Marvel at the cultural heritage and beauty of Ibiza’s Dalt Vila – the Mediterranean’s most important old town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Here, cobbled streets enclosed by fortified town-walls climb the hill in the heart of Ibiza Town and lead you through a maze of quaint old buildings, vibrant bars and restaurants, chic galleries and hidden boutiques. At the top of Dalt Vila (which translates as Upper Town) sits the castle, a patchwork fortress built and adjusted over the course of 2,000 years.
The area is mostly residential and almost entirely pedestrianised. This part of the town has its own unique allure and atmosphere, you can easily get lost for hours. There are three official routes through the streets – the central tourist office on the Paseo de Vara de Ray hands out guides for free – or you can make your own way around stopping at the informative plaques to enjoy titbits of history. Start the day with a pastry from the Harinus Forn Artesà coffee shop, or a coffee from Charlotte Ibiza and end with a beer on the beanbags at S’Escalinata or a dangerous rum cocktail at Paradise Lost.
There are five ways to pass into Dalt Vila. The main entrance is over the drawbridge at the Portal de Ses Taules and takes you straight into the main square, the Plaza de Vila. There are two other gateways, the Portal Ballard de St Joan and the Portal Nou to the east, protected by the Sant Pere Bastion. Two tunnels running under the streets also spiral their way into the centre.
History, museums and art
For history enthusiasts, there are two museums in Dalt Vila: The Archaeological Museum with its impressive collection of Phoenician artefacts and the Punic Necropolis of Puig des Molins, which holds over 4,000 tombs from across the Mediterranean.
There are also art galleries to peruse, like the Museu d’Art Contemporani d’Eivissa or Art Project Ibiza by Lune Rouge, which was launched by Guy Laliberté, the founder of Cirque du Soleil. It hosts two exhibitions per year featuring work from the Lune Rouge Collection, much of it by Canadian artists.
At the very top of the hill sit the castle and cathedral. The Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de las Nieves occupies a site that was once an old mosque and went through many refurbishments – most extensively in the 15th and 16th centuries, which give the cathedral a predominantly Gothic Catalan style and a decorative Baroque nave was added later.
Next to the cathedral is the impressive Castell de Eivissa. From Ibiza Castle, you have panoramic views over the island and the Balearic sea. Going around sunset means you get exceptional light on the building itself and the temperatures are cooler for the climb up. The castle was built over 1,000 years and is a testament to many centuries of architectural styles. Part 16th-century mediaeval, part 18th-century barracks, you can explore the many quirks and corners of the castle, looking for evidence of the Moorish occupation.
On the western side of the island, you can visit the quarry where the stones that built Dalt Vila came from. A worthy site in its own right, Sa Pedrera’s unique-looking excavated walls form a strange formation that has earned it the nickname of the Atlantis of Ibiza.
Eat, drink and be merry
Climbing the streets of the pretty old town is sure to leave you thirsty. Bar 1805, one of Dalt Vila’s gems, was started by a French mixologist with a penchant for Absinthe. The walls are a tribute to cocktail creation and they serve casual dinners on the terrace outside. Or pick a local wine from the La Enotecacellar at the Hotel Mirador de Dalt Villa.
Give in to temptation at Paradise Lost – this low-key bar has a reputation for fine rum cocktails and talented DJs. S’Escalinata on the Plaza del Sol is one of the coolest places to stop for a drink. Visitors sit on bean bags on the stairs outside and you can order tapas, a refreshing beer, or a cocktail while you catch your breath and enjoy the sun. Just next to S’Escalinata is the open-air cinema Club Cinema Paradiso, which screens films under the stars on the Bastion of Sant Pere.
Modern Ibizan recipes can be found at El Portalon, part-owned by organic farmer and author Anne Sijmonsbergen. Her cookbook celebrates ingredients from the island’s farms and inside the restaurant, you’ll see art by Ibizan artists. A nod to the venue’s former life as a gallery space.
Bohemian eatery El Olivo Mio’s serves up modern Mediterranean or La Dispensa has a random mix of influences on the menu, from tapas to Japanese fusion. Both occupy converted homes and have al-fresco tables that line the narrow streets.
The rooftop bar at Café Montesol in the island’s oldest hotel has exceptional views of the surrounding streets. And then, of course, there are the many bars in Ibiza Town that offer great views of Dalt Vila from across the bay.
Once a year an international party kicks off the summer season in the battlement of Santa Lucía. The music plays through the night with views over the town and harbour. Look out for the colourful Pacha flower power parade that winds its way through the streets every Wednesday as part of the weekly club night.