FIELD TRIP: IBIZA

Diddy berths his yacht in Ibiza town during his frequent forays here. Kylie Minogue, Elle MacPherson and Paris Hilton are oft-seen visitors while jewelry designer and Rolling Stone offspring Jade Jagger is a long term resident. Pike’s Hotel, one of the island´s most exclusive, is wallpapered with celebrity images: Jon Bon Jovi, Sade, Freddie Mercury, Naomi Campbell, Jean-Claude Van Damme.  A virtual “who´s who”  in the lexicon of the rich, famous and infamous make the Spanish isle of Ibiza a requisite stop on their jet-setting itineraries. Perhaps the party capital of the world -- or at the very least, the undisputed party capital of Europe -- Ibiza is where celebrities and hedonists, ravers, package tourists, nudists and fashion victims co-exist on an island whose liberal attitudes and legendary club scene has earned it the nickname ¨Gomorrah of the Med.”

Once an idyllic retreat for solitude-seeking artists and actors in the Fifties, Ibiza was a fashionable hideaway until the advent of jet propulsion allowed for easier access. By the Sixties, the island´s scenic splendor, laid-back vibe and spiritual mystique served as a calling card for hippies and other bohemian types and for many years remained an alternative lifestyle enclave. By the Eighties, however, dance clubs began to define Ibicean culture and that raucous party reputation remains – for better or worse – the island´s identifying characteristic.

These days a plethora of guest houses and seasonal apartment complexes are peppered amidst expensive resorts and exclusive boutique hotels, McDonalds and Pizza Hut share prime real estate with fine dining establishments, English pubs line the calles of Santa Eularia des Riu and San Antoni de Portmany, and designer shops exist alongside trendy boutiques. With over a million visitors annually, Ibiza happily caters to bulk tourism with high season charter flights depositing hordes of  amped up revelers onto its once hallowed grounds.

But Ibiza is much more than its fabled clubs, all night raves and fast food joints. Boasting a rich history, textured culture and natural beauty, there is plenty on offer for those who prefer to retire before the sun rises and wake before it sets; who visit the island not for celebrity sightings but for its celebrated beaches, UNESCO World Heritage sites, undisturbed pine-covered interior, quaint Mediterranean villages and historic architecture dating back thousands of years to the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors and Catalans.

To best experience it all, it is recommendable to avoid the peak summer months when most Europeans take their vacations – unless of course you want to be in the thick of things, literally. If you arrive in August, as I did, expect grid-locked beaches, inflated prices and drunken marauders -- particularly in the British ghetto of Sant Antoni, which features in its center the famous Egg monument erected in honor of Christopher Columbus who islanders believe to have been born in Ibiza. And while it is difficult at this time of year to find a secluded beach (despite the fact that more than 70 are tucked around the island), it is possible to ferret out an isolated rocky cove along the jeweled turquoise coastline or a quiet café in one of the less trafficked nostalgic villages scattered throughout the island`s unmarred interior.

Further, while the inter-island bus lines are efficient, renting a car allows for autonomous exploration of Ibiza´s many natural and archeological wonders, including the famous prehistoric wall paintings of Ses Fontelles, the underground caverns of Cova de Can Marca, and Es Vedra, a 400 meter high island comprised solely of cliffs with almost vertical sides.  But the most enigmatic and fabled place on Ibiza is Atlantis,  the unmarked, unmapped location of which is often difficult to garner as residents are reticent to share their secret with tourists. If you are lucky enough to find Atlantis you will marvel at the extraordinary landscape created over 1000 years ago when rock was quarried to build the fortress walls of Ibiza town. Over subsequent centuries other stonemasons and sculptors have created people seemingly emerging from within the rocks, dragons and other symbolic features surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites. The island also boasts several UNESCO World Heritage sites such as ¨God´s Finger¨ in the Benirras Bay and D’Alt Villa, the old walled pueblo in Ibiza town.

According to my insistent friends who have planted roots here, Ïbiza is “magical,¨ possessing a powerful energy that suffuses and infuses the island. “It will either embrace or reject you.”