Ibiza: winter breaks in a deserted Spanish paradise

by Ibiza

You'll have the beaches to yourself, five-star hotels at three-star prices, mild even warm weather, fields carpeted in wildflowers, uncrowded roads and guaranteed peace. Welcome to a different Ibiza

Many of us who live in Ibiza actually prefer the island's winters to its summers. From October to May it's a completely different place, almost unrecognisable to holidaymakers who have only experienced the hot, over-crowded and hectic months of July and August.

The winter weather in Ibiza is pleasant and mild, better than the summers in Scotland where I spent most of my life. Just about every Christmas lunch here I've eaten outside wearing just a t-shirt and shorts. Nobody had to move indoors until the sun went down.

By New Year's Eve there's a feeling in Ibiza which is almost springlike to us northern Europeans. This comes from the profusion of wildflowers which carpet the fields in white, yellow and later with splashes of red from the poppies. By the time the tourist season begins most of this beauty has been burnt off by the summer sun.

The island really is peaceful through the winter, some might say boring. Superclubs Amnesia, Space, Privilege, El Divino, DC10, Eden and Es Paradis close at the beginning of October and don't unlock their doors until June. (www.loveibiza.net) Only Pacha stays open and that's just at weekends.

Most of the hotels, bars and restaurants are also shuttered for winter, especially in the resorts. Those that stay open cater mainly to locals because tourists are few and far between.

So why are there so few visitors? The simple answer is that there are hardly any flights. From the UK, for instance, there are just three a week with Ryanair from Stansted. That's it. Other countries are equally badly served. That said, there are some amazing flight bargains especially if you're prepared to be flexible about dates. Alternatively you can fly to Ibiza via Madrid, Barcelona or Palma Mallorca.

Once on the island you'll find many of the hotels are very cheap off season. Hostal Talamanca, for instance, is right on the beach, but still within walking distance of Ibiza Town.  A double room overlooking the sea with bed and breakfast costs 78€ a night in the winter. Slightly further away is the friendly Hotel Lux Isla where a double room is 63€ a night.

Although they close for a few weeks in winter there are good deals on luxury accommodation at Ibiza's big new five-star hotels, none of which are more than four years old. 

  • The Gran Hotel in Ibiza Town is just across the road from Pacha and offers stunning views of the old town across the harbour.  Prices range from 200€ a night for a suite.
  • The Insotel Fenicia Prestige Thalasso Spa is large and tranquil. Situated  at the mouth of the only river in the Balearics, it's just a few minutes walk from the centre of Sta Eulalia, my local town, which remains reasonably active through the winter. Prices range from190€ a night for two people in a deluxe room.
  • The Aguas de Ibiza hotel on the other side of Sta Eulalia is the most attractive-looking of these five-star properties. The architect has made a real effort to incorporate elements of local design. Prices range from 210€ a night for two people in a deluxe room.

All have special offers which make them genuinely affordable. An added advantage is each of these very modern hotels has a large state-of-the art spa attached. Watch out though, many of the deals do not include use of the spa in the price. It's still worth picking a hotel with a spa even if you don't use it because they're ideal places to chill out if the weather's not so good.

It does rain here. But, fortunately, we don't often get the weeks of dull weather suffered in other places. It's not uncommon to be dodging showers in the morning and sunbathing in the afternoon.

Generally, though, the weather's ideal for exploring the island by car, on foot or by bicycle. There are miles of "caminos" or lanes, many of which are sign-posted as nature trails. These wind their way through the virgin forests which cover 48 per cent of the island, along cliff-tops or past Ibiza's 50 or so beaches.

You may be surprised by some things you see. Behind summer's fashionable beaches of Salinas and Es Cavallet are the salt pans where you'll see hundreds of flamingos. The island is a birdwatcher's paradise, although nobody seems to notice in the summer.

Winter is also a great time to explore the streets of Ibiza's old town, Dalt Vila. It's cool enough to climb the steep cobbles to the castle and cathedral at the top to take in the amazing views. You'll also find out that it is populated by real people and not just restaurants and souvenir shops.

Below, the area round the port of Ibiza is quiet, but the more modern part of the town is still buzzing. It takes more than a little coolness in the air to stop the traditional pastime of sitting outside a café people watching. The only difference is there are patio heaters amongst the parasols.

And, although the island might be quieter than it is in summer, there's still a fair amount of what The Times describes as "low-key decadence". After all, this is Spain where the same word "fiesta" means both "party" and "public holiday". People behave accordingly.

The big one in winter is carnival, marking the beginning of Lent. There are large parades and everybody dresses up. I'll never forget during my first winter bumping into my swarthy gas delivery man wearing a French maid's outfit. (I mean, he was dressed as a girl. I was pretending to be an escaped prisoner.)

Christmas is much lower key in Ibiza and in most of Spain. There's a family dinner of seafood on "Nochebuena" or Christmas Eve. More important to the locals, especially those under 14, is "el Día de Reyes" on January 6 when there are parades and the kids get their presents.

It's a family affair again for New Year's Eve or "Nochevieja". Traditionally you're supposed to eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight to bring luck and fertility. The younger locals and foreign residents then all seem to head for Pacha.

It's strange. You can tell who was brought up on the island. They're the ones wearing suits and fancy frocks. New Year is just about the only time you'll see an Ibicenco under 60 in a shirt and tie.

Yup, Ibiza is very different in winter. It's not for everybody. But it might be for you if you want to escape miserable weather, crowded sales and Christmas commercialism. There's nothing quite like watching the sunset from Cafe Del Mar when the loudest noise is from the sparrows in Café Mambo's palm tree.