Photography by Ana Lui
It’s almost like stepping back in time, into a postcard from Spain in the 1970s, such is its unspoilt beauty, laidback ambience and refreshingly low-key lifestyle. Life is simple in Formentera. As crystal clear water laps the shoreline, glamorous European couples play bat-and-ball alongside families in the water, a nod back to the days before iPads were a regular sight on the beach. As for mobile phones? Who needs them? Half the beaches on this tiny island don’t even have reception, creating a magical, off-the-grid tranquillity reminiscent of days gone by.
Ahh, the beaches of Formentera. With turquoise water that rivals the Caribbean in clarity, glittering, ultra-fine white sand, umbrellas-in-the-sand and sarongs casually strewn across the beach, it’s a much more relaxed affair than the packed beaches of Ibiza, where you may find yourself competing for sunbeds in high season. It’s all about connecting with nature – getting sand in your hair, in your shoes, in your bag, even in your bocadillo (baguette-style sandwiches sold in supermarkets) – and loving it, the way you did as a child on family trips to the beach. This feeling of nostalgia is everywhere in Formentera. The smallest of the Balearic Islands has been well-preserved since its days as a hippy haven – back when it was the place to escape Franquismo, or the Vietnam war draft. Local characters continue to dress in bohemian styles, true relics of their era – never in a hipster, ironic way.
Formentera history tells of Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan writing music in lighthouses and windmills. The hostel and bar of Fonda Pepe in San Ferran proudly displays photos of the time Bob Marley performed an impromptu set here. The furnishings, the chequered tiled floors, and indeed, the bar staff remain the same, just shy of 40 years on. Music in Formentera clings on firmly to the past – to those times when songs had real meaning and the artists behind them were true poets, pioneers of their time. You won’t hear house music blaring from bars or restaurants here – the island’s soundtrack is pure rock and folk. Think The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Velvet Underground, Janis Joplin and the aforementioned Floyd, Dylan and Marley.
After dark, Formentera’s villages come alive, but dinner here is a no make-up, messy hair and permanent golden tan affair. The rich dine next to the poor, and the born and bred Formenterencs alongside the incognito jetset escaping the hedonism of Ibiza – just as the white isle used to be before the introduction of the VIP culture and the luxury developments of recent years. Speaking of luxury, forget five-star hotels in Formentera. All you need is a basic bed in a beachside serviced apartment alongside your loved ones with the sound of the sea sending you off to sleep. The coastline is peppered with small clusters of holiday apartments, with direct access to the beach and very few mod cons! In Formentera, all you need is love.