Every now and then, I’ll combine English and Spanish words and come up with something that truly annoys my wife, who happens to be from Spain. These “Spanglish” concoctions are usually pretty cheesy, but I must say that I’m not the only one guilty of this. Spaniards themselves do it. For bungee jumping, for example, they’ve invented the word puenting combining the ing ending from English with the word “puente” (bridge) in Spanish to form a hybrid gerund. A new budget airline company, Vueling, uses the same format with the Spanish verb “volar” (to fly). You get the picture.
On our recent trip to Ibiza, I was excited to see plenty of the Spanish island’s beautiful beaches. Not just any beaches, though. I have a special affinity for the ‘calas’ or cove inlet type beaches that are so characteristic of the Mediterranean islands. In my eagerness to see the picturesque coves, I baptized one of these gerunds of my own, cal-ing, to describe the pursuit of hunting down the island’s best coves and hopping from one to another. In this article, I’ll touch on the highlights of this cal-ing experience and our four-day visit to this beautiful island.
The decision to visit Ibiza was actually a last minute one. I had been there before, but only for a couple of days and I didn’t see much of the island on that visit. My wife had never been before. We were staying with her family on the beach near Alicante and were looking to leave our daughter with the grandparents and get away for a few days. Just the two of us. We briefly considered some of the larger European cities such as Paris or Amsterdam, but the flight connections weren’t the best from Alicante and we also really craved something that involved being able to hang out on the beach.
While searching on the website aptly named www.lastminute.es, I found a decent deal for Ibiza. 3 nights at the three star Hotel Club Portinatx, all meals included for 312 euros. It looked fine from the pictures of the place online and besides beggars can’t be choosers when you’re visiting Ibiza in August. I went ahead and booked it. For transportation, we decided to go the ferry route. High speed ferries depart from Denia (about 80 kilometers from Alicante) for Ibiza twice daily and offer the possibility of taking your own car, which was an interesting option for us. I booked a round trip with Balearia, one of the two ferry companies with service out of Denia, on the company’s website (www.balearia.com). The total for both of us, car included, was 360 euros. While this is no bargain, it certainly isn’t too outrageous considering the fact that we were going to need to rent a car in order to explore the island anyway, and doing so can be quite costly in Europe.
On Monday morning, we woke up very early in the morning, drove up to the port of Denia, and boarded the 8:00 am ferry. The trip over took to the port city of Ibiza took about two and a half hours. As soon as we arrived, we located the tourist office near the port and got a map of the island and driving instructions to our hotel. Our hotel was located in the small town of Portinatx, about 30 kilometers or a half hour drive from the city of Ibiza in the northern most part of the island. It was lunchtime when we arrived and we were hungry. We checked in and promptly headed to the dining room for lunch. While you obviously don’t expect the finest cuisine at an all-inclusive joint, I’d say that this food was below par even as far as the all-inclusive places go.
Most of the hotel guests were from other parts of Europe- countries like Great Britain, Italy, and Germany. Our first impression was that it was a fairly working class crowd. Lots of tattoos, tacky swimsuits, and, believe it or not, plenty of “mullet” hairstyles. I think, in fact, we stumbled upon the European equivalent of the great American redneck at this hotel.
Our room was pretty ‘bare bones’ too. The room with the double bed I had reserved actually consisted of two small individual beds that had been moved together. The television was tiny and there was no air conditioning. We did have a decent ocean view, however, and the room was clean at least.
We spent most of the rest of that first day at the hotel’s private beach, the first of our calas. When we made our way down the stairs to the beach, we had to jostle for position because the cove was quite small and there were a great number of people there. I must say that it sure looked a heck of a lot bigger in the pictures online. But it was the first day and we would have plenty of time to explore more remote beaches in the coming days. Besides the transparent water was a beautiful shade of blue. Very inviting, even if we had to step over and around the sunbathers to get to it.
Dinner that night was unspectacular. Pasta, chicken, Spanish tortilla, fried fish – none of it was especially good, but we were hungry and it served its purpose. Afterwards, we headed down to see the live entertainment we had seen advertised in the hotel’s lobby. It was a variety show that night and I must say that it was one of the most dreadful things I’ve ever seen. The stage was minuscule, far too small for the performers (the hotel ‘animation’ staff) and the acting, singing, and jokes were lame. But, hey, I do give them credit for organizing shows and at least trying to do routines. It obviously isn’t their primary profession and it does take guts to get up there and perform.
Now it was time to do some serious cal-ing. We asked the man behind the reception desk in the lobby for recommendations and gave up directions to reach Cala den Serra, which was located just a few kilometers away from our hotel. We took the main road to until we saw signs for the beach and turned into a lane that slowly descended towards Cala den Serra. The path was rocky and unpaved, with deep depressions. We saw a couple of 4 x 4’s slowly making their way down but were sufficiently concerned about how our normal sedan would perform under the same conditions to decide to park and walk down the majority of the way. It was a bit of a hike to get down, but well worth it. The views of the ocean from up top were absolutely spectacular. The water was an intense blue color further out in the ocean and a mixture of lighter shades of blue and turquoise in the cove itself.
Cala den Serra was a welcome sight, especially after having had to fight for position on the beach the previous day. There were only a handful of people there and we had plenty of space to set up our umbrella and lay down our towels. There was a nice little bar down by the beach too, which was nice.
Swimming in the crystal clear water was a treat and the temperature was perfect. After a couple of hours, the beach started to fill up a bit more. At one point, a group of three- a woman who was probably around forty and two guys most likely in their thirties came down and settled about 15 yards away from us. After a few minutes of sunbathing, all three promptly removed their swimsuits and went ‘skinny dipping.’ Welcome to Ibiza. Whether it had been an officially nude beach or not, we didn’t know. But as we came to see at subsequent beaches, it’s not an uncommon site on this hippy-inspired island. Good for them. If they have the confidence to drop their pants like that, more power too them. But sadly, like many things in life, it’s a bit of a letdown. The types that normally are willing to take it all off are often older retirees, not exactly the type of thing teenage boy fantasies are made of.
After about three hours at Cala den Serra, we decided that it was time to move on. We packed up and made the long trek back up the trail to where we had parked the car. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to check out another beautiful cove, Cala Xurraca, where apparently they filmed scenes from the movie South Pacific.
That evening, we decided to head to the seaside town of Santa Eulalia, Ibiza’s third largest city. Santa Eulalia was a charming village. It’s a fully functioning city, with a town hall and central area complete with its Rambla, pedestrian street with plenty of hippy stands selling everything from jewelry to paintings. Santa Eulalia also has an impressive seafront area with a long boardwalk that stretches the entire length of the beach to the marina. It’s lined with a good number of bars and restaurants, one of which was an Italian restaurant called Sinatra that we chose for dinner (Yes, that’right. We had to pass on the dinner buffet back at the hotel). We ordered pizzas and were happy to be eating ‘real’ food again. We dined at an outdoor table in a nice patio right next along the seafront. After dinner, we arrived just in time for the evening show which was a rendition of the musical Chicago. It was like a train wreck, awful, but we had to watch- at least for a while.
Another day, another cala. This time we chose to drive down to the beach at Aigues Blancas, near Cala San Vicent on the Northeastern side of the island. I had seen this beach written up in a tour book down in the lobby and it looked promising. After about a 15-20 minute drive, we found the turnoff for Aigues Blancas. Again, it was unpaved, but this time we felt it was a bit smoother than the dirt road at Cala den Serra and therefore nervously descended down the path and found a parking space. The beach did not disappoint. It was a long, sandy stretch of beach backed by rocky cliffs that ran the length of it. The contours of the cliffs down by the water formed little nooks in certain spots, serving as partial walls that give you a sense of privacy while on the beach. We found one such nook and quickly set up camp there. The water was spectacular here, very clear and clean. There were a couple of rock outcroppings several hundred yards out in the water people were swimming out to and snorkeling around. I did just that, floating out in that direction with my inflatable raft and mask. After a while, I climbed up the rock like some sort of conqueror while my wife caught it all the excitement on video from ashore. Later, while stroll along the beach and noticed that there were a lot of naked people of all shapes and sizes there. So warning: if you are offended by nude sunbathing, do not go to Aigues Blancas!
We enjoyed this beach so much that we weren’t at all restless to leave. The cliffs behind us gave us natural shade from the sun towards the mid-afternoon and it was an ideal setting for a siesta.
That evening, we headed off to explore the town of Ibiza (or Eivissa as it reads on the road signs). Ibiza is largest city on the island. It has the largest port and therefore is where the larger ferries and cruise ships normally dock. It’s also really the commercial hub of the island. Before heading to the many shops located in the port area, we explored Dalt Vila, which is Ibiza’s Old Town. It’s is easy to find because it’s where the fortress overlooking the town is. It was a long trek uphill to the top of the ancient castle, but one well worth the physical effort because the view from the top was tremendous.
As soon as we descended, though, it was time to hit the shops. And there are a lot of them in the port area of Ibiza. Most are very trendy, small but with very modern displays and designs. Many embody the hippy spirit of the island and which is reflected by the decor in the shops and the types of clothes that are sold. And, of course, you have your more gift shop type stores, selling every type of tourist-oriented ‘knick knack’ you can imagine. Truth be told, my wife was more inspired that I was to shop around, especially because she wanted to get some gifts for friends, but I help my own for a good while. For dinner, we again opted to eat out rather than returning to the hotel. We chose one of the countless restaurants that was mixed in with the shops and bars by the port. We went the simple tapas route that evening, having chorizo, pimientos al padron, and sepia a la plancha. After dinner, we could have gone out to some nightclubs or bars. Afterall, Ibiza is one of the nightlife capitals of the world. But we didn’t. We were sleepy enough from all the sun and, besides, we’re just a lame married couple who wanted to wake up early the next day.
Day 4- Final Day
We did wake up early that morning. It was our last day in Ibiza and we wanted to take advantage of every last hour (our ferry was to depart at 8:00 pm). One last day of cal-ing. After breakfast, we first went over to explore the beaches of Portinatx, very close by to our hotel. We drove over, parked, and walked around Cala de Portinatx, a small gulf with four different beaches: Playa des Port de Portinatx, S’Arenal Gros, S’Arenal Petit, and Es Raco. It was a very picturesque area, although it seemed to be overcrowded. There were several hotels and a handful of restaurants here making it a very convenient location, but it certainly wouldn’t be somewhere you’d want to go if privacy were a priority. It was only 10:00 am and the beaches here were already filling up considerably.
We then returned to the hotel, packed up, and checked out of the hotel. One advantage of having our car there (and knowing that we’d put it on the ferry that evening) was the fact that we could wear our swimsuits and manage the rest of the day ‘living’ out of our car. Our suitcase and change of clothes were always going to be with us.
We chose to spend the next couple of hours at Cala S’Illot des Rencl, a beautiful little cove that we drove past a day earlier and admired from above. The path down to the beach was smoother and easier this time. Once again, this cala did not disappoint. The sand was a bit rougher and rockier than at the other calas we had visited, but it was a small price to pay for the beauty that surrounded us. More of the same, crystal clear turquoise blue water. Perfect bathing temperature and decent snorkeling. We had lunch here, on the beach, picnic style this day. We had stopped at a small supermarket earlier in Portinatx and loaded up on bread, ham, and potato chips. Because it was our last day, we spent a little less time here than we normally might have. We wanted to see as much as possible in a limited amount of time and it was already early afternoon.
Next, we crossed over to the western part of the island to the area around Sant Antoni. Here, we visited Cala Salada, the last of our calas. More than anything, we wanted to at least explore this other side of the island and see the town of Sant Antoni a bit. There wasn’t so much to see, however. Sant Antoni has a bustling port and apparently has quite the nightlife scene, but it’s probably not the best place to visit if you’re looking for quaint streets and cool shops. Santa Eulalia and Ibiza are much better for that. Cala Salada was nice, or more than nice, it was beautiful I’d say. Clear waters and soft sand. But we’d set the bar pretty high on this trip and it probably didn’t live up to the standard of more remote coves like Cala den Serra or more expansive ones like Aigues Blancas.
Late afternoon came and went and early evening set in all too fast. We had come to the end of the trip. We changed clothes in the car and sadly headed off to Ibiza to catch our ferry. It was time to go back to reality. Time to bid farewell to cal-ing, at least until the next trip back to these islands. Time to say goodbye to Ibiza.