The pandemic hit every tourism-focused economy hard, but few places felt the effects of Covid more starkly than Ibiza, an island that specialises in squeezing lots of hot and sweaty people into enclosed spaces.
Two years of closures and uncertainty took their toll – almost half of the island’s GDP comes from tourism and visitor spending before travel restrictions were lifted last year was a third of pre-pandemic levels.
So this year is huge. The island’s construction industry has gone into overdrive, taking advantage of the lull to prepare for what is shaping up to be a bumper season. I visited in mid May, just as the first opening parties were taking place but before the season proper.
Half way down Eivissa town’s Golden Mile – a strip where you won’t find any property worth less than seven figures – I met Jose Corraliza, the CEO of Island Hospitality, who is in the process of building Ibiza’s newest entertainment complex in the Ibiza Gran Hotel. When it’s finished, Club Chinois will span 3,000 sqm, with space for 1,000 people downstairs and another 185 on the terrace. With decor inspired by 1930s Asian cabaret, it promises “Velvet, sequins and reflections in the black silk of a hat.”
Right now it’s a building site: sprayed concrete pillars, dangling strip lights, MDF boards where the dance floor should be, not a sequin in sight. The official opening is only weeks away on 17 June but Corraliza seems unfazed, jovially pointing out where the bar will be, what the tiles will be made of, how, if you squint, you can just about see the shape of the stage where cabaret acts will swing and contort.
With coronavirus vanishing in the rearview mirror, the problem on the island now isn’t a lack of tourists but a shortage of workers, a situation made even worse by the amount of construction going on. Still, Corraliza is confident the club will open on time. Keen to show me some of the hospitality we can expect, he puts me in a car to another of his venues.
Beachouse (with one “h”) is what you probably imagine when you close your eyes and think of Ibiza: daybeds on the sand, a DJ playing chillout music, a non-stop procession of sangria and cava and cocktails, which, when combined in the correct quantities, create that perfect, hazy, lazy state of mind, a world without any sharp edges, just the endless pleasure of right now. With the mercury in the mid-20s and the beach virtually empty, it amazes me that more people don’t come to Ibiza at this time of year.
I lay in Beachouse for hours, watching planes glide into the nearby airport and eating flatbread and croquettes and, probably, lobster (there’s always lobster). God knows how much sangria I got through. I had tickets to see DJ Fat Tony open Glitterbox that night but by the time the sun came down I was already drifting into the kind of aggressive sleep that follows too much sunshine and alcohol.
I woke up in Mikasa, a cheerful little 16-bed vegan hotel in Eivissa with views over the harbour and the old town. After a fortifying shot of jet-black charcoal juice, followed by another fortifying shot of headache-yellow turmeric juice, I was back in the game.
Ibiza, of course, isn’t just about clubbing. Before the DJs arrived en masse in the 80s, it was already a destination for hippies and spiritualists and that legacy continues today, with almost as many yoga retreats on the island as there are superclubs.
The Mecca for Ibizan hippies is a giant, uninhabited rock off the south west coast called Es Vedra. This geological marvel, 400m high and shaped like the skeletal head and spine of some terrible sea creature, is said to possess energy of the kind that could probably sort your chakra right out, were you into that kind of thing.
My chakra already being perfectly aligned, I preferred to gaze wistfully at it from my private roof terrace at Petunia Ibiza. Miles away from anything, this sprawling collection of villas is a different world to the clubs and parties and sparklers-inbottles-of-vodka vibe of the Golden Mile.
Almost as striking as the views of Es Vedra is Petunia’s immaculate landscaping, with acre upon acre of meticulously manicured shrubbery. Perfect rows of spherical cacti that look like they belong in a Jacque Tati farce give way to swaying meadows of grass and lavender, which become an orchard filled with mangoes and oranges and lemons. Three full-time gardeners work around the clock to keep this impossible garden alive, although if you’d told me there were 20 of them I’d have believed you.
Petunia is among the most stunning resorts I’ve stayed in, a perfect blend of location and architecture, restorative through its sheer, laid-back charm and natural beauty. After a day reading on the roof – many of the suites come with outdoor showers, and upstairs daybeds – I arranged for a ride in Petunia’s boat to see Es Vedra up close.
Vast and sheer, it’s an impressive rock, alright. We made a loop of Es Vedra, stopped for a swim at an isolated cove only accessible by boat – of which we were the only one; again, why don’t more people come here at this time of year? – and then headed north up the coastline, taking in both billionaires’ party pads and tiny fishing huts hidden away on scraps of inaccessible sand.
Later that day I set off on foot to try to find one of the huts, which involved taking a leap of faith over what looked like a cliff edge onto a hidden dirt path that zigzagged at a dangerously steep angle down to a sun bleached wooden shack. Despite sounding like the opening scene of a horror movie, this was a highlight of the week – paddling in a deserted cove, sunbathing on hot wooden decking, getting stung by a jellyfish, quietly regarding my private slice of heaven (okay, I could have done without the jellyfish).
As evening finally approached, a man high on a rocky outcrop began to play the bongos, keeping up the act for a good hour, which I’m sure the retreating sun appreciated. There are decent restaurants dotted across Ibiza (Petunia has three, one Spanish, one Italian and one Japanese) but two meals from my intensive week of eating and drinking really stood out.
The first was at Finca La Plaza, a garden restaurant slap-bang in the middle of the island. Combining Spanish fine dining with a soupçon of international razzle-dazzle, it’s well worth a detour. Highlights include an irresistible red prawn carpaccio; a fine take on that most ubiquitous of dishes, black cod; and the most extravagant hot dog you’re likely to meet – a monstrous thing made of reshaped pulled pork slathered with stripes of condiments and sauces and reductions.
The other outstanding meal brings me to my final destination: Bless Hotel, all the way up on the north east coast. If Beachouse is ‘clubbing Ibiza’ and Petunia is ‘hippy Ibiza’, Bless is ‘indulgent Ibiza’. A palace fashioned in shades of white, it’s like the W Hotel with the volume turned up to 11. It has an infinity pool on the roof, from which you can swim to your own private four-poster ‘bedouin’ bed (available for a minimum spend, natch).
There’s an outdoor heated pool on the ground floor where music is pumped underwater so you don’t miss a beat while you’re cooling off. If you’re not ready to leave the water come lunchtime, you can dine at a partly submerged table. It’s all ridiculously polished, precision engineered to ensure you have a lovely time.
And it’s home to a properly remarkable restaurant, too. With a menu designed by Martín Berasategui – best known for his eponymous place in Lasarte-Oria, which has held three Michelin stars since 2001 – Etxeko is the epitome of fine dining wank, which I mean in the nicest possible way. The tasting menu (because of course it’s a tasting menu) is a “journey”. Courses are separated into brackets with names including “Freshness”, “The Meadow”, “The Land and Sea in Harmony”, and “The Surprise”.
It’s the kind of place where the waiter not only delivers the food but tells you exactly how to eat it; how many bites and in which order. I lap this stuff up. It’s one step down from someone spooning the food into your greedy little mouth, removing any possibility of user error. It would be absurd if it wasn’t so good.
“Liquid omelette” is a spoon-sized parcel containing a sort of ham consommé; there’s a wild mushroom jelly made to look like a truffle, surrounded by half a dozen other experiments on mushrooms resulting in various flavours and textures; the vinaigrette is applied to a prawn salad by two waiters working in unison with the flair and precision of synchronised swimmers.
It’s a chef’s playground, a menu filled with foam and things that look like liquids but aren’t liquids and reductions achieved through the kind of science that would have got you burned at the stake in the middle ages. I loved it – even if you’re not staying at Bless it’s worth the drive.
The secret to Ibiza’s success is that it can be everything to everyone. Want to flail your arms until 10am while standing under the slipstream of a jet-engine? It can do that. Want to wake at dawn and bongo at the morning sun? Sure thing! Want to be waited on hand and foot by staff at the absolute peak of the hospitality trade? Gotcha. Ibiza may have had a rough couple of years but it’s now ready to party harder than ever.
How to do it yourself
Here’s a schedule of events at Club Chinois; For more information on Beachouse go to their website; you can book Mikasa online; as well as Hotel Petunia. Bless Hotel rates start at £460 a night; to book at Finca La Plaza by visiting their website