Ibiza (or Eivissa in Catalan/Ibicenco) was the starting point of my four island visit to the Balearic Islands. Known as ‘The White Isle’, Ibiza in the summer is a clubbers’ paradise – famous for its world-class clubs and DJs and its celebrity guests. Out of season, the tourists are gone but life goes on and bars, cafes and restaurants are buzzing at all times of the day and night, not with tourists but with locals – drinking coffee or beer, eating breakfast or tapas, hanging out on terraces and pavements, drinking beer, huge gin and tonics or locally produced vermouth. This was the surprisingly part for me and the thing I loved the most about Ibiza. There is life after tourism! Sadly the weather was a bit disappointing – I even bought an umbrella – so a lot of the photos are a bit grey – my apologies!
I started in Ibiza with a plan to island-hop across the main islands and fly home from Menorca. I flew to Ibiza with Jet2 airways for an amazing £25 and stayed in a lovely, clean and central ‘hostal’ for about £40 a night. After that it got a bit trickier (for the budget traveller!). It’s surprisingly difficult, well…inconvenient, to get from Ibiza to Mallorca by boat. The ferry leaves at 0230 which isn’t ideal and the price difference was not suitably enticing to get out of bed in the middle of the night or miss a night’s sleep so I opted to fly. There are lots of flights each day but the two-tier pricing system (which I completely agree with) means non-residents pay quite a lot more. The flight only takes about 30 mins and the cheapest fare was about €85. It would actually be cheaper to fly to the UK and then back again!
The third largest of the Balearic Islands, Ibiza is still a big one at 571.6 km² with 210 kms of coastline! It has a approximate population of 140,000 – 50,000 of whom live in the island’s capital, Eivissa. It has its own language, Ibicenco – a derivative of the Catalan language – which is widely spoken. Although Catalan and Castellano are official languages, the majority of signs and official notices are written in Catalan.
With only 3 days and a budget that didn’t include car hire, I decided to base myself in Eivissa. It’s a compact and interesting city, the heart of which is the old walled citadel, the Dalt Vila, with the busy port next to it. I stayed just around the corner from the huge square Passeig Dara del Rey – an enormous public space lined with bars and full of trees and benches, buskers and old men feeding the pigeons. A perfect location for people watching and close to the town centre, Dalt Vila and the port.
There is a wide and rather grand promenade that runs the length of the port which in high season is crammed on the town side with bars and restaurants with large terraces outside. Most of these were closed for the winter when I visited at the end of October with chairs piled up for the winter but the labyrinth of narrow streets behind the esplanade were still full of tourists eating and drinking and whiling away the days not sunny enough for the beach. An impressive selection of yachts were moored in the harbour and excursion boats emptied scantily clad tourists on day trips from other parts of the island onto the quayside.
The pretty streets between the harbourside and the main gate into the Dalt Vila are lined with tall, whitewashed buildings with wrought iron balconies containing tiny shops, boutiques, tapas bars and restaurants with tables outside on decked terraces and the pavement. Eivissa’s old market building is here dispensing fruit and veg from a charming old colonnaded market building – these days more for tourists than local business. The main gate into the walled part of town is grand and huge, the walls themselves tall and thick providing a formidable defense against would-be attackers. Inside the walls is a city within a city. Flagstoned streets flanked by houses, 3 or 4 storeys high, wind upwards towards the cathedral square, the castle and the ramparts.
There are several entrances to the walled city – one is through a long tunnel cut through the walls. On the other side, a long and wide series of steps inside the main walls takes you on a brilliant walk up to the ramparts and breathtaking views back over the whole of Eivissa town and out to sea. These old streets and alleyways are quiet and fascinating and, away from the main tourist areas, the washing hanging out to dry, the smells of cooking and the sound of TVs behind closed shutters are proof that this part of town is still home to ordinary people living their lives.
During the day tourists wander aimlessly taking photos and locals move a bit faster, going about their daily business. At dusk and at night it is a magical place to explore – hushed lamplit streets lead onto livelier squares where candles twinkle on restaurant tables luring in the tourists for expensive dinners in romantic settings. The view from the top of the walls out to sea at sunset and down over the twinkling lights of the city at night are even better than the day time and definitely well worth the steep walk up.
Excursion boats leave regularly from the main port for beach resorts on either side of Eivissa town. I took the boat to Santa Eulària des Riu, a pleasant little beach town with streets sloping down to a (non-smoking) sandy beach, a river that runs into the sea and a wide, pedestrianised promenade lined with restaurants. As it wasn’t beach weather, I walked the promenade, had lunch under a large umbrella by the sea and followed the signposted walk along the river and up to the church, monastery and cemetery on the hill above the town for views down over the town. Unfortunately it rained whilst I was here, and like anywhere, Ibiza takes on a slightly more forlorn aspect with grey skies and rain. I crammed onto the very crowded bus back to town.
Back in Eivissa town I explored the back streets, tiny markets and squares away from the old town and the main shopping streets. Every bit of spare space is full of tables and chairs and people – lots and lots of people! Café culture is alive and well here. When the sun came out again, I dug out the iPod and walked west towards the beaches of Figueretes and Cala d’en Bossa. For most of the way – once you get out of town – you can walk along the seaside promenade. It’s a nice walk by the sea and there are several rickety jetties from which you can take a small boat back to town. For an unbeatable view of the Dalt Vila, spectacularly illuminated at night, wait until it gets dark then take the boat back for fantastic photo opportunities from the boat as you sail into the port. The only problem is keeping the camera still enough!
Sadly, I was only able to see a fraction of Ibiza. It would’ve been lovely to see the rest of the island but I loved Eivissa town, the atmospheric splendour of the Dalt Vila and the vibrant buzz of the city in general. I generally don’t mind travelling alone but I must admit that this is a place that would definitely have been more fun with friends.
NEXT ISLAND: From Ibiza, I took a boat over to the neighbouring island of Formentera