Simon Hughes discovers the best stretch of sand in the world - and it's in Ibiza, the party capital of the world.
It is easy to develop misconceptions about Ibiza. Dubbed the undisputed party capital of the world, the island is often used as a byword for excess. The British television documentary Ibiza Uncovered - featuring a series of inebriated, semi-naked 20-year-olds cavorting about in beach bars - has a lot to answer for. It was a little disconcerting to witness similar scenes on our easyJet flight to the island, even though it was a 6am midweek departure from Gatwick.
So, it was with some trepidation that I first set foot on Ibizan soil two hours later. Despite the promises in the hotel brochure of a more refined experience, I was still expecting to have my senses assaulted by thumping music and hordes of overexcited partygoers, to be confronted by the stench of fried food and to be unable to see the sea because of all the great lumps of concrete masquerading as hotels hugging the coastline. And, in order to escape all this, I was also bracing myself for an interminable journey on meandering roads stuck behind a succession of hired Seats, each occupied by bewildered drivers all trying to find the same strip of already overcrowded beach using badly drawn, misleading local maps.
I was right about one thing. The maps are badly drawn and misleading. Perhaps this is a prerogative of a holiday island to ensure visitors have trouble finding the good places, allowing the locals to get there first and bag the best spots. But in every other way my preconceptions were way off beam.
With a job (covering cricket) that follows the sun, I have spent the past 20 years inadvertently searching for the best beach in the world. Somewhere that had everything. A pretty cove that had reliable weather and iridescent, safe, crystal-clear sea and powdery sand; which had some shade but was not overlooked by apartment blocks or overrun by hawkers, jet-skis, or people in general; where you could sidle barefoot into a simple, airy cafe selling interesting food and local wine and later stroll along the beach to the headland to watch the sun go down.
"The place felt private and a bit of a discovery. "
I have tried all the obvious places: France (too crowded), Italy (too expensive), South Africa (too many sharks), Australia (too many Australians. NOTE FROM ED: don't you mean British backpackers?), Greece, the Caribbean, Portugal (all boring food), mainland Spain (too man-made), New Zealand (iffy weather), Thailand (too touristy), Sri Lanka (too hot), Cornwall (too cold.) I could go on. And then ... a blissfully easy drive from Ibiza Airport, I found it. Within five minutes of leaving the airport you are driving alongside low, bush-clad hills and glinting salt lakes with few other cars, and within 10 minutes you are parking under conveniently located wooden awnings and emerging through tall trees onto a beautiful curving swathe of sand lapped by calm blue water. This is Playa des Salinas.
It was quiet at 10am. The sun lounges with little parasols were mostly unoccupied (the day doesn't really kick into life in Ibiza until midday at the earliest); there were a few kids paddling with their dads and several couples stretched out, but otherwise the place felt private and a bit of a discovery.
The air was already warm - a gentle breeze with a hint of citrus wafted across the beach.
The beach sloped gently into beautifully warm, clean water; within 20 metres it was waist deep. A bit further out the view across the bay and round the low, rocky headland was idyllic.
At the back of the beach, merging with the trees, is an open-sided restaurant of timber construction: the Jockey Club. I have never eaten such delicious food in an informal beach environment before.
While I went for chillied calamari, my girlfriend opted for the tuna and mango salad, which was incredibly fresh and zingy - especially washed down with sangria. We returned twice. The food was always light and scrumptious. Even when it is quite crowded, the Playa des Salinas has a relaxed vibe. You will not see or hear a car, jet ski or tattooed Aston Villa supporter. Just kindred spirits drinking in the warm air and gazing out at the glistening sea. OK, a word of warning: the music, unobtrusive at lunchtime, does increase in volume as the afternoon wears on. It gets busy at about three-ish, so that might be a good moment to stroll beyond the beach across rocky outcrops, through trees and past little coves of frolicking families, round the headland to El Cavallet, a longer beach backed by dunes with very calm water and a divine open-plan restaurant with white leather sofas, incredibly delicious salads and some great cocktails.
We stayed at the Hostal Salinas, five minutes' walk from Salinas beach. There are many smart hotels on the island, ranging from luxurious spas to rustic converted fincas, but most are pricey and none is quite so convenient. For about $235 you get a comfortable, adequate room, an airy breakfast cafe, a stylish outdoor bar with cushioned seating areas and, perhaps best of all, excellent local knowledge from the English couple running it. With all that Playa des Salinas has to offer, you could spend several blissful days here. It would be that unique thing, an excellent holiday barely 10 minutes from an international airport (which you can't hear or see).
But the great thing about Ibiza is its variety and accessibility - you can get everywhere within about half an hour. Fifteen minutes to the west is the sweet, secluded Cala d'Hort, a small sandy beach looking out at a huge monolith in the sea - Es Boldado - where local families mingle with the odd tourist and you can sit at wooden tables with your feet in the sand and eat good tapas. A little further round to the west is the gorgeous Cala Comte, a slightly rockier beach attracting a younger crowd stretched out on pockets of sand or eating in a round, open-sided clifftop bar with spectacular views of the sun going down.
Overall, I was absolutely stunned by the quality and variety of Ibiza. I can't wait to go back and wouldn't hesitate to take my children for a family holiday. And, contrary to common belief, you don't need another holiday straight afterwards to recover from it.
- Ibiza: welcome to the pleasure dome
- Secret's out: where to find the world's best beach
- Australia's top five secret beaches
Hostal Salinas (hostalsalinas.com) is in the south of Ibiza. In June, double rooms cost from $235 a night including breakfast for a minimum stay of five nights.
- Telegraph, London