After Party

Exploring the other, non-drug-fuelled, side of 
island hot spot Ibiza by Matthew Mallon

As environmentally unsound and cattle-car unpleasant as budget short-haul flights can be, their billboards for cheap round trips to Mediterranean oases become awfully attractive when you’re stuck in a sweltering metropolis mid-heat wave. Those ads work, I confirmed one evening, when my wife and I booked a quick flight out of town to the cheapest beach destination we could find: Ibiza.

Twenty or 30 years ago that might have been chic of us. Ibiza was once an unspoiled getaway for informed hippies and tasteful hedonists, but in the late ’80s and ’90s the island’s reputation as an Ecstasy-fuelled hot spot exploded. Package tours full of young Brits searching out cheap alcohol, expensive drugs and mediocre house music swamped the place, sending its reputation into a K-hole from which it has yet to recover. Nonetheless, we booked a hotel in the quieter northern part of the island and hoped for the best. 

On our first night on the island, we found ourselves smack in the middle of the Ibiza stereotype: a friend of a friend invited us to a private party in a cliffside villa where DJ Pete Tong was playing. “Private party” translated to “slightly dodgy”: there was a stiff entrance fee, drinks at the makeshift bar were insanely priced and bathrooms were fully appointed with young men selling dubious substances. The whole event was a cartoon of every Ibizan rave cliché you’d ever heard, a thoroughly ritualized experience right down to the presence of B-list British movie star Rhys Ifans looking red-faced and mid-life-crisis-ish in the corner of the patio/dance floor. But the club scene is fairly localized; stay away from the island’s largest city, Sant Antonio, and you’ll miss most of it.

The bulk of our holiday involved exploring the island’s 60-some beaches. There are zero undiscovered gems left, but Ibiza still has a handful of relatively underdeveloped sandy coves, such as Cala D’Hort on the southwestern coast. It was only mildly crowded at the tail-end of the high season, fringed by popular, ramshackle beach restaurants that served up huge frying pans of saffron-laced seafood paella. A hard-earned reward after a day spent bobbing placidly in the ocean while surrounded by topless Europeans, the paella went down well with a glass of cold white wine on a veranda as the sun set over Es Vedra, a looming offshore rock/nature preserve. 

There have been efforts to take the island’s image upmarket in recent years, especially in the still-rural interior, increasingly home to posh agro-tourism spots such as Atzaró, a hotel/restaurant/spa/farm combo we discovered one day. God knows what the marketing spin on its hodgepodge of Southeast Asian/Balearic design is, but even if the Buddha statues seemed a little out of place, it turned out to be a beautiful spot. We booked a table in its stunning garden restaurant and had a meal of local ingredients served with some serious cooking skills. It cost us half of what we would have been charged in Paris. 

As for our own base, in the northern seaside town of Portinatx – well, you get what you pay for. And in this case I got a fascinating social anthropological exercise: while their offspring necked pills and clubbed themselves into oblivion in the south, a flock of aging, bullet-headed soccer hooligans and their lobster-red wives filled the beach chairs of the north, interrupting self-basting sessions for Full-English Breakfast Buffets, Krazy Karaoke Nites and Lager-Swilling Sessions in car-park-side sports bars. I’m not sure what the Spanish did to deserve the British. But they certainly have them, in their many-hued glory. n

Weather It rarely dips below 15 degrees Celsius even in winter, but beach season is officially May through September.

Can’t Miss Cala D’Hort Beach. Laid-back atmosphere, beautiful views and crystal-clear water. A first-rate paella joint beside it is reason to not pack a lunch.

Best Bed Atzaró. The rural interior of Ibiza is quiet, green and increasingly upscale, as at this luxurious agro-tourism resort and spa.

Cool Eats Cana Pepeta. Locals and informed Spanish tourists come to this rustic roadside spot for piquant Ibizan seafood stews and hearty barbecue dishes.

My Secret PlaceWho: Rokie Bernstein, president of Snowflake Trading Corp. Ltd. Where: Road to Dodona Why: Nestled in the mountains of northern Greece, the road to Dodona is magnificent. Starting in the town of Ioannina with its exotic mix of Albanian, Turkish and northern Greek culture, the road winds through picturesque tobacco fields to the majestic forests and switchback roads above. At Dodona, home to the ancient oracle, I sat in the fabulous old amphitheatre where echoes of drama and spectacle still ride on the winds. An adventure for the heart and soul.