The lone wishing tree rising from the rocks at the very furthest tip of Playa Migjorn could be considered symbolic of Formentera’s sense of freedom. Because it is right here, under the bright Balearic sun, where people – grown-up people – feel free to believe in magic. Tying a little shell to a barren branch fills their hearts with hope, manifesting the feeling that anything is possible. If you can dream it, you can live it in Formentera. The sense of freedom on Ibiza’s sister island extends far beyond the wishing tree. It is felt from the very first minute you step ashore. It’s as if time stands still here, with no rules, no ‘have tos’ and no commitments. Going to Formentera is like pressing pause on daily life – be it for a day, a week, a month or more – the very antithesis of contemporary living.
Those visitors who says “I’ll check my emails” or “We’ll keep in touch” suddenly drop off the radar with no explanation after arriving in Formentera. Going off the grid has never been easier (or more appropriate), and more than one formerly stressed out holidaymaker has been heard to declare: “The phone reception over here is terrible and I can’t seem to get onto WiFi anywhere” with absolutely zero guilt once they’ve relaxed into authentic Formentera life. Developing an allergy to technology is quite normal here – it’s one of the last remaining places where you can still see tables of diners laughing and interacting rather than Instagramming their food and taking endless selfies to prove they’re having fun. There’s certainly no space for a laptop in your beach bag when it’s crammed full of icy cold beers and fresh Formentera figs, thrown carelessly over your shoulder as you zoom across the island on a scooter, with the salty sea air on your skin and the wind in your hair.
Formentera hasn’t always been known for embracing freedom. It suffered enormously at the hands of Franco’s fascist regime in the 1930s, becoming a location for a concentration camp holding political prisoners awaiting execution. Hippies, draft-dodgers, gays, musicians and artists began flocking to the island in search of freedom in the 60s, and while Franco’s Nationalist Forces tried for a short while to expel them, after the dictator’s death in 1976, Formentera once again asserted itself as the island of the people. Perhaps the island’s troubled past is why the idea of freedom is so important to those who inhabit the island today – be it by birth right or by choice. A celebration of triumph over tragedy. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Formentera has emerged as a destination where freedom is not only sought, it is found. In Formentera today, you can feel free to do whatever you want and be whoever you are. The bohemia associated with the island’s past lingers in the villages, on the beaches and in the countryside.
There is no dress code in Formentera; fine dining restaurants welcome diners in flip-flops and naked sunbathers are a regular sight on the spectacular beaches. Having a drink – be it coffee spiked with brandy, beer or a mojito – with breakfast is the norm. Making plans is something best left for another place, another time. On some days, bedtime might come as early as 8pm, on other nights you’ll stay up and watch the sunrise before retiring at 8am. Under the watchful eye of Bartolo, the owner of the beach shack on brightly painted blue stilts, the wishing tree stands proudly, tinkling with strings of shells representing the wishes of hundreds of people, from all over the world. Only in a place like Formentera can a once-barren tree like this can evolve into a thing of ethereal beauty – almost as if by magic. Flee the stress, escape the crowds, let freedom reign…