My first trip to Ibiza started as a reluctant weekend away.
The undisputed king of party destinations, Ibiza has entertained A-listers, rock stars, supermodels and royalty for decades. Its legendary reputation leaves you wondering if there is much else to do besides smashing super-clubs and nursing hangovers beachside afterwards.
My Ibiza experience began when my fiancé agreed to go for a hen-do and things went pear shaped before the big day. Her ticket was non-refundable, so we booked a second and went together instead, a pre-wedding get away.
My father was an airline pilot, so I had seen more of the world before I was 20 than most people do in a lifetime. During this time, I’ve come to eschew tourist traps in favour of the edgy and the local. I don’t want to stand in long queues, paying over-the-odds for tourist traps and food that they only serve to tourists. Take me to the local haunts, the places where life really happens. I want to get the real vibe.
My expectations of Ibiza were sweaty night clubs serving bottles of water at €20 a pop and obnoxious stag parties. I was keen to find another side. Something more authentic and connected to the heart of the island. A quieter Ibiza that only the locals knew.
Our weekend was anything but quiet; it was also unlike anything I had imagined.
Arriving at the priority queue to board our flight, I started ribbing some young guy waiting on his own about being on a very lonely stag do. He riffed back with me and we passed the time till we were ready to board. They called us forward and we said goodbye.
A few minutes later, an awkward silence ensued when we were again queuing to get on the plane but had already said goodbye. I pointed out the uncomfortable reality and it was soon followed by another comment about how we will probably end up sitting together. No shit, it happened.
Two hours later and we touched down having talked non-stop about London life, visiting Ibiza and his plans for the upcoming weekend…something about a major party he’s hitting at "Auntie Ali's" house. Sounds fun, I think. I will be sitting next to a beach somewhere enjoying the Spanish scenery…I hope.
We arrived on land and parted ways, but not before making promises to meet again in London. I stepped out of the airport to see the ungodly queue for the taxis and immediately headed back in to the nearest car hire counter (pro tip: always hire a car when visiting Ibiza. Always. Just do it. Thank me later.).
We arrived at our hotel and crashed out on our first night. The next morning, we woke to the expected blue ocean and ventured poolside. We enjoyed a couple of hours of Spanish sunshine and then packed up and walked to Pura Vida. This is how I want to spend the weekend. Spanish for 'pure life', Pura Vida is a beach club / restaurant. This is the other side of Ibiza. Day-time Ibiza. It’s sangrias with a beach view (and all that goes with it in Spain). It’s the warm salted breeze. It’s lounge music piping through the speaker system.
An hour later and the phone buzzed. ‘What are you doing tonight?’, I read. It was our former travel companion. ‘Nothing’ was my answer. It was honest and it was a plan, not a confession.
‘Come to my "aunt’s" party. She says you are welcome.’ My fiancé and I read the last message and shrugged. We knew that our plans for serenity were about to change, but we also knew we had to go down this rabbit hole.
Night fell. We followed my GPS into Ibiza back country and onto dirt roads where I proceeded to destroy the hire car from the bottom up. Suddenly we appeared in another world, a very oversized and labyrinthine hilltop palace (modestly called a villa or 'finca' to the locals) with a private squash court, hammam, gym, outdoor pizza oven, a million guest rooms and a tree-lined infinity pool which tonight was lit up like the London eye on New Year’s Eve.
Attendants ushered us poolside for what I thought was the party; turns out it was just the warmup. We sipped mango martinis and hung out with a few local legends still rocking the party scene in their golden years—if Neverland exists, certainly it is here—and cracked jokes with a TV personality.
We were soon herded through a keyhole-shaped door, into a smoke-filled psychedelic tunnel that led to the back garden where the real party kicked off. Wonderland-style signs greeted us and pointed toward a custom-built, 15-foot four-poster bed, swirling clocks, and a 12-foot Cheshire Cat tail. Alice would be impressed.
Wandering into the house itself, I found a production line cocktail bar and a rainbow of Jell-O shots. I grabbed a vodka and OJ and found a dance floor which was a jungle of neon-glowing Slinky's suspended from the ceiling, walled off entirely by black velvet. We immersed ourselves in the vibrations of 70s mash-up and luminous swaying Slinky's. We danced for a while and then mingled some more with the locals out in the warm Ibiza air and the warm glow of coloured palm trees. Someone asked us how we got there. ‘We met this guy on a plane’, was our short story. ‘You are kidding me!’, she said. ‘I’ve been trying to get into this party for six months and they only told me they had a space open up last month.’
We became known as the ‘plane people’. In London, this would have been less than complimentary: the party crashers. Here, it was a badge of honour. We had found true Ibiza. Or as one party legend told me, ‘That is old school Ibiza. That’s how it used to be.’
I later learned that long before Ibiza was known for its super-clubs and overpriced water, it was known for something else entirely. In the days of the Greeks, it was a mythical place known for its healing properties. Essentially, it was where you were sent to die or sent to live again. It seems that not much has changed.
What we were experiencing was the real Ibiza. This Ibiza of serendipitous but meaningful connections. A place where community is celebrated. Where life is celebrated.
You go there to live. You go there to die. But you don’t just go there to exist.
'I can’t believe how happy everyone is here’ remarked my fiancé. It’s like a different world.' It’s true; the warmth, welcome and community was strangely foreign to us having come from a city where it takes years to amass friends. Our attendance at this party was a passport to a new community. In Ibiza, it seems that it all happens in a night.
We finally tracked down our plane friend who in a conversation with friends, had to refer sheepishly refer to "Auntie Ali" using air quotations to avoid curiously raised eyebrows. Ali, as it turned out, was absolutely stunning and thoroughly charming, and know where near old enough to carry the moniker without generous lashings of irony attached.
Many will go to Ibiza and only experience it as tourists. They will hit all the infamous clubs for likeable selfies and location tags. Or they will flash the cash at see-and-be-seen spots like the Blue Marlin. And then they will return without ever really knowing the Island.
If you are ready to experience true Ibiza, however, I encourage you to open to its magic, dive down the rabbit hole and find the Wonderland within. She will not disappoint.
PS: Before posting this article, "Auntie Ali" graciously offered to send us photos from the night. The stunning Can Basora was her personal muse and one of the early projects in her growing interior design and property development portfolio: Can Can Design. They are horribly under-publicised but managing numerous projects across the island. She also said the party couldn't have happened her pal 'Simeon Friend' and the creative geniuses at The Shop in Ibiza who deftly handled all production as well as the task of translating Ali's enormous vision into the mind-bending wonderland it became. *hats off*