Ibiza reborn – in search of the Balearics’ bohemian past
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Patricia Marañon is hard at work, Ibiza style. Standing in her open-air studio – a weather-beaten table situated under a 500-year-old carob tree – she is finishing an arrangement of organic homegrown flowers destined for a hotel lobby. “My style is informal, free, unconventional; just like this island,” muses the “natural florist”. The sound of a classical guitar drifts from inside the house, where Carlos Cabañares, her Argentinian husband, is practising for an upcoming recital. A soft breeze, pushing in from the sea to fan their hilltop garden, brings with it Mediterranean scents of rosemary and pine.
Marañon and Cabañares are examples of a phenomenon gathering pace on this Balearic island – an influx of creative professionals from a rainbow of nationalities choosing to settle on Ibiza’s less-frenetic northern half. Among the couple’s circle of friends and contacts are ceramicist Laura de Grinyo, fashion editor Daniela Agnelli, cult landscaper Juan Masedo, novelist and eco-activist Rebecca Frayn and agriculturalist/publicist Alonso Colmenares, whose picture-perfect (but real) country set-up The Farm was the setting for a recent Gucci summer event.
When I lived in Ibiza, back in the primeval swamps that were the 1990s, there was no Gucci, no Fiorucci. Glamour of any kind was thin on the ground, and the yawning gulf between high and low season on the island hardly seemed likely to foster an all-year-round creative movement. There was club culture, but not much of any other sort. Such artistic activity as there was tended to produce mainly derivative or hippy-ish results; “craft” meant knick-knacks brought back from the Far East to sell in the Saturday market at Las Dalias. Meanwhile, the countryside was rapidly slipping into dereliction, the stone walls collapsing for lack of maintenance, as the last generation of peasant farmers finally hung up their tools.
For an update on Ibiza’s latest goings-on, you’d be well advised to check out the inland village of Santa Gertrudis. Old-timers who remember this as a one-horse town with a church, a tobacconist, a school and a couple of bars would find it almost unrecognisable today. “Santa G” in 2022 is a whirl of organic cafés, healthy-eating restaurants, concept stores and the kind of services required by a certain kind of expat (ie, lawyers, caterers, private yoga instructors). Art and craft galleries have sprung up practically on every corner. In 2018, Donna Lennard opened a branch of her Il Buco restaurant (also in Manhattan and the Hamptons) here, and the village has a new cocktail bar, Overall, with a funky low-lit interior and cutting-edge mixology that wouldn’t be out of place in Dalston or Fort Greene. Somm, a wine shop owned by Swedish ex-DJ Anders Enkvist, showcases the new wave of ibicenco wines – surprising on an island with scant winemaking tradition beyond the rough-and-ready farmhouse tipple known as vi pagès (“peasant wine”).
At the terrace tables of Santa Gertrudis, the vibe is anything but rough and ready. Pan-European mums in flowing woollen coats and cowboy boots, having dropped the kids at nearby Morna International College, sip on wheatgrass juice with their friends. Just along from the old Can Escandell supermarket, the delicatessen Picadeli provides lunchtime snacks to be taken back to the co-working space or studio. Bearded or man-bunned bros greet each other for chia pudding, veggie frittata or barley and pomegranate salad. Cate Watts, an English architect/developer who rents out her two deliriously beautiful contemporary fincas to foreign families keen to live the Ibiza dream, calls Santa Gertrudis “Primrose Hill on the Med”. “You can do your yoga, have your little lunches… it’s not about the clubs or the bling. There’s a good life here, though of course it’s a bubble.”
Parsing this new demographic is no easy task. Over coffee at Wild Beets, Rupert Baird-Murray, one of northern Ibiza’s newer British contingent and a partner at boutique estate agent Domus Nova, helps me out. Baird-Murray saw the wealthy newcomers begin to arrive well before the pandemic, but says the past two years have endowed things with a new urgency. As lockdown kicked in, second homes quickly became first homes – converted ibicenco farmhouses priced at €3mn or €4mn were snapped up within days by buyers who paid the asking price having only seen the property online. This is a high-earning creative crowd with consolidated careers. Baird-Murray has noted a sizeable Dutch presence in the island’s north – partly explained, he reckons, by the Netherlands’ strict quarantine rules – and also a growing number of Americans, both East Coasters (Manhattan gallerist Howard Greenberg has just bought a house here) and West Coast techies and Burners (“the really cool ones, the ones that maybe find Tulum a bit boring”). A few of the names on his contact list are painter Alexandra Castelli, fashion visionary Isabel Marant, designer Philippe Nacson (who famously sold his 3CL lamp to Karl Lagerfeld) and photographer Nadav Kander, who hopes his work will be exhibited at David Leppan’s members’ club, Los Patios, when it finally opens.
The narrow roads out of Santa Gertrudis, meandering through the idyllic countryside, follow a kind of ribbon development of contemporary culture and style. Dutch home-deco depot Sluiz has landed by the roadside in what looks like a series of huge circus tents with, inside, homewares and clothes in a riot of slightly bonkers psychedelic colour (very Ibiza). Tucked among the pinewoods nearby is a complex where a community of artists occupies studio space, including Argentinian watercolourist Melisa Ramet, Australian painter William Mackinnon and ceramicist Yvette Spowers, one of a group of talented women potters and ceramic artists now working on the island. Spowers, who grew up in Barbados and has had studios in Wales and Los Angeles, ran a gallery in Sri Lanka for a few years before pitching up in Ibiza. Despite all the dizzying changes it continues to undergo, she believes the island bears the remnants of its old magic. “There’s a quality here that’s quite special, a tinselly, fairy-dust feeling in the air,” she says.
A few miles east of Santa Gertrudis, the minuscule village of Sant Llorenç de Balàfia is on the way to being a hub. It was La Paloma, the Mediterranean restaurant with its deliciously rustic setting, that first brought the Jade Jaggers to this backwater, but further novelties are afoot. A mile or two up a dirt track behind the church lies Fincadelica, Ibiza’s most fabulous finca-for-rent, just opened and almost full for summer 2022, despite the price tag of about €65,000 a week. The Bar Casanova, where country people once came to play cards and knock back the vi pagès, is now Casa Lhasa, a “natural winebar” co-run by Cassady Sniatowsky from Montreal, whose tasting nights and locally sourced menu are a draw for the diaspora around Sant Llorenç.
It’s always been the case that the further north you ventured on Ibiza, the greater the tranquillity and sense of space. Around the village of Sant Mateu d’Albarca on a March morning, the woods and fields have taken on a rich palette of dusky green and rust red after a night of rain; the rows of almond trees in the valley are already sprouting their tender green leaves. The cuboid forms of the old casas payesas studding the countryside have an expensively manicured look; some have sliding security gates, high fences and glimmering pools.
Sant Mateu is another village in transition, rapidly being awakened from its bucolic slumber by a sudden burst of cultural activity. The restaurant Can Cires, beside the tiny church, has been taken over by Christian Jochnick and Sophie Daunais, a Swede and Canadian respectively, who hail from a big-city world of finance and business. Their hugely ambitious farm-to-table venture, Juntos (“together”), revolves around a series of locations including a working farm to supply the restaurant, a grand old finca near Sant Mateu with experimental plantings of almonds and saffron and a regenerative-agriculture space in a former dairy farm outside Santa Gertrudis, where workshops, lectures, farmers’ markets and solstice celebrations will all be on the menu.
Because these days, agriculture is as much in the ascendant as culture. An extensive but tightly connected network links such diverse ventures as Alonso Colmenares’ Farmers’ Club, both a farm cooperative and a kind of informal consultancy for finca owners wanting to cultivate their derelict land; and Ojo de Ibiza, a vineyard of stunning beauty high on the cliffs above Benirrás beach, where Dieter Meier, frontman of the Swiss band Yello, rescued the steep terraces of old overgrown vines and is busy making a wine he hopes will eventually rival the world’s finest.
For decades, the island’s fertile arable land was gradually abandoned, to the point where it’s estimated that Ibiza produces just two per cent of the food it consumes. A swath of new projects, often in the hands of urban incomers with no previous experience of farming, is looking to change things for the better in a plethora of ingenious ways. Movers and shakers include Jessica Dunlop, who grows organic hay on land she leases from locals; and Rebecca Frayn and her husband Andy Harries, CEO of the company that produces the Netflix series The Crown, who are sensitively restoring their enormous finca with native trees, beehives and a rare species of Balearic toad that they hope to reintroduce to their freshwater eco-pond. Then there’s Roberto Contaldo and his horse-drawn ploughing business, much sought after by the island’s cohort of wealthy nouveaux paysans.
Guests at Claus Sendlinger’s influential, if short-lived, country retreat La Granja discovered the joys of having an organic vegetable garden on your doorstep (it was Sendlinger who coined the phrase “the farm is the golf course of the 21st century”). Now all the cool folk on the island want one of their own. Dutch/Tanzanian photography curator and angel investor Elaine Groenestein grows two hectares of raspberry plants and 17 types of chilli at her finca near Sant Joan de Labritja, marketing her products under the brand-name Labritja Botanica. Margaret von Korff of Cas Gasi, among the first and best of the island’s farm-stay agroturismos, is developing the “farm” side of the equation with a spectacular vegetable garden (based on the raised-bed, “no dig” philosophy) from which the hotel’s excellent new restaurant will be supplied. The cleverest cooks on the island, among them Deniz Tamer at sublime casa payesa hideout Can del Mulo and Matías Romano at Hambrë restaurant in Santa Eulària, pride themselves on sourcing raw materials from Ibiza’s increasing number of organic farms. Tamer shops at the Saturday farmers’ market at Can Tixedó, but is currently planting his own garden at Can del Mulo – which will include soya beans for fermenting his own soy sauce.
A craft revival is similarly under way, as freshly landed finca owners look to furnish their houses with island-made furniture and objects. Resident potters, textile artists, candle-makers and gardeners have seen a surge in demand for their work. Artisan carpenter Thierry Billaud has been deluged with orders for his country-style doors, chairs and tables using local woods. A particularly striking example of a craft practice inspired by ibicenco tradition is ceramicist Laura de Grinyo, who studied with master potter Adrián Ribas at his 70-year-old studio and has quickly moved into the premier league with pieces exhibited at the Loewe store in Harrods in London and at Milan Design Week. (Her exquisite sculptural forms based on jugs and pots can also be seen at Fincadelica.)
While the island’s no-holds-barred development as a tourist destination was in full swing, there was little room for dissenting voices. But with the mass-tourism model in question and natural resources (principally water) under strain, ideals of conservation and sustainability are at last making strides. Ibiza’s reputation for frivolity and hedonism is hardwired into the brand, but the current upsurge of creativity has little to do with clubs and parties. Observers of the island scene point to a seriousness that wasn’t there during the full-on party years; a sense that people are hunkering down and quietly getting on with whatever it is they do. Says Sandra de Keller, the brilliant Swiss photographer who is painstakingly restoring the casa payesa she was bequeathed by fashion photographer Rolf Bichsel after he died in 2019: “The chi-chi thing has gone away. Now it’s more about getting things done.”
Driving north in the direction of Sant Joan de Labritja brings you to Els Amunts, Ibiza’s modest uplands with their gentle, pine-clad peaks. What remains of the island’s traditional rural culture clings to life here as if in a precious reserve, among whitewashed casas payesas – some of whose owners have paid astronomical prices for them. The waves of sophistication rolling across Ibiza have reached as far as distant Portinatx on the island’s northern edge. Los Enamorados, a chic and characterful converted hostel on a tiny harbour, was the first clue that something interesting was happening in Ibiza’s far-northern reaches. But then along came Six Senses, the latest in the group’s flurry of European openings. This brand-new property on wide, wild Xarraca Bay both drags the island’s centre of fashion gravity several miles further north and makes most of Ibiza’s other high-end propositions (Nobu, Bless, W) look a little sterile and starchy in comparison.
Certainly, this is Ibiza’s most-talked-about new hotel, if not always for the right reasons. Controversy has swirled around it since the start of the building work, when locals raged at what they saw as a destructive incursion into a pristine landscape. The reality is more complex: an ugly 1970s beach hotel already stood on the site, and owner/architect Jonathan Leitersdorf’s low-rise concept is an inspired solution, hugging the cliffs and mimicking the tones of the surrounding rock.
In many ways Six Senses is an expression of the tendencies and preoccupations engaging the island as a whole. The hotel has its own farm off site, from which it intends to supply the kitchens of its restaurants. Until that happens, the vintage Porsche tractors standing beside a century-old olive tree in the central atrium remain at best a symbol of its good intentions. More significant, perhaps, is the hotel’s whole-hearted commitment to culture, which perfectly chimes with the classy, quality-driven Ibiza coming to prominence. It says something that, as well as three top-of-the-range Scanner powerboats, Leitersdorf has also invested in two full-size Steinway grand pianos. Among the original programme for this spring’s Ibiza Clásico music festival (an offshoot of the Verbier Festival) was a performance of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro – surely the first time the work would ever have been performed in the world capital of electronic club music, had not current events forced the festival to be postponed until spring 2023.
This, it seems, is how the new Ibiza works: its creative community moves in tight little circles, one name leading you to another until a whole ecosystem becomes evident. In the Six Senses’ Agora boutique, perhaps Ibiza’s most delectable new retail space, are three large-scale installations of dried flowers and branches, gathered from the fields surrounding her house by none other than the creator under the carob tree: that “natural florist”, Patricia Marañon.
Paul Richardson was a guest of Cas Gasi and Six Senses Ibiza
Ibiza address book
Can Caterina cancaterina.com; houses from €27,000 a week
Can del Mulo candelmulo.com; POA
Can Tanca via domusnovaibiza.com; minimum 7 days’ rent, POA
Cas Gasi casgasi.com; from €426 a night
Fincadelica fincadelica.com; from about €65,000 a week (sleeps 18)
Los Enamorados losenamoradosibiza.com; from €345
Six Senses Ibiza sixsenses.com, from £475
Bottega il Buco ilbuco.com
Picadeli Can Serreta, Local 2
Wild Beets wildbeets.com
Casa Lhasa @casa.lhasa.ibiza
La Paloma palomaibiza.com
Juntos House juntosibiza.com
Labritja Botanica @labritjabotanica
Ladio Ceramics ladio.eu
Ojo de Ibiza ojoibiza.com
Patricia Marañon @florando.ando