We visited Formentera, the smallest of the Balearic Islands just off of Ibiza, only a few weeks ago. Despite not having any unallocated vacation days left, we missed it as soon as we left and decided to go back, to work remotely and take a full week to explore the island in a more low-key fashion than we usually do. Since we've already blogged about our last trip, we decide to write up a quick travel guide of our favorite beaches, restaurants and activities. Formentera is not for all-inclusive resort lovers - it does have perfect, soft, sandy beaches, but accessing them is more adventurous than easy. It doesn't have night clubs or party boats - go to Ibiza for that. However, if you are into a bohemian vibe, Caribbean waters with delicious seafood, Spanish and Italian cuisine - Formentera is the best summer destination in Europe.
Formentera was colonized over 4,000 years ago and has been subsequently occupied by Arabs, Romans, Vandals, Moors, Byzantines and pirates, until it eventually became Spanish territory. During the Spanish Civil War, left-leaning Formentera came under heavy fighting, and during that time, the island had a concentration camp for dissidents. In the 1960s, Formentera became a haven for bohemian Europeans.
Fun Fact: Formentera flew under the radar for most travelers until the late 1960s, when it became part of the "hippie trail" of in-the-know spots. Rumor has it that Bob Dylan lived in a windmill on the island, and a picture of the very same windmill he lived in appears on the cover of Pink Floyd's 1969 album "Soundtrack from the Film More". Bob Marley also hung out and played in Formentera in the 1970s, and on the island you can still find t-shirts featuring the poster from his concert.
When to Visit:
If you visit in June, July or August, you will probably always have sunny days. You will also need to be strategic during this time about where you stay and visit, as accommodations are in small supply and the famous beaches will fill up by mid-morning. If you visit in shoulder season, May and September/October, expect fewer crowds, more space on the famous beaches, but also more of a hit or miss on cloudy days. In winter, we have heard Formentera is a ghost town, but unless you are a cold water lover, you won't be able to swim.
There are a few bohemian luxe spots that have opened up (in Cala Saona for example), and a bunch of generic, unbranded Euro-type hotels with crowded pools, but we recommend going the Airbnb route. Both times we have visited, we found Airbnbs that ended up being cheaper than staying at one of the few larger hotels on the island - there are no chain hotels or big resorts here, so better to go local. In terms of where to stay, if you want to be close to the most famous beaches, better to stay near one of the towns of Es Pujols or San Fransec. Since everything is within 15-20 minutes by scooter, we recommend staying in Es Calo, which is close enough to the hot spots but still far enough away that you feel like you have found your own little spot. On top of that, the Es Calo lagoon is one of our favorite swim and snorkel spots on the island.
Formentera is just a 30 minute ferry from Ibiza. There are also once-daily ferries from Mallorca. We've flown it to both Mallorca and Ibiza, and find it super easy to land in Ibiza, taxi to the port and grab a ticket on the next ferry - even in the height of summer, we haven't had to wait more than 30 minutes. If you are prone to getting seasick, best to take one of the larger car ferries so you don't feel the waves as much in the open sea between the islands. Once you arrive, grab a scooter in the port for the duration of your stay, or, if you have too much luggage, taxi to your accommodation and rent from one of the many scooter rental locations all around the island. If you don't want to scooter, you can rent a rugged but cool Mehari, a classic Euro summer car that is perfect for Formentera, where there is basically one main road crossing the whole island, with a few rocky, sandy offshoots to the coasts.
Things to Do:
These are the most famous beaches on the island and are on either side of a narrow stretch of land. We recommend arriving early, parking as far as you can towards the end of the island, and walking to the tip, passing along perfect crescents of beach, rocky lagoons and rock sculptures made by local hippies. From the tip of the land, you can ford across a wavy narrow stretch of sea to Espalmador. For those staying on the island, rotate between the wavy turquoise waters of Llevant on one side of the island, and the pristine pink sand stretches and pool like waters of Illetes. In the height of summer, better to go early and stake out a spot.
Espalmador is the tiny island (with no restaurants or bathrooms) which is accessible only by boat or by swimming across the channel from Illetes. This is the best hidden spot in the area, because it is tough to get to, but it is worth the effort. Some of the larger hotels (like Beso Beach) will transport hordes of day-trippers over to Espalmador on catamarans, but they only stay for a short time, so if you make a day of it you are sure to have a huge stretch of fluffy pink and white sand and serene neon teal waters all to yourself, except for the mega yachts and sailboats moored off shore. Also on the island are some famous mud pits - you can watch the local birds there or do a self spa and cake yourself in the supposedly healing mud, just note that the mud smells pretty bad and you aren't really supposed to mud yourself up, as it can disrupt the ecosystem if done too much.
We joined a small group boat trip with La Isla Flotante - this is is a great way to see the island and to check out many coves, caves and snorkel spots that are only accessible by boat. This is also a way to check out Espalmador if swimming the channel is not your scene.
Calo des Mort/Migjorn/Es Arenals:
Calo des Mort is a classic European swimming lagoon, with a steep hike down but payoff views and swimming spots. Comes complete with nude Euros lying out on the rocks. Just up the beach are Arenals and Migjorn, more classic beaches with easy entry and big sand bars. Between these are picturesque beach bars perfect for late afternoon drinks. In the summer, hitting the beach in Formentera is an all day activity, so best to bring an umbrella (unless you, like us, want an epic tan), pack a picnic, reserve a lunch or hit up the beach shacks for snacks and drinks.
The little town of Es Calo sits toward the east end of the island, and is nothing more than a scooter rental spot, a few little hotels and a grocery store (which has great provisions for a beach picnic). Upon entering the town, there are a few beaches along the north side of the island, but our favorite spot is just outside Es Calo restaurant, a patch of flat, sharp rocks that descend into the sea. Lay out your towel on the rocks, walk carefully down to the water, and plunge into 20 feet of crystal clear perfectly colored teal water. Great for snorkeling or just cooling off.
A small beach on the west coast of the island, good for renting paddle boards to explore the local caves and to watch the sunset. Cool beach bar on the left side of the beach, perched up on the cliffs.
A lively town with a long boardwalk along the sea, featuring a street market, variety of restaurants and gelato shops and a big beach and swimming coves. This would be a good place for a family, or for those who want to be able to walk to the beach, to shop and to dinner. Because of its convenience, it is a little more crowded, but it has it all.
El Pilar de la Mola:
On Wednesdays and Sundays, the town on the highest elevated part of the island hosts a hippie market, with live bands and local artisans selling jewelry, housewares, clothes and other goods. The whole town feels lively and everyone there seems to be loving life. Make sure to check out the sunset spot just across from El Mirador restaurant, where you can see the entire island and sun reflecting off the waters of both coasts as it sets below the mountainy coast of Ibiza.
The multicolored historical salt flats of Formentera are good for bird watching, but also for photographs of the candy-pink salt pools set against the sunny blue skies.
Es Cap de Barbaria Lighthouse:
A fun scooter ride to the cliffs on the tip of the island where on clear days you can supposedly see all the way to Africa. Note a long walk is required from the parking area. There are a few ruins along the walk for a hiking exploration.
You can find all kinds of food in Formentera (except chain restaurants), including kebab shops, Asian food and vegan places, but the go-to options are Spanish (Catalonian), Italian (given that half the island's summer population is Italian tourists escaping the Americans and Chinese that descend on Italy during this time of year) and seafood. You cannot go wrong if your vibe is fresh seafood, good drinks and a feet in the sand kind of scene. A few of our favorite spots are:
Located just off the harbour in La Savina, with an open back deck to a bay with a perfect sunset view. The menu is tapas - the tomato bread, mussels, octopus, salmon tartare and desserts are delicious and the decor is on point.
On Migjorn, this is a pricey but worth it place for an upscale but low key afternoon lunch. We rolled in off of the beach and feasted on sashimi, tuna with avocado, homemade pasta with lobster, fresh bread and tempura all washed down with a pitcher of sangria. Good to make a reservation in the high season. Shake off the post-lunch food coma with a dip in the water, just about 20 steps from the entry.
Juan y Andrea:
If you want to be a part of the Formentera yacht scene, this is the place to go. Restaurant employees whiz back and forth along the bay in Illetes, ferrying in customers from their yachts to dine on super expensive paellas and lobster. Even though it is glitzy, the tables sit in the sand, so it still keeps that Formentera chill vibe.
The New York Times describes it better than we can: "We found a table under the canopy of a fig tree at El Gioviale Café & Restaurant, a trattoria run by Matteo and Francesco Trecca and Giulia Tulli, three Italians who brought recipes from the old country when they moved to Formentera a few years ago. 'Our mother taught us how to make proper Italian pasta,' Matteo told me." We enjoyed the Roman-style pastas, served fresh off of the oven in skillets.
Es Calo Restaurant:
Situated just a few feet off of our favorite swim spot, this upscale restaurant serves Spanish classics. We recommend the paella and sangria - simple but delicious.
This is another place with a scene - people line up to take pictures with the VW Bus parked outside. Tables sit in the sand as trendy music plays - but the food and drinks are good, and there are chairs out on the rocks to have sundowners with your feet in the sea.
The sunset is a party all around the island. Blue Bar features live music (Bob Marley used to hang here), tiered seating and a trippy blue alien theme. Our favorite spot though is Piratabus - a little shack bar perched out on the rocks where crowds come for drinks, baskets of chips and salsa and a nightly sunset party. Both nights we visited included a conga drum performance as the sun dipped below the horizon - this is a more crowded spot, but everyone is happy and enjoying life.
We talked with a few locals in Formentera who let us know that every year it gets a little busier. Instagram has made it even more famous, with big brands sending fashion influencers to the island to pose in its local cafes and perfectly calm seas. What makes it cool is that it is rugged and hard to get to - locals confirmed that there will never be an airport there. Hopefully this difficulty will help keep it chill and not like the Cancun of Europe scene in parts of Ibiza and Mallorca. We plan to keep visiting every summer - it is the perfect blend of nature, lifestyle and food, and we couldn't recommend it more to those seeking a beach vacation with a little bit of adventure and cool hippie culture mixed in.
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