With a mix of laid-back beaches and hippy markets, holidays to Formentera have an Ibizan vibe – but with the volume turned right down.
Ibiza’s quieter sister
Chilled-out Formentera is one of the smallest Balearic Islands, but its arching shape racks up miles of long sands and isolated coves. And thanks to an island-wide ban on beachfront development, every beach is a natural beauty. High-rise buildings are a no-no, too, so towns like Sant Francesc Xavier are made up of clusters of traditional whitewashed houses.
Life’s a beach
Beach-wise, Formentera has it all – cosy coves, long spits, sand-skimmed lakes, and wild dunes. And with 20 kilometres of sand to choose from, overcrowding isn’t a problem – especially on giant beaches like Platja de Migjorn. The tropical-esque waters are lined with caverns and caves, and carpeted by the biggest underwater grass meadow in the Med.
Off the beaten track
Forget about hiring a car – 2 wheels beat 4 in this neck of the woods. Eco-friendly pathways spider right across the island, meaning you can explore most of it by foot or bike. The ragged coast path’s a head-turner, whisking cyclists past Platja de Migjorn in the south and Es Pujols in the north. Just make sure to explore the inland tracks, too, where tiny villages and old-world windmills spot the farmland.
A 35-minute ferry ride from Formentera will deposit you on Ibiza’s shores. The island feels like Formentera cranked up a few notches. The party scene’s its calling card, but it’s worth peering beyond Playa d’en Bossa’s packed beach – head north and you’ll find dozing fishing villages and hills cloaked in yellow gorse and pink heather.
Things to See and Do in Formentera
Miles of sands
Twenty kilometres of bone-white beaches lasso Formentera. The coast around northerly La Savina collects the overspill of Ibizan daytrippers, so expect beaches there to dance to a livelier beat. Beach hotels in the south have taken the ban on seafront development seriously, so buildings are low-slung and sands are spotless. Sunbathing-wise, anything goes – ditching the bikini top or trunks isn’t unusual here.
The big beach
Formentera is topped and tailed by its biggest beaches, Platja de Migjorn and Platja Illetes. Platja Migjorn’s sands are pretty but wild, with heaped dunes and sea grasses, and there’s a bunch of hotels and restaurants at either end. Platja Illetes, meanwhile, is home to jumbo yachts and Spanish daytrippers.
The secret beach
Most of Formentera’s beaches live life in the slow lane – including Ses Platgetes. It’s a small scoop of sand backed by dunes that double up as windbreakers. Rock pools, neon green lizards, and La Mola cliffs are on show, too.
Es Pujols is the only tourist town on the island, so its shops come with the heftiest price tags. A handful of fashion boutiques are set back from the waterfront, and stalls glittering with jewellery decorate the prom in the evenings.
The heart of Formentera’s capital, San Francesc Xavier, is striped with pedestrianised alleyways. Shops fringe their edges, stocked with a mishmash of locally-made goodies like leather bags and super healthy high-mineral bath salts.
Hippy markets have been popping up all over Formentera since the Seventies. Stalls stick close to towns like La Mola and have a bona fide feel, thanks to their island-made wares – think woven hats and milky ceramic bowls. Stalls are fair-weather pop-ups, so you’ll only find them between May and October.
Formentera’s default modes are sleepy and sleepier, so nightlife tends to err on the low-key side. Northern towns like San Ferran have a few bars leftover from the Seventies’ influx of flower power devotees. They usually have red wine on tap and a Bob Dylan mix tape on repeat.
The northern town of Es Pujols has a strip of lively bars and clubs right on the seafront. Sometimes the party even seeps onto the sands, filling the place with a real Ibizan vibe. Actually visiting Ibiza is dead easy, too. Hop on a ferry at La Savina and you’ll be there in 35 minutes.
Slipper lobster and rice
From April to June Formentera’s seabed is bursting with slipper-shaped lobsters. They take over restaurant menus, too – chefs stuff them with bacon and sauté them in olive oil until golden. As with all Formentera fish dishes, a side of rice comes as standard.
If you asked a local to name their favourite fish, it’d be the rao. This small salmon-coloured critter is graced with a pair of pin-sharp fangs that make fishing it a bit of a challenge. Normal shops don’t tend to stock them – you’re more likely to find them topping the menu of pricey restaurants.
Vi pagès wine
Island-grown wines are becoming fashionable on Formentera – pocket-sized fields of grapevines are sprouting up all over the place. The oldest tipple is a 13th-century red called vi pagès, also known as ‘farmer’s wine’.
Rubiols hit the dessert menus in springtime as a traditional Easter treat. These half-moons of pastry are packed with larder leftovers like apricot jam, sweet pumpkin, and cream.
There’s no escaping salt on this island – it’s in the sea, lagoons, and salt pans of Ses Salines. You’ll also find the stuff sold in liquid form as a health food, as it’s got a sky-high count of illness-beating minerals.
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