Ibiza, Spain - I have always wondered what happens to the home of hedonism when its summer throng of clubbers, holidaymakers and stag parties leave. Do Ibiza's residents celebrate with a communal Alka-Seltzer and hibernate until May when they can do it all over again? Well, no actually. Ade Harris, the editor of Blog Ibiza and long-term resident, reiterates Pacha boss Danny Whittle's quote: “Winter is our reward for working hard all summer.” And it's true. Winter in Ibiza is all about relaxation, great food and good company - and perhaps the odd night out, too.
This year British Airways is recognising the attraction of Ibiza in winter, by offering two services a week from London City airport throughout the low season. I'm used to Ibiza flights teeming with excitable girls in neon and Viking-horned stag parties. Not this time. No one cracks open their duty free before take-off and nobody sings along to the Venga Boys.
I've been a regular to the White Isle for many years, from a disco-dancing 17-year-old in the bars and clubs of San Antonio to more recent times when I've been more likely to grace hip beach clubs drinking chilled rosé to a Balearic beat. But I can't help feeling that to know Ibiza properly, you should experience all her moods. Which is why I've swapped glowsticks for joss sticks and wedges for walking boots on an out-of-season weekend.
Xarc is one of the many family-run agroturismos dotted around the island. Fifteen minutes' drive into the hills from Santa Eulalia, this rustic, white-walled finca - surrounded by fig trees and olive groves - is a haven of tranquillity. But before I have a chance to unpack, the dark clouds of doom make a rare appearance and shatter my peace with a deafening boom of thunder. When Ibiza does bad weather it's nothing short of dramatic.
In summer most visitors take a well-trodden route to the coastal resorts, but visit out of season and you'll need to hire a car. Mine comes in the form of RaRa, a brightly decorated Citroë* 2CV from Ducks United, the coolest car-rental company on the island. RaRa is of indeterminate age and rather less comfortable than your standard hired hatchback. However 2CVs are great fun to drive. Whizzing around the dusty tracks like a rollerskate, she makes the perfect Ibiza companion.
While many places shut down for winter, there are still plenty of good hangouts open throughout the year. A good rule of thumb is to go Spanish, as typically the local bars and restaurants stay open even when the resorts are very quiet. The island's agroturismos generally extend their season by a month or so, and a handful are open all year round, including Can Curreu in San Carlos with its fancy spa and popular gourmet restaurant.
If rural's not your thing then head to the island's capital, Ibiza Town, and check in to the luxe Gran Hotel or the stylish El Hotel Pacha, which overlooks the port. Catch great views of the coast from the island's acropolis, which dates back to Phoenician times. Wandering the narrow lanes filled with authentic tapas bars and cosy tavernas, I'm able to enjoy a glass of chilled fino and a plate of serrano, safe in the knowledge that a nine-foot drag queen isn't about to drag me to Pacha.
Many of the residents here embrace the island's spiritual side. Susie Howell and Larah Davis run Ibiza Retreats, which offers tailor-made retreats, from yoga and meditation to creative writing and fitness boot camps. “Ibiza is not all about the clubs and the parties,” says Susie. “When you pare the island down to its roots, it's actually about leading a simpler life and you can do that very easily here.”
One of the highlights of the winter calendar is the San Mateo wine festival in early December, when locals head to the pretty village to sample the region's wines. Christmas is spent by the beach over a big paella with friends, while quiet weekends are for long walks in the hills followed by a glass of tinto in a San Joan bodega. Cycling is increasingly popular, with routes ranging from the leisurely free wheel to hilly climbs more suited to a steely calfed professional. The tourist board has also developed a number of walking trails with magnificent coastal views, ranging from a couple of hours to full-day hikes.
After an early night I feel ready to take to the cool clear waters of Cala Xarraca for a morning's kayaking. Paddling through the glassy waters I get a rare dolphins-eye view of Ibiza's craggy coastline. Dotted with tiny caves and sandy coves, it's a far cry from the Ibiza I've experienced before.
But that's not to say that Ibiza cracks open the Ovaltine when the season ends. Pacha is open every weekend of the year and Sankeys in Playa d'En Bossa fires up the decks every Saturday throughout the winter. There are parties, too. Circo Loco at DC10 holds one every New Year's Day.
I head back to the airport feeling utterly relaxed and revived. As I wave goodbye to my trusty multicoloured steed RaRa, she winks and promises that next time she'll take me clubbing.
If You Go...
Tracey Davies travelled with British Airways, (0844 493 0787; ba.com)
The writer stayed as a guest of Agroturisme Xarc near Santa Eulalia (00 34 971 339 178; agroxarc.es). Doubles from €135 (about R1 400), B&B.
Can Curreu, San Carlos (00 34 971 335 290; cancurreu.com). Doubles from €220, B&B.
Gran Hotel, Ibiza Town (00 34 971 806 806; ibizagran hotel.com). Doubles from €213, B&B.
El Hotel Pacha (00 34 971 31 59 63; elhotelpacha. com). Doubles from €115, B&B.
Ibiza Retreats (00 34 662 093 499; ibizaretreats.com) offers health and fitness escapes.
Ducks United rents Citroë* 2CVs from €55 per day (00 34 689 104 062; ducksunited.com).
Ibiza Mundo Activo offers kayaking lessons from €25 (00 34 676 075 704; ibizamundoactivo.com).
More information: ibiza.travel - The Independent