Clubs remain closed but bars and restaurants come back to life in Ibiza
Two young women lie languidly on the giant Ibiza sign near the airport arrivals terminal in the already simmering mid-morning heat.
A third, her short, frail skirt fluttering in the wind, takes their photo in front of this welcoming landmark that lights up at night, a bit like this beautiful little island, for so long the unofficial HQ of the Mediterranean Party. Today, however, in these weird times of Covid, there are more bird songs than Balearic rhythms hanging in the balmy air.
With Spain firmly on the ‘orange list’, with no return quarantine for fully vaccinated travelers, the party island can be open for business – with shops, cafes, restaurants and nightlife on standby – but everything is rather calm with ‘forbidden dancefloors’ and nothing to do with the usual number of visitors.
Calo des Mort beach (pictured) in Formentera is famous for its stretches of golden sand. Tourists in Ibiza can access Formentera, the smallest of the Balearic Islands, by ferry
Ibiza’s sun and decadence attract the rich and famous every summer, like singer Shakira on vacation to the island
This means that for people like me, who have no desire to dance until dawn, it is more attractive than ever.
There are glimpses of famous Ibiza glamor at the Ushuaia Beach Hotel, which pioneered the daytime dance party, and now offers guests the unexpected breakfast experience. This is an extraordinary array of fruit and sensational food in a beer garden on the 2.7 km long sandy beach of Playa D’en Bossa.
The path to the cafe is adorned with Egyptian-style cat and dog statuettes holding trays in gold, silver, and bright red. At the entrance stands a life-size gold alligator. But of course.
The Hard Rock Cafe next door still has a dancing beat in its main restaurant, but with the clubs that built Ibiza’s reputation for decadence and hedonism all night long remaining closed, there’s a subdued atmosphere. .
A handful of private jets can usually be seen at the airport – celebrities including Shakira are Ibiza fans – but the island is very different.
Long sandy beaches and the sparkling aquamarine sea are the stars here now and times are changing, as Bob Dylan perhaps said of the place.
He is said to have spent two months living with hippies on Ibiza’s little sister island, Formentera, a short ferry ride south, in 1967.
Ibiza and Formentera, the two smallest of the Balearic Islands, have reportedly benefited from the pandemic. Authorities have been trying for years to rid Ibiza of its 24/7 hardcore party image and have been quick to capitalize on the slower pace of life now.
Ibiza’s Old Town, the romantic hilltop fortified castle built in the 16th century, is one of the island’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. But on the day of my visit, it was pleasantly crowded.
In the narrow and winding streets that lead below, it is still so quiet. But restaurateurs and traders have been welcoming their first international tourists for many months.
Ibiza’s Old Town (above), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a fortified castle overlooking the streets and harbor below
“Last year our season only lasted two months because of Covid and it was very difficult for us,” says Juan Cabrera, manager of the restaurant La Dispensa in the heart of the old town. “I am so happy that people are coming back. . . we all live with great hope.
In nearby Jonc, a clothing store selling bright “hippy chic” sequined dresses, manager Maria Jose agrees. “Last year it was dead,” she says. “But the beauty of the island is still magical and maybe tourists will appreciate the fact that it is much quieter. I do.’
In 2019, Ibiza welcomed more than 3.5 million foreign visitors, including almost a million from Great Britain. Since the island reopened to international tourists this year, the number of flights has been slowly increasing. Some hotels are already 70% occupied.
On the ferry to Formentera, Laura and Sue, in their forties from Liverpool, bask in the new calm of the Balearics. “We’ve been coming here for years and love the cool vibe,” says Laura. “We’re a little old for the club scene, but it’s definitely quieter this year and we’ve noticed that there are more families and people who are maybe a little older than usual. “
Formentera has superb white sand beaches. For years she has lived in the shadow of her more glamorous sister island. But Ibiza now appears keen to follow its green tourism guidelines, with more bikes and scooters and fewer cars.
Posidonia oceanica meadows on the seabed – which are protected – help keep the vivid blue water surrounding the island clear
Major tourist developments have not been authorized and the island’s Posidonia oceanica meadows, responsible for the crystal clear waters, are protected.
Ibiza would do well to emulate Formentera, says Jessica, 46, from London, a regular in Ibiza. But she warns that the island must also be careful of what she wishes. “I think the authorities want to capitalize on the pandemic to promote it as being a ‘paradise’ – making it even more exclusive and more expensive,” she adds.
“It would be a shame: the original philosophy of the place is that it offers freedom to everyone, whatever their budget. May this continue for a long time.