What To Do In Ibiza, Spain

Think outside the nightclubs

I never thought I'd go to Ibiza, the proverbial party island of uber clubs and mind-blurring dance loops. It seemed like a mix of never-never land and Austin Powers—not in a good way. 

Then I saw a picture of the place. It was gorgeous and ancient and mysterious. In other words: all the reasons I usually travel.

So I went. Driving from the airport into town late in the day, the ever-expanding skies and rolling, pastoral hills speckled with craggy rocks and stone walls streamed by. And then, a towering billboard for DJ David Guetta—the crown prince of EDM—rose in the distance. Clearly, this place wasn't above a hard-core juxtaposition or two. 

An hour later, I dined outdoors at Sa Brisa, down the cobblestoned street from Paris Hilton's very own hotel. (Note: She's a DJ, too.) I combed the menu hoping for a sign of local Ibizan cuisine but eventually had to settle in for the ride. Out came a gleaming white orb—a mozzarella balloon—teetering on a dais of tomato compote. I wondered aloud what kind of El Bulli bike pump they had in the kitchen.

That night, I wanted to get to bed early in order to catch the morning fisherman the next day. I pulled back the balcony doors in my room and stepped out. The air was delicious. And electronic. The thrum of nearby Club Pacha was my noise machine, and I was Eurobeated to sleep. 

It turned out the next morning that the dancers hadn't slept. I wove between the brosteppers and neurofunkers, resplendent in their rave wear and breakfasting on truffled fries and Fernet-Branca. It was like Night of the Living Dead—in a good way.

Steps away, fishermen were reeling glistening fish from the harbor in their own rhythm. There must be the beginnings of a traditional dish here, I thought. I began to photograph a fisherman mending his nets, and as I shot through the tangle, his face came into focus. Its lines and grooves told a thousand-year-old story, but he was as stylish and nonchalant with his dyed-silver Rasta braids as the trance dancers I had just encountered.

Continuing my search for tradition in this deeply dichotomous island, there was nothing left to do but go see the Posidonia, a seagrass species that's of the world's largest living organisms. Ibiza's waters are home to the longest and oldest stretch of Posidonia in the world: It's more than five miles long and 100,000 years old. I kayaked out to spy on the plant's magnificence, waving to and fro beneath Ibiza's licks of travel-brochure-blue water. The beach was lined with innumerable modern-day Sirens, their enchanting songs swapped for Instagram poses. But I was more focused on scanning the coast for a seafood restaurant. And I found one.

The Essence restaurant at One Ibiza Suites was like peering into an Ibiza-bethan snow globe: beachside frolicking awash in UV blocking, reality dodging and some very serious Balearic noshing. I began my meal with something you would typically end with: Hierbas Ibicencas, a bracing liquor infused with a secret mix of medicinal island herbs. During the seafood-laden meal, I met Vicente Torres, a local who's the director of tourism for Ibiza. Between bites of poached red mullet swimming in creamy shellfish sauce, we talked about the local seafood dishes and how the same recipe changed even from north to south on this tiny island.

It became clear that the true heart of Ibiza was the island's fish, and the best places to experience it, according to Torres, were on the rustic flanges of the island: in the nooks off its beaches among clusters of fishermen's huts called casetas varaderos. He spoke dreamily of a recent impromptu langosta and cuttlefish paella dinner at one such place; that was Ibiza at its truest. You must, he said, go to Sa Caleta.

Under a burnt-purple sky, I made my way to the top of a cliff over the cove of Sa Caleta, in between Spanish Civil War antiaircraft batteries and the remains of a Phoenician settlement. Below, waves grasped at boat ramps that led up to beautiful ramshackle huts. Each had been manufactured according to the whims of its owners and available materials. Colors clashed like golf pants, but alas, no one was cooking. 

So I went to the new Nobu instead. Hey, I was in Ibiza after all.