Holiday happiness in Formentera
If your childhood holidays inform your holidays for life, then mine should be spent on rural campsites in the south of France, eating baguettes and pain au chocolate, playing cards and petanque, and learning how to catch wasps in jam jars.
Over many long summer holidays (my parents were both teachers, meaning there were six whole weeks to be filled for the family each July and August) we explored the breadth and length of France, from Île de Ré to the Dordogne, and back again. If Instagram had been invented back then, I like to think I’d have found fame as a youthful social media influencer for French campsites.
And then, one summer, we discovered Sanguinet; a small town near the Atlantic coast, and, more importantly, near a huge, 5,800 hectare lake of the same name. Once we’d been there, we never went anywhere else.
For years, if you asked me where my ‘happy place’ was, I’d say Sanguinet. Our family photo albums are littered with snaps from around that huge lake – so huge you couldn’t see the other side – at la creperie in the village square, or at the camping a la ferme, with its two showers (one of which only stayed on if you kept your back up against the push button, and wasn’t fixed in the nearly ten years we kept returning) and its single booking method (a handwritten letter to ‘Madame’, who owned the farm).
I was fairly sure I wouldn’t ever find somewhere quite so special. And then, two years ago, I discovered Formentera – a dot of an island off the coast of Ibiza, hemmed with impossibly blue seas, scattered with beach bars and my new favourite place to spend as many days of annual leave as possible.
What do the two have in common? Just one thing: hot, dusty, sandy tracks that sing with the sound of cicadas and buzz with that impossible to recreate scent of dried pine leaves. In France, we crunched over the pine needles with our bicycle tires. In Formentera, we did the same on a moped, and I fell head over handlebars (not literally) for this tiny little Balearic island.
Do your research on Formentera, and you will find it variously described as Ibiza’s “little sister”, its “hippie sister” and its “more chilled out sister”. The internet, at least, ubiquitously ties it to the island next door, which somewhat underplays its significance as a destination in its own right. For my money, I’d take Formentera over Ibiza any day; as far as I’m concerned, the big-sister island serves its purpose as a nice base for the airport.
At just 22km long, you can zip from one end of Formentera to the other in less than an hour, punctuating your journey with any number of little roads leading down to the beaches that skirt it, or the lighthouses that adorn the cliff-top points.
The beaches are, of course, the main point, and they vary from soft pink sand (the ones you’ll see pop up on Instagram) to seaweed-strewn rock, although the insanely blue sea is a constant, and you’re never very far from a bar or restaurant willing to serve you a favoured bottle of albarino wine.
In our now many trips, we have settled into a rhythm of long lazy lunches, hiding from the hottest part of the day in one of those brilliant beach restaurants, then a trip to the supermarket on our way back to wherever we’re staying. Dinner resembles those campsite suppers: bread and cheese features heavily, as does wine and chocolate (and some highly competitive games of cards). You can eat out in the evening, of course, but when lunch usually ends sometime around 4pm, I have yet to find myself quite hungry enough to spend another three hours eating, although the packed restaurants in the towns of Sant Francesc Xavier and Es Caló suggest I’m in the minority.
Those perfect holiday lunches range from paella on plastic chairs, drinking beer out of bottles, to fancy sushi and expensive rosé overlooking the sea. Formentera takes its food very seriously. Why? The island might be Spanish, but the vast numbers of Italians and French who holiday there mean the culinary mix is far more Mediterranean than on the Spanish mainland.
When beach days are done, there’s shopping to be had, ranging from high-end interior boutiques (the best are in Sant Francesc Xavier), market stalls (it’s derigour to visit the hippie market in La Mola at least once, although I prefer the stalls that pop up on the streets in Es Caló every evening) to buy-anything-you-can-think-off shops that have been there for decades, where I stock up on espadrilles for about 15 euros a pair, and baskets for half the price of the chic fashion shops. Not quite the French hypermarches of my summer holidays, but almost.
Shopping trips, however, are fleeting. Just a stop-gap between beach days, beach bars, and trips down dusty tracks in-between.
France will always have a special place in my heart, but my affair with Formentera looks set to be a long one.
Where to eat
Can Carlos (Venda de sa Miranda Cala Saona, 1752, 07871 San Francesc de Formentera)
The chicest restaurant on the island, although they’re polite enough not to comment if you turn up covered in dust from your scooter. The courtyard restaurant is the spot for special occasions.
Can Loca (Carrer de la Mar, 2, 07871 Es Pujols)
Close your eyes while you’re tucking into the pasta here and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Rome. But then you’d miss the sea view, so keep your eyes firmly open.
Gecko Beach Club (Ca Mari, Playa Migjorn, 07860)
Serves the best mussels on the island in beautiful surroundings, with views out onto the beach and stunning hotel grounds. Factor in the pool and spa, and it’s a great place to while away a day or more (the hotel rooms are pretty special, too).
Where to drink
Blue Bar (Platja Migjorn, Carretera San Ferran-La Mola, Km. 7.8, 07871 Sant Ferran de Ses Roques)
Amazing sunsets, passable nachos and lethally strong cocktails, accompanied by DJ sets and plenty of Instagram opportunities.
Kiosko 62 (Camino de Can Simonet I, 3073, 07871)
My favourite bar on the island: serves only beer and exceptionally strong mojitos.
10.7 (Playa Migjorn Carretera de la Mola KM 10.7)
Wash your sushi down with chilled white wine, then sit and watch the waves wash onto Playa Migjorn.
Where to stay
Blanco Hotel (Carrer des Fonoll Marí, 50, 07871 Es Pujols)
Sizzling white interiors in one of the glossiest hotels Formentera has to offer. Even the bottles of cava in the mini bars adhere to the strict colour scheme.
Paraiso de Los Pinos (Es Mal Pas Urbanizacion Paraíso de los Pinos, 07860 San Francisco Javier)
Hidden away in the forest, this apartment-style hotel has spacious rooms with plenty of room for kids. Opt for a bungalow if they have them available, for perfect quiet, and gorgeous views of the countryside.
Es Mares Hotel &Spa (Carrer de Santa Maria, 15, 07860 San Francisco Javier)
A good friend and fellow Formentera fan always stays here when she’s on the island, reporting back on gorgeous interiors, great food and a chic little courtyard pool.