Beautiful beaches and lunar lands.capes predominate on the island
A tiny speck on the world map, Formentera has always been over-shadowed by its sister island, Ibiza, the Mediterranean party capital. While Ibiza rose to glamorous stature on the European hipster circuit, Formentera maintained its low-key and anti-fashion scene. The smallest of the inhabited Balearic Islands, with no airport and few paved roads, Formentera has shunned high-heel glamour and remained a simple place to get away and relax.
Though only a half-hour ferry ride away from Ibiza, Formentera has managed to resist the development of concrete high-rise condominiums and raging disco clubs in favour of preserving a peaceful natural environment with woods full of wind-bent pine trees, moon-like rock formations, and azure transparent waters. The 16-kilometre-long island has been ‘blessed’ with a tough landscape, its terrain is rugged, windswept and hostile, with high cliffs. The only land suitable for an airstrip is on a national nature preserve.
Although most places and routes of the island can be reached or travelled by car or motorcycle, it is best explored by bicycle or foot. Much of the charm of the place is lost when motor vehicles are used. The intrepid traveller should try to enter into more direct contact with the landscape, and avoid any activity that degrades the island’s fragile ecosystem. There is an ecological-friendly vibe to the place. Even the houses blend with the scenery in a natural way with one-storey stone homes bordered by stacked limestone walls. A bike route that begins and ends in Sant Francesc Xavier, the administrative capital, and goes along the camí vell des Cap gives visitors a good feel of the interior of the island, especially its rural architecture and agrarian countryside.
The island has some archaeological relics of its most early inhabitants, the Romans, who had a military complex close to the Camí Vell (Old Track) about 10 kilometres along the La Mola road, but in general there are few signs of its ancient past. The harsh terrain—there is a scarcity of fresh water—has made the island resistant to human inhabitation. Formentera was vacant for almost 300 years (between the 14th and late-16th centuries), until a group of diligent farmers began cultivating the parched earth, planting pine trees, almonds, figs and grape vines. Franco’s rebel troops used part of the island as a concentration camp in the Thirties. Things changed in the Sixties when groups of hippies from Ibiza showed up by the boatload.
According to tourist guides and local folklore, Bob Dylan set up house in a windmill to compose an album.
A world-renowned guitar repair workshop, Formentara Guitars, can still be found in the town of Sant Ferran de ses Roques. Formentera Guitars has serviced the treasured wares of such mythical names like Pink Floyd and King Crimson during their stays on the island. The town also houses the famous Fonda Pepe, a hostel and restaurant that served as a hippie enclave in the Seventies when it was the hotspot on the San Francisco-Formentera-Kathmandu circuit. It’s a nostalgic place from a bygone era but still serves up tasty paella and other seafood dishes at reasonable prices. On May 30th, Sant Ferran comes alive to celebrate its patron saint with music in the streets, carnival attractions and street merchants.
The island is dotted with several small, quaint villages, like Sant Ferran, where most of the guesthouses and hostel accommodations can be found. The village of Pilar, located in the isolated region of La Mola (a raised and evergreen-tree filled plateau), offers a chance to check out the island’s original local arts and crafts scene. The peaceful, reclusive nature of Formentera has attracted a small, yet vibrant, artistic community.
Pilar has a supermarket, bars, a bank, a great bakery and an emblematic parish church. On the ‘hippie market’ afternoons (Wednesday and Sunday), the town’s only street becomes impassable due to the crowd at this colourful bazaar offering live music and a wide range of different objects.
Just a couple of kilometres from Pilar is the Far de Formentera. A majestic white-washed lighthouse, it is located at the most eastern point of the island, and affords an ideal spot to watch the sun rise over the sea. Going around the building from one side to the other reveals the dramatic abruptness of the cliffs, and a visitor feels truly at the edge of the world. The site inspired Jules Verne to make it the setting of adventures in his science fiction masterpiece, Journey Across the Solar System.
The bike ride to the Far is winding, steep and picturesque, as you rise up the thick woods of the Bosc de sa Pujada with colossal pine trees and then the road flattens out upon reaching Pilar to cut across plots of farmland. Near the lighthouse, the northern slopes of La Mola are filled with caves of all sizes, and some caverns like Es Fum look like the settings for tales of treasure-hunting expeditions. The most spectacular cavern of the island, la Cova d’en Jeroni (located closer to Sant Ferran) has dramatic stalactites and stalagmites several metres long. The Cova d’en Jeroni offers a refreshingly cool distraction after a morning or afternoon of intense sunbathing.
During peak season (July and August), Formentera’s beaches fill up with sun worshippers. There are many incredibly beautiful small beaches and coves, but people tend to accumulate in certain places, so for those willing to walk a few hundred metres away from a principal beach, a secluded cove or beach can often be discovered. The cove of Cala Saona is one of the principal beaches, from which shady paths fan out to smaller less frequented coves. These intimate coves sometimes often only come out at low tide, or may require some minimal rock climbing to be reached.
The bigger beaches of Platja Mitjorn and the Ses Illetes offer a chilled-out, young, 20-something social scene. The Ses Illetes comes as close to a partying venue as there is on Formentera with beach bars like Tiburón, es Ministre, Pirata and Tanga, while the Platja Mitjorn has the more toned-down Blue Bar, a chilled-out restaurant/bar with a DJ set up in the sand playing reggae and ambient music. Both provide white sugar-fine sand that stretches out for kilometres in either direction.
The charm of Formentera is in its lack of social scene and its undisturbed natural environment, the placid coastal lagoons of the Estany Pundet with its marshes and reeds, the nature preserve of the Punta de sa Pedrera with serrated rocks lining its cliffs, and the enchanting sand dunes and rock castles of Platja Llevant. To get a feel for the island it is best to explore its bucolic, long dirt roads that fan off the main streets. When biking or walking along these roads, one moves through a relaxing landscape of tall prickly dry grass, goats, wind mills, white-washed farmhouses, and old villas with chipped shutters among pine needles.
Details on the ferry schedule, lodging, restaurants, bicycle and hiking routes and other information can be found at: www.turismoformentera.com