How to have a family holiday in Ibiza

The Balearic isle of Ibiza was party central in the ’90s, when Amanda Hyde rocked up, young, free and single. But can it still thrill now that she’s grown up and married, with kids in tow?

A stained street in Ibiza by Getty Images

The last time I went to  Ibiza, I checked into a ridiculously expensive villa, stayed out partying for two days straight, and made it to my beautiful, boho-chic bedroom just as the flight I’d booked home was taking off. My weekend consisted of over-the-top kaftans, overpriced rosé and over-hyped DJs, but I thought it was the best holiday I’d ever had. A decade on, I was ready for a rematch, but something had changed. I’d grown up. This time, I’d be going with my husband, Nat, and two other travel companions — our kids, Amelie (four) and Sonny (two).

As parents, we were slightly hesitant. To us, Ibiza represented the thumping belly of super-clubs, and erratic binges on dodgy tapas. But we’d seen our most sensible friends holiday on the island with kids in tow, and read a string of newspaper articles proclaiming that Ibizan clubs were over, anyway (ruined by a clientele who would rather take selfies outside the gates than actually hit the dance floor). With the loss of the island’s hard-partying reputation, family bookings are soaring — up 125% from 2013. But could trading big-name DJs for early-night PJs really make for a fun holiday on this island? We were about to find out.

Whitewashed buildings in Santa Eulaila on the east coast of Ibiza by Getty Images

We touched down early in the morning, driving towards our hotel through countryside ticker-taped with sudden glimpses of neon-blue sea. As we passed the kind of villas I’d rented on my previous visit — rustic-luxe restored farmhouses made for floating on giant inflatable unicorns — I could only wave them a forlorn farewell. This year, we were making the ultimate kid-friendly sacrifice: an all-inclusive behemoth in the far west of the island.

The behemoth (also known as Sensatori Resort) promised a kids’ club, kids’ pools — even a kids’ cabaret after dinner. What it didn’t promise was thrilling evenings for us, since we were all sharing one room. Nat and I assumed we’d spend each night sitting silently in the dark until they started snoring. Our reasons for choosing it weren’t entirely altruistic, though. Round-the-clock ice creams and free buckets and spades would buy us the bargaining power needed for some adult-friendly, nostalgia-stirring excursions during the holiday.

It was a bonus to find that the hotel was quite nice.

Ibiza by Getty Images

Built behind the craggy bay at Cala Tarida (home to the best sunsets on the island), it felt more like a quasi boutique hotel. With 402 rooms, it was undeniably humongous, but with little touches such as a sunset bar and posh spa to soften its edges. For some, it is a kind of Hotel California: I met a couple who hadn’t left it for their entire fortnight, not even for the postcard-worthy beach just beyond its gates. But I knew better. It takes 50 minutes max to get anywhere on  Ibiza  and, kids or no kids, I couldn’t make my comeback without returning to places I’d been when I was too young to appreciate them. First stop,  IbizaTown.

After rotating our hire car into a space the size of a saucer, the whole family jumped out and made straight for the cobbled, pastel-washed centre. In my party days, it had felt like the epitome of chic. We mooched past touristy boutiques (some jewelled skulls and embellished beach bags catching Amelie’s eye) and searched out bougainvillea-laced squares off narrow-alley mazes. But, after a quick lunch of salads on a terrace on the cobbles, Amelie had something to say. ‘Boring, boring, boring,’ she muttered. Frankly, she was right. Without my rosé-tinted specs, the whole place seemed cynically touristy. Luckily, the kids had an idea: we should take a boat trip.

Decorative detailing and flowers adorning the traditional houses by Getty Images

Many Ibiza visitors splurge on this part of the holiday, spending hundreds on private charters to the neighbouring island of Formentera. We considered this, but ruled it out on the grounds that our two-year-old might launch himself off the side if it went on too long, rendering it poor value. Instead, we opted for the shortest boat trip available — the $5 return from  Ibiza  Town’s Dalt Vila area to the glitzy marina next door.

It might not have been my personal dream boat, but the rusty old ferry that ploughs this route was manned by a proper old sea dog in a captain’s hat (much to the kids’ delight). And it was worth it to see Sonny’s face as he pointed out passing mega-yachts and seagulls, while Amelie gleefully scanned the water ‘for sharks’. From across the bay, I photographed  Ibiza Town rising from the sea in a whitewashed haze. It looked as it must have before the souvenir shops arrived: houses wrapped like icing tiers around a fortress topping. The magical setting and infant enthusiasm combined in one of those annoying smug-parent moments. Sadly, it lasted exactly three minutes — until we got off at the wrong stop.

There are two, it turns out: first, industrial wasteland; second, glitzy marina. Ashen-faced, we realised we’d have to wait for the ferry to do another one of its circuitous routes before it could pick us up. Still, every cloud – ‘Playground!’ shouted Amelie.

Sure enough, there among the tumbleweed was a playground seemingly unvisited since 1986. We had no choice but to kill an hour there — the kids making the most of empty swings, my husband glaring at the water from a crumbling, graffiti-covered wall.

Back aboard the ferry, he took control of the situation. ‘Right, you’ve had your fun. Tomorrow it’s Mummy and Daddy’s turn,’ Nat asserted. ‘We’re going to a beach club.’ It was a brave move. Any recent excursions in that direction had involved travel potties, panic over eating unsavoury sand, and no clubs whatsoever. Fortuitously, it turned out that one of  Ibiza’s  best was a stroll from the hotel, so we could always run back if anyone erupted.

Cotton Beach Club is among a handful of restaurants at Cala Tarida, and a favourite with the yachting crowd. A glance at Instagram suggested it was a place where pneumatic blonde beauties came to pose with the sea in the background. Lord knows what they’d make of us.

Dalt Vila in Ibiza Town by Getty Images

Slightly sweaty from ascending the hundreds of steps from the beach, we stumbled into the all-white interior to find it staffed by model types in minimalist black outfits. Spa music played softly as we looked out over the wide terrace, facing the glimmering sea. It was so glacially beautiful that, for a moment, we considered legging it. Then we spotted a sprinkling of families — even one or two with children worse-behaved than ours.

In the end, we devoted three languid hours to lunch, something we hadn’t achieved since Amelie was born. Nat and I nibbled fresh prawn curry and polished off a bottle of decent white; Amelie and Sonny befriended some Dutch children and dashed around a terrace meant for sunset contemplation. Below, boats skimmed across the bay as the sun cast millions of glinting diamonds over the sea.

We had finally hit our Ibizan stride. We returned to Cotton Beach later in the holiday, for sushi on its sunloungers. The kids dipped in and out of the water and, when boredom threatened, the jolly bartenders were on hand with banter and mocktails.

‘At dusk we swaddled ourselves in towels for an Ibizan classic – watching a flaming sun drip like syrup into the opalescent sea’

At dusk we swaddled ourselves in towels for an Ibizan classic — watching a flaming sun drip like syrup into the opalescent sea.

Only two things threatened our island adventures: Karl and Koral. The pesky Sensatori’s kids’ entertainers were so damn perky that Amelie instantly loved them more than she did us. How could my day-trips compete with mornings of messy science experiments? 

Frantically scouring the internet, I found an evening out that would pry her from the kids’ club: Babylon Beach, a restaurant on a forested spit of sand at the opposite end of the island, with children’s entertainment and a Tarzan-style rope playground. Bingo.

We arrived to find a kind of cross-generational paradise. Nat and I settled down for drinks under a straw umbrella, while Amelie had her face painted as a unicorn, chatting to six-year-old boys with press-on Pacha tattoos. Sonny scribbled in a dragon-themed colouring book he’d been gifted before dropping off to the lilt of the sea and the persistent throb of background dubstep. With the kids occupied, we met the owner, Vaughan, a dreadlocked giant clad in bright African prints, who first came to  Ibiza  in the ’80s to dance at Pacha and ended up running the club’s Funky Room. Now, he watches over this place alongside business partner, Angie (not to be outdone, she was rocking vintage Pucci).

Houses perched on rocks in Ibiza town by Getty Images

Vaughan told us that Babylon Beach was reminiscent of  Ibiza  before the social-media age and police crackdowns. We agreed: the whole place radiated a refreshing hippy permissiveness. And there were kids — including the owners’. Perhaps when you’ve seen it all, there’s not much a kid can do to shock you.

‘We loved the island’s relaxed eastern side so much that we busted Amelie out of the kids’ club’

We loved the island’s relaxed eastern side so much that we busted Amelie out of the kids’ club again the following day, making for the crescent of yellow sand at Cala San Vicente. We went via the whitewashed hilltop village of Sant Joan (brightly painted shutters and empty lanes instead of noisy clubs and tourist-trap restaurants) and found ourselves sharing the beach with just two people, a pair of bohemian types with a bongo. Thankfully, it remained unplayed, and we whiled away the afternoon tucking into just-caught fish amid the unreconstructed ’60s charm of Restaurant Es Caló, the children building sandcastles between courses.

It was the perfect day, unmarred by the pressures of fitting in with a designer-clad crowd at a posh hangout. In fact, the whole holiday had hit the spot, packed with low-key places that appealed to all of us (on other less successful trips, we’ve alternated soft-play days and disgruntled adults with museum days and bored kids). It was even a relief, eventually, to have Karl and Koral on call, should Nat and I want to visit a spa or have a drink on our own. Nevertheless, as I joined the kids in scooping up seashells in the afternoon sun, I prayed that Amelie had forgotten the evening disco.

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Words by Amanda Hyde