Forget the clubs, Ibiza tops the list for a relaxing beach holiday

Ibiza may have suffered from an image problem in the past due to its many clubs, but these these are only a small part of the appeal of an island which, as Gail Bell discovers, boasts the third-best-sunset in the world

One of the sandy beaches which makes Portinatx so appealing for families and couples
Gail Bel

SO, you're going to Ibiza, are you? Away for all that clubbing and partying into the wee small hours, ha, ha ha...

And so went the general reaction to the shocking revelation that yes, my husband and I, were indeed off to Ibiza for a week, "at our age" which, let's just say, in DJ years, is more Mike Reid than Calvin Harris.

We had 'done' Majorca and Menorca and so the only Balearic island left undiscovered was the great party island which defies easy explanation – a vacuous place paradoxically filled with meaning; one both demonised and idolised for its DJs and intoxicating, flamboyant clubs.

All-too-often, the antics of those frequenting the hedonistic party spots tend to eclipse the island's outstanding beaches, and, so I'm told, "the third best sunset in the world". (I'm not sure to which league table our Thomson (TUI) guide was referring, but he assured us that the top two spots were taken by Hawaii and Bali respectively).

But was there more? And what is it that attracts thousands of families to Ibiza each year; young parents with young children who have no interest in carousing with the crowds who each night surge en masse to San Antonio's legendary Sunset Strip?

A promenade that stretches all the way around San Antonio Bay, from the far end of S'Arenal Beach, to tiny Calo des Moro cove to the north, the 'strip' provides stunning views from almost every point, each spot boasting its own unique 'sunset atmosphere' where you can sit at and marvel at the shifting sky in its dazzling last dance of the day.

It is from here that the majority of the island's sunset cruises set off, each promising to find the best location at sea for holidaymakers to capture on camera the massive orange sun as it packs up for the night.

For most of the time, I'm sure these promises hold true, but on the night we boarded a catamaran, complimentary sangria ("Spanish Champagne" joked the skipper) in hand to watch the multi-spangled spectacle, last-minute clouds scuttled across the horizon and hid the much vaunted third-best sunset in the world.

No question, we were gutted, but as a sort of unwanted consolation prize, someone spotted a swordfish swimming full pelt in the glittery darkness... although, as luck would have it, we missed that too.

The main show of the evening was actually a free one when we disembarked, and consisted of an unofficial parade of clubbers as they made their way along the strip in glammed-up evening wear – mostly thong-bottomed beach bikinis with sparkle and heels added.

It is worth noting, though, that even when the sunsets don't show up, the aforementioned cruises are still worth a trip, even if just to see the spectacular, ancient rock formations which rise like an alien landscape out of the deep and are breathtaking in their own right. Apparently, in the not-too-distant past, they were the mystical go-to place for a spot of nude sunbathing by the island's long-standing hippy community.

Talking of which, the original and oldest hippy market, the Punta Arabí Hippy Market running each Wednesday in Es Canár in the north of the island, remains a huge pull for tourists on Ibiza for the first time.

Home to 500 craftspeople huddled under the shade of pine trees and makeshift canopies, the stallholders – not all, we suspected, genuine hippies – sell everything from hand-crafted leather goods, jewellery and art, to one-off fashion creations and hippy-style accessories embellished with obligatory feathers and beads.

The hilly old town in Ibiza town which offers superb views over the harbour

Ibiza has strong artistic roots stretching back to the early 60s when artisans, painters and designers flocked to the island to experience its atmosphere, light and ''freedom of expression', but, while shades of the psychedelic remain (you may even smell something suspiciously sweet in the air), the worst aspects of commercial tourism are also on show.

Be aware, not everything is the bargain you may expect (there are plenty of what look like Moroccan knock-off handbags and carved wooden ornaments found on every street corner in every tourist hotspot the world over) although it's still good for a wander – but not in the midday heat when you're better heading off to one of the island's superb beaches.

Some of the best of these can be found in Portinatx on the rocky northern coastline – the setting for the film South Pacific – where we were based for the week, staying in the TUI (Thomson) Sensimar (adults-only) Ibiza Beach Resort overlooking the bay.

Pretty and perky, Portinatx is infused with a modern beach resort feel and although you couldn't in any way describe it as an authentic Spanish village, it does have some charms, evident in the pine-covered hills and a winding walk to the highest lighthouse in the Balearics which boasts cliff drops straight out of National Geographic.

Clear, turquoise waters lapping on the shoreline are safe for swimming – if you don't mind sharing with the fish – and the bay is a favoured spot with snorkellers for obvious reasons.

While busy, its three beaches are never over-crowded and are only a stroll from a smattering of good restaurants, some of which even offer fine dining – Can Curreu is a good bet – and bars that live up to their names: Del Boy's and Vincent's come to mind.

At Cala d'Hort – spectacular, ancient rock formations rise like an alien landscape out of the deep and are breathtaking in their own right

But, as all-inclusive guests at the Sensimar Ibiza Beach, we dined mostly at either of the hotel's two excellent restaurants which served up a high standard of local and international cuisine with impeccable service to match.

This modern, sprawling complex has so much going on that you really do have to make a conscious effort to leave. There is a smorgasbord of activities – fairly typical of a Thomson (TUI) holiday these days – with personal favourites of yoga on the beach, outdoor table tennis and acquarobic classes (in one of two sizeable swimming pools) a healthy way to break up a lazy day by the pool.

When you want a longer distraction, make a point of visiting Ibiza town, some 30 minutes away by taxi (€35 one way) which was a highlight and always worth seeing for its hilly views across the harbour from the old town and excellent shopping – particularly good quality, artisan craft shops and on-trend boutiques.

Ibiza may not have quite so much on the ‘see and do’ list as some of its more cultural neighbours, but for a relaxing beach holiday, it reigns supreme.

So, if you too, a la Vengaboys, decide you're going to Ibiza, head to one of the many stunning coves and find your own spot to watch the sun go down. There are plenty to choose from, well out of earshot of that rowdy Café Mambo –which, by the way, is a total blast...

:: TUI flights to Ibiza depart Belfast international Airport from May to October next year. For details of Sensimar holidays visit

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