30’s holidaymakers. Undeniably it has a huge party scene, it’s home to seven super clubs after all. These clubs, however, are only a recent addition to the island and anyone who visits will find that Ibiza has a lot more on offer than just repetitive electronic beats. Read on to discover ten of Ibiza’s surprising secrets.
Some of Europe’s Finest Beaches
Ibiza is an island, therefore, it’s no secret that you’ll find a huge selection of beaches to bask your days away on. What may surprise you, however, is the diversity and breathtaking beauty that can be found across the coastline. In the rugged, north you will find natural, rocky coves such as Cala Xaracca, which are great for snorkelling and inducing a feeling of being deeply secluded in nature. The south and east coasts provide long sandy beaches, like Cala Nova, adorned with loungers and golden sand which slopes gently into the crystal clear sea.
The majority of the main beaches are easy to access but for the more adventurous, there are many “secret” beaches and coves to be discovered at the end of winding dirt roads. The surrounding Mediterranean is crystal clear and always inviting. The beaches here will leave you daydreaming and invoking a feeling that you’ve been abandoned somewhere in the Carribean. Chirringuitos (beach bars) can be found on most beaches, each one with its own distinct character and atmosphere. With over sixty beaches to choose from, you will be sure to find your perfect holiday paradise.
Ibiza may be a small island, but it comfortably manages to cater to every dietary need. Vegetarians and Vegans will be delighted to find a range of restaurants that offer cruelty-free cuisine. For the health concious there are many raw and organic eateries. The carnivores amongst us will be equally as satisfied, this is meat loving Spain after all. A huge range of fresh seafood gathered from the surrounding Mediterranean can be found as offerings on most menus.
There are plenty of themed restaurants, catering to every price range and providing culinary delights and entertainment from around the globe. You will never be at a loss when searching out some new and unique dining experience. Local delicacies give us a true taste of the island with dishes sweet and savoury, incorporating the rich tastes of almonds, goats cheese, pinenuts and figs.
A must when sampling local goodies is Hierbas, a sweet, medicinal liquor made with the herbs of fennel, rosemary, mint, juniper and Louisa, all of which grow abundantly on the island. Additional local sweet treats that should be sought out are Magdelenas Ibicencas, a beautifully fluffy and rich, almond marzipan pastry. Floa is a sweet-tart incorporating the taste of fennel has a very interesting and maybe even an acquired taste. Also, the delicious Bunuelos ibicencos are a curious variation of the doughnut, with a sweet zing of lemon and fennel.
The local culture isn’t hidden here, nor has it been swept away by the passing of millions of people over the years. You can see it in the fishing ports, in the whitewashed village churches or the amazing “Dalt Villa” fortress of Ibiza town. The laid back locals are known as Ibicencos and have their own special language, Ibicenc, which is a dialect of Catalan.
A short venture away from the towns and resorts will reveal the traditional architecture of flat-roofed, stonewalled houses. These old fincas or farmhouses were built like small castles with meter thick walls. The walls not only helped keep the place cool in the summer, but they also acted as a line of defence for invaders such as pirates and other unwanted visitors across the centuries.
Another local spectacle that shouldn’t be missed is the Ball Paiges. This is a traditional courtship ritual which is danced to a drum beat, accompanied by a melodic tune from a local bamboo flute with clacking intervals provided by giant castanets. Dancers are dressed in traditional attire and the boys make an impressive display to the seemingly coy and uninterested maidens. It’s very entertaining and hypnotic to watch. Performances can be found outside village churches on special local holidays, which are held regularly on the island.
Ibiza isn’t just about superstar DJ’s and electronic music. If you look a little closer, you may be surprised to discover the alternative music scene. The island is home to a huge range of cross-genre, talented and unique musicians. During the summer months, they can be found performing at beach bars, restaurants, markets and live music venues.
Each year there is usually at least one music festival, the main and most consistent one being “Playing for Change” held on Cala Longa beach. This is usually held in September and is an event where all the musical talent from the island come together and perform for twelve, entertainment-rich hours in support of local charities.
One of the most famous live music events on the island can be found in the rocky, northern cove of Benirras. Every Sunday drummers from the island gather here and perform a spectacular ritual to accompany one of the most breathtaking sunset scenes on the island. This is a tradition that started over twenty years ago and now it is an Iconic party attracting a very large and very diverse crowd of people that create a truly magical and spontaneous, free party, under the stars.
Ibiza is an island that calls out loudly for adventure and exploration. If you choose to heed this calling you will be spoiled for choice by a mega-medley of activities on offer. Outdoor recreation is very much encouraged and supported by the local government. They have provided detailed and signposted walking and cycling routes that cover the whole of the island. Many of the hiking routes will lead down to forgotten coastlines. Here you will discover isolated coves to enjoy, far away from the buzzing throngs of holidaymakers. Although solo adventures are both safe and encouraged, sometimes it’s great to have some local knowledge to enhance the experience. There are many trusted groups offering every kind of outdoor excursion. The great thing about Ibiza is that you can choose both from land or sea adventures.
On land, aside from the obvious walking and cycling guided tours, you can also explore the many dirt roads from the back of an open top Jeep, safari style. Or why not test your cowboy skills by choosing an adventurous horse riding excursion in the northern hills. In the sea, options are equally as plentiful when choosing ways to enjoy the warm aquarium like Mediterranean. Activities on offer include kayaking and Stand Up Paddle excursions, for an extra special touch why not check out the special sunset tours. Boat hire and charters are available for every budget, perfect for accessing the most isolated coves. Scuba diving, free diving and snorkelling trips can be arranged with one of the many diving centres on the island providing a unique insight into the beautiful aquatic terrain below the sea’s surface.
One of the downsides to being a tiny Island is that almost every passer-by would try to rape, pillage, plunder and claim ownership of the land. Throughout the centuries Ibiza has been occupied by the Phoenicians/Carthegens who first founded the Port of Ibiza Town and introduced salt farming from the surrounding sea. The Romans brought with them their famous roads and introduced ideas about agriculture. The Moors, when they claimed the island brought with them impressive architecture and building skills as well as irrigations systems. A fully functioning example of their stylish waterways can be found in Es Broll. Other invaders to stake a claim over the years include the Vandals, Vikings and many bands of Pirates in between.
The biggest historical feature of the island has to be the magnificence Dalt Vila or “old town” of Ibiza. The site was first thought to be established as early as 654BC by the Phonecians. It’s a huge fortress that also served as a lookout post with spectacular clear views out across the sea. The place feels very medieval and romantic, especially when exploring it at night. It holds UNESCO world heritage site status due to the amazing examples of architecture that were added with each culture that occupied the island. The award was also granted to the ancient Necropolis within Dalt villa, which contains tombs, that are two thousand years old. The second historical UNESCO site that shouldn’t be missed by history buffs, is the Sa Caleta Phoenician settlement. It was awarded due to its valuable contribution of artefacts giving a rare insight into what life was like on the Mediterranean two and a half thousand years ago. Exhibits and artefacts from the passing cultures and centuries can be found on display in the Archaeological Museum in Ibiza Town
Outstanding Natural beauty
To discover the true nature of Ibiza’s beauty, it’s advisable to hire a car and venture away from the main towns and resorts. The island is largely undeveloped with almost the whole north of the island being a national park, protected in order to preserve its outstanding natural beauty. Taking a small road trip will not disappoint you. Every corner you turn around will offer a treat for the eyes that will soothe and relax your soul. With rolling hills dressed in tall pines and cultivated terraces, ripe with fruiting orange and lemon trees and old gnarled olive trunks. The earth is a rich terracotta colour which perfectly compliments the glaring summer sunshine and the occasional huge fig tree, lovingly manicured and providing isolated circles of shade amidst the dry and arid terrain. Though the land is dusty, it still supports rich foliage of herbs and greenery and there is always a heavy smell of rosemary in the air. A network of dirt roads bind the forgotten countryside together and a sea view is never far away.
On the small, neighbouring island of Formentera lies the oldest and largest colony of seagrass, Posidonia Oceanica. This plant plays a vital role In the filtering and maintenance of aquatic life, throughout the whole of the Mediterranean. It’s so important that it has been awarded UNESCO world heritage site status. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why the sea surrounding Ibiza is especially pure and crystal clear. Another UNESCO site of outstanding natural beauty and biodiversity is the Salinas natural park and salt marshes. Here you will find magical scenery, and at sunset, the marshes glow pink and all the beauty is emphasized by the sparkling salt and the elegant flamingoes casting shadows across the plains.
Being an island, Ibiza has to be pretty self-sustaining and this is the reason why you will be surprised to find such a large range of local produce on offer. Of course, there are all the usual Mediterranean delights such as fresh lemons, oranges, olives, almonds and figs, but this is just the start. The Carob tree grows in abundance here. This tree produces large black pods that can be ground to produce a rich, flavoursome and healthy chocolate alternative. At the end of the winter time, around February wild asparagus takes over the landscape. This strain of the plant is thin and stalky but tastes delicious and grows in abundance. Ibiza was known by the Greeks as the Pitusas, meaning pine islands. This is the reason pine nuts feature a lot in local dishes. Other fresh and delicious fruits of the island include Avocado, pomegranate and apricot.
Due to the arid terrain and lack of rich pasture, goats, sheep and pigs are the favoured farm animals. This means that you can try out some delicious variations of fresh and matured goats cheese. Another cheese not to be missed is Manchego. This is a smooth tasting, hard mature sheep cheese. You can compliment your cheese sampling with a glass of organic, locally produced wine. There are several vineyards on the island.
The largest and most sustaining product of the island, however, is the pure “white gold” or salt gathered from the protected salinas notional park. Established as far as two thousand years ago, this gift from the sea has been used to sustain the island across many centuries. The salt industry is still thriving today and “sal de Ibiza” can be found in delicatessen across the globe.
For many decades, Ibiza has been a sanctuary for artists and creatives from around the world. It’s easy to see how they would be inspired by Ibiza’s relaxed atmosphere and spectacular beauty. There are several galleries on the island that are open for viewing, showcasing an impressive range of paintings and sculptures. Many restaurants and hotels are decorated with locally commissioned pieces that create a very special ambience. One of the best ways to explore the artistic scene, however, is by visiting one of the many hippy markets. Here you will find on display many unique, interesting and loving created items for sale, and you have the opportunity to buy directly from the creator. Street art has begun to flourish in recent years, there is even an annual festival to celebrate this. Bloop Festival is held every year in August. It’s predominantly based in San Antonio, where there are many huge pieces of thought-provoking art adorning the tall buildings there.
The Ibiza Spirit
Most people who visit Ibiza will tell you that there is definitely a “special something” about the island. This isn’t a thing that can be itemised, it’s something to be discovered and experienced on a very personal and individual level. This thing cannot be avoided, its infectious and will keep you returning year after year. It can be found in the warm and welcoming, international community of inhabitants. It’s unmissable when you are floating leisurely in the crystal clear Mediterranian sea. It’s clearly apparent in the awe-inspiring natural beauty. It will tickle you on the spine when you watch the most colourful and spectacular sunsets you’ve ever seen. You will feel it making your hips swing to a beat and the artists will represent it on every street corner and it will shine out brightly out from the locals twinkling eyes. This hedonistic, laid back, living in the moment attitude of the island will follow you home, keeping the Ibiza Spirit forever in your soul.