Less Pacha, more culture: the real Ibiza

Posted on August 14, 2014 by Eleanor McKenzie
Ibiza island

On a recent trip to Ibiza, I experimented with independent accommodation which some people seem to think is only for backpacking youngsters. I had an interesting discussion about culture in Ibiza with one of my fellow guests in Ibiza Town, who was Canadian, under 25 and probably did have a rucksack in his room. He asked me: “Do you think they have, like, schools in this place, or do they just send the kids to nightclubs?”

It was an astute comment: Ibiza gives off the vibe that there’s more Pacha (the world’s most famous nightclub chain) and rather less culture than in the rest of Spain. The beautiful people wander the streets and beaches dressed down in Ibiza style, which I can tell you is eye-wateringly expensive. Advertising billboards for the top DJs and clubs assault you from the moment you step off the plane: the first face I saw was that of French DJ, David Guetta, albeit on a poster.

Ibiza seems to make a virtue of ignoring its culture. Museum and art gallery opening times are short and certainly not conducive to spontaneous visits: they’re more closed than open and on the weekend, forget it! The Dalt Vila, or Old Town of Ibiza is a beautiful place and it’s where you’ll find said galleries and museums. However, a mid-morning walk around it showed that young people were in the minority of visitors walking around its battlements and taking in the views.

But, Ibiza has a great history and culture and it’s definitely a sophisticated holiday destination for the over 50s. The island’s history dates back to its discovery by the seafaring Phoenicians who firmly put Ibiza on the map of the ancient world. Phoenicia was more or less modern-day Lebanon and it had a big tin trade. Believe it or not, these ancient mariners used Ibiza as a stopover between home and the Cornish tin mines, one of their trading partners. They named it after Bes, the Phoenician god of safety, protection and dance and gave it the name ‘Ibossim.’

Unfortunately, their empire fell, but quite a few of them escaped to Carthage and reinvented themselves as the Carthaginians. These intrepid traders—and creators of the alphabet—made Ibiza the third most important place in its empire. The Dalt Vila entrance gates are some of the last remains of the Carthaginians.

The Dalt Vila’s fortifications were built up by the Moors, who also laid the foundations of the Ibicenco language and influenced the island’s culture in so many ways, just as they did in Andalucía. Then, the Catalans invaded the island in 1235 and it stayed a quiet, little island until some hippies discovered it in the 1960s.  And the rest is what many consider to be Ibiza’s true history—all hippies and hedonism!

Es Verda in Ibiza

Apart from walking around the Dalt Vila, do take a boat trip to Es Vedrà. Indeed, the boat trips to a number of destinations around the island and over to neighbouring Formentera are a great way of getting around. Es Vedrà is a 400m high rock formation that legend believes is the tip of Atlantis and home to Homer’s singing Sirens. It’s also a favoured location for UFO sightings. The pairing of Ibiza with UFO sightings isn’t terribly surprising, I must say. I’m sure you can imagine why.

Las Salinas salt fields—Ibiza’s ‘white gold’—is another popular spot to visit, as is the Puig des Molins and Santa Maria Cathedral. If you want to do some celebrity spotting without putting foot in a club, visit Pikes Hotel, which is now called Ibiza Rocks House, for a bit of star spotting.

UNESCO has most of the places I’ve mentioned here on its World Heritage list, but there’s not a hint of Pacha, Amnesia or even David Guetta. Ibiza’s history and culture is so much more fascinating than Café del Mar’s latest compilation—even though I do adore Paco Fernandez. But, if you tell your friends you’re going to Ibiza, you can bet that some bright spark will ask: “Are you going to Pacha?”. Roll your eyes and tell them that your Ibiza is less Pacha and more culture.

They might think ‘culture’ is another club, but that’s their problem.


by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.