Ibiza and the historic town of Eivissa

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Surprise yourself in the ancient fort town of Eivissa and discover what the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors and Catalans knew all along

William Cook, guardian.co.uk

Ibiza Town: the White Isle's best-kept secret. Photograph: Rene Mattes/Hemis/Corbis

Ibiza Town: the White Isle's best-kept secret. Photograph: Rene Mattes/Hemis/Corbis

When I first went to Ibiza, in 2002, a lot of my friends thought I must be mad. I was nearer 40 than 30, I didn’t have a clue about clubbing, and to top it all I was taking my son, who was only two years old. Was I planning to take him out on the town? Had I completely lost my mind?

When you book a holiday in Ibiza, these sorts of preconceptions are pretty common, but they’re largely misconceptions. In fact we never went near a nightclub, and we both had a brilliant time. We spent every morning on the beach, and during the afternoons, while my son was at the hotel’s kids’ club, I got my cultural fix going round the art galleries and archaeological museums. Because although Ibiza is best known as Spain’s hippest party destination, it’s also the site of one of its most historic cities, Eivissa, aka Ibiza Town. I’ve been back here several times since then, and it gets better every time.

Whether you’ve come here for the clubbing (like my trendy friends) or a lazy family holiday (like me), Eivissa’s cultural heritage usually comes as a complete surprise. Nobody seems to talk about the fortified town that rises to a dizzy peak on these sunbleached cliffs above the Med. I guess the locals are used to it, and most British tourists have been coming here for other things. However, 10 years ago, Eivissa became a Unesco world heritage site, and ever since then more and more travellers have been discovering its antiquities for themselves.

Ibiza’s ancient capital has an incredibly long and diverse past. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Moors all settled here before the Catalans took over in the 13th century.

Probably the best thing that ever happened to Eivissa was San Antonio. Since postwar charter flights turned Ibiza into a package holiday destination, this high-rise resort on the west coast has attracted most of Ibiza’s mass tourism, leaving Eivissa, on the east coast, relatively unspoilt and undisturbed. There are some bland modern buildings around the edge of town, but they’re fairly restrained and unobtrusive, and the old town is a joy. The seafront districts of La Marina and Sa Penya are welcoming and attractive, with some lively bars and cafes along the quay (the covered market is a great place to shop for fruit and veg). Yet the star of the show is Dalt Vila (the high town), which towers over the water behind a ring of immense walls.

Eivissa has several interesting galleries and museums, but the Dalt Vila is its best feature, and the walls are a military marvel. Built more than 400 years ago, they were never breached. It’s easy to see why. Most of what you see today was put up in the 16th century, but there are remnants of the medieval walls, and traces of Moorish and even Carthaginian fortifications, stretching back more than 2,000 years. These monolithic ramparts still feel impregnable, and the whitewashed citadel within still feels like a place apart.

The pinnacle of Dalt Vila is the 13th-century cathedral, built on the site of a Roman temple that later became a mosque. You’ll need plenty of puff to make the climb but it’s well worth the hike, and there are some nice places to stop off and refuel on the way. Despite its Unesco status, Dalt Vila is still quaint and quiet, a maze of winding alleys. It shuts down in the afternoon but it comes alive after dark. And best of all, the Almudaina Castle at the summit, which has been a hollow ruin for years, is now being converted into a five-star Parador. Ever since I first came here I always thought this clifftop palace would make a spectacular hotel under the right stewardship, and now at last it’s going to happen. It feels like a fitting metaphor for Eivissa, a city long forgotten by culture vultures, that’s finally returning to the premier league of historic sights.

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Category: Ibiza and Eivissa
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