I visited Ibiza, the party capital of the world, but the best part of the island is the side no one ever talks about
- I spent five days on Ibiza, the island off the coast of Spain, over Labor Day weekend.
- Ibiza has a reputation as one of the top places to party in the world, with thumping 24-hour clubs, wild pool parties, and gorgeous beaches.
- While I enjoyed Ibiza's party scene, which I found to be accessible to those usually turned off by exclusive, pretentious club scenes, Ibiza's verdant northern countryside was the most surprising aspect of my trip. It was beautiful, secluded, and felt miles away from the hard-partying coast.
I'm not sure what I was expecting before arriving in Ibiza.I'd heard so much about the island from friends, magazines, music videos, and paparazzi photos that would be impossible not to have some preconceived notions.Advertisement
In short, I was expecting something like a super-sized version of the Greek isle of Mykonos, which I had visited a month before. That island I found to be a bifurcated paradise divided between the world's wealthy and famous having a private ball and crowds of vacationers, hard-partying dance-music junkies, and cruise-shippers peeking in for a glance.
While the 24-hour party culture is no doubt present in Ibiza, what I found on the White Isle was a place far more varied and nuanced than I imagined. As easy as it is to find a packed, thumping club, it is just as easy to find a hidden beach tucked into a cove or a mountain retreat far from the glitz and glam.That's not to say tourism in Ibiza is perfect. Last year, the island of 130,000 saw more than 3 million tourists, a number that has been growing since the 1990s. And the local population has complained of tourism they deem "unlimited, disrespectful and excessive," according to The Telegraph. In response, the island has increased its tourist tax, put limits on nightlife, and banned the rental of housing to tourists (thus all but eliminating Airbnb from the island).
When I visited over Labor Day weekend this year, I found the island a welcoming and accessible vacation spot for all different kinds of budgets and temperaments. Here's what it was like:
Everyone has an idea of Ibiza before they get there. Like many, I thought it was all about non-stop partying. So when I got off the plane, I headed to Sant Antoni de Portmany, a town on the island's west coast with a reputation as a hotspot for young partiers from the UK.
I checked into the Ibiza Rocks Hotel, located in the heart of Sant Antoni de Portmany. The hotel is famous for its pool parties where they bring in top-notch DJs for wild sets. Anyone can buy tickets, but if you stay in the hotel, you get free entry.Advertisement
The hotel is kind of like a glorified dorm/hotel circa Daytona Beach spring break. When I got there, the place was packed as British drum and bass band Rudimental performed a DJ set. A second benefit of staying at the hotel? I went up to my room mid-set to mix up a few drinks and avoid overpriced cocktails.
The downside of staying at Ibiza Rocks is that a group of wasted Brits were singing Bohemian Rhapsody outside my window at 4 a.m. After working through my hangover, I hung out at nearby Calo Des Moro beach. It's right near the so-called "Sunset Strip" in Sant Antony, where people can watch the beautiful sun set into the water.Advertisement
There are other beaches near Sant Antony like Cala Conta, which is about a 10-minute drive from the town. It's gorgeous. with rock cliffs and sand dunes, but, as you can see, it's packed during the summer.
There are no shortage of options. Only five minutes from Sant Antoni, Cala Gracioneta has beautiful shallow water that is perfect for snorkeling.Advertisement
The next night I headed to Es Paradis, one of the first clubs to open in Ibiza. The inside of the club evokes 1970s disco-by-way-of-Grecian paradise and it is famous in Ibiza for its "water party," where a center pit slowly fills up with water until everyone is basically in a swimming pool. If I was wasted and 19 years old, I'm sure I would've been right in the middle of the pit.
Before I got to Ibiza I had been told by a few fellow travelers that I needed to check out the island's countryside. Most partiers skip it, but I kept saying it was the best part. So I rented a Vespa for $45 and headed out the next morning.Advertisement
The drive was stunning. I had never imagined that Ibiza had such vast, green landscapes.
I rode to Atzaró Hotel and Spa, an agrotourism resort near Santa Eularia des Riu in the north of the island.Advertisement
Located down a small country road, Atzaró is named after the mountain behind the gorgeous 10-acre property.
The property was originally a finca, or Spanish farmhouse, built some 300 years ago, that served as the family home of owner and CEO Victor Guasch.Advertisement
There are photos of Guasch's family dotted throughout the finca, a warm reminder that Atzaró is the creation of a local Ibizan family.
The property was converted to a hotel and spa in 2004 and has since become one of the most successful properties on the island. Celebs like Rihanna, Shakira, and actress Kate Hudson have vacationed at the secluded estate.Advertisement
The family was originally orange farmers. Atzaró has maintained that tradition on the property with an expansive orange grove that provides oranges for the company's house-made orange blossom oil and Orangello liqueur.
Atzaró has a spa day package that gives you access to the grounds, a daybed, and money towards food and drinks for $93. It seemed like a relaxing way to experience the Ibizan countryside after partying in Sant Antony.Advertisement
When the property first opened, Atzaró was designed to evoke the jungle estates of Bali, but the property was redesigned and revamped over the last year to highlight the property's Ibizan heritage.
It's a beautiful place to spend the day. Or, if you really like it, you can stay the night. The property has 24 rooms and suites to rent.Advertisement
I didn't get a chance to stay in one of the rooms, but this is what one of the bedrooms looks like. The rooms are designed with local wood beams, olive wood ceilings, rustic fittings and stone, and terracotta tiled floors.
I spent my day by the 141-foot freshwater pool made famous by thousands of Instagrams. It is lined with sun beds, palm trees, and orange trees.Advertisement
First, I headed to the spa to check in for the day.
The spa has a sauna, hammam (steam room), gym, yoga pavilions, outdoor sauna, and gardens to lounge in. There are also private cabins for an every kind of beauty or relaxation treatment you can imagine.Advertisement
I headed into the spa changing room to slip into something a bit more comfortable ...
Atzaró provided a robe, a towel, and flip-flops so that I could lounge properly during the day.Advertisement
I headed out to the property to find a sun bed to use for the day. I was spoiled for options. Though the hotel was booked solid, there was no shortage of sun beds.
I debated taking this bed, which has a perfect view of the famous "Love" sign that has made the hotel a sensation on Instagram.Advertisement
But I am allergic to sunlight — note: I am not a vampire — so I took this shaded sun bed. It felt soft and luxurious to the touch. A good place for an afternoon nap.
But first I had to experience all that the property had to offer. Like this outdoor sauna in the middle of a vegetable garden. It's a lot more fun to get your steam on when you can look at the property.Advertisement
The property has a vegetable garden that provides most of the herbs, veggies, and salad for the on-site restaurant.
It doesn't get much more farm-to-table than this ...Advertisement
Anything not taken from the vegetable gardens is sourced from farms within a mile of the hotel.
There's a nice boutique at the property that features local Ibizan designers and brands. It has a diverse selection of clothing, jewelry, and bath products.Advertisement
Atzaró's aesthetic has become so popular that the hotel even has its own design service that the well-to-do can hire for their own villas, on Ibiza or off. Everything at Atzaró is bespoke designed for the property.
From the choice of plants and foliage ...Advertisement
... to the more secluded second half of the property only open to those staying at the hotel.
Located away from the main restaurant and pool, this other half of Atzaró is where celebs like Rihanna, Shakira, and Kate Hudson have stayed.Advertisement
It's easy to see why paparazzi-hounded pop stars would pick Atzaró for their vacation. I don't think any paparazzo can get past security to this secluded pool.
Much of Ibiza is see-and-be-seen types of places. Atzaró is much more live-and-let-live.Advertisement
The back area of Atzaró also has a communal pool and a bar, but it seemed like all the guests were hanging out at the main restaurant and pool. That leaves lots of privacy.
I had a lot of options for where to swim.Advertisement
Dining is a major selling point of Atzaró. The Veranda restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a rotating menu of dishes.
After checking out the property, I walked over to the restaurant for lunch.Advertisement
The restaurant is surrounded by vines, gardens, and a beautiful pergola.
I started off with a passion fruit mojito. Given the chilled out, vacation vibes, it shouldn't be a surprise that the drinks lean towards the fruity and the frozen.Advertisement
I started off with burratina with pesto and tomatoes from the garden and calamari. The burratini was creamy and the tomatoes could not have tasted fresher or more fragrant.
For my main, I tried the Chinese-spiced pork with nuts and pickled vegetables. It was fatty cut of pork dressed in a sweet sauce.Advertisement
The fideuà, a Spanish pasta dish similar to paella, was creamy, like a mac and cheese minus the cheese. But only three shrimp ... Come on.
After lunch, I headed back to the sun bed for a much-deserved nap.Advertisement
But not before ordering a frozen margarita. Because what is relaxation without a little tequila?
A little after 5 p.m., I decided that I'd had enough pampering. It was time to check out the rest of the countryside.Advertisement
First, I rode to San Carlos, a small village that was famous in the 1960s and 1970s as a hippy enclave. Before Ibiza was a vacation hotspot, it was a haven for writers, painters, artists, and other bohemians who began flocking to the island as early as the 1930s and 1940s.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the "flower power" and hippie movements came to Ibiza. The main hangout in the town for that scene was Bar Anita, as it was the only place with a phone and where mail was delivered.Advertisement
The town still has a bohemian spirit, even if the prices have gone up with the times. I found plenty of shops with both local designers and made-in-China faux-spiritual clothing and jewelry.
San Carlos was a nice place to spend an hour or a decade. There's a real feeling of time standing still in the countryside.Advertisement
You can also go back in time. Nearby is Las Dalias, or the hippy market. On Saturdays, locals set up stalls and sell their wares to the Ibizans, Spaniards, and tourists who show up to check out the scene.
People at the market sell everything from dresses and food to handmade jewelry to food products. My favorite stall, of course, was this one selling used books.Advertisement
After the market, I took a short drive to find a beach. The sun was setting, but I'd heard that the north has some of Ibiza's most secluded, beautiful beaches. Cala Mastella was a tiny cove located deep down a winding road. It felt miles away from the clubs.
I was getting hungry and it was getting dark so I turned around and headed back towards Sant Antony. The countryside looked even more beautiful in the twilight.Advertisement
After passing back through San Carlos, I stopped in Santa Gertrudis, also a village that served as a hippie meeting point in the 1960s. These days, it's a slightly bigger version of San Carlos, with lots of restaurants and boutiques.
A few minutes outside of Santa Gertrudis de Fruitera, I found Can Caus, a grill and restaurant located on a farm. The restaurant sells all local Ibizan products and many of the meats come directly from the farm. I ordered the ox rib for two ($56), which comes seared with a grill to cook at the table. One of the best steaks I've ever had.Advertisement
The next morning, it was time to head to the east side of the island. Ibiza Town, the capital of Ibiza, is both the main port and where most of the resorts and clubs are located.
The most popular resort spot on the island is Playa d'en Bossa. During the day, vacationers from luxury to budget are relaxing on the miles-long beach. At night, it turns into party central.Advertisement
I headed to Dalt Villa, Ibiza's medieval old town that sits above the modern city.
While civilization on Ibiza dates back to the Phoenicians in 654 B.C.E., the old town, walls, and church that exist today were built around the 1500s.Advertisement
At the time, the island was suffering frequent attacks from Ottoman pirates. The solution was to build the walls and towers that still surround Dalt Villa.
There's nothing quite like walking through winding, medieval streets to take you back in time. While it's nowhere near as impressive as Dubrovnik, Croatia, it's very interesting.Advertisement
There are a few shops, a museum, and restaurants in Dalt Villa, but it seemed to be a mostly sleepy residential area.
The main attraction in Dalt Villa is the medieval-era Cathedral of Our Lady of the Snows.Advertisement
After my long afternoon walk, I decided to grab some tapas. I was in Spain, after all. In Ibiza Town, I found Can Terra, an absolute gem of a tapas bar. The wine was cheap and there was a wide variety of delicious tapas served on fresh cuts of bread and priced the same, whether it was steak or tuna tartare.
That night I headed to Ushuaïa, one of the newest and biggest super clubs on the island. Along the way I met a few Spaniards who introduced me to the concept of botellón, where everyone sits on the beach and drinks a bottle before going into the club.Advertisement
Botellón is a necessity in Ibiza. I went to see Norwegian star DJ Kygo. The tickets were $60 a piece and a beer runs about $14 or more. But, you are paying for production value. The sound system was incredible and the stage rivaled many big-name festivals I've been to.
For my last day in Ibiza, I decided to step it up a notch. I headed to Nobu Hotel Ibiza Bay, a spin-off from actor Robert De Niro and Japanese celebrity chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa's swanky fusion restaurant chain Nobu, which has long been known as a haunt for Wall Street bigshots and celebs alike.Advertisement
Nobu seemed like the place to vacation the way the rich and famous do in Ibiza. As soon as I entered the hotel, I was struck by the openness of the lobby, which drew a refreshing breeze from the sea.
While most Nobu restaurants and hotels seem to try to emulate the original's sleek, black-and-gold downtown New York-aesthetic, Ibiza Bay is brighter and beachy.Advertisement
The chill aesthetic is embodied in the furniture, like the variety of chairs that hang like hammocks from the ceiling.
After having a look around, I went to check in. At 12:30 p.m., it was a bit early to get into my room, but they took my bags and settled the details in the meantime.Advertisement
As I waited, a staffer rushed over to offer me lemon or orange water. When it comes to making you feel like a V.I.P., it's the service that makes the difference.
After dropping my bags, I stopped at Celicioso, one of the hotel's four restaurants, for an espresso. A hit at its locations in Madrid and elsewhere in Spain, Celicioso is the spot for the gluten-free among us, offering a wide range of gluten-free sandwiches, pastas, and salads for $13 to $20.Advertisement
I headed out to the main pool to relax. At 152 rooms, the hotel is relatively small, which gives it the vibe of a secluded escape. I was told the hotel was fully booked, but the majority of the sun beds were unoccupied on the day I was there.
I grabbed a bed and set up shop. The hotel provides fluffy towels, umbrellas, pillows, and a few luxury magazines to thumb through.Advertisement
The pool makes a great place to relax. For those not staying at the hotel, sun beds are available to rent for the day.
The hotel itself is not an architectural marvel on the outside by any means, but the benefit of the design is that the vast majority of the rooms have a view of the sea.Advertisement
The view looking out towards the main pool is eye-catching, so long as you don't mind the megayachts and schooners moored in the water.
The beach in front of the hotel leaves a lot to be desired. On the day I was there, the beach — which is public, so not Nobu's fault — was covered in seaweed.Advertisement
But, the truth is, the hotel's star is its pool scene. The second pool, which caters to families, was busy on the day I stayed.
With my room not ready for another hour or so, I headed over to Chambao, Nobu's spin on a chiringuito, or beach restaurant.Advertisement
The menu at Chambao tends towards fresh Mediterranean seafood, Valencian paella, and typical tourist beach snacks like burgers and pizza. To start, the waiter brought over three types of bread.
I ordered a round of midday drinks because vacation, YOLO, etc. The cocktails, which can also be ordered from the pool deck, included spins on classics like margaritas, Moscow Mules, and and mojitos.Advertisement
For starters, I opted to try the "fisherman style" clams ($28) and, at the waiter's suggestion, the tender artichoke hearts ($29).
For the main, I tried the "blind" paella ($30 per person for two), which featured mussels, clams, shrimp, and scallops. There were more adventurous versions available, but I figured it best to try the classic first.Advertisement
I wasn't going to have dessert, but then they told me about the key lime pie. I never turn down key lime pie.
After lunch, it was finally time to head to my room. The hotel hasn't totally abandoned the gold touches. But in contrast to a place like, say, Trump Tower, it is added sparingly and tastefully.Advertisement
Rooms at the hotel start at around $350 a night and can go up to a few thousand a night and fluctuate based on season and availability. I had a Deluxe Junior Suite with Sea View, which runs for a little over a $1,000,
It has a king bed with plush bedding that feels like a cloud. But, I'll be honest, I didn't sleep more than an hour in this bed as I was out at the clubs until 6 a.m. I wish I did ...Advertisement
The room includes a tablet to control everything in the room as well as order room service, contact staff, and read about services at the hotel.
The TV had a nice range of English and Spanish channels, including international stalwarts like CNN. For me, the key feature was the ability to stream your computer to the TV so I could keep binge-watching Netflix.Advertisement
There was also a portable Bluetooth speaker, perfect for jamming out on the terrace, which had two sunbeds and a second seating area. I was told that the pool beds are never full because so many hotel guests simply hang out on their terraces. I could see why.
After getting situated in my room, I headed to Nobu's on-site boutique, which features clothing, art, products, and accessories from local Ibizan and Spanish designers.Advertisement
I usually stick to $15 haircuts at a barbershop, but I imagine the more pampered among us will be delighted that Nobu has an on-site John Frieda hair salon and nail bar.
The one restaurant at the hotel I didn't get to try was Peyote, which serves up Mexican-Mediterranean fusion cuisine. But I did enjoy the vertical garden wall outsideAdvertisement
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