Travel: Ibiza – time for a return by gay travellers?
Sam Feller travels to Ibiza to discover whether it really lives up to the stereotypes and if it is time for gay travellers to rediscover the island. Like any good Jewish gay boy, his journey around the island and visits to some of the world’s largest nightclubs with PinkNews.co.uk founder Benjamin Cohen is punctuated with good meals rather than Class A drugs.
House music. Ecstasy. Concrete monstrosities. Hedonism. Cocaine. Parties. Booze. Essex slags. Bars. Manumission. Ketamine. Sex.
Although never one to admit to endorsing stereotypes, I did ask some friends before my trip to Ibiza, and ultimately the above is a mere selection of their one-word responses. I, too, had heard of the endless dancing, parties until well after the sun comes up, booze and, well, yes, the drugs. But to what extent is Ibiza just one sumptuous, tantalising all-night drug-infused rave and what more does it have to offer?
Ibiza has a long relationship with gay travellers since its re-birth as a tourist destination in the late 1950s. A tolerant a vibrant community has grown up there, with no one batting an eye-lid to see a gay couple arrive (even though we aren’t actually one!). It has been overtaken by Gran Canaria as the holiday island of choice for gay travellers, but Ibiza offers so much more; beautiful beaches, stunning sunsets, excellent and tolerant clubs and a spiritual side. The gay scene is pretty small, but it doesn’t really matter as gays seem to be welcomed everywhere.
Myself and my travelling companion, PinkNews.co.uk’s Ben Cohen, arrived in Ibiza three days before Space’s opening weekend, a renowned milestone in Ibiza’s tourism calendar signalling the beginning of the summer party season. We stayed at Hotel Es Vivé for our first three nights, a hotel on the western outskirts of Ibiza Town which boasted small but economical rooms (all with en suite, TV and minibar), a friendly and airy breakfast bar/restaurant and an outdoor pool surrounded with cushioned sun loungers – perfect for nursing that post-party hangover. The ten-year old hotel (formerly a run-down hostel) is well-known amongst its European clientèle (mainly English and German) but has lost some of its reputation as a party hotspot after the police closed down its after-hours nightclub last year due to strict Spanish licensing laws. There was a real mix of clientèle with a couple of gay couples there while we were staying.
Our first evening meal was at La Olivia in the lower stretches of D’Alt Vila, Elvissa’s old town which dates back to 654BC. The restaurant itself has been open 25 years and French-owned and run. I began with tuna tartar with sesame seeds, ginger and soy sauce, whilst my fussy octovegan travelling companion had a goat’s cheese, avocado and tomato salad (but without the goat’s cheese). I opted for sea bream a la plancha as a main, which came perfectly cooked and expertly seasoned, whilst Ben had penne pasta with grilled vegetables and rocket, both washed down with a glass of house Chardonnay. This was followed swiftly by fresh ripe pineapple with a light golden syrup dressing and a strawberry tart with mascarpone ice cream, which was refreshing, utterly delicious and cleansing to the palette.
Our Thursday night out was spent at Pacha. A mainstay in the global house music scene, Pacha’s empire now extends to 20 clubs across 14 countries, although its Ibiza flagship is by fair the most renowned and prestigious of all. We attended F**k Me I’m Famous, David Guetta’s resident house night which happened to be the opening party for the summer season and featured Calvin Harris as special guest. The clientèle was mixed and far-reaching: I overheard some North American college students who had travelled over especially for the occasion, clinking glasses alongside a group of Madrileños. The DJ set got better and better as the night went on, and when Guetta blasted out his well-known hits, the crowd really got grooving. Although the dance floor was packed and the atmosphere buzzing, the crowd remained surprisingly sober and mild-mannered: no one passed out, vomited or made a fool of themselves, and everyone seemed to be having as much fun as me. As for the Essex slags, well, yes, they were present, but they certainly weren’t as numerous or troublesome as I had feared. Although we left at 5.30, we certainly weren’t the last, as the dance floor was rocking well into the early hours of the morning.
The following day, we spent the day on the gay beach. Like the rest of Europe, unsurprisingly Ibiza’s gay beach Es Cavallet was almost entirely nudist and family-unfriendly. Although the beach was relatively quiet, peaceful and the water clean, it did suffer from a notable lack of young gay men, mostly consisting of older heterosexual couples or single older men. A little too early in the season? Perhaps. Or perhaps gay beaches are fast becoming a thing of the past…
Our lunch was spent at Sands, a relatively new beach bar which has played a large part in reinvigorating the stretch of beach opposite Space on the western outskirts of Ibiza town. Ben ate artichoke and cantaloupe melon salad with pesto, lemongrass, rocket and basil whilst I savoured a burger and chips. We finished with a fresh fruit platter and herbal tea infusions before soaking up the few last rays of sun before the evening settled in.
The second part of our trip was spent at hotel Can Pere, a former farmhouse set in a stunning rural hillside location around 20 minutes drive from Elvissa. Although the access road left a lot to be desired, the hotel itself was the perfect romantic hideaway. Think old stone walls, a beautiful outdoor pool surrounded by four-poster beds with satin white sheets and a restaurant with views to die for. With only nine rooms, the hotel was quiet and secluded and at times it felt as though we had the place to ourselves. It was a fantastic place to stay, but we both imagined if we were a couple we would have enjoyed it even more. It would probably make a brilliant location for a civil partnership honeymoon.
On Friday evening we ate at Club Amante in Cala Llonga, a fair distance from Elvissa but a journey certainly worth making due to the stunning view of rugged coastline from this restaurant carved out of the cliff front. Although the setting and fit-out were near-perfect, the food left a little to be desired: my salad was rather bland, the salmon oversized and overcooked, and my imaginatively-named “chocolate sand” was overly rich and glutinous. Ben’s feelings mirrored mine.
Ibiza’s gay district is secluded among narrow cobbled streets in the north-eastern segment of D’Alt Vila, Elvissa’s old town. The premier street, Carrer de la Verge, is host to a number of gay bars and the only exclusively gay club on the island, Club Anfora. This large, rather gaudy club boasts very reasonable prices in comparison to the rest of the island, where entrance before 2am is a mere €10 including one free drink. The club mostly plays dance and funky house tunes, with the occasional high camp number thrown in for good measure. The club didn’t get busy until 3am, but at the end of May we were advised that we were too early for the summer season, and that we’d have to return in July or August to see the club really fill up.
Ben and I felt compelled to visit San Antonio, the concrete jungle resort on the island famed for its kebab shops, drunk lads, burnt Essex slags and… the sunsets. “Go and watch the sunset,” was the advice, “And once you’re done… get the hell outta there.”
We visited Tijuana Tex-Mex which, although a little out of the way, lovingly served up hearty salads, fajitas, nachos and quesadillas with complimentary shots of tequila to add that Mexican touch. Open all year round, the restaurant attracts mostly Spanish locals with British tourists making up the numbers for the early dinner slots during the peak season in the summer months.
And after we were well fed, we sat alongside Café Mambo, sipping mojitos and watching the sun lazily drop behind the sapphire sea, leaving behind a beautiful haze of crimson sky.
Our trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Space, arguably Ibiza’s most infamous club which is situated in a purpose-built concrete block a little out west from Ibiza town. During the opening party, the car park at the rear is used and a main stage erected to cater for the immense crowd. With Space opening from 4.30pm, the place felt more like a festival than a club, and the clientèle were far more outrageous in their costume choice in comparison to Pacha which included Lycra, superheroes and well, yes, drag queens. But the differences between the two clubs went further than mere costumes. Space was the far heavier house club, with little ‘mainstream’ music, its world-class guest DJs restricting themselves to original sets with expert mixing. The music attracted drug dealers in their scores, and drugs were certainly all around. But with world-class DJs and a crowd was willing to dance the night away, who cares?
But we left early, to head to Las Salinas – the salt flats near both Space and the airport – to see the sun set. These were constructed by the Carthaginians over 2000 years ago and are still used today to extract salt from sea water through evaporation. As you can see from the photograph, it was a perfect place to watch a pink and crimson sunset.
The perfect end to a summer break in the Balearic sunshine, it certainly showed me that Ibiza had a whole lot more than just clubs and house music to offer.
Hotel Es Vive
3 nights from €150 to €350
From €125 to €245 per night
Photos: Benjamin Cohen