Before Ibiza became known as party central, visitors would come for its chilled-out, mystical vibe. Now the Spanish island’s New Age scene is having a resurgence. Text by Hadley Freeman; photographs by Gunnar Knechtel
There is nowhere I’ve felt happier than in Ibiza, and there is nowhere I’ve felt worse than in Ibiza. These two statements may seem contradictory, but in fact, they’re closely connected. Ibiza is my favorite place on the planet. For the past two decades, it’s been the only destination I’ve visited every year — except one. When the pandemic grounded me in London for 18 months, I missed my friends in New York City and my family in Paris. But what I really missed — missed with a physical ache — were evenings in Ibiza, when the light turns rose-pink and gold, the air fills with the chirp of cicadas, and you can actually feel your skin prickle with anticipation as you wonder what adventures the night will bring.
Like a lot of British people of my generation, I first went to Ibiza looking for fun — and boy, did I find it. It was the early 2000s, the era of the super-club and the superstar DJ. Carl Cox, Judgement, Pete Tong, Manumission: these were the gods of the island, talked about with the solemnity other cultures reserve for philosophers and heads of state. On one of my first summers in Ibiza, I went with a friend who was just starting his career as a DJ. The nights always seemed to end with him playing at someone’s private party in an over-the-top villa, or on the kind of yacht, I thought only existed in 1980s TV shows. Once I danced on a beach as the sun came up while my friend played Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” and I thought, Life does not get better than this.
But no matter how late the party went on, the morning always rolled around. Because I’ve had the most fun in Ibiza, I have also had the worst hangovers there. On my first morning back at work after that trip with my DJ friend, my skin was so gray, my eyes so hollow, that my boss asked if I’d suffered a recent bereavement.
Unlike me, this 220-square-mile dot off the coast of eastern Spain can party hard and still keep its looks. Known as La Isla Blanca (the white island), for the limewash used on the farmhouses, or possibly for the sea salt still harvested on Ses Salines Beach, much of Ibiza remains remarkably unspoiled. The third largest of the Balearic Islands, it’s an irresistible mix of big, bright beaches, tiny rocky coves, and evergreen hills and woodlands.
The Ibiza “scene” began in the 1960s when hippies were drawn by the destination’s unique confluence of “ley lines” — magnetic fields thought to convey spiritual energy. In the 70s, the island morphed into a gleefully hedonistic place, where parents danced all night at full-moon parties while their children slept peacefully in the parking lot. In the 80s and into the 90s, Ibiza was the epicenter of rave culture and the dance-music explosion that followed; by the 2000s it became Europe’s biggest party destination, attracting everyone from drunken teenagers to celebrities like Diddy and Leonardo DiCaprio, who would moor their megayachts out in the turquoise bays.
What comes next? Even before the pandemic, some of the best-loved clubs had shut. Ibiza’s notoriously high prices s (INR 8,003 is a standard nightclub entrance fee) have changed the clientele that vacations there, and the new visitors don’t necessarily want the same things those drunken European teenagers enjoyed a decade ago.
Then there is COVID. This summer, Ibiza’s clubs are said to be opening, but when I went last fall they were still closed, all businesses were subject to a 2 a.m. curfew (the equivalent of 9 p.m. anywhere else), and — most shockingly — dancing was banned. Ibiza without dancing? This would be like France without wine, and Britain without pubs. What is Ibiza without any fun? And what next for an island that has priced itself out of casual hedonism? I’d read back in 2019 that the thoughtful hippie culture the place was originally known for was making a resurgence, with a new generation of vegan restaurants, wellness retreats, and organic farms. Was this the next shift? Together with my usual Ibiza partner in crime, Emily, I got on a plane to find out.
On our first night, we went to the place where many say Ibiza’s party reputation began: Pike’s, a hotel as steeped in legend as the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles or Claridge’s in London. In 1983, when George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley of Wham needed a nonstop pool party for their “Club Tropicana” video, they headed to Pike’s, and that unmistakable tiled pool is still the focal point of the hotel — although contrary to what Michael promised in the lyrics, the drinks are definitely not free.
Ever since the raconteur and party animal Tony Pike opened the hotel in the 70s, Pike’s has epitomized Ibiza at its most louche: Freddie Mercury hosted 700 guests at his infamous 41st birthday there in 1987, and the place became known for parties that were a little racy, even by local standards. But by 2011, the hotel was looking pretty down at the heels. That’s when club impresarios Andy McKay and Dawn Hindle stepped in, bought the property, and carried out an extensive but sympathetic makeover. Today, Pike’s gleams like a jewel in the night, from Pamela’s, the shocking-pink bar and restaurant, to the kaleidoscopic loungers around the pool. The décor is so joyful that it feels like a celebration — even with everyone obediently sitting down.
“People aren’t coming to Ibiza to party so much anymore,” Hindle told me from her perch behind the bar. “Early evenings are for cocktails around the pool, and it’s become less about dancing, drugs, and DJs. Ibiza’s more about relaxing now, and the restaurant scene is exploding, especially in Santa Gertrudis.”
The next day Emily and I set off for this once-sleepy inland village, which is now the heart of a booming culinary scene. We had reservations at Wild Beets, a vegan restaurant that has become one of Ibiza’s hottest tables. We arrived at 12:30 p.m. — not even breakfast time, by what used to be local standards — to find Wild Beets full of bright-eyed, beautiful people drinking protein smoothies and eating Buddha bowls. Like a lot of his clients, the chef, Cliff Grubin, used to be a hedonist but has since swapped self-destruction for self-care, specializing first in juicing and eventually branching out into raw food.
Feeling a little too hungover to settle for a salad, I ordered a raw lasagna made with zucchini strips, almond ricotta, and cashew béchamel. Emily had a bowl that seemed to include every kind of vegan protein available; both were so good we fell uncharacteristically silent, and by the time we left the two of us were high on the feeling of good health.
Restaurants are the new clubs,” Serena Cook told me the next day. Few have had a closer view of how Ibiza has changed over the past two decades than Cook, who set up a concierge company, Deliciously Sorted, in 2002. She knows all too well how people’s expectations of the island have changed. Because the clubs were shut in the summers of 2020 and 2021, her clients were focused on hard-to-get lunch tables at new places like Casa Maca, El Silencio, and especially Jondal, the latest “it” restaurant, and a harbinger of what the Financial Times has called Ibiza’s new “gastro-fueled hedonism.”
Yet, as exciting and fun as Ibiza’s new places are, my favorite restaurants will always be the older places that serve traditional Spanish and Catalan food. Es Torrent is the home of the best paella I’ve ever had, and El Chiringuito feels less like a restaurant and more like the most elegant beach party in the world.
Once upon a time I would have had only drinks at El Chiringuito, but when we went there for lunch I ate a big plate of spaghetti with a luminous green pesto, and I felt two things I had never experienced on previous trips to Ibiza: healthy and full. “What’s even more striking is that people now want those lunch reservations at two p.m., instead of four p.m., which is how it used to be. But everyone’s going to bed at two a.m. these days,” Cook added.
Emily and I woke early again the next morning and headed out to Fincadelica, an enormous 300-year-old villa that exemplifies, more than any restaurant, how much Ibiza has changed. Owned by Shai Ben Ozair, Mati Rachminov, and Amit Segev, who described themselves to me as a “trio of global nomads,” Fincadelica is in the north of Ibiza, set on 20 acres dotted with olive and orange groves.
This is the most exclusive villa on the island, and it is ultra-luxurious, but not in a flashy way. Instead of an infinity pool, it has a pretty egg-shaped saltwater one. It is decorated with Ibizan antiques and modern pieces by Scandinavian designers — although with nine bedrooms, nine full-time staff members, a private cinema, an underground soundproofed party cave, and, in summer, INR 61,61,540-a-week price tag, this is definitely not your standard summer rental.
“Even before the pandemic, people were realizing that the ultimate luxury is privacy,” said Cook, of Deliciously Sorted. “In the COVID era, there has been a huge upsurge in people looking for large villas where they can stay with families and friends, and with private chefs, cinemas, and so on, so they don’t have to leave.”
Next to the house is an enchanting — and enormous — biodynamic vegetable garden. The Italian couple who tend it, Lorena Turrini and Davide Rizzi, walked me around the carrots and zucchini, explaining with infectious passion how each one corresponds to a planet, “so walking through the garden feels like walking through the cosmos.” We came to a yurt manned by a couple introduced to me as “Miriam and Essah, gatekeepers of the healing area,” who talked to me about the importance of ” Connecting with the earth in a INR 61,61,540-a-week villa: you can’t get more Ibiza 2020s than that.
Most of my favorite Ibizan hotels are converted farmhouses, or fincas, such as Es Cucons and La Granja Ibiza, both of which are lovely. But then Emily and I walked into Atzaró. If you ever find yourself in Ibiza and are feeling a little worse for wear from the night before, there are few better places to recover than on one of the massive daybeds at this agriturismo, which allows non-guests to book day passes to its extensive spa. Dotted with lily ponds and shaded by orange trees, Atzaró’s garden is honestly one of the most stunning places I have ever been. We drank freshly pressed juices and ate salads made from vegetables grown in the organic garden, and as dragonflies skipped over the hotel’s incredible Y-shaped lap pool, we dozed, as contented as lotus-eaters.
“The mid- to low-range hotels on the island were disappearing, and COVID accelerated that,” said Leane Lacase, Atzaró’s head of PR and marketing. “Now there’s a more luxe, high-end, spiritual feel. It’s returning to the sixties version of Ibiza, with an interest in authenticity and going back to nature. It’s luxurious, but not bling.”
The food at all three of the restaurants at Six Senses is superb, the list of activities inexhaustible, but the real star is the spa, which is hidden away down a spiral staircase, like the lair of a villain from a James Bond film.
In recent years, Atzaró has been swapping out the familiar signifiers of bohemian culture (“Everyone had a Buddha in 2004,” Lacase said with a laugh) and replacing them with traditional Ibizan crafts and natural materials. Greenery is everywhere, from the orange trees in the spa garden to the lush plants in all of the rooms. “Wellness isn’t just about treatments, but about feeling a connection with nature,” Lacase said.
The part of Ibiza I like best is the wild and rocky northern tip, which is dotted with little coves, instead of the expansive beaches of the south. So when, three years ago, I found out that a giant luxury hotel was being built on the hills above a pretty bay named Cala Xarraca, my heart sank. Great, a cookie-cutter mega-hotel squatting up there like a giant white elephant, I huffed.
Well, foresight was never my strong suit, because Six Senses Ibiza, which opened in summer 2021, is very much the opposite of that. For a start, it’s not white, but built from stone in shades of rust and tan, so it blends in with the hills. And it is very much an Ibizan hotel, built using local materials. With the de rigueur vegetable garden, it feels almost like an agriturismo on a grand scale.
In the evenings there are sunset ceremonies around the pool, in which a shaman blesses and waves incense around willing guests. You can choose ingredients from the garden, such as lavender, aloe vera, or almonds, to make into your own beauty products in the spa.
But given that this is a Six Senses resort, these little homespun touches are underpinned by eye-popping levels of luxury. My suite was about three times as big as my apartment, with idyllic views of the infinity pool, the private cove, and the sunsets that illuminated them each evening. The suite even came with its own sizable garden. In the mornings, I strolled through it with my almond-milk cappuccino, my eyes full of the sea, my feet bouncing happily on the grass.
The food at all three of the restaurants is superb, the list of activities (boat trips, yoga, boxing, etc.) inexhaustible, but the real star is the spa, which is hidden away down a spiral staircase, like the lair of a villain from a James Bond film. I started off with some of the “biohack” treatments, including a “cryofacial,” during which my face was blasted with cold air as if I were downhill skiing, and IV rehydration, in which vitamins were pumped through my body. I was skeptical, but I looked and felt so undeniably better afterward that I booked repeat sessions of both.
The most beneficial treatment, though, turned out to be a (relatively) traditional facial, which involved lush homemade potions, the ultra-natural (and high-end) brand Nottnuit, and a tuning fork being rung in my ear (“proven to assist DNA repair,” I was assured). Maybe it was the tuning fork, or the IV, or my guest room, which was utterly silent save for the sound of the sea and where I slept soundly for nine hours a night. But by the end of the trip, I felt better than I had in years.
“You look…good,” my husband said when I arrived back home. He was confused because he’s more used to welcoming back a broken wraith after my Ibiza trips. A couple of days later, Six Senses sent me the results of the “wellness test” I took at the end of my stay: perfect health and serotonin levels through the roof. Ibiza is still fun — but now, astonishingly, it’s good for you, too.
Where to Stay
Set on a lush estate on the northern end of the island, this nine-bedroom converted farmhouse sleeps 18 and is available for buyouts only. Guests have use of a movie theater and a soundproofed dance room. Meals are prepared by the house’s chef from produce grown on site. From INR 48,41,210 per week.
This sprawling property in San Antonio, on the island’s western side, is home to Ibiza’s longest pool and has a buzzy daytime vibe. The Japanese-inspired restaurant is also a standout. Doubles from INR 32,008
Tucked on the island’s rugged northern coast, the resort brand’s first Spanish outpost offers 116 rooms and suites, plus a lengthy menu of custom spa treatments and fitness and meditation classes, as well as “biohacking” therapies. The boutique, Agora, stocks ethically sourced souvenirs; guests who are planning a big night out can also rent designer evening wear. Doubles from INR 42,651
Where to Eat & Drink
This Ibiza institution at Pike’s hotel, where George Michael and Freddie Mercury once partied, is still one of the best places for people-watching. Sip on a Baby Jane and step back in time.
This happening spot near Ses Salines Beach serves burgers, sandwiches, tapas, and more — and the DJ set always keeps things lively. entrées INR 2,001– INR 9,602
Located on a quiet cove, this seafood spot makes the best paella on the island. . entrées INR 1,920– INR 15,923
Getting a table at this lunch-only restaurant on sandy Cala Jondal requires persistence. Once you’ve made it in, try the scorpion fish or stingray, either fried or grilled. Entrées INR 2,801– INR 13,203
This vegan spot has a dazzling breakfast menu of smoothies, juices, porridge bowls, and veggie toasts. Entrées INR 560 – INR 1,200
What to Do
This boutique in Ibiza Old Town has a party outfit for every taste, whether it’s a vintage jumpsuit or a sequined evening gown.
There’s no better place to recover from a late night than the garden of this inland agriturismo, which has a fantastic spa that’s open to non-guests. Day passes from INR 8,802.
Owner Serena Cook has played concierge and event planner to some of Ibiza’s starriest visitors.