Remember when you traveled without hesitation for a summer vacation? As I sat yesterday in an airport wearing an N95 mask en route to Fuerteventura in Spain’s Canary Islands, I recall my freewheeling trip to Ibiza in Spain’s Balearic Islands in July 2016. It was a joyful, maskless girls’ trip from Brussels for sea, sun and DJs.
The Balearic Islands – including Ibiza, Formentera, Mallorca, Menorca, Cabrera and 146 uninhabited isles – are located east of the Iberian Peninsula in the western Mediterranean Sea. Collectively, they make up an autonomous region of Spain. Separately, Ibiza and Formentera, which are a beach stone’s throw away from each other, form the Pityusic (“Pine”) Islands. (Pine trees have reportedly been there for 7,000 years.)
Ibiza is also the name of the island’s capital, where we stayed for our trip. It’s the hub of nightlife, dining, shopping and mega yachts. Unfortunately, we were not on one of these beauties, but we did take advantage of the rest along with a ferry boat to Formentera.
Every night in Ibiza town, there is a line-up of famous DJs like Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike at about 20 venues, such as Pasha and Amnesia, where you pay an average of $50/person to enter. When you dance for hours, the money is worth it. While mainly performing at night, some DJs start the party earlier at venues like Ushuaia and coastal Blue Marlin.
I remember dancing with my friend Valerie to DJ Solomun at Pasha when the song “I took a pill in Ibiza” was silently played. Next to us were a group of Swedes who were drinking nothing but water. Then one of them flashed a party pill in his hand … for him, “ecstasy” went beyond the music and “pop” culture had a new meaning. For us, on the other hand, it was an innocent dance-athon in a mesmerizing atmosphere to hypnotic beats. Hands down, Ibiza is one of best places in the world for DJs and dancing, never mind the substances (and lack of substance) that come with it.
Music has been in Ibiza’s air for decades, attracting famous musicians like Pink Floyd, The Bee Gees, Cat Stevens and George Michael. In the late 1970s, the island even developed its own musical style called the Balearic beat. The 1980s attracted bands and artists like Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, James Brown and Freddie Mercury. Electronic music took over in the 1990s, bringing the best DJs in the world to Ibiza. It’s still this way. You can even take a DJ course there!
While known as the European party place in the summer, Ibiza is so much more. (Screech! Stop the turntable.) In fact, it is an UNESCO World Heritage Center due to its biodiversity, history and culture.
Ibiza’s plethora of endemic seagrass makes it a natural reserve. This sea “prairie” is home to 220 different species, including the globally threatened monk seal. Underwater caves host the most diverse pillow coral in the Mediterranean and a valuable population of “sea squirts” (prehistoric-looking tubes) that produce substances used in preventing and treating cancer. On land, the island even has its own dog breed: the Ibizan Hound.
With about 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, Ibiza’s 210 kilometers of beaches with turquoise, clear water can be enjoyed most days. The same goes for Formentera, which has rare strips of light pink coral sand and small isles jutting out from it like skipping stones. It’s fantastic for stand-up paddle boarding (check, done!).
As for history, Ibiza town’s Dalt Vila (Upper Town) is encircled by the best-preserved coastal fortress in the Mediterranean and a great example of Renaissance architecture. Hiking to the top is worth it for the views and trail of bougainvillea trees along the way. The nearby archaeological sites Sa Caleta and Puig des Molins (necropolis) are a throwback to Phoenician-Carthaginian times and Ibiza’s long history of multiculturalism.
This explains its gastronomy. Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans brought winemaking and olive oil pressing to the island. Smallholder vintners specialize in private consumption, passing the tradition from generation to generation. Two oil mills produce extra virgin olive oil of excellent quality for largely local consumption. Lambs are even raised as livestock. Fig, carob and almond trees as well as a range of herbs from peppermint to rosemary are also grown on Ibiza. That means pollinators and honey are plentiful. In the summer, Ibizan honey is made from multiple flowers, including thyme, and does not crystallize. Winter has rosemary and heather honey.
Ibizan herbs are also used to make strong alcoholic drinks, which are aptly named the same. These aniseed-flavored spirits are flavored by rosemary, thyme, mint, peppermint, juniper, sage, fennel, lavender, and lemon and orange tree leaves. Each family has their own recipe, which is often carefully guarded. But you learn how to make if yourself on the island.
You can party like a foodie in Ibiza! It has a sustainable food and regenerative agriculture movement, focusing on local production and restaurants with their own farms. For example, La Granja private restaurant has an organic farm in the middle of a national park and Ibiza Food Studio founded by a two-star Michelen chef focuses on foraged and local ingredients. Los Enamorados restaurant in a boutique hotel of the same name features homegrown produce and right-out-of-the-ocean fish caught by local fishermen.
And then there is the art! Since the 1930s, Ibiza has been a place of refuge for European artists running away from oppressive regimes and in the 1960s-70s, for Americans who wanted to avoid fighting in the Vietnam War and artists at large. Today, galleries are scattered throughout the island.
Hipster Ibiza is also known for flea markets, which sell clothing, jewelry, pottery and more. The island has its own style, Adlib fashion, which is a hippie chic look for women. It features original, handmade creations with natural fabrics (i.e., linen, cotton) that are often white in color. Otherwise, it’s just made up (adlib).
It’s amazing that a small island has such large cultural and environmental influence. It underscores the fact that life is short so live tall. Just beware Amnesia as Ibiza is worth remembering.