Those wanting bright lights, booze on tap, booming all night, every night life and fast food chains won’t find what they crave on eco-friendly Formentera.
Life in the slow lane is how it is on this, the smallest, quietest of the Balearic Islands, at only 20 km long, with a population of around 12,000.
Following a short bus ride from Ibiza airport to the harbour, a 30-minute Trasmapi ferry crossing takes us to the island. The island is home to the Es Freus Marine Reserve of Ibiza and Formentera, the only natural area in the Mediterranean designated a UNESCO world heritage site. Known as the last paradise of the Mediterranean, the island is a haven of natural beauty, with long, sandy beaches and shallow waters, fringed by dunes and palm trees. Snorkelling, kayaking, canoeing and other water sports are popular pastimes. The calm, transparent waters and soft, cloud white sand make Illetas beach the most famous and a favourite with tourists. But if, like myself, you prefer not bare all or see what others choose to reveal, do check whether your chosen beach is one of the naturist havens on Formentera.
A valuable eco-system, the biggest area of Posidonia Oceanica (Neptune grass) in the Mediterranean, covers the seabed, shelters fish and other sea creatures, provides oxygen, keeps the waters crystalline clear and prevents coastline erosion. It is protected by the Ses Salines Nature Park. At some nature parks, only petrol-fuelled vehicles pay a car park fee. Bicycle travel is encouraged, and fig trees are cut down to a level which provides shade for humans and animals.
In the island’s quaint, sleep capital, St Francesc Xavier, at the daily market, only locally-sourced fresh fruit, vegetables and other produce is on sale. Traditional products include dried fish, liquid salt, wine, honey, dried figs, cheese and herb liqueur.
At La Mola, the family-owned TerraMoll vineyard, is in its 18th year of production in an area of excellent growing conditions renowned for quality wines. Less water equals fewer grapes equals better quality. At 200 metres above sea level and comprising 40 hectares, the vineyard produces around 20,000 bottles per year. We sample the red, white and rose varieties. Their Viognier, one of my favourite white wine tipples, has recently been authorised by the Council of Agriculture. No chemical pesticides are used here and only 15 per cent of TerraMoll’s wine is exported. La Mola craft market takes place on Wednesdays and Sundays from 4pm-9pm. With arts and craft stalls, live music and terrace bars, the island’s main market is a colourful and popular tourist attraction.
It’s time for lunch and we veer off-the-beaten-track to fishing village, Es Calo de Sant Agusti. Enjoying spectacular, picture postcard sea views, at the popular Can Rafalet restaurant, as we tuck in to hunks of home-made bread dipped in olive oil, paella, fresh grilled fish, salad and golden chips, we sit alongside families, couples and parties who eat, drink, laugh and chat together.
Chartered boats moor just off the shore at the low key but stylish Gecko Hotel and Beach Club, a renowned yoga retreat. From our base, the Insotel Formentera Playa Hotel, three km from the capital and nine km from the port, we walk along a boarded beach-side track to this oasis of tranquility within stunning gardens. We savour the sublime marinated fish ceviche followed by crunchy croquettes and a bowl of fresh mussels in a sea of fragrant Thai sauce. The red tuna is perfectly cooked and full of flavour. A tangy citrus fruit dessert refreshes our palate.
Formentera was a former hippie scene in the 60s and 70s and reportedly, a windmill, on the eastern side of the island was home to Bob Dylan for a time. This 18th century windmill, situated on a promentary at Pilar La Mola, a small village on the highest point of Formentera, is pictured on Pink Floyd’s 1969 More album.
Laid back legends, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix also spent time out on Formentera, now a favourite chilll-out haunt of Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna, Kate Moss, famous footballers and stylish Italians.
Hiring a boat, with or without a skipper, enables access to the discovery of hidden corners and little-known gems of this island. Pau from Barcelona, commands just three of us on a llaut, a traditional, six-seater fishing boat. We sail from La Savina harbour in Formentera, which lies just off the southern tip of big sister, Ibiza. The sea is choppy with a considerable swell. Our boat rides the waves like a mini roller coaster and the spray veers upwards over the side of the craft and on to my open notebook. I can still just about read my damp shorthand notes. In just less than an hour, we approach shores of Espalmador. On this Utopian isle, there is just one property set back and owned by the folk who bought the island for £18m. But anyone can use the white, soft-sanded beaches, apparently. It’s not often I get the chance to jump into a man’s arms, these days, so when our small boat moors a little way out, I follow the skipper’s command, leap towards him, land with a splash in the crystal in the clear turquoise waters, then wade ashore.
Walkers, hikers, runners and cyclists uncover the secrets of Formentera. There are 32 well-marked ‘green routes’ on the island which pass through areas of outstanding scenic beauty. Electro engineer, Daniel Aguilera Serrano, of Walking Formentera hails from Barcelona, but in the summer, he supervises guided routes which take in coves, cliffs, forests, streams, caves and caverns on the island. Our press group teams up with a party of Dutch journalists for a two-hour walk, rewarded by glorious sunset views on a deserted beach. Paradise found.