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G - 106 : Ibiza - Hippie Place to Party Island

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

The Citadel of Ibiza and the old Town with its traditional white Houses

For centuries, Ibiza was known as the “White Island”. To keep their houses cool, the islanders bleached the buildings. White was perfect for reflecting glaring sunlight. Old photos of Ibiza remind me of Mykonos, an island we visited last year. The Greek island in the Aegean is also dotted with white buildings. Today, Ibiza is known for its exciting bars, hedonistic hotels, daring clubs, dance raves to the early morning and passed out revelers on the beach.

Ushuaïa, one of the bigger and best know Clubs in Ibiza

Have been to Ibiza several times but never stayed on the island proper. My friend Henry kept an old racing boat in Ibiza. We used it for sailing around the Baleares. “The Arrow” had little comfort, the berths were narrow, the kitchen tiny and there was no space to sit except on the deck. But it was a fine boat and took us with ease to wherever we wanted to go. Sailing around Ibiza takes almost a week and gets you to spectacular bays and beaches – there are a few nudists but nobody else. The water is turquoise. In the morning and evening, there is always a little breeze, ideal sailing conditions. We lived on salad, pasta, bread and local wine and were happy.

The Aigues Blanches in the North of the Island is an almost empty Beach

Was reminded of these days when watching some video clips on YouTube showing Ibiza after the Second World War and in the 1970s. Ibiza was a poor island. Its only exported lemons and sea salt from the pans in Formentera, the small island to the south. People were catholic and conservative. Most had supported General Franco during the Civil War from 1936 to 1939.

General Franco celebrating his Victory in the Spanish Civil War in Madrid in 1939

But they were used to run their own affairs and resented Franco’s heavy hand in governing their island. They were not allowed to speak their native Catalan in public anymore and had to use Castilian instead. The Guardia Civil, Franco’s mobile police, was not popular. Many men with left-wing sympathies were arrested and summarily executed. Franco’s economic policy of autarchy kept everybody poor. There were no jobs, no money, no hope. The Balearic islands were not mainland though. Compared to Spain the repression was light.

Work in Formenteras Salt Pans was all manual and Back breaking

People from Catalonia noticed. Overwhelmingly against the Franco regime, they looked for places to escape. Franco had won the civil war but definitely not the hearts of most Spanish people. Journalists, writers and painters left for the peace and tranquility of Ibiza. There were plenty of empty fincas to rent and life was cheap. The presence of the Guardia Civil was light. The local population friendly and welcoming. Soon, Ibiza was described as an Arcadian paradise. The perfect “exile” Catalans were looking for. Of course, word of the island’s beauty spread and reached Europe. By 1958, the first tourists arrived. Locals cooked for them in their homes and let rooms. The income was welcome in a place which had not seen economic growth for decades.

Rural Ibiza has not changed since the first visitors arrived - albeit Fincas are pricey now

Stories of the island’s beauty began to appear in newspapers like National Geographic and Reader's Digest. Within a few years, young Americans who did not want to serve in Vietnam arrived - and stayed. It was Clinton’s generation – but with money. The young men & women with their wild hair looked a bit out of place but settled in well. Many stayed in the old town where housing was cheap. Others decamped to Es Vedra, the magic cap on Ibiza's south-west corner. Hippie markets popped up. Through their connection the wider world learned about the island. The opening of the airport for International flights in 1966 made a big difference. Germans were the first to arrive, soon followed by visitors from the United Kingdom.

The Cap Es Vedra still attracts for its magic Beauty

In its early days, Ibiza was a budget destination. Low-cost rental apartments were built. Tourists cooked at home. There were few tavernas. The town of Ibiza in the south and San Antonio grew to their current size. By 1968, people from abroad started buying holiday homes. From 1960 to 2020, the number of people living on the island quadrupled to almost 160’000. The share of foreigners increased to 25%. For a few years, football hooligans from the UK gave the island a bad rap but they were soon replaced by another crowd. Also loud but different.

In the 1970s, once empty Beaches like the Cala Bassa got packed with Holiday Makers

Europe’s disco generation, led by English revelers, discovered the island. In the early 1980s, Ibiza experienced its first club-culture wave. Places like Pacha, Club Ku and Amnesia attracted large crowds who came for all-night clubbing. The island also had its fair share of rock n' roll celebrities. Wham, Queens and Eric Clapton were frequent visitors. Wham’s video “Club Tropicana”, shot at the Pikes hotel in 1983, firmly put the island on the culture map. The hotel is still open and to this day hosts live music and house events. It was the pioneer for the clubbing tourism to come.

The Photos on Pikes' Picture Wall tell the Story of an entire Rock n' Roll Generation

Forty years later, Ibiza is firmly established as clubbing place. Cheap alcohol fused with foam parties has given way to more sophisticated events. David Guetta and Claptone are some of the big names which regularly perform on the island and attract thousands. Alcohol was - sadly - replaced by drugs which make the island one of Europe’s biggest drug trafficking hubs. Almost 2.4 million people visit Ibiza every year. During the summer season, the island’s population swells to 450’000. Of the generation 32 and younger, 80% come for a week of beach during the day and clubbing at night.

Package Holidays have given Way to a more sophisticated Style - today's Ibiza Beach

The noisy clubbing is concentrated in relatively few hotels. Once you leave the leisure complexes of Ibiza and San Antonia, you find the peace and tranquility again that attracted visitors fifty years ago. As former colleagues of mine who owns a small house with a lemon orchard once said, “clubbing is like the sound of waves – you know it is there but you seldom notice.” We will find out when we sail around the island.

As in the old Hippie Days, the Sunset in Es Vedra still attracts a big Crowed every Night

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