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History and Hedonism in Ibiza

September 17, 2008
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Holidays to Ibiza aren't just about staying up until dawn and sleeping off hangovers. If you're on an Ibiza holiday, do find some time to explore its cosmopolitan pocket-sized capital located in a wide bay to the southeast of the island. The main attractions in Ibiza Town are the magnificent fortifications that tower over the port along with some of the most dynamic nightlife on the planet. A daytime visit starts with a stiff climb up to Dalt Vila, the historic quarter centred on an austere Catalan cathedral and enclosed by a wall 2km long and 25m high. As an isolated and vulnerable outpost in the Mediterranean, Ibiza has a history of piracy and rapidly changing ownership dating back to the 5th century BC when the Carthaginians built the original ramparts. They were reinforced significantly during a lengthy Moorish occupation, and then replaced completely in the 16th century. More recently, they earned Ibiza Town recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Pause on the rampart walk for a great overview of the surprisingly busy port. Ferries from mainland Spain and the distant Canary Islands compete for mooring space with flotillas of private yachts tying up in advance of holidays in Ibiza. The network of narrow streets around the base of Dalt Vila offers a winning combination of shopping and people-watching. The goods for sale - bright scarves, floppy frocks, sandals and beads - reflect a hippy heritage that dates back to the 1960s. In the many atmospheric pavement cafes, men with ponytails and dense upper body tattoos bulging out of skimpy vests are among the best customers. For some, an outdoor breakfast is the start of a day’s work; for others, it’s the end of a rocking night out in a club.

Of course, for most people, holidays in Ibiza are all about the nightlife. A night time visit to Ibiza town starts around 9pm when the bars begin to fill up and finishes as late as you like. Bar Zuka, owned by an Englishman with tales to tell of the original acid-house era, is a good place to start. The clubs open around midnight and go through till long after dawn, fuelled by the compulsion to dance to Ibiza music, a seductive combination of Sixties sounds mixed with local rhythms.

If you only visit one club during your Ibiza holiday, make it Pacha, the flagship for a dance franchise that now has some 70 outposts worldwide. Originally a whitewashed farmhouse, it has been adapted to hold 3000 people in several rooms, the main one a sunken dance floor surrounded by tiers. This flexibility allows the club to showcase music ranging from hip-hop and indie rock to experimental beats, an agenda with something to appeal to everyone.

Pacha is classy but very small compared to Privilege and Amnesia, face to face across the highway near Sant Rafel five kilometres out of town. (They need to be to cope with the noise generated by party animals let loose in buildings resembling aircraft hangers.) Amnesia takes the credit for starting the global revolution in DJ-led clubbing triggered by British acid-house, while Privilege, with a capacity of 10,000, is the largest of them all.

Both hold regular foam and water parties, a local must try during an Ibiza holiday. Torrents of foam and water splash down from the ceiling, drenching the dancers - a welcome cooling off that often results in a mass strip. If you’re not ready for bed or breakfast by closing time, head for Space at Playa d’en Bossa near the airport, a club that turns day into another long night.

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