It takes only an hour to drive from one end of Ibiza to the other. And it takes significantly less time than that to travel back about two centuries. The most party-centric area of the most iconic Balearic island is actually confined to a fairly small stretch of the west coast around Sant Antoni. Step beyond it and a new landscape emerges, one of thick verdant pine forests, pregnant rounded hills, terraced fields of carob, almond and fig trees, deserted coves and tiny hamlets with solitary whitewashed chapels. This is the Ibiza that has turned its back on the excesses of mass tourism. Much of the time, while travelling around the island you get a sense that the locals are barely aware there is any kind of nightlife scene going on at all only a few miles from their farms. Yet even here, underneath that insistent Mediterranean sun, there are small concessions to modernity taking place which make a retreat back from the nightlife of San Antonio all the more appealing.
Before the DJs arrived in the mid-1980s, Ibiza was better known to outsiders as a quiet, left-field retreat. Jean Hall and Liz Lark have retained and updated something of that earlier vibe in the form of Shunya, a whitewashed two-storey villa on the outskirts of Cala Benirras. Their summer yoga retreats are booked up well in advance and it’s easy to see why; the villa has sweeping ocean views, an infinity pool, a vegetable garden and, after the yoga sessions, outstanding vegetarian dishes are on offer. Just in case your dedication to renewal hits a speed bump, a generously stocked wine fridge is all yours too.
Ibiza’s interior is short on genuine gasp-worthy sights but that’s hardly the point. The pace of the island in these parts is no faster than the chiming of a noon church bell. To visit the villages of Dalt Vila and San Jose is to journey into a quiet, sun-dappled Med that you might assume had disappeared for good. The former is a timeless warren of winding streets surrounded by crumbling walls built in order to withstand the Berber invasion in the 16th century.
San Jose, on the south-western coast, is a more picturesque cluster of houses almost flooded by pink bougainvillea. Al fresco tapas bars such as Destino excel at simple dishes with locally sourced ingredients such as vegetable paella and some particularly fresh and unctuous tortillas. The total lack of hype around these villages also, remarkably, extends to much of the coastline. Expectations of wall-to-wall developments straddling the entire perimeter of the island are happily dismissed with a leisurely afternoon drive along little known east coast beaches such as Cala Llenya, a 200-yard-long sandy cove with glistening waters and a simple, tiny snack bar. About a mile further on and quieter still lies Cala Mastella, an ideal place to hone your stand-up paddleboarding skills. A soothing experience, akin to walking on water, on a calm day, the seas here are pretty much tailor-made for drifting in the dappled sun around these bijou coves, natural caves and deserted coastlines.
Cala Mastella has a special place in the hearts of locals with piscine persuasions. Each afternoon, the shack-like restaurant El Bigotes serves up bowls of fresh fish stew with potatoes and rice, cooked in a wood oven. Those in the know will tell you that they would love to book in advance, but until very recently the restaurant didn’t even have a telephone. Yet that isn’t to say that the natives of Ibiza’s quieter side lack entrepreneurial zeal. Su Cova was one of the very first vineyards on the island. Near the village of Sant Mateu d’Albarca in the north west of the island, the owner Juan Bonet Riera began making wine as a hobby but is now producing over 25,000 bottles a year. Tasting tours here showcase the harvest (all still done by hand) which, thanks to the strong vines, clay-heavy soil and the fertility of the valley through which his vines grow, result in some outstanding syrah, merlot, malvasia and macabeo wines. Sitting on Riera’s terrace, sipping his creations with a simple selection of olives and chorizo as a companion, it’s all but impossible to believe that barely 30 minutes’ drive away lie yachts, clubs, superstar DJs and designer-store outlets. During the 1930s, the philosopher Walter Benjamin fled Nazi Germany for the peace of Ibiza. Perhaps it was his time on the island that prompted the thinking behind one of his more famous quotations: “The idea that happiness could have a share in beauty would be too much of a good thing.”
For the quieter side of Ibiza and those who live there, it would appear that worries about such things are not a primary concern as long as there’s another glass of wine to pour in the village square as the sun dips behind those rounded hills. Far from being the island that never sleeps, this part of Ibiza seems to be more than content in its own centuries-old slumber.