When my wife suggested a holiday in Ibiza, I thought she must be bonkers. I’d always hated clubbing, and now we had a baby and a toddler in tow. Shows how much I know. We went, we had a great time and the only clubbers we encountered were in the kids’ club at our hotel.
That was 17 years ago, I’ve been back several times since then, and now the Balearics are on the green list we can’t wait to return. Our children are almost grown up now, far too cool to tag along, but it’ll be an ideal break for the two of us. I bet you’d love it too. If you’re looking for nightlife, you’re definitely reading the wrong article - but if you fancy something more leisurely, with a bit of culture thrown in, Ibiza’s capital, Vila d’Eivissa is ideal.
Ibiza? Eivissa? What’s the difference? Well, confusingly, Ibiza is the Spanish name for both the island and its capital, Eivissa is the Catalan name for both, and while most visitors refer to the island by its Spanish name, the Catalan name for its capital is fairly well established. But whatever you want to call it, if your idea of fun is ambling round a few historic sites with plenty of pit-stops along the way, Vila d’Eivissa is the place to stay. The clubbers who go to Space and Pacha (two popular local nightclubs, so I’m told) will be sleeping off their all-nighters, and by the time they’re ready for action you’ll be ready for bed. Vertical drinkers and party-seekers flock to San Antonio (aka Sant Antoni de Portmany) on the west coast, leaving Vila d’Eivissa to less energetic holidaymakers, the sort of folk who prefer to do their drinking sitting down - couples with small children, and empty nesters like me.
Vila d’Eivissa is spectacular, a cluster of whitewashed houses crowded onto a steep hillside, high above the bustling harbour. A brisk hike up to the top is a good way to work up a healthy appetite, and the view from the sunlit summit is sublime. You can see why the fortified Old Town (Dalt Vila) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The robust walls are still intact, and a walk around them gives you a vivid sense of why this hilltop citadel was so strategically important in ancient times. The medieval cathedral is built on the site of the old mosque, which was built on the site of a Roman temple… People have been worshipping various gods here for over 2000 years. You won’t be the only sightseer here by any means, but the louder lure of San Antonio has stopped it becoming overrun. Tourism is a major industry, but it’s not the only industry. This isn’t just a resort, it’s also a working town.
As befits such a historic place, Vila d’Eivissa boasts two fine archaeological museums: the Museu Arqueologic d’Eivissa i Formentera (MAEF for short) and the Puig des Molins - you can find info for both places on the same website, www.maef.eu. MAEF is housed in a handsome Gothic chapel, right by the cathedral, and contains an array of artefacts illustrating every chapter of Eivissa’s antique history: Roman, Carthaginian, Phoenician…
The Puig des Molins, beyond the city walls, is one of the biggest and best-preserved Punic necropolises (or should that be necropoli?) in the Med. This was where the great and the good of the Mediterranean were buried. For the Carthaginians, Ibiza was a sacred island, and if you could afford to have your corpse shipped over here you stood a better chance of getting into heaven - you get what you pay for, after all. You can even enter some of the tombs, and though there’s not a great deal to see it’s intensely atmospheric.
The Dalt Vila is stunning, but there’s also plenty to see and do in the New Town down below. The lively quayside quarters of La Marina and Sa Penya, between the Old Town and the harbour, are full of seafood restaurants. Last time I trawled this seafront strip they all seemed much of a muchness. I’ve never had a great meal here, but I’ve never had a bad one either.
However I can recommend an amazing place to stay. La Torre del Canonigo is a luxurious little hotel in an old tower within the city walls, built on the foundations of the Roman acropolis. The pool is situated in an old Jesuit convent (the building dates back to the 16th Century) and the cellar was a refuge for Republican soldiers fleeing from Franco during the Spanish Civil War. The timeless décor is a stylish blend of old and new and the views over the rooftops are enchanting. July and August are always busy but summers here are long and the season stretches right into autumn. I’ve been here in October and the weather was divine.
There are several sandy beaches nearby, and although there’s a lot of new development along the coast, if you venture inland you’re quickly into unspoilt countryside. Sure, clubbing will always be a big part of Ibiza, but if you’re too old or too knackered or simply not hip enough (like me) there’s another side to the island that most clubbers never see. The days are long gone when you could come here and buy a rundown farmhouse for a song, but there are still plenty of people living in the hinterland doing their own thing, indifferent to the rat race. Spend a week or two on Ibiza and you start to dream of joining them. Ibiza does that kind of thing to you. I’m looking forward to going back again.