Confession: I’ve always been a little intimidated by Ibiza. Whenever friends return from the island, pleasantly exhausted after another wild and sun-drenched week, the words of Jacques, the curmudgeon in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, spring to mind: ‘So to your pleasures. I am for other than for dancing measures’.
But when a chance arose to visit Ibiza for a few days of culture, comfort and relaxation, with no mention of any hardcore clubbing, I decided it was time to lay the ghost.
After a surprisingly swift 130 minute flight from Gatwick, we landed in Ibiza towards the end of the morning, and found the island still quiet and a little sleepy, a few bleary-eyed revellers zigzagging home the only obvious sign of its much-famed hedonism. We did pass PACHA as we drove out of Ibiza Town, but soon the low-rise, concrete suburbs gave way to a verdant hilly landscape, and I sat back to enjoy the drive. Ibiza is small, just 28 miles long by 16 wide, and within half an hour we’d reached our destination – Portinatx, an old fishing village at the northernmost tip of the island.
A fair amount of unremarkable development has grown up around Portinatx, but the main road ends in a quaint little harbour, with fishing boats pulled up onto a rustic quay and a traditional chiringuito, or beach-bar, laid out on the pale sand. Rising from the headland is the tallest lighthouse in the Balearics, a black-and-white-striped barber’s pole above the shimmering Med. And overlooking the harbour is the Barceló Portinatx.
Barceló is a family-owned, Majorcan company, which runs more than 100 hotels worldwide. Before the family took over last year, the Portinatx site operated as a fairly basic ‘apart-hotel’, and you can still see the shape of the original tiered, white flats. But the conversion has been successful, boasting a cool lobby of bleached pine, two swimming pools, two restaurants, two bars and a ‘wellness’ centre. Further renovation is planned for later this year, so come 2019, guests can look forward to a spa, gym and larger dining areas. As it is, the 134 rooms are bright, airy and well-appointed, with large comfortable beds and generous balconies giving onto the sea or pools (the hotel also operates a no-children policy, so outside areas tend to be peaceful, the only noise the rustle of pages and the gentle plash of breaststroke).
After a warm welcome from the friendly staff, I ate lunch at Noray, the hotel’s beachfront restaurant, enjoying four delicious, tapas-sized courses of modern Spanish cuisine – the sautéed hake fillet with red pepper cream was a particular standout. Back at the hotel, I took a leisurely dip in the larger of the two pools, then dined that evening at the main restaurant, enjoying a wide-ranging buffet of freshly-made dishes, before turning in for a good night’s sleep.
Breakfast the next day was excellent, and, fortified by a plate of streaky local bacon and Spanish omelette, I packed a beach bag and headed for Ibiza’s main harbour.
Four miles south of Ibiza, and a seventh of the size, lies the island of Formentera. Here you can still find traces of the 1960s hippy vibe that predominated in Ibiza before the superstar DJs took over. Nude sunbathing is apparently encouraged on the miles of white sandy beach, visitors rent bicycles rather than cars, and the sea is so turquoise that Joni Mitchell was inspired to write Blue here when she stayed in 1970 (or so legend has it).
After a scenic coastal walk past palm trees and through sandy pinewoods, we lunched at Es Molí de Sal, a restaurant set above the sea, with a breathtaking view of Ibiza beyond. Fresh seafood was the main event, but any visitor must be sure to leave room for pudding, as they do an incredible homemade vanilla ice-cream – served semifreddo in a chrome bucket lined with greaseproof-paper, with a jug of hot chocolate sauce and pots of sprinkles to adorn it (my favourite were the tiny segments of dried fig, the colour and texture of pink-shrimp sweets).
After 36 hours in Ibiza, I was certainly relaxed, but what of the culture we’d been promised? Seemingly with this in mind, we returned that night to Ibiza Town. We’d spotted the Dalt Vila, or Upper Town, from the boat to Formentera – a vast fortress overlooking the harbour; walled, foreboding, a historical artefact, I’d assumed. And yet, within its ancient ramparts, we found a living, breathing settlement: beautiful houses clothed in bougainvillea and hibiscus, schools and cafés, crumbling old flats and grand palazzos – and, at the base, the Plaza de Vila, a cobblestone square of candlelit restaurants and romantic terraces. We ate at La Plaza restaurant, with a view of the ancient city walls above us, loved-up couples promenading past as a musician serenaded them with his squeezebox. One might have been in Florence or Verona. It was magical.
The next morning, well-slept and mellow, I allowed myself to be talked into one of the hotel’s complementary yoga sessions. Alas, not even Ibiza’s chilled-out ambience could rid me of my aversion to yoga (nor loosen my hamstrings), but it was still a pleasure to re-enter, however briefly, a world without mobile phones, cocooned as we were on a wooden deck beneath a white canvas shade, mood music drifting over us from tiny Bose speakers. Afterwards, an excellent massage at the poolside wellness centre sent me drifting off to sleep.
Culture, comfort and relaxation – and not a glowstick in sight. The quiet side of Ibiza had more than delivered on its brief. I’ll be back – maybe I’ll add PACHA to the itinerary next year. One step at a time.
Barcelo Portinatx is a four star adults-only hotel, part of the Barcelo portfolio. For more information, including details of rooms, facilities and special offers, visit www.barcelo.com.