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With a spate of luxury hotel openings and an ever-increasing number of jet-set regulars, Nick Clayton explains how La Isla Blanca can inject sunshine and glamour into corporate events
The notorious Ibiza Uncovered television series has a lot to answer for. Homing in on the antics of boozed-up British teenagers living it up in San Antonio, it created an image the island has tried to live down for the last decade.
In fact, the legacy of the package holiday boom of the 70s and 80s is restricted to a relatively small number of resorts. Just under half the island is still covered in virgin forest and many of the 56 beaches are so untouched by commercialism they don’t even have sunloungers for hire. While the mid July-to-September high season brings tourist hoards and searing heat, spring sees the island resplendent with colourful flowers and balmy temperatures, while autumn offers warm seas and deserted beaches.
The Balearic jet-set have long known about ‘The Other Ibiza’, relatively undiscovered by mass-market tourism. The island’s harbours are filled with luxury yachts throughout the summer months and the airport is one of the busiest in Europe for private jets. Passengers are whisked off to spectacular villas tucked away in the hills or cliff tops overlooking the sea. Many are booked through the popular concierge services that can fix guests up with everything from private chefs to VIP nightclub admission and bookings at the island’s top restaurants.
However, a lack of international-standard luxury hotels has meant that even forward-thinking event organisers have been unable to take advantage of Ibiza’s more appealing side. Until last year, Ibiza had just one five-star establishment, The Hacienda (tel: 00 34 971 334 500). Perched on cliffs with stunning views, the 65-bedroom hotel and spa boasts a selection of function rooms, terraces and a spectacular amphitheatre, all of which help make it a popular venue for product launches, press conferences and fashion shows.
This spring, Audi brought journalists from all over the world to the Hacienda for the launch of the A4 Avant. ‘Ibiza was chosen because of the fabulous climate, even in early April,’ says Audi media relations manager Kate Dixon. ‘Journalists also liked the fact that there wasn’t too much tourist traffic at that time of year.’
While the Hacienda’s seclusion and intimate feel is undeniably appealing, it hasn’t been able to offer the size and infrastructure required by many conference organisers. That gap has been filled by the opening last year of the Insotel Fenicia Prestige Hotel and Thalasso Spa (tel: 00 34 971 807 000), the first large-scale, five-star hotel in Ibiza.
Just a few minutes walk from the centre of the pleasantly low-key resorts of Santa Eulalia, Ibiza’s third-largest town, the tranquil Fenicia is surrounded by sub-tropical gardens and inviting swimming pools. It has 172 suites and a large spa, with flexible conference facilities including five easily converted rooms catering for between 25 and 250 people. All rooms feature state-of-the-art technology, natural light and overlook the outdoor swimming pool. Parts of the garden and terraces can also be adapted to cater for events.
At the end of May, the Fenicia hosted guests attending the International Music Summit, bringing together the big players in the dance music industry. Organiser Ben Turner believes that before this year, the lack of facilities would have made it impossible to hold such an event in Ibiza. ‘The island has never had a great business hotel, although it’s certainly got some fantastic quirky options,’ he says. ‘The Fenicia is the closest the island’s come to having that Four Seasons type of experience.’
From this summer, the Fenicia won’t be Ibiza’s only large five-star venue. Also in Santa Eulalia, the 112-room Aguas de Ibiza Spa and Resort (tel: 00 34 971 338 454) will provide up to 4,300sq ft of exhibition space and the latest technology. It’s next door to the spectacular new Congress Centre (tel: 00 34 971 336 406) with an auditorium capable of seating more than 1,200 people.
In the chic capital Ibiza Town, the Ibiza Granhotel (tel: 00 34 971 806 806) has opened in time for the summer season. Its 157 suites all have spectacular views across the harbour to the medieval walled town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It includes a combination of meeting rooms, capable of holding up to 450 people, a spa and the island’s only casino.
While there’s no doubt that Ibiza is becoming a serious contendor for business-oriented events, don’t assume that it has shrugged off its reputation as the Mediterranean’s party island. Just across the road from the Granhotel is the infamous Pacha (tel: 00 34 971 313 612), but those who remember the club’s early days might be surprised. Like Ibiza’s other nightclubs, this is now a very slick operation. The venue is huge, the shows spectacular and the door policy open-minded.
All seven of the island’s superclubs, open from June to September, have VIP areas with bookable tables and special entrances that cut out most of the queuing. In Ibiza Town, both Pacha and El Divino (tel: 00 34 971 318 338) have restaurants offering free admission to the club after a meal. Apart from Space (tel: 00 34 971 396 793), which opens at 4.30pm, none of the clubs really get going before 2am. In fact, everything starts late, especially in the summer – this is Spain after all.
If partying ‘til dawn isn’t your bag, then places such as Bambuddha Grove (tel: 00 34 971 197 510) offer a glamorous but more relaxed setting, combining a genuine Balinese banjak or meeting hall with a traditional Ibizan farmhouse. Maximum private hire is 300 guests, though reservations become harder to come by in the peak summer months. KM5 (tel: 00 34 971 396 349) also mixes food and cocktails with a laid-back, clubby feel. You’ll find a tented garden oasis filled with luxurious Arabian fabrics and cushions, with the option to hire individual tents for private events.
You can also forget Ibiza’s ‘egg and chips’ reputation. There’s no shortage of fine dining, often in memorable settings. The rural Sa Capella (tel: 00 34 971 340 057) was built as a chapel in the 16th century and is now an intimate candle-lit restaurant. In Ibiza Town, the narrow streets around the harbour are buzzing with bars and restaurants. Head through the city walls to the Dalt Vila or ‘high town’ and try the provençale cuisine under the stars at La Oliva (tel: 00 34 971 305 752). Gurning clubbers and package-tour lobsters will thankfully seem very far away.
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Summer 2008.