By Lisa Botwright
What does Ibiza mean to you? A tacky playground for teenagers, to be avoided at all costs? A fond memory from your 20-something clubbing days? An over-priced sybaritic stopover for the super rich? A quasi-spiritual destination for well-meaning hippies? Or quite a nice, ordinary place for the family, providing you avoid the busy bits?
Or all of those things?
When I said, earlier this year, that I was going clubbing in Ibiza for my little brother’s 40th, oh how people laughed. “You’re really hanging on to your youth, aren’t you,” scoffed a colleague.
Like many, I did the whole non-stop party thing in the 90s and came back slightly ill, paler than when I left (no fake tan back then) and with lots of brilliant stories not to tell.
Fast forward several years and I return with two babies in tow, for a bargain family holiday in peaceful Northern Ibiza. It couldn’t be more different from the fast-paced epicurean south. We base ourselves in Portinatx, with its gentle sandy beaches, perfect for our curious toddlers and their first tentative steps into the sea. The mums drink gin and tonic in the evenings; the beleaguered dads push prams up and down the coastal path, willing tired babies to please sleep, now. How far away our clubbing days seem.
One grey day we hire a car. As we drive along narrow lanes, the sun comes out and we emerge into Benirrás, quite the most startlingly beguiling beach I have ever come across in Europe: not pretty, but rugged and full of atmosphere from the hills and the tumble-down fishing shacks. There’s a beach bar playing old-school Ibiza tunes and selling a slice of grown-up Ibiza ambience alongside the ice-creams and cocktails; enough to induce a bittersweet nostalgia for my past. “Oh, so you’re a graver,” says the grizzled barman, cuttingly implying a has-been 90s raver. “There are plenty of us out here.” While I try and work out if I’m offended, he tells me to wait until sunset – he thinks I’ll enjoy the surprise.
As afternoon gives way to evening, the beach begins to fill with locals who’ve finished work, and bleary-eyed clubbers who’ve just awoken from their siestas. The sky turns gloriously orange and the atmosphere becomes charged. It’s like hanging around for the band to come on at a festival, or taking your seats before curtain-up in the West End. I learn that a local ‘hippies’ visit the beach regularly to mark the sunset, and then I hear the rhythmic beating of the drums. This is the fabled spiritual Ibiza, and I’m hooked.
We return to the island many times with the children, and a few years later manage some child-free days to celebrate a special anniversary. Naturally we head for the extravagant south-east to spend time being utterly self-indulgent. We learn that it costs the equivalent of dinner for two to hire a sunbed in one of the trendy beach bars; and that to reserve a table demands an eye-watering three figure minimum spend. Happily, we also learn that you can really eke out an over-priced bottle of wine, and that we don’t feel too old to be there; not least because the teenagers wouldn’t be able to afford a lemonade, let alone a round of fishbowls and tequila chasers.
And now, a few more years later, I have the sensation that I’ve come full circle. The island’s economy is uniquely fuelled by its nightclubs – huge billboards advertising club nights and DJs frame the main road – and they spawn millions in globally distributed CDs, clothes and other memorabilia, not to mention the colossal ticket prices. We’re in Space, one of the big Ibiza brands, and a club I went to when it first opened. Now it’s closing down, after more than twenty years, and to some it’s the end of an era. As the headline DJ comes on at 3am, the crowds chant his name in rapture. Except for me. I’ve escaped to the roof garden, where I’m gulping for air and berating a security guard: “It’s far too packed… it’s dangerous. What if there were a fire?” He looks me up and down and shrugs.
Ibiza can be tacky and debauched. It can definitely be over-priced. But it’s also spiritual, beautiful and a great place for a family holiday. It’s by far my favourite place in Europe – I can’t shake the feeling that I’m at the epicentre of everything that’s cool when I get here. But maybe my friend had a point about the clubbing…