Like the Vengaboys, we have been fooled by Ibiza. We think it’s all optional clothing, endless summers and the biggest parties in the world. It is, in fact, a hotly contested island with a history that dates back to 654 BC.
A whitewashed church stands gleaming atop a hill, surrounded by bright blossoms. Down below, the bluest of blue waters gently hit the shores of a sleepy city. It’s another lazy day, but not just in any coastal Mediterranean village. This is Ibiza, a place that bares a fresh new face under its mask of the unofficial party capital of the world.
Ibiza is the third largest of the Balearic Islands of Spain. Eivissa, as it’s known in widely spoken Catalan, has three main cities of which Ibiza Town is the most popular. Together with the cities of Santa Eulària des Riu and Sant Antoni de Portmany, the isle offers a fascinating glimpse of Spanish history, and has large areas protected as Unesco World Heritage Sites.
A slice of this history can be sampled at Sa Caleta, the site of the remains of some of the earliest settlers here – the Phoenicians.
They worshipped the god Bes who’s believed to be the source of the name of the island. We discovered its antiquity and culture with our guide Rocio, a sprightly woman in her fifties who lives and breathes the flower-power days.
We started this discovery with that hilltop church – Santa Eulària’s church of Puig de Missa. An erstwhile fortress, for centuries the church sheltered locals from constant raids and attacks by various conquerors, who prized the port capital because of its strategic position between Europe and Africa. Ibiza’s first bishop promoted the fortress-church to the rank of a parish in 1785, by which time the place had become pivotal to social and religious life. We’re astonished by the ancient secrets the beautiful church holds, as Rocio points out crevices in the walls through which loaded guns were once pierced. We continue to the next place, which has a quaint villa at its heart. Entering the gates, it feels as if we are trespassing on private property. But Rocio confirms that it’s indeed the Museum of Ethnography of Ibiza. The building is a former church, which now displays rare artefacts such as clothes, kitchenware and jewellery from the first settlers of the island.
Feast for the senses
As evening sets in and Ibiza’s seafront slowly livens up with its numerous cafés, we head to a place that will launch us into yet another facet of the island’s culture, of slow dining and quick drinking: Sa Cova, one of the oldest grape producers in Ibiza.
Though eating your way through Ibiza is a great route to take to discover its culinary revolution, actually learning to cook is even greater. Or so we’re told when we sign up for a cooking lesson the next morning.
We’re usually a silent spectator when it comes to skills in the kitchen, so when we stand facing Chef Margo, beaming at us while wielding her meat knife, we’re a little anxious. However, once we don the apron and roll up our sleeves, we’re tickled by squid tentacles and wooed by the smell of saffron. At the end, we sail across the room with the aromatic seafood paella we’ve just created, feeling like being a proud child eager to show off their good grades.
No trip to Ibiza is complete without a visit to Café del Mar, the seaside joint that boasts one of the best sunset views in the world, and is also on the must-visit list of all the Mediterranean cruisers who stop by. Arriving early, we watch the café come to life. People pour in, some dressed in their evening best while others are in the beautiful all-white Adlib style of Ibiza – a trend inspired by the white petticoats of traditional women. The sky starts to turn cloudy, and we miss the famed sunset after all. But there’s so much we’ve seen and experienced here, we’re really not complaining.
Need to know
Alitalia flies to Ibiza via Rome from Dhs2,404 return. www.alitalia.com