On Ibiza’s Quiet Side, Seafood Shacks and Deserted Coves
Few other destinations in the world can rival the party-hard reputation of Ibiza. This Spanish island, set off the country’s east coast in the Mediterranean Sea, seems to be defined by the packed discos like Amnesia and Pacha where D.J.s spin electronic music until 8 a.m.
There are also the crowds of college students and 20-somethings on budget packages indulging in foam-filled revelry in the beachside town of San Antonio and the deep-pocketed set hanging out by the marina, which recently underwent a 34-million euro makeover to include new berths large enough to accommodate megayachts.
The boldface vacationers add to the thrills: Last summer, the paparazzi chronicled Naomi Campbell frolicking on the sand, the fight between Justin Bieber and Orlando Bloom at Cipriani and Puff Daddy lounging on his yacht.
As entertaining as these theatrics all sounded, my September trip to Ibiza wasn’t about living in its hectic rhythm. I was there to unearth the overlooked serene pace on an island where driving from one end to the other takes merely an hour.
In the kitchen of Es Cucons, an agrotourism resort in central Ibiza.CreditJames Rajotte for The New York Times
“The real Ibiza is a place of unspoiled beauty and undeveloped countryside, and the night life and glamour are such a small sliver of its heartbeat,” said Serena Cook, who owns Deliciously Sorted, an excursion-planning company based on the island.
I arrived with some skepticism, but as Ms. Cook had described, I discovered it to be quite unlike the soirée-filled getaway I had read about in the tabloids. The Ibiza I saw is a place of pristine secluded beaches, unassuming seafood shacks serving exceptional meals, a verdant landscape dotted with tiny villages and a population of proud residents exuding warmth.
And while this laid-back culture has existed for decades, a collection of newer hotels, restaurants and shops away from the bustle is finally pushing it to the forefront.
Much of this calmer mood exists inland, and I first got a sense of it when I checked in to the 12-room Mirador de Dalt Vila in a townhouse from 1905 in the center of the old hilltop town called Dalt Vila.
Mirador’s general manager Ángel Miguélez Riera told me that the hotel is meant to give guests a more authentic perspective of the island than the glittery accommodations closer to the beach.
That includes a glimpse into the local history. The medieval Dalt Vila is a collection of winding streets encased in 16th-century walls that were built at the orders of Philip II of Spain to protect the town from Berber attack. The walls are a prime display of Renaissance architecture and have been a Unesco World Heritage site since 1999.
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My exploration of the interior continued later that day when Alex Ljungblom, 29, who works with Ms. Cook, took me on a long drive along hilly roads lined with pine forests, olive trees and fields of sienna-colored soil. “There is so much to see away from the water, and some of the people who come here don’t always appreciate it because they don’t know about it,” he said.
Eventually, we stopped at San José, a hillside village close to the southwest coast. With its views of the surrounding greenery, pink bougainvilleas spilling over whitewashed buildings and a handful of cafes and restaurants along the brick-paved streets, it was as attractive as Dalt Vila but with a different sensibility.
We walked into Destino, a tapas bar with outdoor seating, and surveyed the two dozen small bites in a glass case. Ibiza has many generic restaurants catering to tourists, and it’s easy to have an overpriced and average meal, but this wasn’t one of them. Tasty plates like eggplant layered with mozzarella and mixed vegetable paella were two to five euros ($2.07 to $5.18) each, generous enough for a satisfying lunch.
San José is one of several charming towns throughout the island, but equally alluring and easy-to-miss spots are tucked away from the rural and often bumpy pothole-filled roads.
Parra & Romero, for example, is an offshoot of an art gallery in Madrid and is in a 12,000-square-foot sprawling farm warehouse surrounded by fragrant pines. It’s one of the prominent establishments helping to develop Ibiza’s more understated image and hosts six to eight exhibitions a year in a variety of media, including painting and sculpture by young and midcareer artists from around the world.
The art historian Guillermo Romero Parra, 36, opened the Ibiza branch in 2013 after spending summers on the island since he was a child and feeling trapped by its night-life image. “Important cultural figures like Walter Benjamin and Raoul Hausmann have been coming here since the 1930s,” he said, referring to the German critic and Austrian artist respectively, “and I want to preserve that intellectual essence and help create a different direction for the island.”
Mr. Parra’s gallery is a five-minute drive from Tanis, an airy design store behind a garden filled with roses and a towering Peruvian pepper tree. Tatjana Berger-Sandhofer, 42, and Nicholas Lording, 27, opened the boutique last year and have created a loftlike environment where they sell contemporary fabrics, furniture and home goods by European designers.
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Ms. Sandhofer, who is from Austria, worked as an interior decorator in Berlin and New York and says she wanted to bring her shabby chic aesthetic to her favorite vacation spot. “I felt that we could add something fresh to a destination I have loved since I started coming to it as a teenager,” she said.
Mr. Ljungblom also drove me northwest to Es Cucons, a 16-room rustic Provençal-style agriturismo on a former 17th-century farm where vacationers come for relaxation and to get into shape. There is a small spa with a menu of massages including Thai and lymphatic drainage, a pavilion for the frequent yoga classes and nearly empty roads outside the entrance gate that bicyclists and runners use for long workouts.
The spacious pool area surrounded by palm trees was filled with sunbathers when I visited, but the only sound I heard was the chirping birds. I also saw the restaurant where meals highlight produce from the on-site garden and where guests have a panorama of red-dirt fields with grazing sheep and almond and fig trees flourishing under the Mediterranean sun.
María Rodríguez Castán, 40, the owner, said that when she first opened her property more than a decade ago, she was rarely booked to capacity, compared with today when a room is hard to come by from May through September. “Everyone who came here wanted to be right on the beach, but now they are starting to see that Ibiza has more to offer,” she said.
But while the turquoise waters may be the backdrop for much of the island’s flashiness, many of the coastal settings come without hype.
The shoreline is sprinkled with nearly deserted coves such as the one on the southern coast near the Blue Marlin beach club where beachgoers can sunbathe in seclusion or take a stroll in the sand.
Then there’s the new Beso Beach, a stylish but unfussy seaside bar and restaurant on Formentera, a smaller island accessible only by boat (it’s a 20- to 30-minute ride from Ibiza). The boite’s eclectic open-air setting includes wicker baskets fashioned into overhead lights and handmade light-wood tables planted in the sand. Most diners eat barefoot, and though there’s a D.J. playing catchy beats, the music is toned down enough to carry on a conversation.
Late in the evening, people dine at La Scala in Dalt Vila. CreditJames Rajotte for The New York Times
I experienced this carefree mood on a sunny but not overly humid day with Miguel Sancho, 38, a co-owner and former ballet dancer and runway model whom I had connected with through mutual friends before my trip.
Mr. Sancho, a Barcelona native, moved to the island almost 10 years ago to start a yacht charter company out of the marina, which he still runs, and said that he always wanted to create a manageable version of going out. “Beso is meant to be fun and upbeat but in a way that appeals to anyone,” he said. “People might dance here, but the customers aren’t just a young crowd or overly loud, and we close right after sunset.”
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The simply prepared seafood is as much of a draw as the ambience. We ate family style with Mr. Sancho’s girlfriend, Lorena Oliver, 35, and their close friend Eduardo Velasco, 55, a lawyer in Madrid with a weekend home in Ibiza.
First came giant deep-red prawns baked in their shell with salt, an oversize bowl of mussels in a white wine broth and meaty grilled calamari steaks.
Then the main event: three large flavorful sea bass caught that morning and crusted in salt, pepper and garlic before getting baked in a charcoal oven. Roasted red peppers glistening with peppery olive oil and chunks of fried potatoes rested on a long platter in the middle, and we drank sangria made with sparkling cava wine and mojitos with freshly crushed strawberries.
The nearly three-hour lunch ended at 6 p.m. (late even by Spanish standards), but Ms. Oliver said that the rest of the day would be low-key. “We want to enjoy the good weather so we’ll probably just take a dip in the ocean and a walk on the beach before going back home,” she said.
I, too, had a relaxing evening over a glass of red wine and a salad on Mirador’s front patio, the ideal vantage point to absorb Dalt Vila’s majestic nighttime atmosphere of lights softly glowing along the curvy roads and the sight of the ocean shimmering ahead.
My only brief encounter with Ibiza’s wilder side happened on my last morning. I woke early and walked down from the top of the hill past the yacht-filled marina until I reached the contemporary Ibiza Gran Hotel, the accommodation of choice for the wealthy and famous.
The receptionist started to tell me about the hotel’s amenities when a sharply dressed man, who looked to be in his 30s, interrupted us to ask for another copy of his misplaced room key. The night had been particularly productive, he said. Dinner was at midnight followed by stops at two clubs and a get-together on a friend’s yacht, and now he was ready for bed. It was 9 a.m., and he retreated to his room to end his day. I left the lobby to start mine.
If You Go
Renting a car, the best way to get around Ibiza, can be done at the airport.
Where to Stay
Mirador de Dalt Vila A Relais & Châteaux hotel: a 12-room property in the center of Ibiza’s old hilltop town with an excellent restaurant. Rooms from 300 euros, about $311 at $1.03 to the euro, including breakfast. hotelmiradoribiza.com
Hotel Rural Es Cucons A 16-room agriturismo close to the northwest shore with a spa, pool, yoga classes and a restaurant that’s open to nonguests. Rooms from 200 euros including breakfast. escucons.com
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Where to Eat
Beso Beach A casual bar and restaurant open through sunset only and serving fresh and affordable Spanish cuisine with an emphasis on seafood. It’s on Formentera, an island that’s a 25-minute boat ride away; ferry service is available through aquabusferryboats.com/en. besobeach.com
Destino A tapas bar and restaurant in the picturesque hilltop village of San José. There’s also a second location in the town of Santa Gertrudis.
What to Do
Walking around Dalt Vila, Ibiza’s old town and a Unesco World Heritage site, is a must.
Deliciously Sorted This Ibiza-based company can plan a full trip including hotel reservations and villa rentals or can help with specific excursions like boat rentals, hiking, biking and cooking classes. deliciouslysortedibiza.com
Parra & Romero An art gallery near Santa Gertrudis in the center of the island. parra-romero.com
Tanis A contemporary design store near Santa Gertrudis. tani