When Pacha, Ibiza’s super-club renowned for its decadent dance parties, held its opening night for the new season last month, thousands of ravers queued to pay homage to the latest superstar DJ and partied till dawn.
But as someone who’s been to Ibiza a dozen times, I’m witnessing how shifting sands are transforming this Balearic island — and the biggest change is in San Antonio, the bay town on the north-west.
For decades, its notorious West End strip was the epicentre of Club 18-30 tours, raucous Brits Abroad behaviour and raunchy stag dos. Families and anyone who wanted a semblance of peace were advised to steer well clear of San An.
Today, it’s a different story. The strip is still home to some tacky bars, and Linekers bar is a Three Lions institution. But a 3am curfew has curbed booze tourism and smoking has been banned on many of the most popular beaches.
Now, holidaymakers are flocking to this natural inlet’s glorious scenery, upscale wellness offerings and activities that don’t involve a fishbowl of alcohol. Whisper it, but San Antonio has become aspirational.
Bohemian splendour: During a trip to San Antonio, Sian Boyle checks into OKU where ‘the beautiful people are content to laze around its adults-only pool’ (pictured)
One of the new places to be is OKU, a swanky hillside hideaway on the fringes of San An, whose holistic wellness programme includes gong baths, reiki sessions and crystal healings.
Here, the beautiful people are content to laze around its adults-only pool — one of the largest in Ibiza — and, like them, I’m happy to skip the madness of the clubbing scene and soak up the bohemian splendour here instead.
At OKU’s restaurant, we’re treated to Japanese fusion gastronomy of wasabi oysters, chicken tsukune and miso black cod. Evidently, this is no Club 18-30 holiday.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities in San Antonio, and Toby Clarke, a Briton who’s been organising tours here since 2010, says he’s seen a huge rise in demand in the past couple of years. ‘There’s so much more on the island than partying,’ he says, explaining how the pandemic changed the way travellers want to explore.
Tour guide Toby Clarke tells Sian that tourists have been ‘blown away’ by the beauty of Ibizan beaches such as Cala Saladeta (above)
Sian (not pictured) says that OKU’s holistic wellness programme includes gong baths, reiki sessions and crystal healings
Even the stag dos want a piece of the new action. ‘We did a walk last week for 13 guys who were staying right in the middle of San Antonio centre’, says Toby. ‘They all had hangovers, but we took them away for a walk to Punta Galera [nature reserve] on the coastline.
‘Within 15 minutes, you’re in a completely different zone; there are caves, clifftops and clear water. They saw the beaches of Cala Saladeta and Platja de Sa Galera, and were blown away by all this beauty so close to their hotel.’
Toby’s Ibiza Outdoors offers e-bike tours, not only on trails departing from San Antonio through the mountains of the western coast, but also along rugged and remote northern Ibiza.
I’m sceptical about managing a mountain bike trail, but the motorised bicycles require only the most basic fitness level to traverse terrain that would otherwise require Herculean stamina.
Sian goes mountain biking on a trail that takes her to Benirras beach and cove, pictured
Over 12 miles, my group of 40, 50 and 60-somethings pedal serenely from San Juan, a tiny village in the centre of the island, before pausing on the north coast to take in the views.
We loop back round towards Benirras beach and cove, but not before stopping to forage and taste the sweet overhanging loquat fruit.
The ride is soundtracked by birdsong and whizzing on the chalky dirt roads, through pungent gusts of pine and rosemary from the fields beyond, it’s hard to believe I’m in one of the party capitals of the world.
Back in San Antonio, the relaxed far south of the bay is home to many of the smartest family hotels.
At the glamorous four-star INNSiDE, I’m told 90 per cent of guests are British families who come not for the pumping techno and vodka shots, but for water-skiing and sailing boat excursions.
Ninety per cent of guests at INNSiDE (pictured) are British families, Sian learns
The hotel’s panoramic rooftop, infinity pool and Bali beds provide the best place for sunset cocktails without heading into town, but for anyone who wants to cross the bay to the livelier end, there’s a water taxi running regularly from the secluded golden Cala Pinet beach at the hotel’s back door.
No Ibiza trip is complete without a pilgrimage to Cafe Mambo, the Balearic beats bar where people from all corners of the island gather on the rocky beach at dusk to watch the sun go down.
We round off our break with cocktails and a blazing sky of pink and orange, safe in the knowledge that no matter how much it changes, San Antonio will always lay claim to Ibiza’s best sunsets.
Rooms at OKU Ibiza start from €350 (approx. £311) per night, based on two people sharing a superior room on a B&B basis, okuhotels.com. Doubles B&B at INNSiDE Ibiza start from £113 per night (melia.com). EasyJet offers direct flights to Ibiza, round trip, departing from London Luton airport, from £57pp, easyjet.com.
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