Ibiza in a Paella Pan
While we have always loved Corsica as our annual beach destination, we choose to go somewhere else every other year so we won’t get jaded or bored by Corsica. “We” is comprised of a small group of girlfriends and often including my daughter and one of her friends. On those odd-numbered years, we test out some other European beach enclave and so far, each time that it’s not been Corsica, we discovered it wasn’t quite as good and happily return to our French Mediterranean island. It works well to keep Corsica at the top of the list. As you might have suspected, we already had next year in Corsica booked, even before this vacation was started.
This year the destination was Ibiza. The last time I was in Ibiza was 23 years ago and I don’t remember all that much except that the beaches were lovely and the paella delicious. Erica was 10 years old and not of an age to party like she is now, nor am I now of an age that I want to party like we did then. No matter, our goal is always a beautiful beach with a good restaurant, beautiful scenery and lovely things to do. We don’t ask for much…just the right atmosphere for some serious R and R…and a good tan.
This all started 40 years ago in Mykonos (Greece) when our hotel didn’t have running water for a while. A German couple staying in the hotel came to the front desk to ask about the dry faucets, as did we. Then, we saw them again on Super Paradise Beach and easily became friends. Since then, the wife of the couple (Christa) and I have met at a beach just about every single year.
As long ago as January, we secured the rental of a house in the middle of just about nowhere, except for a cluster of other similar houses, but on the west side of the island where we had heard the beaches were beautiful. (If you don’t book early for a beach destination in August, your pickin’s are slim.) From the airport, the GPS took us on a really screwy maze of dirt back-roads, past a fenced-in pack of threatening-looking dogs. Fortunately when we finally arrived at “Casa Dolly,” the three-bedroom house that we booked on VRBO, we realized that there was a much better way to get there on real paved roads, bypassing the canines showing all of their pointed canine teeth. “Heurusement.”
The house was nowhere near the quality standard of a “Parler Paris Apartment” (the rental apartments we had represented for years), nor at all akin to the apartment we rent every other year in Corsica (“L’Ecrin“), in Algajola, on the north side of the island). The house was very cheaply constructed and poorly appointed, but it was functional…except for one evening when we had no water at all. This wasn’t the fault of the house, but of the city infrastructure. What struck us as funny, however, is how our meeting in 1979 was for the same problem: lack of running water! This was befitting for our 40th anniversary. What was not so funny was when the toilet wasn’t flushing correctly, because the concierge forgot to tell us not to put toilet paper in it! (We weren’t happy, but we managed.)
Ibiza was Christa’s suggestion for this year’s vacation. It’s the third largest of the Spanish Balearic Islands well known for its nightlife, techno dance music and club scene, which attracts a certain kind of tourist — although the Spanish Tourist Office is working hard to broaden that image and bring in more of the family trade. It’s a hopeless endeavor, I’m afraid. The primary tourist there is the 20 to 40 year-old single person. Sure, there are a few old-timers around and a few kids, but that’s not to whom the island caters. There are very few Americans among the Spanish, Italians, French, British, Germans and Dutch, plus a few Russians. The Asians haven’t ventured here yet; almost none, in contrast to the Riviera, which is humming with them.
This is definitely the land of the beautiful people. They are young, tan, buff or pumped up, sporting their finest bikinis or not (lots of toplessness and some nudity) and heavily tattooed. Someone without a tattoo one could surmise must be older than 50. It is amazing how one can tell just where someone comes from, not just from the language they are speaking, but from looks, their dress and behavior. The Italians have the island cornered, especially at certain beaches, and that made for quite a lot of “eye candy,” since the Italians have great style and the men are better-looking than most, in general.
The first evening took us on a bit of a chase to find restaurants for dinner in Sant Antoni (Catalan)/San Antonio (Spanish), a town not far from our house. It’s the second largest town on the island, on the water and we assumed we’d find a few restaurants seaside. We didn’t have a clue where to go, except thanks to apps such as “Around Me,” we were able to spot a row of them. It had already become an adventure when we realized that where we parked the car led us to a very rocky path along the beach front away from any main road, but fortunately that led to what appeared to be a very nice club and restaurant. Our first meal was better than any of us expected and the path back to the car a little less rocky once we figured out the better route. Off to a good start…
Our first beach excursion was to the Cala Bassa Beach Club, unknowingly in advance that it was a rather ritzy-schmitzy collection of bars, restaurants, lounges and parasols, with a massage center, offering of jet skis and you name it. All this for the the bronzed and beautiful Europeans all on beautiful white, soft sand against a backdrop of juniper trees for shade, with shallow, calm, clear water. We thought we had died and gone to heaven, except that we discovered that if you don’t reserve your lounge chairs and parasols way in advance of your August week’s vacation, you’re out of luck. To fix that problem, we later invested in our own set of chairs, spreads and parasols (fun, easy-to-spot watermelon prints, all purchasable cheaply by passer-by vendors, mostly Africans) so we could go anywhere at any time.
Each beach has a different atmosphere and different clientele. Our goal is always to discover as many beaches as possible in order to find the one that suits us best and then enjoy that one our last day. This has become our habit over the years and it works well for us.
The second night we trekked across the island to Ibiza Town where we thought we might find good paella. Ibiza Town reminded me of Old Nice, with one souvenir shop or boutique after another — the kind where you really don’t want to buy anything — dotted by restaurants all offering up the same local cuisine. It’s a tourist destination, after all. We saved hiking up the grand staircase to the old town for another evening. Once or twice to Ibiza Town is enough…there are so many other lovely spots on the island.
Our second beach excursion was to Cala Comte, consisting of a few small coves against a rocky landscape with views of little islands that dot the shore, all up against crystal clear shallow water that resembled green glass. Being much smaller than Cala Bassa, and not as exclusive, it was wall-to-wall with sunbathers of all kinds, so finding a spot for the four of us was not so easy. One of the three restaurants there was chosen for lunch at the recommendation of a local friend — Ses Roques. It was one of our most fun pig-out experiences, not very expensive, loading up on a eight appetizers so we could try almost all of them — roasted octopus, shrimp in garlic sauce, Spanish omelet, gaspacho (2), goat cheese salad, chicken salad and grilled squid…rendering us too stuffed to breathe and ready to lay on the beach without too much exertion of energy.
Black clouds rolled in right about lunchtime and the waves got rough, with some pretty high winds, making it virtually impossible to swim or keep our parasols grounded or even stay for the rest of the day. Everyone slowly left the beach and piled into cars, taxis or the public buses, calling it done for the day, as did we. It was the only inclement weather we had all week long.
That evening, we ventured into Sant Josep de sa Talaia, a small village of white stucco buildings, inland and less touristed than other enclaves, with a few small, but very nice boutiques of artisan wares plus a few restaurants. The one we chose after shopping a bit outperformed our expectations — Racó Verd. Set around a beautiful courtyard, the food was Mexican-Spanish, fresh, copious and exceptional. It felt more like being in a Corsican town and clearly away from the glitzy side of Ibiza. It was refreshing.
Our favorite beach ended up our third try, at Cala d’Hort on the western seaboard, part of the municipality of Sant Josep de sa Talaia. Small and beloved (as one site calls it), with stunning views of the “mysterious” island of Es Vedrà (so close you think you can touch it), it’s both sandy and pebbly, but the water is shallow on a bed of white sand, and the coastline of small cliffs, pristine and lovely. Lots of boats came to anchor and their occupants headed to shore for lunch at one of the three restaurants there.
Restaurante El Carmen was just about our favorite meal, while overlooking what had already become our favorite beach. The menu offered-up just about everything you could imagine, but we went for a mixed paella, grilled fish and lamb chops. Paella is a Valencian rice dish that has ancient roots, considered to be Spain’s national dish (by the non-Spanish!). It’s become a symbol of Spain, even if actually a regional speciality. I could remember it from as long ago as 1996, the first time I was in Ibiza, that I had the best seafood paella I’d ever eaten in some tiny local restaurant on the island. It was my goal to find one equally as good, or at least as memorable. This one was way up there, but not quite as memorable. I’ll have to keep trying.
Humpday Wednesday we deemed was perfect for a ferry ride to Formentera, the smallest of the Balearic Islands, known for its white pristine beaches where nude sunbathing is allowed on most of them. It’s also famous for certain celebrity artists, writers and musicians having been influenced there, such as Joni Mitchell who wrote her 1971 album, “Blue,” while on the island and Bob Dylan, who once lived in the Cap de Barbaria lighthouse. The only way to get to it is by boat or ferry, but the ferries are bountiful and frequent, taking anywhere from 25 minutes to one hour to go from the port in Ibiza Town to the tiny island. From the port in Formentera (La Savina) upon arrival, you can rent a car, a bike or motorbike, hop a public bus or grab a taxi to any one of the beaches — of which there are 17 well-known ones, most of which are on the north side of the island — of white soft sand and clear clean water.
Mid August is as high season as it gets and Formentera is a more than popular spot. We stood in a long line for the public bus to Playa de Ses Illetes, but with patience, got a seat. Ses Illetes has often be declared as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. The sand is white, fine and soft. The water is very shallow, calm and clear, not to mention a stunning pale aqua color. The scenery is spectacular as is the people-watching.
The few restaurants at Ses Illetes got booked up long before we thought of taking the trip there, but we managed to score a waterfront table at the first one, Kiosko Restaurante El Pirata, by arriving early, having a drink to wait for the lunch service, then just staying till we were fully done. We were not equipped with parasols, so it wasn’t such a bad idea to stay in the shade a while longer, and as long as we had the gorgeous view of the beach, we didn’t care.
It made sense to ferry back to Ibiza Town for dinner, and give ourselves a kind of “chorus girl’s bath” out of the back of the car, changing into clean clothing, all while the car was still parked in the lot at the port. Once refreshed, and after a bit of shopping at the base of the old town around the port, we worked our way up the massive staircase to a lovely large open terrace with a beautiful view of the city at Plaça del Sol.
The port is chocker-block filled with beautiful yachts. “The Radiant” was parked there, Dubai’s Abdullah al Futtaim’s 110 meter-long yacht valued at 300 million USD. It out does every other boat there, period. We saw it the next day on the water cruising by, making quite a show. It has 10 cabins, plus 20 cabins for 44 crew members. What a life!
Beach number four was Escondida. A small cove down a stone staircase and set into the rocks (so your spot may be a bit rocky, rather than soft sand) and it might possibly have been the most beautiful setting we encountered. It is equipped only with a snack bar, but that could be one reason why it attracts a more serious beach crowd and a lot more nudists than the others. The water was crystal clear, calm and shallow. At the top of the cliff, you could walk along the edge to see a series of beaches below, all part of the Platges de Comte, dotted by restaurants, and any one of the beaches was as beautiful as the next. We loved our cove compared to the hustle-bustle of the neighboring spots, even if we might not choose it for a return visit.
Erica and I went out for the evening, leaving my friends to rest at home, to The Beach House on Playa d’en Bossa where we had a very nice meal to a beautiful full moon rise, while performers entertained us: a young woman drew our portraits in 60 seconds by only looking at our faces and never taking the tip of the pen from the paper; a dancer in and electrified costume and a DJ playing cool music (someone my daughter knew via friends). She went out with friends for an all-nighter (I headed home like the “old lady” I am), arriving at home right about the time we were waking up and getting ready for our last day at the beach. (She paid the price that last day! Oh, to be young!)
Back to Cala d’Hort we went our last day, with reservations already made at El Carmen for lunch. We scored chaises longues with parasols and had the most luxurious day of our week-long vacation…our last hurrah before boarding the plane on Saturday to head back to Nice. It was sad to pack it all up and head home to pack and prepare for leaving the island, but before we did, we met up with friends who live in Ibiza for dinner at Santa Gertrudis de Fruitera, where they live. On the full moon, the town offers up a night market in the central square, with entertainment and open-air dining at any one of the many restaurants.This is where the real Ibizians live — new residents from all over Europe who bring a bohemian style to the village. “Many artists, sculptors and musicians have settled there over the years and their works are everywhere — in galleries and most famously in the Bar Costa where penniless artists in the hippy era would swap paintings for food and now hanging art competes with hanging hams for space.” We loved the authenticity of the village.
All in all, Ibiza gave Corsica a run for its money in regard to beaches, but if you’re not a party-goer, then Corsica is tough to beat for overall beauty, great landscapes, things to do and historical interest, in addition to great food. Plus, it’s a lot less crowded, so a lot easier to score the chaises longues + parasols…without advance reservations.
Next year in Corsica…
A la prochaine…
Editor of Parler Nice
(with Erica in Ibiza)
P.S. July and August have been awash with our episodes on House Hunters International. And now, another new episode airs the end of this month!