Rocking Ibiza with toddler twins, by Tristan Rutherford
The Times, July 2018
Peering through the dawn mist at Agroturismo Atzaro, I watch a lithesome daddy unfold his yoga mat under a blossoming almond tree. He points his legs towards Ibiza’s ripening sky then tucks into downward dog. Beyond him, staff in white linen costumes glide like nymphs past the lotus flowers of an ornamental pond. To witness these wealthy bohemians in their natural habitat it’s expedient to wake up at daybreak. That’s not a problem for me. I’ve been awake since 5.32am when one of my two-year-old twins kicked me in the head then spilt Evian on my pillow.
The hippies that decamped to Ibiza’s Santa Eularia region during the 1970s evolved into flower power capitalists. Their free love spawned a generation of chillaxed children who are now opening hip hotels, yoga retreats and organic farms. Just don’t expect sunburned beatniks growing marrows while dressed like the Grateful Dead. The scene at establishments like Atzaro is family-friendly eco-chic. Here kids can forage pesticide-free kale for breakfast omelettes, while parents pluck organic lemons for their Hendrick’s and cucumber coolers.
More importantly, the offspring of Ibiza’s bell-bottomed babyboomers launched the Family Moments initiative late last year to guarantee a child-friendly experience for all. Across Santa Eularia, Generation Y can now indulge in brand new eBike rides, hiking trails and Ibiza’s first smoke-free beach in what even UNICEF has designated as a ‘child-friendly’ destination.
We’ll see about that. Although Atzaro are one of 20 hotels to receive the Family Moments marque – which means they must offer children’s menus, multi-lingual story books, kid-proof balconies and much else – my twins have already forced a cotton bud into a USB socket, sat on a platter of medjool dates and dropped two croissants in our hotel’s 45m swimming pool.
A morning on the smoke-free beach in Santa Eularia town is just the thing to channel my children’s energy. It’s a twin banana of sand, lapped by a limpid playmat of inch-deep sea. The shoreline shelves gently into topaz shallows, in which toddlers can float plastic Peppa Pig toys that threaten to bob across to Mallorca unless parents dive in after them. The beach is also reduced mobility accessible with shaded wheelchair areas and lifeguard surveillance. Still too sunny? The resort also offers Ibiza’s largest children’s play park a few blocks from the sand.
The town’s principal form of transport is also every child’s fantasy. Every few hours an open-top ferry hops north to the island’s coolest calas (the region has 20 such sandy stretches), and south to Ibiza town then across to the tiny island of Formentera. Wait, does that mean no parking a hot car fully of hungry children while parents argue over Spanish road signage? Yes it does!
To glean the region’s boho backstory, we meet ageless groover Rocio Martinez for lunch at Skuma. (This fabulous seafood restaurant is one of ten eateries to display the Family Moments sign, guaranteeing nappy changing facilities, bibs, high chairs and strollers access for stressed parents.) Rocio now leads historic guided tours but first came to the White Isle back in 1976, where she saw the era’s musical greats perform under scented skies: “Dylan, Bob Marley, many others”.
The surrounding pavement cafés still throb to the gypsy beats of John Lennon and Manu Chao, while serving berry smoothies and smashed avocado. It’s a far cry from the blaring bling of other Balearic resorts. Or from the private island of Tagomago, a mile off the coast, where king of bling Cristiano Ronaldo bronzes his mahogany body in summer.
Rocio’s post-lunch tour of town shows how avant-garde its first tourists were. “Before the hippies came, Ibiza’s citizens were poor,” she explains. “Then they both fought to keep tourist development sympathetic.” The coastline’s Greek Island-style houses still tumble downhill like sugar cubes. We push the pram containing the sleeping twins (bonus!) along the restored River Route promenade. It’s a reedy scene of kingfishers and chirping frogs, beset with ancient waterwheels and stone bridges.
The following morning we blow the kids’ tiny minds at another Family Moments adherent. Eco Farm Can Muson is run by sprightly Ibizan Maria, whose grandson learns English under a sprawling fig tree in the forest school on the grounds. He doesn’t know how lucky he is. The sun-kissed plot is a Garden of Eden where heritage tomatoes flourish alongside banana trees. Spare salad leaves are placed into beach buckets. Little ones then carry them around to feed the dozens of indigenous Ibizan animal species throughout the farm. Our kids are in petting zoo heaven.
To my city eye the plumed peacocks, rare breed hens and giant porkers look pretty much like they do at home. Their diet of kale and almonds also makes them look supremely edible but I don’t point this out to a) Maria or b) my young twins. It’s worth mentioning that Can Muson’s thriving farm shop isn’t just for tourists. The farm-to-fork concept is an Ibiza-wide ethos. Even top tables call in to buy oh-so-cool ingredients like wild mint for sand-in-the-toes mojitos.
It’s lunchtime for us too. In the 1970s, Bar Anita, in the nearby town of Sant Carles, became the epicentre of Balearic hippydom. Long-time manager Vicent explains that because the town had no post office, cheques mailed by bourgeois reactionary parents would arrive care of the café. “Many of our guests were Americans who fled from conscription for Vietnam,” says Vicent. Artsy peaceniks who couldn’t afford their pulpo gallego and grilled sardines paid with their canvasses, which decorate the restaurant walls today. Throughout the bar area some 600 battered post boxes remain in use. The twins attempt to post bread rolls into several of them, before eating their own weight in calamari. During a boisterous dessert we calm them with a Netflix download of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It’s screen time but sod it. It’s my holiday too.
There is one last sight on the road to Nirvana. Beyond the church at Sant Carles, where a 10-year-old Vicent was once tasked with asking dropouts to stop sleeping, eating and playing guitars in the pews, sits the hippy market at Las Dalias. The twins are excited. “I want to see a hippy,” says one. “I want to lick a hippy”, says the other. Since 1985 hundreds of stallholders wearing Jesus sandals have flogged dream catchers to Dutch holidaymakers wearing North Face. Alas, statues of the Hindu god Ganesh made from Pepsi cans are more attractive to teens than tots, so we retreat to our hotel.
Here our offspring recreate the Isle of Sodor on our terrace using all their Thomas tank engines and six empty gin miniatures. Classy. I josh with my wife before our final night’s sleep. “Darling, we’re in Ibiza, do you want to go on a wild rave?” “Not really,” she replies. I nod off, then awake at dawn to find myself relegated to the fold-out sofa while my wife and twins snooze in my bed.
The ravers that came to Ibiza in the 1990s stuck to San Antonio in the island’s north. Thankfully for us Santa Eularia dances by day, not until dawn, at palm-shaded beach clubs like Babylon. While my wife and I sip pre-flight caipirinhas and the twins eat homemade hipster lollies, a DJ spins house music across the lapping waves. As the beat rises the children becomes slaves to the rhythm, twisting and gyrating like glow stick boppers raving to Pete Tong. For all ages Ibiza rocks.
Tristan and Kathryn frequently write travel stories about Spain's Balearic and Canary Islands.