The three colours of Ibiza
The prickly pear was introduced to the island by the conquistadores from Spainâs colonies in the Americas. (Myles New)
Juan Bonet lifts his wine glass into the sunlight, tilts it to one side and squints into the velvety red liquid with the expression of a man in the grip of a profound pleasure. He sits at a long table on the terrace overlooking his family vineyard, the fluffy curlicues of his white hair buffeted by a strong breeze. Behind him, the twisting green vines stretch out into the distance, their leaves tinged with gauzy mid-afternoon light, their stems rising up from a rich ochre-red soil. The sky beyond is washed with strokes of cobalt and cerulean blue, and a faint but perceptible smell of aniseed and wild garlic hangs in the air. Juan brings the glass to his lips and takes a measured gulp, the stain of the grape lingering for a moment at the corners of his mouth. ‘In Ibiza, we say that there is always red, blue and green,’ he says, pouring another slug from the bottle. ‘The hills are evergreen. The soil is red. The sky and the sea are blue.’
Juan has lived a lifetime among these colours. Seventy years ago he was born here, on the grounds of the Sa Cova vineyard, in a dilapidated stone building built into the gentle slope of the hillside. His father was a farmer who kept chickens and raised livestock. The vines were not cultivated for wine until Juan took over in 1990, but, as a little boy, he remembers picking the grapes and eating them as he walked. 'I was always eating,' he laughs. 'Very greedy.' Later, I accompany Juan as he strolls through his fields to check the progress of the vines. He stoops to loosen a heavy bunch of small, blackish Monastrell grapes from the stalk and offers me one: a syrup-sweet burst on the tongue. 'I'm still eating,' says Juan with a smile. 'Still learning from the land.'
His Ibiza, with its vividly painted landscape and plentiful harvests, seems to exist in a different temporal space to the hedonistic playground this corner of the Balearics is usually associated with. In fact, there are still parts of the northern half of the island that remain virtually untouched, and spiritually far removed from the sprawling club scene of San Antonio - even though, at 220 square miles, Ibiza's geography is compact.
Rural Ibiza is a place of windswept clifftops, isolated fishermen's coves, whitewashed village churches and valleys cooled by a whispering sea-breeze. It is the Ibiza the ancient Greeks used to call the 'pine-covered island', a fertile land where almost every patch of soil is filled with trees bearing different fruits - figs, quinces, lemons, carob seeds and almonds - so that the surrounding air is perfumed with their ripening scent. The triptych of colours Juan refers to infuse every element of the surroundings. Often all three are visible at once - like at Can Martí, a 400-year-old farmhouse encircled by 16 and a half hectares of freshly-tilled earth planted with tomatoes, potatoes and pomegranate trees. Here, the deep burnt sienna red of the soil - rust-coloured because of its richness in iron - mingles with thickets of foliage and a sweep of clear sky.
Reached by a potholed pathway, Can Martí is a working farm providing selfcatering accommodation, situated outside the village of Sant Joan de Labritja. The main building has been restored using traditional techniques, so that its stone walls seem to blend seamlessly into the environment. The whole place appears to have sprouted out of the ground in a forest clearing scattered with blazing colour: bruised pink hyacinths, magenta-tinged wild gladioli and orchids with petals the colour of oyster shells.
'We wanted to preserve the soul of this place,' says Isabelle Brantschen who moved here from her native Switzerland in 1994 to set up Can Martí with her husband, Peter. She, like Juan, feels an affinity with the colours of her adopted homeland: Isabelle's hair is gathered round her face in soft, red curls and she jokes that her scalp has soaked up the shades of the soil. 'Even Ringo has adapted to the colours,' she says, gesturing towards a sandy-coloured dog almost precisely the same hue as the stone flagstone on which he is lying. 'We found him on the beach as a stray and he was black. Now look at him.' Ringo, happily chewing on a dried-out chunk of homebaked olive bread, pays no attention.
The road that stretches westward from Can Martí dips and winds through shallow valleys, lined with the spindly silhouettes of almond trees pressed against the expanse of sky. Every now and then, the landscape is punctuated by a tiny village like Sant Mateu, set amongst the olive groves and consisting of little more than a whitewashed church on the brow of a hill. Then, as the road curves sharply round to the left, Can Cires restaurant comes into view. When I arrive, the walls are being given a fresh coat of paint in preparation for next week's fiesta - a party in celebration of the village's patron saint, during which the 40-odd inhabitants gather to sing, dance and roast a pig on a spit.