Ibiza foodies

A love letter to San Juan

The charming countryside village of San Juan in Ibiza’s north has retained its authenticity over the past half a century…

The charming countryside village of San Juan in Ibiza’s north doesn’t simply evoke feelings of Ibiza’s bohemian heritage – it has retained its authenticity despite the enormous changes sweeping the rest of the island over the past half a century.

Set in the heart of the area are The Giri Café and The Giri Residence, two contemporary establishments that have been uniquely shaped by the spirit of San Juan and are now intrinsic to life in the village. It wasn’t always so, of course. San Juan existed – going about its daily business – without the Giri for decades. The structures of each property had former lives; the hotel, was a dilapidated, centuries-old building that once housed the local girls’ school, while the restaurant was two adjoining terrace houses, whose original owner still lives in the village to this day. Around 12 years ago however, there was a stirring in San Juan, as some foreigners came sniffing around these properties, initiating the start of a long-standing love affair…

In any small town, anywhere in the world, newcomers are eyed with a combination of suspicion, intrigue and genuine interest. San Juan is no different, and when the team behind The Giri brand appeared on the scene, the locals were wary. A little-known fact about the hotel and restaurant name is that it originated from the Spanish slang for foreigners: guiris. Rather than try and fight their newfound reputation, the new business owners simply rolled with it, respecting their roles in the village hierarchy. Plus, it made it easy for any early deliveries to be made, with a simple hand gesture pointing suppliers to the ‘the guiri hotel’. At the time of acquiring the land on which The Giri Residence now stands, most property developers in Ibiza were firmly focused on the south, where business was booming and tourists were flocking. Yet the team behind The Giri were captivated by the north of the island, feeling a strong connection with its sense of identity – an identity that was already so different from the rest of Ibiza. They were attracted by the raw, unspoilt rustic charm of the area; the overall tranquillity and feeling of space; the feeling of truly being away from it all. There was something special about San Juan…

As construction and development started – first on The Giri Residence, which opened in 2009 followed by The Giri Café in 2010 – life went on as normal in San Juan. The strong local characters, some of whom have spent their entire lives in the village, had their own livelihoods to maintain: farmers tended to their crops and animals, the fishmonger sold the best catch of the day to his loyal clientele, the pharmacist kept villagers healthy and the tobacconist not only kept people in cigarettes but also served up glasses of homemade Hierbas at the end of a long workday. Abuelos (grandparents) would get the grandkids dressed up and take the family out for a pre-dinner stroll in the village square and weekends revolve around the beautiful whitewashed church – be it a wedding, a mass, a funeral or a local festival, always celebrating life. Fast forward to 2017 and not a whole lot has changed in the village. The neighbouring farmer holds up traffic each evening, as he pulls his tractor to the side of the road as he dashes into the fishmonger to pick up supper for the family. Kids play football in the cobbled square until they’re called in for dinner, and families on their nightly walk are a common sight. Men sit in the Tabacs, smoking and sipping beer and Hierbas as they put the world to rights before heading home for the night and a group of elderly ladies converge on the lovely park bench beneath a giant tree to comment on life as it goes on around them.

As all of this unfolds like clockwork every day, The Giri contributes its own type of magic to the landscape and culture of San Juan. As their desire to respect the ethos of the location and preserve the heritage of each building became apparent to the locals, The Giri were soon enveloped into the San Juan fold. The connection between the two is a proud one; The Giri have proven their loyalty to San Juan and in turn, San Juan has grown fiercely loyal to The Giri – these days, you can’t have one without the other. In the restaurant, the fish comes directly from the fishmonger next door. Organic veggies are grown in their own backyard, or bought directly from the same farrner who holds up traffic in his tractor. The meat, where possible, comes from local farms and eggs, of course, are collected from happy hens running free in nearby fields. Nature is in abundance in San Juan, with rolling green hills everywhere you look, beautifully contrasting with pretty whitewashed houses and apartments on cobbled streets and in the surrounding forest.

Mornings in San Juan emerge like a clean slate. Everything is new again; clean, quiet and laidback. Breakfast is served in The Giri Café garden and it’s easy to feel connected with nature – flowers vibrantly burst forth from the earth and the air is sound-tracked only by pretty little birds tweeting in the treetops. The pace picks up to a buzz after midday, as the village slowly wakes from its slumber. The restaurant attracts a mix of locals, hotel guests, parents after the school run, those looking for a pre-beach fuel up and visiting foodies who know The Giri Café purely by reputation as a place who creates cuisine from the heart. Nature really turns on a spectacular display from about 7pm – sheep from the adjacent farm come to the fence and bleat, as if to announce cocktail hour. At the same time, the sun begins its descent behind the hills in a display of magical golden hues that later turn from pink, to purple and then a blanket of deep, deep blue peppered with twinkling stars. Dinner is a stylish alfresco affair, with an elegant ambience that still manages to fuse with the rustic charm of the village outside. As most diners leave The Giri Café, the view of the church beneath the glow of the moonlight is always a breathtaking sight – devoid of human traffic, just classic Mediterranean beauty.

One doesn’t need to spend much time in the village of San Juan to fall under its spell. Somewhat inexplicably this village has never fallen prey to commercialisation or over-development, becoming so much more than just another pit-stop on the tourist trail. While it does attract free-spirited expats who are looking to escape the trappings of city life, it is always a more alternative lifestyle they seek. There is an unspoken rule to respect local traditions and inhabitants – perhaps this is why as the island continues to evolve, San Juan remains, a micro-climate of Balearic authenticity. Much like the Ibiza of old times, the rich dine next to the less fortunate and no one bats an eyelid at celebrities in San Juan. There are more beat up old bombers than Range Rovers seen on the streets and free parking is in abundance. Superyachts and VIP parties are concepts best left to the south of the island; here, the pace of life is slow, steady and accepting. At the heart of it all, The Giri is found embracing and simultaneously enhancing all aspects of village life. Here in San Juan, truth, beauty, freedom and love abound…