John Walsh: Tales of the City

'A trip to Ibiza? I rushed home to pack sunblock, Imodium and my most violently coloured Bermuda shorts'
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The Independent Online

"Would you like," they asked, "a trip to Ibiza? We're off on Sunday." My brain was a-flutter with images: the broiling Balearic sun, the huge nightclub mirrorball bouncing coins of light off the naked shoulders of cavorting 18-year-olds from Surrey, the yachts lined up in the harbour at sunset where you sip your fifth Shag On The Beach cocktail, the teeming streets of the capital thronged all evening with beautiful people, the alarming white tablet given to you by the mysterious blonde in the silk halterneck...

"It's not going to be like that," they said, severely. "This trip is about Grown-Up Ibiza."

My little film show of mental images skittered to a halt. I'd never, in fact, been to Ibiza, but I felt I knew the place. Enough friends had returned with stories of the three-day dance marathons, the live sex show at Manumission, the crazy foam parties at Amnesia, the swimming-pool dance floor at Es Paradis, the scenes of misbehaviour outside the gay bars of Eivissa, the cheap Spanish beer, the wonder drugs supplied on request by room service – I could still do it, couldn't I? I could still have That Ibiza Experience. I rushed home, packed tubes of sunblock, blister packs of Imodium and cans of Lynx deodorant, dug out my most violently patterned Bermuda shorts and fled to the airport. Soon, I told myself, I shall be dancing like those two Indian chaps on Britain's Got Talent, but with a strange woman's Myla scanties on my head.

On the plane, they briefed me. Ibiza is being repositioned, they said, as an upmarket destination for grown-ups – discerning gourmets, lovers of beautiful decor, people like that. But you can't "reposition" Ibiza, I said, any more than you can physically move it around in the sea. It will always be associated with phenomenally pretty girls in plunging white T-shirts and yanked-back hair, dancing ill-advisedly until breakfast-time with youths who look either like a) Jason Statham in the Guy Ritchie movies, or b) Mr Statham's grizzle-haired grandfather, and who may not be planning a terribly long-term or exclusive relationship.

Ah no, they said. You're thinking of the south side. That's where all the clubbing and shagging and gay malarky goes on. (They shuddered.) We're offering a different experience, on the north side. Charm, peace and quiet, an atmosphere of unhurried sybaritism without any riff-raff in thongs and bosomy tops...

Uh-huh, I said. Repositioning. Excellent news.

The hotel wasn't what I expected. Far from being a Copacabana-style building with draught pina colada, the Can Gall, or House of the Rooster, turned out to be a sweet, 18th-century farmhouse surrounded by orange trees, olive trees and a mountain. Outside, I found some English chaps at a poolside bar, quietly drinking Spanish rum and chatting about the oil price hike and the appeal of Mrs Obama. I'd expected to end the evening in a noisy taverna, where patrons are encouraged to lie on the bar and have wine poured down their throats. But this was also fun. In a grown-up kind of way.

Next day brought a tour of local sights. There was a hotel whose grounds featured acres of shopping opportunities, theme bars, outdoor movie screens and ornamental pools, but didn't feature anybody using them. There was the house once occupied by Terry-Thomas, the comic actor, whose son now rents it as a holiday home. Of careless hippie derangement there was no sign.

We were invited to the opening night of a groovy new bar called Aura Ibiza, a glowing, golden souk of a place with swags of silk all over the ceiling, huge round reclining banquettes like Hugh Hefner's master bed, and a terrace open to the stars. The free drinks were fine (especially the bison grass vodka with passionfruit and apple), the tapas menu was a delight (notably the chargrilled monkfish), the conversation was civilised – but everything was just wrong. Where was the mayhem, the drugs, the thongs? Where were the other gentlemen of mature years, trying furtively to cop the Ibiza experience before it's too late? I took a turn on the dance floor, and treated the patrons to my arms-outstretched impersonation of a Heinkel bomber banking over Dresden; but they looked at me coldly and went back to their discussions of the Lisbon Treaty.

So I legged it into the night. Half an hour later, I was standing outside another club, amazed to be shelling out €60 (£48) just to get in, and a whopping €10 per drink inside. It was darker and more crowded than Aura, and I danced and people came up and shouted in a friendly fashion, and eventually a charming American dame inserted half a tablet of something in my mouth, and my Heinkel-bomber dance grew a lot more focused, and then I danced with a middle-aged woman whom I complimented on her really interesting shoes. She turned out to be a shoe designer, so I questioned her about shoe design until a weak dawn light appeared outside and she slipped away, leaving a list of retail outlets where I could buy her work.

So that was Ibiza, was it? Far from being a place of sensuous abandonment, it seemed polite, modest, well-groomed (and shockingly expensive). The attempt to reposition it as a destination for grown-ups is a great success. Now if only one could reposition oneself....

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