My childhood memories consist of so many snippets of my parents hard working lives. We were always lucky enough to get away in the summer … to Scotland, France or Italy … and my fondest holiday memories weren’t with a particular parent but were always in the places we regularly visited.
When you’re a child the sense of familiarity makes it so exciting because you remember what you loved so much about the last time you were there, and you can’t wait to do it all again – the distinctive smell of pine trees you get a whiff of as you drive deep into the Highlands, that bakery you remember so well in Valbonne with the freshly baked croissants for breakfast, that teeny family run shop round the corner which sells those pretty provencal style bikinis your mum buys for you and your sisters every year, the taste of the fish and chips from Smiffy’s which your dad always treats you to in Aviemore, and the enormous choice of beautiful stationery you always get to pick something from in the local hypermarché for the start of the new school year.
These are a very small collection of memories I will always treasure and ones I have always wanted to create for my kids.
We both first went to Ibiza (separately), before we were together, on the stag and hen week of a couple we both knew. He was a single 27 year old, I was 24 and nearing the end of a 6 year relationship, and our experience of Ibiza back then was party indulgence at it’s errrrrr, very best (trust me). Unbeknown to us at the time we would hook up three months later and then well, the rest is currently 15 years of history.
So we decided to go back (together) in August 2012, when Jack was three, to find out if there was another side to the infamous party island. We’d heard loads about it through friends, and I had always adored the bohemian vibe I had experienced in 2003, so was desperate to see more.
And that’s when we fell in love with the island …
Ibiza is an island small enough to travel from top to bottom in 45 mins, it has fifty coves each with its own identity, many far more developed than others but lots still hidden and in their very natural states. The whole island has an incredibly calming and hippy vibe, and as soon as we step off the plane it always feels like we’re home.
I have never been a massive fan of Spanish cuisine but over the years we have built up a little black book of our favourite places to eat where we know we’re going to be given a real feast, and they range from local tapas bistros where the locals hang out, a humble reggae playing Italian pizzeria, and a couple of ‘nice’ restaurants we treat ourselves to.
One of Ibiza’s most amazing qualities is its ability to attract all ages who can have any type of holiday they wish…
You can be 24 and wanting to just dance all night and drink all day, you can be 34 and wanting to build sand castles with the kids on some of the most beautiful beaches, you can be 44 and wanting to go away for a cheeky weekend as a couple (sans kids) to enjoy sundowners without hearing the word ‘mummy’ repeatedly, you can be 54 and wanting to hang out with your best friends and all your teenage kids, rent a villa, read books and spend long, lazy lunches at the amazing beach restaurants, you can be 64 and wanting to hike around the beautiful coast line for the weekend, and you can be 74 and wanting to go back to where it all began with your kids, and their kids, to hear the crickets in the trees, smell the lemon groves, and reminisce with the whole family about all those happy holidays.
So to continue tradition, we headed back to our magical island this year and here are our family best bits on two of our very favourite things, beaching and eating …
Our favourite beaches include … S’ilot D’es Rencli, a tiny cove at the Northern tip of the island which is perfect for snorkelling, jumping the waves, getting away from the busier beaches and is surrounded by rock pools waiting to be discovered. Benirras is located to the North West, is a very well known beach as it’s home to the famous bongo players who beat their drums every evening as the sun sets slowly, getting louder and louder as the sun starts to melt into the sea (a great experience). We usually head there after spending the morning at the Las Dalias hippy market (more on that to come).
There are so many beautiful beaches that you don’t really need to go to beach clubs but we do book one during our holiday (as a treat), and our top beach club finds are … the Beachouse which is located near Ibiza town and where we went to for the first time this year. Wow! Definitely my favourite place for pure indulgence with it’s effortlessly cool polynesian style interior including fans, bamboo ceiling, white floorboards and beautifully scattered rugs. We arrived for breakfast at 10:00, feasted on mango, yoghurt and granola while the kids devoured red fruit pancakes. We were then shown to our beach beds and our very own bamboo umbrella. We used the beach service for our lunch which consisted of a sharing platter of hummus, crudités, pitta bread, tomato salad and fries, and we stayed right until the end, which I think was 19:00 ish, when the beds were being packed away and the music and dancing was beginning.
Tropicana on Cala Jondal and El Chiringuito on Es Cavallet are two other beach clubs we’ve been to before … both have their own bohemian identity, have delicious restaurants, the same beach service concept, and vary in price.
Now I don’t know about you, but eating is what we tend to talk about most (and do) on holiday, and is the topic I do most of the research on as we all LOVE our food. The first question usually out of the boys mouths in the mornings are ‘what are we eating for dinner?”.
So our most favourite places to feast definitely include … The Fish Shack which is perched precariously on the edge of a cliff near Talamanca Beach and is such a beautiful place. There’s nothing chic about it, which I love, you access it via a dirt road, rock up in your salty and sandy beach clothes and sit at tables on the rocks. There isn’t a menu, you just pick from the ‘fish of the day’ (which has been freshly caught), and whatever you choose is always served with buttery, boiled potatoes and a simple salad. Between us we ordered whole Dorada and Gambas and they were delicious. Top Tip : bring mosquito spray with you otherwise you’ll get eaten alive, and if you don’t want to wait for a table get there early (i.e. 20:00 ish) because you can’t reserve them so it’s first come first serve. As we were leaving at 21:30 there were 3-4 families waiting for tables.
A firm family favourite, and a place we have visited on every holiday, is La Toretta which is located in the old town, within the castle walls, and right in the middle of a lively cobbled street which makes it the absolutely perfect place to people watch (another thing we’re pretty good at). We usually pre-book a table for 21:00 so that we can still be seated when the local street artists (especially the capoeira) make an appearance at 22:30 ish.
Our two tapas favourites are Raco Verd and Destino, both in the tiny village of San Josep. They’re right next door to each other but couldn’t be more different in style. Raco Verd is within a walled courtyard, serves the most incredible mouth watering ribs (which you’ll need to order more than one bowl of), really tasty chilli and is a popular venue for local singers to perform. Destino is more of an authentic, local hang out. Nothing much to look at, and tucked away, but again serves the most delicious tapas. There’s no menu here, once you’re seated you’re invited to choose from the various pre-cooked dishes which on display … and trust me, the beef is melt in your mouth and the prawns are deliciously garlicy. Top Tip : both places need to be pre-booked.
Our most favourite pizza and pasta place, because there always has to be one, is Bon Sol which is a very unassumingly placed right on the beach in Cala Vadella. The menu is extensive, the food really is delicious and it’s a family tradition for us to eat there on our first night and on our last just before we leave for the airport for our usual midnight flight home. This time around we also got a take away pizza to eat on the beach after dark which the kids haven’t stopped talking about. Our favourite dishes are the salami pizza, prawn and courgette tagliatelle, the mixed salad and my new favourite … the tomato, asparagus and prawn organic spelt tagliatelle (divine!!).
We also visited three new restaurants this year which I had read about …
Sunset Ashram is a Thai / Sushi restaurant on Cala Conte beach which I briefly mentioned above. What a wonderful surprise! It’s very well known but definitely an experience everyone should have. My kids know the quieter side to the island very well so I really wanted them to see some authentic bohemian party vibes which this place offers in bundles with the beating bongos, local artists singing, bikini clad dancers, a front row seat for the incredible sunset and that underlying beat which slowly builds up and kicks in just as the light dims.
The menu is pretty extensive, pretty expensive also, but so good. We ordered the thai style squid and sushi to share as a starter, the kids shared a Pad Thai and we both devoured the spicy monkfish and prawn yellow curry.
The second was The Giri Cafe in San Joan, to the North of the island which looks incredibly unassuming from the outside, as it’s set back from the road a little, but once you’re taken through the darker interior you find yourself in the most secret kitchen garden (I think I did actually squeal as we walked into it).
It’s so incredibly cool and sophisticated, not particularly boho and rustic like other parts of the island but so so pretty. We were given a table tucked into the corner and were engulfed by a mixture of flowers, vegetables, edible flowers, lemon trees, lettuces, etc. The smell was divine! What they have done so well is transform the concept of an ordinary kitchen garden into something very beautiful indeed. Oh and let’s not forget the Burrata salad … all I’m going to say is it’s drizzled with homemade pesto and caramelised (yes caramelised) pine nuts. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it (delicious).
The final place we visited was La Paloma, and well … what a place!
Not only must it be the prettiest restaurant I have ever been lucky enough to go to, the staff are incredibly warm and welcoming, the food is out of this world (really), there’s a children’s playground (win) and most importantly the story behind it’s existence is just so incredibly heart warming. A family who desired to …”create a restaurant in harmony with the authentic beauty of the island” (sigh), and since 2004 it has evolved into a family friendly little gem tucked away in the most gorgeous citrus grove setting. I will be dreaming about it frequently until we get to visit again and it’s an absolute must if you really would like something special.
So apart from beaching and eating, we don’t tend to do too much else (haha), but there are a couple of places we don’t like to miss out on and Jack, particularly, loves having his memory jogged and making sure we carry on with our traditions.
The first is … walking to the top of the Eivissa Castle which stands proudly at the top of the Dalt Vila (Old Town). We always do it on the night we have booked La Toretta and drive into town early evening, walk through the port, check out the shops, walk through the beautiful arch through to the old town, meander through the cobbled streets and then make the sweaty climb to the top. Historically a pirate has been sat up there, next to the canons, whom Jack met when he was younger and was totally enthralled by. He’s no longer there but we’ve continued the story for Finn.
On our way down, and before we’re due to eat, we stop off at S’Escalinata which sits on some of the steps in the old town. Colourful beanbags strewn over the stone make perfect seats, and a wonderful place to cool down before we head off again.
Our other favourite hang out is Las Dalias, the original hippy market, which is to the North of the island. It’s open on Saturday’s and we tend to get there as it’s opening at 10:00, and before the queues of traffic build up.
It’s full of the prettiest market stalls selling anything from find gold jewellery to the most beautifully soft leather clutches (kicking myself I didn’t buy one), and is the place we always buy our throws and far too many bracelets. The loveliest thing about it is it’s sprinkled with little drinking / eating hot spots where you can take a seat, grab a coffee, listen to the DJ and his mellow beats echoing around you while you zone out for a while.
So that’s it really. In a nutshell.
A very small glimpse into our holiday with our genuinely favourite beaches and food places, and below are a few helpful beaching and eating top tips which I have either been told or learn’t over the years…
To avoid the busy roads and the mad scramble onto the beaches, arrive early, especially in August. It sounds like common sense but arriving after 11:00 usually means total chaos and if you have kids then 10:00 doesn’t actually seem that early and you get to choose your spot before all the party lovers arrive.
And because there are so many beaches to choose from, and all within driving distance, definitely hire a car. There are taxis available but you could end up spending a fortune. We have always booked through Moto Luis, as recommended by a local friend of mine on our first holiday, and after numerous bookings everything is just so easy and efficient. We meet them in car park 3 at the airport where there is never a queue. In previous years when we have taken night flights we have jumped into a taxi from the airport and then asked for the car to be dropped to us at the apartment a couple of days later when we’re ready to travel around. They’re very flexible. We booked a convertible Fiat 500 this year, as Jack is obsessed with convertibles, and it was the cheapest option … and so much fun.
If you’re interested in visiting a beach club, always book your table for breakfast / lunch or dinner plus your beds in advance because we saw so many people being turned away due to it being fully booked. Also, these places can be pretty expensive (hence why we only go once), so take plenty of snacks and your own water (especially if you have kids). I always freeze a couple of big bottles of water the night before and they defrost while we’re on the beach, and stay cool.
In terms of budget, you really can spend a fortune in Ibiza (which I’m sure is the same case on any holiday). Prices have risen since we first visited, and when we go we’re always on a budget, but the beauty of it is there are so many pretty places to see, beaches to go to and places to eat where you don’t need to spend the earth. I always pepper our holiday with a couple of ‘treats’ where we know we’re going to spend more.
This year we shopped at the supermarket when we arrived and stocked up on watermelons, peaches, plums and big cases of bottled water. We made picnics for lunch, bought a big supply of snacks and ate out mostly only for dinner. For some of the dinners, depending on where we were, the kids would share a meal and on the couple of occasions we ate out for lunch, we would order various starters to share, and mopped it all up with the freshly made bread, olive oil and balsamic. I also bought our inflatables before we left this time round, from Amazon, plus took our trusty old Ibiza throw to use on most of the beaches.
For restaurants, I would really go by personal recommendations … there are so many places that we haven’t even scratched the surface of, but there are also fabulous hidden gems which you will only really find out about if you explore or if you know someone who has been there before. If I like the vibe of a restaurant I will always ask the manager / owner for their personal recommendations, as you can usually guarantee they will like similar restaurants to their own.
If you’re still reading (haha), and are still interested, you can see videos of all the places I’ve mentioned on my Instagram highlights @lights_mama_action.