The Balearics: Formentera

Insight Guide (Mallorca, Ibiza, Menorca & Formentera)  London-Singapore, 1989, 1,800 words; extract  

Formentera, the smallest of the Balearic islands, sitting just south of Ibiza, has a fascinating network of dirt-track roads lined by dry stone walls inland, away from the coast. Scale and modernity recede there and the landscape becomes almost completely abstract.

Also see: In Search of a Speciality: Balearic Food

A ragged sliver of rock, Formentera may seem to contain little of the obvious scenic or cultural interest found in the other Balearics. As the islanders themselves put it, "te molt poca cosa que veure". There is little to see. So it may seem: a handful of ruined watch-towers, a few windmills and three fortress churches. 

But the uncluttered simplicity, sometimes even the raw harshness, of the island landscape, criss-crossed by drystone walls, and the absence of distracting human grandeur have given the island a rare sense of timelessness.

The oldest known monument, a dolmen dating from 1600BC, stands near a fully fledged resort, Es Pujols, where the first beach hotel was built thirty years ago....


The island's main link with the outside world remains its port, La Sabina, which was named after the Phoenician juniper trees growing on the island.... From here a road runs south to Sant Francesc Xavier, sometimes called the island's capital, but in reality a swollen village. Outside the windowless 18th-century fortress church and the shabby but gracious library, you can catch something of the feel of life here before electricity, the telephone and tourism arrived in one fell swoop in the late fifties.

A short drive away is Sant Ferru, traditionally the centre of the islands vineyards and its alternative culture. It is said the hippies first gravitated here not just for the wine and its legendary bar, Fonda Pepe, but to stay out of reach of the Guardia Civil, who operated from Sant Frances Xavier by bicycle. Finally, a couple of Guardia hired one of the island's taxis, roared down to Fonda Pepe at top speed and made their first marijuana arrests. It remains a living museum of post-sixties youth culture in the high season, but is wonderfully Spanish, with a good supply of loud music and barflies.


Ironically, the island's oldest known human monument, a dolmen dating from 1600 BC, stands close to a fully fledged resort, Es Pujols, where the hotel's first beach hotel was built thirty years ago.

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