Read Caption
Rentable chaises (shown here at Experimental Beach club) make beach-going a snap. (Photograph by Henley Vazquez)

The Quieter Side of Ibiza

The Spanish do it. The French, the Brits, and the Italians are all doing it. But Americans? We haven’t yet joined the ranks of Ibiza lovers.

Last month, I gave in to a nagging feeling that I was missing something and packed up my family for a week of sun and sea on Spain’s “white island.” What I discovered was a slice of heaven that I can see us returning to summer after summer.

I’ve visited nearby Mallorca, twice, falling in love with its Tuscan-esque blend of ancient hilltop villages, sprawling vineyards, and Mediterranean views. But I had always written off Ibiza, the land of all-night raves, as something that wasn’t for me. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Sure, there’s a club scene, and if dancing until dawn is your vacation goal, you can do it here with some of the world’s best DJs. But that accounts for only a small percentage of Ibiza’s appeal — and visitors — while the rest of this gorgeous island offers the polar opposite.

Imagine that St. Barth’s and Tulum had a love child, a beautiful, free-spirited daughter with a gentle, hippie soul and a taste for the good life, and you’d be getting close to the true Ibiza.

Homing in on Your Home Base

Enjoying Ibiza doesn’t take much planning. With a rental car and a home base, you can hit a different pristine beach each day, feasting in tiny chiringuitos along the way. It’s hard to do Ibiza wrong, so long as you avoid the busier, more developed hubs of Ibiza Town and San Antonio (assuming you’re out for a quieter trip), you’ll be good to go.

But finding the right accommodations is key. Though there are charming hotels on the island, the best way to stay is definitely a house rental, and the company to use is Deliciously Sorted Ibiza. Owned by in-the-know Brit Serena Cook, the company reps a range of houses from the affordable family home we rented to drop-dead estates that draw celebrity clientele.

Their concierge service stocked our kitchen, booked our restaurants, got us a discount on a rental car (handing us the keys in the airport — no waiting in line), and arranged the world’s best babysitter. I’ve traveled a lot with my children, and this might have been the easiest arrival in our history. All for less than we would have spent on a hotel.

Eating ‘Til You Drop

Armed with a list of recommendations from a friend and Ibiza regular, I planned our days around food and fun. Our favorite lunch spots were Es Torrent, where we lit into the best John Dory I’ve ever tasted, and Fish Shack, a no-address, no-telephone place with plastic tables and chairs on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. Grilled prawns and cold beers have never tasted better.

In the evenings, we usually cooked at home while the kids enjoyed their regular evening skinny dip (another advantage to booking a house instead of a hotel), but there were a few restaurants that tempted even lazy me beyond our garden.

No one should miss Balafia, set in a pretty grove of lemon trees. There’s no menu, just the freshest tomato salad and most savory grilled meats you could want. Another day we hit Cigale, owned by a charming Italian couple. Not only was the food delicious, but there was a small playground for children to enjoy while parents sipped wine and relaxed. On Ibiza, as in most of Spain, kids are not only tolerated but welcomed everywhere.

Experiencing the Beach Life

Unlike Mallorca, where many beaches are difficult to reach if you don’t have access to a boat, Ibiza offers an endless selection of sandy escapes where you can while away the day. Most also have chaise lounges available to rent for the day — a real boon to parents who don’t want to cart beach umbrellas everywhere they go.

Cala Carbo and Cala Xuclar were two of our favorite beaches, both with delicious, informal beach restaurants and wonderful swimming. (Tip: many of these smaller calas are rocky, so bring water shoes.)

For sandy, Caribbean-style beaches, head to Salinas or jump the ferry to Formentera island, Ibiza’s chill little sister. At both, the calm, shallow water is ideal for even the smallest tots, and although the beaches are busy, the kids loved the vendors who walked the beach chopping up fresh pineapple and coconut.

Learning Lessons on the Go

Next time I visit Ibiza, I’ll skip the famous Hippie Market. It was crowded, touristy, and uninspiring.

Instead, I’ll also be sure to explore Dalt Vila, the Ibiza Old Town, with its historic castle and cathedral.

And who knows — maybe I’ll even hit one of those clubs. Now that I’ve got a good babysitter to call and a great beach to serve as a next-day recovery zone, it might be time to give it a shot.

New York-based travel writer Henley Vazquez has lived on three continents, but she’s happiest when she’s hitting the road with her husband and two kids. Follow her story on Twitter @HenleyVQ