Ibiza Town’s hippy culture and summer parties draw the crowds, but you will be equally seduced by its quiet crooked streets, stunning harbour and simple cooking
Dazzling azure waters, low-slung hills and the magnificent ancient settlement of Dalt Vila provide the backdrop for cool, cosmopolitan Ibiza Town. A mix of Spanish, Catalan and Moorish influences, it’s got its fair share of cultural and architectural gems. Climb winding paths to the fortress-like cathedral, Moorish castle and a collection of crooked streets of whitewashed houses. Gaze down into the stunning natural harbour, which in the past has played host to Carthaginian warships, Royal Navy vessels and anarchist battleships, and now accommodates sleek sheikh-owned yachts.
Named by the Phoenicians after their god of dance, Bes, Ibiza (Eivissa in Catalan) became a spiritual nerve centre for the Carthaginian Empire, where they came to worship Tanit, their goddess of love, death and fertility. In the 1950s, bohemian travellers arrived and left a legacy of artists, a thriving jazz and music scene and an anything-goes attitude. Today the city brims with hippy-chic culture, from the trendy boutiques to the pavements that in the summer months become an alfresco catwalk for the weird and wonderful.
What to do
Surrounded by colossal Renaissance walls, Dalt Vila, home to the city’s finest monuments, is the place to start. For the most dramatic approach cross the mighty stone ramp and drawbridge to enter through the Portal de Ses Taules (gateway of inscriptions). This opens on to the Placa de la Vila, where you’ll find an assortment of shops, restaurants and the Museum of Contemporary Art (00 34 971 302 723), with its small but interesting collection.
From here climb the steep cobbled streets to the castle complex and the 14th-century Gothic-baroque Catedral de Santa María (00 34 971 312 774). On one side you’ll look out over the sparkling waters of the harbour and the green outline of neighbouring Formentera; on the other, there’s a view of forested hills. To the west of the walls you’ll find the Archaeological Museum (00 34 971 301 231), full of relics left by past residents including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Arabs. Make your way back down through myriad tunnels and mazes and head for La Marina, the pretty waterside district. Stroll along the Passeig Maritim, dipping into the hip boutiques along the way.
At dusk, walk to the end of Es Muro, a 12th-century breakwater, and enjoy a view of the old town, stunningly illuminated.
Where to stay
Head up to Hotel la Ventana, which is tucked away in a quiet square beside the city’s medieval walls. The converted mansion has just 13 rooms, kitted out with four-poster beds and balconies, and is perfect for peeking down at the city’s sights. Aparthotel Navila, set among the whitewashed streets of the old town, has 15 eclectically decorated apartments grouped around plant-filled courtyards. For the ultimate in hedonistic experiences head to Villa Roca just outside the city. Cut into the rock, it sits within the Truntoi mountain range in the perfect seclusion of a forested nature reserve. Its accessories include three pools, a dance floor, Bedouin chill-out tent and its own chef.
Where to eat and drink
Traditional cuisine is a hearty affair with thick meaty stews, fish broths and rice dishes. For something a little lighter in the heat, try tapas of Ibizan butifarra, blood sausage, or sobrasada, a spiced sausage. For regional specialities head to Plaza del Sol (00 34 971 390 773), tucked away on a stone terrace among the walls; it’s a favourite with the locals. Go for potatoes with goat’s cheese or the lamb chops.
For seasonal cooking using market produce, La Brasa (00 34 971 301 202) is the best place in town. It offers simple Mediterranean meat and fish dishes in the tranquil setting of a courtyard garden. Superbly positioned inside the Dalt Vila’s walls, Sa Torreta (00 34 971 300 411) has a modern take on French-Mediterranean cuisine. Dine alfresco, or book a room and dine in one of the original bastions. For sundowners, head to Café Mar y Sol (00 34 971 315 234) on the waterfront.
Time running out?
Catch a 30-minute ride on the hydrofoil from Ibiza port and explore the fisherman-friendly island of Formentera.
Head to the Saturday hippy market at Las Dalias (www.lasdalias.es). In the grounds of an old manor house, it’s crammed full of bargains.
Currency is the euro. Ibiza is one hour ahead of GMT and a two-hour 20-minute flight from London.
EasyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) flies from Gatwick, London Luton and Stansted during the summer months. Visit the website for full details. Iberia Air (0870 60 90 500; www.iberia.com/gb) flies to Ibiza from Heathrow via Madrid.
Ibiza Tourist Information: Avenida d’Espanya 49, Ibiza Town (00 34 971 195 900; www.ibiza.travel/en). Contact the office for details of seasonal opening hours.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.