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Ibiza: Mediterranean Nights
Spain’s sexy little island continues to live up to its reputation for illicit extravagance, from its wild characters to its all-night beach bacchanalia. But now, thanks to a monied mix of royals, moguls, politicians and celebrity revelers, it’s on the brink of reinvention.
It was a beautiful coming of age story, obsessively chronicled by the paparazzi this summer.
Never before had so many yachts anchored off the island of Ibiza with so much celebrity cargo. The daily stars-at-swim shots pouring into the media were proof that, as a destination, Ibiza had finally pushed past puberty — even if Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber’s much-publicized restaurant spat showed they themselves had not. Ibiza was no longer only the promised land for college kids, dreadlocked nudists and pedigreed black sheep looking for a religious experience in its fabled round-the-clock nightclubs. The island was now being staked out by the world’s trendiest pay-to-play big shots, trailing after the models, the photographers, the fashion designers and the art directors who are always early to the party.
Yes: Ibiza, where Prince William unwittingly courted Kate Middleton at the home of her drug-dispensing maternal uncle. The place has always had a raffish reputation. The parties continue where sweaty discos pump their dance floors full of foam. (Paris Hilton hosts one at Amnesia.) A draw this summer at Pacha, the nightclub that put Ibiza on the map, was the Empress Stah, an aerial artist working a trapeze with a laser light saber flashing from her posterior — a prismatic intersection of sex, circus and special effects that increasingly defines nightlife here.
But another Ibiza is emergent, a place where British Prime Minister David Cameron and Yahoo C.E.O. Marissa Mayer holiday, children in tow. Where the white-whale yachts of the billionaires Lakshmi Mittal, Roman Abramovich, David Geffen and the Saudi royal family are impossible to miss. Ibiza has been looking and acting very grown-up lately. Says jewelry and interior designer Jade Jagger, who has owned several homes on the northern end of the island and has been coming here for 18 years, “it seems that so quickly I went from running a disco” — she hosted her own night at Pacha — “to finding them an alien place. I think about once a year I make it to a disco like that.” Ibiza has even passed (sporadically enforced) regulations closing clubs by 6:30 a.m.; apparently children were seeing things on the street that they shouldn’t have on their way to school.
The tiny island has always felt Manhattan-big, but now it seems just as option-loaded. The south is the extroverted personality, the start line where the planes and yachts roll up, and where most go no farther than the area’s sunbedded sandy beaches and rollicking day and night clubs. The north is for the more experienced player: more rustic. Cows and coves. “Ibiza is high risk, high reward,” says the architect Daniel Romualdez, who’s been coming for 10 years and has played both fields, north and south. “You have to do the research. Make the wrong turn, and you wind up in hell. The right turn can be sublime.”
To navigate it all, many, like Calvin Klein, Kate Moss and Paul McCartney, have turned to local fixer Serena Cook, of Deliciously Sorted Ibiza, who’s seen a 26 percent uptick in business from last year. She’s gone from flying a private plane roundtrip to Barcelona to fetch white roses to finding an electric guitar at 6 a.m., though don’t ask her to get lion cubs or dancing bears for your birthday party, as one client did recently. “I draw the line at live animals,” she says.
At six years of age, the Ibiza Gran Hotel is a comparatively newish five-star establishment abutting the yacht parking lot known as Marina Ibiza. Its exterior oddly reminiscent of a prison, the Gran is where Kanye West and Kim Kardashian stayed this summer when he performed at the birthday of Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci. A neon sign at a side entrance glows, “Giuseppe Cipriani presents Downtown Ibiza,” like it’s some show instead of a restaurant. Inside, the vibe is El Morocco elegant, with bow-tied waiters and white boudoir chairs. A big band is fronted by a lady on a sax. Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” flickers on the wall as artwork. “I’m here to see Giuseppe,” I say to the old-timey maître d’, Gianni.
“Isn’t everyone?” Gianni replies, nodding in the direction of several spike-heeled models manquées standing at the bar like pigeons on a phone wire. The kind of women not generally seen unaccompanied in the wild.
Around midnight Cipriani strolls in and is handed a Sazerac by an understanding bartender. The handsome president and C.E.O. of Cipriani Worldwide is in residence here from May through October. “People have an image of Ibiza being the party-crazy island of the Mediterranean,” he says. Three years ago, he decided the island was ready for “a classic place that was the opposite. A place I would like.” Cipriani now has competition from Roberto Cavalli, who has opened a restaurant just around the corner, and will soon from Cirque du Soleil’s Guy Laliberté, who’s planning a dinner theater elsewhere in the Gran with the Surrealist Spanish chefs Ferran and Albert Adrià. It slips that Cipriani has sold his beloved yacht, the Gin Tonic. Fronting a group of investors, he recently paid more than $10 million for a giant space nearby, where he is thinking about a luxury hotel with a restaurant-shopping center complex.
Locals are grumbling that Ibiza is quickly approaching Vegas territory — minus the casinos. (The Gran has the island’s only one, and it’s a sleepy affair on the verge of a redo.) Amid the yachts of Marina Ibiza is Lío, a three-year-old cabaret run by the Urgell family (who also own Pacha) that offers a widescreen view of the Formentera ferries pacing the harbor beneath the historic walled town of Dalt Vila. The gently erotic variety show accompanying the $60 tomato-lobster soup plays a bit cruise-ship-of-the-damned to anyone from the opposite side of the Atlantic. But the Euro-riches adore it, and it’s one of the hottest reservations in town. A 10-minute drive away, Sublimotion at the Hard Rock Hotel in the newly revived Playa d’en Bossa area is yet another dining experience bristling with optical legerdemain and costume play. The $24,000 private dinner for 12 at what looks like Ernst Blofeld’s conference table qualifies Sublimotion as the most expensive restaurant in the world. “Now wherever you go, there’s a show,” Hjordis Fogelberg sniffs. She’s spent virtually her entire life here and is the author of “My Ibiza,” a new (and sorely needed) guidebook. “There’s always somebody hanging from the ceiling, isn’t there?”
As with electronic dance music and drugs, Ibiza continues to trade on her ruttish behavior. The newer, more business-like Ibiza is hoping people will confuse the organically arrived-at orgies of yore with contract stunt work. In July, a reported 2,000 people attended an “Eyes Wide Shut”-themed bash in a defunct military bunker in the north. Babes in bondage paid to pleasure themselves for the audience felt as authentic as the “image girls” now hired and housed by some of the high-end places around the island. Still, the party, thrown by some elusive Colombian Gatsby known only as Lio, was hailed in some quarters as the best of the summer. A few guests were discovered the next morning in flagrante in a next-door storage shed. “Years ago, it was the people at the party who were interesting. They were the show,” continues Fogelberg, the daughter of a Danish engineer. “The more eccentric you were, the cooler you were,” adds Tina Cutler, one of Ibiza’s legendary partiers who is now a vibrational holistic healer. (Cutler’s father was a flamboyant Tory leader and a right hand to Margaret Thatcher.) She says she’s been busy performing exorcisms on houses here. “There are 400-year-old fincas,” Cutler says. “Entities love to attack. The people who rent do a lot of drugs, and drugs blow holes in their auras. You have to clean a house after.”
Though one still hears of squatters in the local caves, the housing market is definitely getting more high-minded. Las Boas de Ibiza is a visually strident Jean Nouvel condominium directly facing Marina Ibiza. One of an unmatched pair by the marquee architect, the ziggurat trimmed with trippy Day-Glo gardens had a very lengthy gestation, delayed by Spain’s financial crisis. High-end property listings are traditionally kept confidential, but the askings on Ibiza’s $10 million-plus houses are way, way up, says John Stone, a real estate consultant.
Yachts rent space here, too, and the boat people praise the availability of slips, in contrast to no-vacancy St.-Tropez, even if the mooring fees are routinely listed among the five highest in the world. “I have a very, very rich Indian friend who was very often anchored outside the marinas,” says Sylvia, the Duchess of Serra di Cassano, who herself first arrived in the 1980s on a cruise ship, before committing to a 400-year-old finca nine years ago. “He said, ‘They’re completely crazy, what they’re asking.’ ”
It’s too easy to complain about where the island is heading. The magnum with sparklers has arrived, some would say, like a deadly virus. But there’s still a beautiful and pristine Ibiza, dotted with 50-plus beaches where the $120-a-day sunbed is easily avoided. Such simple pleasures remain as picking the figs, lemons and avocados that grow on the side of the road. The scent of wild lavender and rosemary floats on air. Oyster salesmen rove the beaches dressed like Spanish sailors. And naked hippies still walk the beach at Aguas Blancas and beat their drums on Sundays at sunset at Benirras in the north. For $6, they’ll also make you a mojito.
There are no obvious points of entry to this island except the music scene, which remains the great uniting force. It is this constant infusion of youth that keeps Ibiza from petrifying into a St.-Tropez or a Capri. Summer in Ibiza may be the only time some of the ultra-rich come into contact with ordinary people, says Antonia Crespi, a real estate agent who has been coming here for years. The fashion photographer Mario Testino is not above Ibiza’s erratically scheduled, thousand-person Rave in a Cave.
“For me Ibiza means freedom,” says Serra di Cassano, who speaks of attending after-after-parties that pick up where the clubs leave off — at noon. “I don’t want to be told what to wear. How to behave.” She likes going straight from the beach to dinner in a pareo. She hopes this won’t change. “You cannot do that in St.-Tropez. You cannot do that in Sardinia, with the uptight Italians. You know, they seem so hahahaha. No, no. They are very bourgeois, and they are very uptight. Except my husband.”
It’s 2 a.m. in the lobby of the Gran Hotel, and David Guetta, one of the world’s top D.J.s, who makes an estimated $30 million a year, is pouring himself a cup of ginger tea. He has an hour to kill before he goes on at Pacha, historically a trampoline to fame. It is in Ibiza that Guetta communes with his core fans. He says he tested a hundred different versions of his hit single, “Lovers on the Sun,” before its audiences. The light sticks that are thrown into the crowd during his show are branded.
Ibiza’s clubs are killing it like never before. Once, it was uncool to be seen in a V.I.P. room. Now clubs are doubling their private spaces, with gradations of V.I.P. rooms under one roof. A table for eight to 20 people that used to cost $3,000 an evening now goes for up to $30,000. A private party in a villa this summer, which several big-spending regulars at Amnesia attended, is said to have deprived that club’s V.I.P. room of $90,000 in one night. Ibiza’s hippies still lament the death of trance parties on the beach, believing the town cracked down because they competed with the nightclubs.
Yann Pissenem has certainly benefited from the influx of moneyed customers looking to dance. It was six years ago that the former law student introduced a second circadian rhythm to the island with a 5-to-midnight D.J.ed beach party in the then-tired Playa d’en Bossa beach-resort area. The idea was to lure well-to-do 40-somethings with kids whose days dropping Ecstasy and staying up to catch a 3 a.m. headliner in a big-box club were over. By 2010, his summer closing party was bringing in 14,000 people. The Matutes family, who own six of the surrounding hotels in Playa d’en Bossa, decided to take Pissenem’s party in-house, building him a state-of-the-art stage and making him the artistic director of the Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel and Tower. “The idea is to create an amusement park for adults,” Pissenem says. Impressed, Hard Rock International granted its first European license to the Matutes, who opened a Hard Rock Hotel next door to Ushuaïa this past summer.
I pay a visit to Pissenem’s boss, Abel Matutes, a man people refer to as “the Godfather of Ibiza.” Sitting at a conference table in his office, the 73-year-old presents as a kind of canny granddad. He laughs away the nickname, mentioning his latest gold medal from the town, the foreword in his biography written by former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Born into a powerful local banking family, Matutes went into national politics and served as Spain’s foreign minister from 1996 to 2000, all the while amassing a group of resorts around the world. Before he revived Playa d’en Bossa, his 37-year-old son of the same name (let us call him Matutes the Younger) says Dad was talking retirement. Not anymore.
Matutes the Younger is a frank-speaking M.B.A. type who cites the importance of Ibiza “differentiating” itself from others in the “luxury league,” a race that now has Ibiza ahead of Marbella, neck-and-neck with St.-Tropez and Mykonos. It is local sport to accuse the Matutes family of self-interest: They own about 10 percent of the island, and their lucrative schemes are sited on their land. But then, Matutes the Elder remembers when the children he played with as a boy were obliged to leave the island at age 15 to find employment. One daughter was in charge of public works on Ibiza several years ago, shepherding a much-criticized plan to build motorways in response to epic traffic. At the time, says the Younger, locals raised all sorts of opposition to the project; some even complained that it would give rise to Galápagos-style differentiation, so to speak, among the island’s rabbit population. “And now, there were going to be two different races of rabbit, one from the south and the one from the north, because the rabbits could never meet,” he scoffs. “I’m telling you, if your I.Q. is more than 40, if you know how to count to 10, I don’t know how you can believe those things,” he says. “There’s an expression in Spanish, ‘Pueblo pequeño, infierno grande.’ Small town, big hell.”
The family is once again under fire. A $380 million plan to further develop Playa d’en Bossa, anchored by a luxury mall, has been slowed by the government as merchants in Ibiza Town worry about losses to their businesses. Matutes the Elder has offered to delay a proposed golf course if it will hasten the project. Father and son remain optimistic, the latter recently lobbying Air Europa (in which they own shares, as they do in the Baleària ferry line) to begin direct flights from New York.
Ibiza is in the throes of serious change. But to creative types, change isn’t the enemy. “I think every place has to keep progressing,” Jagger says. “I mean, when I arrived here years ago, there was a sense that with the roads now paved, donkeys were no longer the taxis.” The unlikeliest people are falling into bed together as Ibiza tries on a new identity. Matutes the Elder invites me to join him and Russia’s ambassador to Spain on his yacht for an excursion to Formentera, the more primitively beautiful island next door. The plan is to lunch at Juan y Andrea, a spruced-up fish shack where reservations are in the name of one’s yacht and whose prices some call insulting. Formentera is now everybody’s favorite day trip. It’s what Ibiza used to look like.