The World, Our Heritage
Panoramic view of the city of Ibiza with its harbour and fortress. Fernando Madariaga/©ICEX
Author: Anke van Wicjk/©ICEX
Publication Date: 21 Feb 2011
Ibiza (Eivissa, in the local language) and tiny adjacent Formentera, together with the larger islands of Majorca and Menorca, constitute the Balearic Islands, located to the east of the Iberian Peninsula. Ibiza is in fact the southwesternmost island, less than 80 km (50 mi) removed from the mainland. This probably explains the early settlement of Phoenicians, who laid the first stone of the town of Ibiza (8th century BC), strategically located on a promontory close to the splendid natural harbor. The necropolis of Puig d’es Molins, with 3,500 underground burial chambers, attests to the relevance of their settlement.
ItinerariesIbiza - Santa Getrudis - San Mateo - Sa Caleta - Ibiza
Route typeRural / Urban
Length120 km / 74.5 mi
Getting thereIbiza Airport
Natural heritageSes Salines of Ibiza and Formentera Natural Park
Artistic heritageIbiza Cathedral Ibiza Old City
Throughout its history, the island has remained a much sought-after point of reference on navigation and trading routes. Thanks to trade and agriculture it thrived under the Carthaginians, was subsequently conquered by Romans, suffered the invasion of Vandals and Byzantines, was colonized by the Arabs, and was finally reconquered in 1235 by Jaime I (1208-1276).
Under Felipe II (1527-1598) in the 16th century the confines of the inner city were enlarged and fully refortified. Remains of all these historic periods are still to varying degrees extant in and around the city. It seems only logical that, in 1999, Ibiza was selected for inclusion on the list of World Heritage List, for both its monumental and natural heritage sites. So what could be better than taking a selective tour and seeing for ourselves how past and present have melted together superbly?
The best place to start is at the foot of the Portal de Ses Taules, the spectacular main entrance to the historic walled-in compound, or Dalt Vila (upper town). From here just stroll along the magnificent Renaissance wall and its imposing pentagonal bastions (all named after saints) which invariably offer breathtaking views, and then up and down its sinewy streets with little shops and restaurants.
Mandatory places to see include: the cannon-lined Santa Lucia bastion, the Dominican Convent which now houses Ibiza's municipal government; the cathedral and nearby Curia; the Madina Yabisha Museum, which focuses on the island's Arab period and still holds part of the early walls; the Archaeological Museum; the Es Soto Fosc tunnel with its provision casemates; the Bastion of St. Bernard, from where you can view the fashionable yacht harbor of Botafoch; and the impressive Castle and Almudaina at the town's summit.
'Ad Libitum', the Spirit of Freedom
Indeed Ibiza's worldwide fame, as said, has much to do with its unfettered entertainment. It all started in the 1960s when a number of rather eclectic groups of jetsetters, artists and hippies from Europe and the US flocked to the island. "They put Ibiza on the map," says Karen Klapp, a longtime Ibiza resident and tour guide.
What they all had in common was the need to at least temporarily live ad libitum, as they pleased. "Live and let live" is the reigning philosophy and indeed, as Joan Serra Mayans, Ibiza's councilor for business development and labor, points out, "the island welcomes everyone, but is a haven of discretion."
Nobody sees you unless you want to be seen. This is of course the spirit which, in 1971, inspired the late Yugoslavian princess and indefatigable Ibiza promoter, Smilja Mihailovitch (1919-1994), to launch her Adlib fashion line which seems to stem naturally from Ibiza's sun-drenched light, whitewashed architecture and traditional costumes, but also from the desire to break away from norms.
While these quarters team with the most varied small restaurants serving local and international cuisine, there is one you shouldn't miss. The lively Bar San Juan (on Guillem de Montgri Street) is a casa de comidas, or eatery. It offers simple but superb genuine Ibiza fare, such as fried octopus with potatoes and peppers, braised rabbit, and arroz de matanza, a brothy rice with pork and chicken.
But leave some space for dessert and try their greixonera (a delicious oven-baked pudding made of bread, eggs, milk, cinnamon and grated lemon peel). "For more than 60 years we have stayed true to my grandmother's recipes," emphasizes young Carlos Marin, who is the third generation to successfully run this charming place. And being a casa de comidas, any spare seat will be occupied if needed.
Around and About the Pitiusas
Because of its insularity and former relative squalor, Ibiza features a greatly subsistence-oriented traditional gastronomy. The island had to make the best out of what was available at any time of the year. On the other hand, this implied the need for preservation, and Ibiza features a number of succulent typical sausages.
Although still existent, home manufacturing is waning, but there is one company which still makes the original products following the traditional matanza (pig slaughter) concepts. On the way to Santa Gertrudis, you will find the restaurant Can Caus which, under the brand name Companatge, produces butifarrón negro (black sausage) and blanco (white sausage with a hint of cinnamon), vientre relleno (stuffed pig stomach, traditionally reserved for special occasions) and the popular sobrasada (the savory dark orange spiced sausage which is air-cured and made with pimentón, a type of paprika from Spain).
It was in the 1980s when Juan Luis Ferrer, Can Caus's owner, committed himself to the recovery of these traditional delicacies, mostly using local products which, of course, are seasonally dictated. He also produces the surprisingly fresh and very flavorful typical goat and sheep milk cheese (often with a spicy pimentón covered rind).
While Can Caus caters to all of the island and beyond, the best place to savor their products is right at the contiguous Ibiza-style restaurant, where you should not miss the sofrito payés, a succulent peasant dish with chicken, lamb, butifarrón negro, sobrasada and potatoes.
Out here it will become obvious that the island is much more than its glamorous capital. In fact, as soon as you drive out into the countryside you are acutely reminded of why the Greek (who briefly used the island as a stopover) nicknamed Ibiza and Formentera the Pitiusas, or pine-covered islands.
From here it is about a half hour drive through the typical (now greatly protected) rural landscape of knotty old fig trees, carob trees and of course vineyards, to the village of San Mateo where we find Sa Cova. On his small 12 ha (30 acre) estate, Juan Bonet, recently joined by his daughter and son-in-law, produces PGI Vino de la Tierra de Ibiza; in addition to the traditional Malvasía, Muscatel and Monastrell, he now also grows Syrah, Tempranillo and Merlot. "Wine always finds its own equilibrium," says Bonet. In these privileged surroundings, they also organize visits and tastings.
And then there are of course the stunning UNESCO protected salinas (saltworks) and Posidonia meadows (Biosphere Reserve). The latter are large expanses of marine flowering plants (not algae!) constituting an extraordinary underwater eco-system which stabilizes the sea floor, acting as a haven for numerous fish species which often reproduce here.
It greatly contributes to biodiversity, is a relevant source of oxygen, and finally, washed ashore and dried out (especially its fruit, the "olive of the sea"), it helps prevent beach erosion.
According to José María Fernández, the local technical director of Salinera Española, which operates the salinas, in Ibiza the exploitation of salt was first documented in the 6th century BC by the Carthaginians, but the Phoenicians may have exploited them earlier.
In fact, the remains of the island's first Phoenician establishment is right nearby in Sa Caleta, close to a picturesque small bay, lined with rather unusual old wooden fishermen's shacks. Subsequent dwellers kept exploitation going with certain ups and downs, and over time technical improvements were introduced which have allowed expansion and export. Today the company is producing some 40,000 tons (89,600,000 lb) of excellent quality salt.
Now before leaving the island, treat yourself to lunch or dinner at Ca'n Alfredo, a local institution. This intimate restaurant on downtown Vara del Rey Street has remained in the Riera family since 1941 and is now run by Joan and his wife Catalina, who took over for his mother in the kitchen.
Personable Joan knows what his patrons expect: exquisite no-frills regional cuisine based on top-quality local products. "It's the traditional cuisine from Ibiza that we have prepared always, it is the cuisine we cherish and defend," says Joan. His menu includes calamares a la Ibicenca (tender pieces of squid in a sauce of green peppers, tomato, onion and bay leaf), bullit de peix (various fish cooked together with seasonal vegetables, such as green beans or artichokes, and served in a separate skillet; it comes with rice prepared with the stock and accompanied by a delicate saffron alioli, a sauce made with extra virgin olive oil and garlic) and borrida de ratjada (ray braised in a flavorful sauce of crushed almonds, fried breadcrumbs and hardboiled egg).
He also serves an ample choice of succulent rice dishes, and of course also typical desserts such as flaó (a cheesecake with fresh goats’ cheese from Can Caus, spearmint and eggs), greixonera, and the almond-based crema de nadal, a Christmas specialty. What a treat!
As small as it is, what makes the island of Ibiza unique and your trip memorable is not only its monumental and natural riches, but also its capacity to successfully blend in the old and the new, culture and entertainment, locals and visitors, glamour and nature, freedom and respect.
Anke van Wijck Adán is a sociologist and has a Master's degree in gastronomy from Boston University. Her articles have appeared in The Boston Globe.