IBIZA, or Eivissa in Catalan, is an island of excess – beautiful, and blessed with scores of stunning cove beaches and dense pine forests. Nevertheless, it’s the islanders (eivissencs) and their visitors who make it special. Ibiza has long attracted hedonistic characters and wealthy bohemians, and the locals remain determinedly blasé about the mullet-haired fashionistas and celebrities who flock to the island today.
For years, Ibiza was the European hippie escape, but nowadays it’s the extraordinary clubbing scene that most people come here to experience. The island can lay a strong claim to being the globe’s clubbing capital, with virtually all of the world’s top house DJs and many more minor players performing here during the summer season. However, visit between October and May, and you’ll find a much more peaceful island – just one club (Pacha) and a few funky bars remain open through the winter.
Ibiza Town, the capital, is the obvious place to base yourself: only a short bus ride from two great beaches – Ses Salines and Es Cavallet – and crammed with bars, restaurants and boutiques. The town of Sant Antoni is, for the most part, a sprawling concrete mass of seedy bars and unappealing restaurants, and is best avoided beyond a few choice bars and clubs. The more pleasant town of Santa Eulària is a good base for exploring the north of the island. Around the entire shoreline, you’ll find dozens of exquisite cove beaches (calas), many all but deserted even in high season, though you’ll need your own transport to reach the best spots. Inland, the scenery is hilly and thickly wooded, dotted with a series of tiny hamlets.
The Carthaginians, who founded Ibiza Town in about 654 BC, transformed the island into a major trading port, with salt the main export. The Romans arrived in 123 BC and the island continued to prosper. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Ibiza was conquered by the Moors in the ninth century, and their five-hundred-year reign is still evident in the island’s architecture and traditional dress. But thereafter a gradual decline set in, and it wasn’t until Beatniks discovered the island in the 1950s that Ibiza began to reinvent itself as one of the most chic locations in the Mediterranean.
Today more than four million tourists flock to the much-revered “white isle” every year. However, Ibiza’s tourism-driven prosperity has seen more and more coastline consumed by rampant development. The balance between keeping the tourists coming and maintaining the island’s natural allure is keenly felt by the islanders but, for now at least, it’s not hard to find a pristine cove or a quiet forested trail if you make the effort.