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Ibiza and the Balearic Islands Travel Guide

I Was Totally Wrong About This Notorious Island

This notorious party island is gloriously chill in the off-season.

Sometimes a reputation precedes a destination, and it’s an unfair assessment. For instance, I would’ve never chosen to travel to Ibiza—I thought it was a drug-soaked playground for hotties dancing on the beach under a full moon in thousand-dollar bikinis. But upon being invited to go during the off-season, I found that it was exactly my speed: full of history, swimming, yoga, and sensory experiences. I experienced the cachet of staying on a famously wild and bohemian island without having to be… wild and bohemian.

First, I loved an afternoon of “wild swimming” that made me feel like I was an aquatic Indiana Jones-meets-Jacques Cousteau. The footprint of the TRS Ibiza Hotel in Sant Antoni de Portmany means it is the last hotel on the spur of land before you reach the cove of Cala Gració, and I entered the warm water surrounded by high cliffs telling myself I’d only swim out to the buoys. Upon reaching them, I saw the vista point open up and realized there was a second hidden beach around the corner to swim to–a thrilling moment of discovery. I learned later the second cove was Cala Gracioneta and that it’s possible to reach it via a footpath that winds along the cliffs—treacherous enough in flip-flops that a friend did a U-turn, but that isn’t immediately apparent.

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On the other side of the island, at the Bless Hotel in Es Canar, I rose early one morning to walk along Cala Nova beach and saw a poster for a yoga class that would start in an hour on the patio of Aiyanna Ibiza restaurant. Impulsively, I went to my hotel room, changed into workout gear, and returned for the class. It was a wonderful yoga practice within the sight and sound of the sea, and afterward, we strangers sat down to eat the included breakfast together. We hailed from different countries (England, Germany, Venezuela, Portugal, U.S.), along with our Spanish-born instructor Satya, the founder of Conscious Being Retreats. Coming together through the fortifying experience of sharing food and yoga was one of the highlights of the trip.

For those who love history like me, visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site of Dalt Vila yields panoramic views of the harbor, as well as the pleasure of walking up narrow cobblestone lanes as you climb to the walled fortress founded by the Phoenicians. Our guide loved schooling us on the Phoenicians, the ancient people who lived in what is now modern Lebanon and coastal Syria. The fort itself is an atmospheric 16th-century stone bastion. Along the way, you’ll find charming shops of the Old Town embedded in its walls, such as Sal de Ibiza, which sells products made from salt harvested from a nature preserve. You can also visit the nearby Puig des Molins museum and necropolis dating from the end of the 7th century B.C.E. (there are estimated to be 3,000 Punic graves dug out of the rock, of which 340 are visible from the exterior).

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Ibiza would not be an island without its beautiful turquoise waters, and a boat ride with TakeOff Ibiza presented another stunning experience. We ventured into sea caves and motored along the shore where centuries-old fishing shacks cluster. Dark clumps beneath the water’s surface are Posidonia oceanica, a protected species of seagrass known as the “lungs of the Mediterranean” because they produce so much oxygen—they also help make the water aqua. These seagrass meadows are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with one colony thought to be 100 million years old. The lowering of anchors and their dragging chains can damage the seagrass, which takes centuries to grow back—and you can get a stiff fine if you let your feet touch it while swimming. After checking to ensure we wouldn’t be swimming with jellyfish, our guide encouraged us to try out water toys like sea bobs (a James Bond-ish handheld motor that zips you around at 15 mph) and a sea bike (just like what it sounds like). I donned goggles to commune with the beautiful fish, and on the way back to the harbor, we passed the mystical, legendarily-magnetic island Es Vedrà that appears on so many postcards, looming against the waning light of the day.

The last experience that won my heart was the water circuit at the Bless Hotel’s Magness Soulful Spa. I’d never before encountered this relaxation system that has you progressing, station by station, from an ice-cold plunge to a Turkish hammam to a sauna and then to the pool, where different locations have jets that focus on specific parts of your body and several curved “waterfalls” cascade water on your head.

A soprano dressed in a dramatic floor-length red dress regaled us with opera standards as I sipped champagne and contemplated the courage required for the cold plunge. The entire process takes an hour and is reputed to do wonders for your lymphatic system, boosting immunity. I adored this luxurious restoration. I repeated the experience at the TRS Hotel’s Zentropia Spa, where everything was so orchestrated to surprise one’s skin that when it actually began raining, I literally thought for a few moments that it was engineered: “Such realism!”

With all this sensual and intellectual stimulation, I didn’t for a second miss the once-attractive idea of dancing all night long with a few hundred friends. The closest I got was a rooftop bar sunset, where a DJ spun a few beats while his colleague mixed cocktails that the setting sun turned to glowing amber. I watched the horizon feeling in touch with the sea, the land, and the sky. No pill needed! Ahhhhhh.

INSIDER TIPIbiza essentially closes down for the winter. Some hotels even shutter themselves. But October through November and March through June are times when waters are warm enough to swim, but you’re not elbow-to-elbow with hordes of people.