Just 30 minutes away from one of the world’s nightlife capital Ibiza, is a secluded and idyllic island called Formentera, the smallest one in the Balearic archipelago.
Walking out of Ibiza airport I was surrounded by blasting techno music and strobe lights, posters of David Guetta and Pacha nightclub, groups of 20 year olds in skimpy dresses and tight t-shirts, and I started to doubt my decision to go on holiday in the Balearic Islands…but the moment I stepped off the boat at Port de la Savina and saw my brother and his girlfriend Mia greet us (sun-kissed skin, sandy hair and smiley faces) I instantly felt relaxed and…at home.
Formentera can only be reached by boat from Ibiza, so the island is less affected by mass tourism (instead it has attracted a hippy crowd since the Sixties). The environment remains protected, but resources are scarce on the island, especially water: you can only drink bottled water and our host urged us to use as little tap water as possible.
There are just a few towns, but even the biggest one Sant Francesc Xavier – built around an 18th century fortified church – retains the look and vibe of a small village.
The rest of the island is mostly pine woods and forests, salt marshes, and the rural hinterland with fig trees (inspiration behind my Fig Semifreddo), a few paved roads and mostly beaten paths. It definitely feels like stepping into another world, as Formentera is really laid back and peaceful.
I was in Formentera on a family holiday to celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary and we stayed in a rustic villa near the town Sant Ferran, with a large garden, two patios and a terrace on the first floor. The villa’s owner, an Italian marine biologist and diving instructor, lived in the cottage next door and so she was available all the time to give us tips on what to do and see or where to eat.
We were in Formentera in the last week of September, officially the end of the season and there was definitely a “last day of school” feeling. Bars and restaurants were preparing to close down, seasonal tourists were packing up to leave. Only 12.000 people live in Formentera during the winter, mostly farmers and fishermen.
I am glad we chose to visit at this time, because I have heard (and I can easily imagine it) that Formentera is incredibly crowded in the high season, mostly with Italian tourists.
The Italian presence on Formentera is one of the more surprising aspects of island life. During the summer months it can often seem as if half of Milan has decamped to this Balearic isle. It is said that as many as a quarter of the island’s inhabitants at any one time are Italian. [CNTraveller]
The main attraction in Formentera are of course more than 20km of beaches with creamy white sand and turquoise water. I liked two of the most popular beaches – Platja des Illetes and Platja de Llevant – on the north of the island. You can clearly see Ibiza from Illetes. Both beaches are part of a natural Reserve, which you enter through a gate and after paying a small fee.
I loved watching the sunset from Illetes, mojito in hand and puffy pink clouds in the sky. Except for the fact that the second the sun dipped into the sea, we were attacked by a storm of mosquitos which left me covered in itchy bites for days! Also, be careful of jelly fish when swimming in Formentera.
The following days we moved to the south of the island, spending one day at the beautiful Es Caló on the east coast.
But mostly returning over and over to the west side, at Platja Es Arenals.
I spent many hours sitting at this restaurant (one of the few with free wifi), eating lunch or drinking coffee or mojito while listening to Jack Johnson and Nineties pop hits.
On the last day – and after two days of rain that forced us to stay at home – we managed to visit Platja de Migjorn and the famous Blue Bar – a chiringuito (beach bar) and popular spot in Formentera’s nightlife.
We didn’t have the chance to visit all of Formentera’s beaches, but we did go to Cala Saona: usually a stunning cove, the view was unfortunately spoilt by the Poseidonia seagrass covering the shore.
And Calo des Morts, a small cove, very secluded and hard to reach by car (it’s easier to walk there from Es Arenals). This is a must see for me!
Most of Formentera’s beaches are unofficially nudist, so be prepared to see a lot of that (especially during low season when the beach is less crowded).
The long sand beaches and coves are alternated by high cliffs of limestone, like these ones near our villa in Punta Prima.
Or the cliffs at Cap de Barbaria in the south west of Formentera, a popular location to watch the sunset.
We mostly ate at home or with packed lunches, but we did go out for dinner a couple of times to eat paella and fresh fish by the beach.
Traditional cuisine include guisat (a stew with potatoes), chipirones (baby squid in crunchy batter), peix sec (dried fish) and liquid salt; and desserts such as flaó (eaten at Easter time) and greixonera.
Formentera’s most famous restaurants are Juan y Andrea in Illetes and Can Carlos in Sant Francesc although I didn’t personally go there.
Instead we had two lovely dinners on the beach at Es Codol Foradat and Sa Platgeta, plus a fish feast at no-frills La Fonda Pepe and the best Neapolitan pizza I’ve had outside Naples at Quartieri Spagnoli in Sant Ferran.
After a whole week in Formentera I didn’t want to leave. I fell in love with the light, the pace of life, the mojitos on the beach, the sky full of stars. I have left Formentera, but I do hope to go back someday.