Short break: For­mentera, Spain

The Balaeric isle is best known for white sands and laid-back vibes, but wild trails and hippy tales make for a truly thrilling two-wheeled es­cape, writes Gareth Clark

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

The Balaeric Isles are known more for their white sands than ad­ven­tur­ous thrills, which makes the wild cy­cle trails, twin­kling wa­ters and an­cient caves of For­mentera an un­der­rated joy

Dani, our guide, ducked be­neath the thread­bare prayer flags nailed over the cave mouth and smiled, point­ing at an old mat­tress slid be­tween two sta­lag­mites: “Hip­pies!” he chuck­led, “I pulled a whole kitchen out of one of these caves.”

But relics of For­mentera’s psy­che­delic age – a time when Bob Dy­lan was said to have win­tered here in a wind­mill – were few as we scram­bled the cliffs of La Mola. The sun dimmed and we slid through an­other gash in the rock. In­side, my torch beam dwin­dled in the vast black, then splashed across a huge sta­lac­tite shelf hang­ing from the ceil­ing, stretched out like a pale, empty ban­quet­ing table.

“It takes 100 years for 1cm of sta­lac­tite to form,” whis­pered Dani. Civil­i­sa­tions had come and gone in its mak­ing, I thought, as we emerged to the red glow now bathing the cliff. We’d scram­bled through me­galithic burial sites, hippy dens and ge­o­log­i­cal glo­ries. It was a far cry from my idea of the Balaer­ics.

For­mentera is tiny, just 19km from tip to tip, and its rep­u­ta­tion as a quiet beach es­cape, away from the chaos of Ibiza (30 mins by ferry), is more likely to at­tract the odd celeb than hardy trav­ellers. Most vis­i­tors just find a sandy spot, strip buck naked and let the sun do its work. But they’re miss­ing a trick.

Some 32 cy­cling and walk­ing trails web the lit­tle is­land, weav­ing old Ro­man roads, rose-pink salt pans etched with flamin­gos (Aug–oct), sun-lit fig or­chards and 18th-cen­tury tor­res (tow­ers) built to spot the Turk­ish/bar­bary pi­rates that once rav­aged this re­gion. Even to­day, Dani is the only walk­ing guide to set up here, and it’s easy to ex­plore its fringes in iso­la­tion. Then there’s the coast…

The next day, I ped­alled to Es Pu­jols in the north. Off its sands lie the planet’s old­est liv­ing or­gan­ism: posi­do­nia, an an­cient sea­grass en­demic to the Mediter­ranean shal­lows and some 200,000 years old. It acts like coral, help­ing to stop ero­sion, and its Un­esco-listed mead­ows are home to myr­iad fish.

Af­ter a snorkel, I joined my cata­ma­ran co-cap­tain, Alessan­dro, and we made our way to S’es­pal­mador, a slip of sand and scrub off For­mentera and part of Las Salinas Nat­u­ral Park. It was for sale at £19.5m a few years ago, but vis­i­tors still drift into its bays. We made for the far north, where few ven­ture.

“Peo­ple say the house here be­longed to one of Franco’s brothers,” said Alex – it made sense; El Gen­er­alis­simo used For­mentera as a prison in the 1940s. But S’es­pal­mador’s in­te­rior is off-lim­its, so we pulled into a near-empty bay un­der a black-and­white light­house. I splashed ashore and scram­bled to the old torre, its an­cient walls bak­ing in the sun.

On my fi­nal day I cy­cled into For­mentera’s west. Bump­ing past ru­ins and down dirt roads with­out any shade, I emerged breath­less and hot at Cap de Bar­baria’s light­house as the light fled. Ro­mans, pi­rates, fas­cists, hip­pies – all have laid a claim here. Trav­ellers are just the lat­est in­vaders. But, as Dy­lan might say, the times they are a-changin’.

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