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Why the Balearic island of Formentera should be on your radar

Formentera is often referred to as Ibiza’s little sister, but with a fun bohemian character and some of Europe’s most beautiful beaches it’s a top-tier sea destination in its own right.

By Formentera Tourist Board
Published 19 May 2021, 15:00 BST, Updated 22 Jun 2021, 10:06 BST
Es Caló de Sant Agustín is a traditional fishing village in Formentera, with wooden boathouses, a ...

Es Caló de Sant Agustín is a traditional fishing village in Formentera, with wooden boathouses, a unique natural harbour and traditional restaurants.

Photograph by Formentera Tourist Board

That Formentera remains largely undiscovered by British travellers seems like a curious oversight. The smallest inhabited Balearic island is a 12-mile-long swathe of tropical-esque coastal landscapes, natural parks and chic, laid-back charm. Located just south of Ibiza, it offers day-trippers respite from the island’s party frenzy and a great option for travellers looking for an altogether different kind of getaway. With hotel numbers restricted, construction controlled, and no mega clubs or big chains, Formentera is a place to take late-morning bike rides to the beach, scour artisanal markets and watch the sunset from seafront bar stools.

What’s it known for?

International travellers first discovered Formentera during the hippy movement of the 1960s and 1970s, drawn to its relaxed air and the purity of its landscapes. The island still maintains a bohemian personality, apparent in the markets dotted throughout its villages, such as Sant Francesc and La Mola, yearly ‘flower-power’ parties and a characteristically languid pace of life. Before the 1970s boom, locals lived off the land, and vestiges of this past are evident in the island’s numerous mills; keep an eye out for their cylindrical shape and conical roof.

What are its main attractions?

Formentera has beaches galore, from long swathes of sugar-white sand to secluded rocky coves and nooks, all lapped by shallow cerulean waters. Some of the most popular sand spits, including Ses Illetes, often declared one of Europe’s most beautiful beaches, and Llevant, are equipped only with a couple of wooden beach bars and restaurants, but comfort-lovers will find sunbeds and umbrellas ready at Platja Migjorn and other spots. Combine this with cliff-edge lighthouses, ancient stone watchtowers and fishing villages, and you’ll soon discover why Formentera draws people back again and again.

What about the food? Any popular dishes?

Due to the isolation of the Pityusic Islands, Formentera’s maritime gastronomy is based almost exclusively on traditional produce and activities — a recipe for slow-food cuisine, local specialties and farm-to-fork restaurants. Try the ensalada payesa, a salad made from two of the island’s typical products, dried fish and bescuit (a local type of bread), along with potatoes, peppers and tomatoes. Other dishes you’ll find on most menus include fried octopus, bullit de peix (fish stew) and fried potatoes with scrambled eggs and lobster. Finish with a shot of hierbas Ibicencas, a local herbal liqueur.

Who should visit?

Life is lived outdoors in Formentera, making it ideal for nature-lovers and outdoor sports enthusiasts. There are over 30 signposted green routes for hiking, cycling and horse riding, and in the water you can experience everything from diving and kayaking to snorkelling and sailing. The island makes a great destination for families, too, with its laid-back nature and small size allowing for easy travel between attractions.

Anything else I should know?

The crystalline waters of Formentera owe their transparency to the immense meadow of Posidonia Oceanica around the island, a type of seagrass that provides food, protection and breeding grounds for more than 400 species of marine plants and 1,000 species of marine animals. Such is its importance to the local ecosystem that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Formentera has taken steps to preserve it, with anchorage regulation measures and initiatives including the Save Posidonia Project aiming to promote sustainable tourism practices. What’s more, the island has plans to phase out single-use plastic and ban it completely by 2025.

Visiting the Ses Salines d’Eivissa i Formentera Natural Park is the best way to discover the diverse fauna and flora typical of the Pityusic islands.

Photograph by Formentera Tourist Board

Three luxury experiences in Formentera
 

1. Stay at one of the island’s high-end hotels
Formentera offers a wide range of luxury accommodation options. Opt for the small and intimate four-star Es Marés Hotel & Spa, decorated in natural wood and stone, or the sea-front Gecko Beach & Club, recreating the glamour of the jet-set era of the 1950s. For a dip in true luxury there’s also Five Flowers, the only five-star hotel on the island. Inspired by Formentera’s hippy lifestyle, it’s contemporary and sophisticated with added elements of flower-power mobiles and pops of colour.

2. Organise a private boat trip
Explore Formentera from a different perspective by taking to the water aboard a wooden llaut, a traditional boat from the Balearic Islands. They’re available to book through Sa Barca de Formentera, which offers boats for both day trips, equipped with fridges and snorkelling equipment, and overnight outings, complete with cabins, kitchens and bathrooms.

3. Book a scuba diving excursion
The Ses Salines d’Eivissa i Formentera Natural Park lies between the islands of Ibiza and Formentera. The park’s marine area accounts for 75% of its surface, which calls for some below-the-waves action. Vellmari offers dive trips for varying abilities (including excursions on private boats or with private guides), allowing you to glide over the Posidonia meadows, explore underwater caves and marvel at the rich marine life, from octopus and groupers to lobsters.

How to do it

Travellers fly to Ibiza, then take a ferry to the island. Direct flights to Ibiza from the UK are served by a range of budget and national carriers, and there are up to 88 sailings per day with crossing times ranging from 25 minutes to one hour. Bicycles and scooters are the ideal mode of transport.

To find out more, visit formentera.es/en

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