Le Tour de Ibiza Beach Bars
July 2021, holidays in the "Green Zone" according to the UK regulations of the time emerging from the 2020-2021 winter lockdown
Ibiza - popularly known as the "Emerald Isle'' because of its lush green topography, equally popularly known as the centre of enormous techno clubs and partying. Not necessarily the first place people think of when someone says "cycle-touring" but in early July 2021 the options were a bit limited. A mate and I had booked off the week of 3-10 July in advance, he had another baby coming late August so couldn't move the dates back, and the UK Government was taking a very cautious approach to adding Mediterranean countries to the fabled "Green List" of countries which don't result in mandatory quarantine upon return.
Our only options were Malta or the Balearics, before Malta turned around and said you needed to be double-vaccinated for 14 days to get in, which closed that door straight away (I was still awaiting my 2nd vaxx at the time). We'd already done a lap of Menorca on mountain-bikes a few years earlier, and I tend to think of Mallorca as the domain of people on expensive carbon bikes with silly designer cycling wear comparing strava segments with one another. Besides, I'd been to Ibiza three times before when I was much (much) younger and all three trips were pretty much totally dominated by nightlife - I'd always been told outside of the party scene it was a very beautiful island, and it felt almost as if the hands of the gods were directing middle-aged Steve to go and see that which young Steve almost certainly missed by sleeping through the daylight in favour of staying up all night. And with that, the "Tour de Ibiza Beach Bars" bicycle ride idea was conceived.
And all I can say is - what an absolute stunner! From the picture-postcard beaches to the quiet, meandering gravel roads through forest, Ibiza (with a side-trip to nearby Formentera) delivered a beauty of a Mediterranean cycling holiday. The trip was made all the more special by the fact that we didn't even know we were going there until just before - we hatched the plan one weekend, nailed flights on the Wednesday and then on the Saturday we were on our way. But that's travel in the modern world - if you see a gap, you've got to take it straight away. Planning for how things might be in a month's time won't work, as the Balearics were taken off the Green list and put back on to the Amber list a week after we got back. A week after that, they offered quarantine-free travel for double-vaccinated travellers returning from Amber countries, and a week after that cancelled it for France with a threat of more countries to come.
If you'd asked me at any point in the previous year where I thought my next Mediterranean cycling holiday would be, I would unlikely have put Ibiza in the "top 5". But something about the nature in Ibiza is a treasure to be among as it oscillates between forest green and sea blue, back and forth, all the way around. It's easy enough to avoid busy roads (not that it has many of those anyway) as our time was split between quiet tarmac, rarely used dirt-roads (where we would almost never see cars) and of course there had to be a couple of instances of routes we'd told ourselves were dirt roads but turned out to be more suitable for hikers!
Our trip started in Ibiza town, and followed a loose counter-clockwise route around the coast but with a bit of veering inland from time-to-time. Although there was not a lot in the way of big hills to deal with (we got up to about 300 metres a few times), Mediterranean coastline tends to be quite jagged so we still managed to fit in 3600 metres of elevation gain over the trip with regular short, sharp undulations peppering our route. The eastern coast is perhaps more developed than the others, but still with some beautiful beach spots like Cala Llonga, Cala Mastella and our eventual rest spot of Cala Boix at a simple BnB just back from the beach - cue Sea Bream and Monkfish for dinner.
Roads through the heartland of Ibiza then took us over to the most northern settlement of Portinax, before a stop at the beautiful Cala Xarraca before one of the ill-fated roads-that-wasn't-a-road - this particularly difficult stretch involved hiking with bikes for nearly an hour up a steep trail with no shade and the breeze obscured by the hillside, as both of us complained of dizzy spells as we ran out of water on the 33 degrees (92F) afternoon. Still, a cycling adventure wouldn't be what it is without some impromptu hike-a-bike. The reward was a long downhill to what many argue is the nicest beach on the island - Cala Benirras, immortalised in the film Kevin and Perry Go Large. As nice as Benirras was it didn't take the spot of top Ibiza beach for me - that instead went to Cala Saladeta which we visited the next day. Cala Saladeta was a little remote with no beach bar as such, but an enterprising migrant/local had spotted the obvious gap in consumer supplies and hiked over there each day with a cooler box full of ice and sufficient supplies to run his own Mojito bar out of it. We rewarded his noble and valiant efforts with a purchase.
Next stop was the infamous San Antonio, like a cross between Benidorm and a school disco or something. My guess is that 50% of all the covid problems coming out of the Balearics at the moment are probably coming out of San Antonio, as inebriated 20-something English, Spanish and Dutch were seemingly everywhere in dense hordes. Still, San Antonio was a good spot to base ourselves for a day to go out and explore the peninsula to the west with the delights of Playa de Comte and my 2nd favourite beach of Ibiza - Cala Escondida. Beers at the bar were a bit pricey, but we had 6 from the supermarket in a small travel cooler bag - a genius move in hindsight.
We then took another route through the middle of Ibiza for one final ascent back up to around the 300 metre mark, before gliding back down to Ibiza town to the port to jump on a ferry across to Formentera. The most popular beach on Formentera, Playa Ses Illetes, really took the cake - unbelievable water, nice sand, and a westerly aspect for the sunset. We parked ourselves there for an afternoon and evening until the sun dropped below the horizon, and rode to our Formentera guesthouse in the final 30 minutes of ambient light in between dusk and darkness. The next day we re-filled the travel cooler bag with half a dozen Alhambras and explored further afield in Formentera mainly more in the south west before riding back to the Ferry Terminal and back to Ibiza town for a final night in Playa d'en Bossa.
Ibiza - the unexpected trip that delivered so much. Because the nightlife reputation (most of which was still closed as of July 2021) dominates the image of Ibiza, it's easy not to look much further than that. But push past it and Ibiza really is a stunning Mediterranean island with plenty of quiet routes for cyclists under hot weather, chilled off by a regular supply of stunning beaches and ample beach bars. They might call it the Emerald Isle because it’s so green, but maybe because it’s a real gem.