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Forget the parties... it’s time to find the real Ibiza

As package holidays resume to the Balearic party island, Sarah Marshall finds out why holidays post-lockdown could be better than ever before

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Pikes in Ibiza

Pikes in Ibiza

Press Association Images

Pikes in Ibiza

Cheering low-flying aircraft as they cruised overhead became a bit of a tradition at clubs along Playa d'en Bossa, Ibiza's longest and liveliest beach. Whoops of joy welcomed a new influx of clubbers and applauded the fact someone somewhere in the venue had probably missed their flight home.

But today, only gulls spread their wings against the deep blue sky. Standing alone on an empty beach, I'm an audience of one.

Spain, including the Balearic Islands, experienced one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe, and Ibiza's famous club scene has been put on hold for this year. Mass gatherings are forbidden, dancing banned, and bars must close by 10pm.

It paints a very different picture of the Ibiza familiar to most.

When I land at the airport, only a scattering of people fills the terminal. Outside, weathered posters advertise parties that ended months ago.

Foreigners, though, are starting to return.

Borders are open to visitors from the UK, and inclusion in the government's safe list (meaning no quarantine restrictions in either direction) has given a green light for tourism to the island (though Scots still currently need to isolate), with the first influx of fly 'n' flop tourists arriving on TUI flights from Manchester and Gatwick on July 10.

Several weeks ago, the idea of a summer holiday in Europe felt like a fantasy, but leading package holiday operator TUI promise 2020's summer is back on, with regional departures to increase over the next few weeks. In terms of destinations, by August, Greece and Turkey will be sold alongside their Spanish programme.

Newly refurbished during lockdown, 495-room dual tower resort The Ibiza Twiins is one of the properties hosting TUI guests. Perspex screens on reception and multiple hand sanitiser dispensers are designed to keep Covid-19 at bay; in every room, slippers and bathrobes come with a complimentary disposable face mask.

It's a useful gift and a hint at the new norm.

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Attendants cleaning sun loungers at the TUI Aura Blue resort.

Attendants cleaning sun loungers at the TUI Aura Blue resort.

Press Association Images

Attendants cleaning sun loungers at the TUI Aura Blue resort.

From July 13, mask wearing became mandatory in all public areas across the Balearics. Beaches, swimming pools and sun loungers are exempt; when sitting down to eat or drink, face coverings can also be removed. Anyone who breaks the rules could be fined €100 (£89).

In the absence of crowds, social distancing is easy, and I never struggle to find ample space in the sun. I'm one of only 90 guests - a fraction of the capped 70% capacity, and Ricardo Munoz, commercial and marketing director of the Sirenis hotel group, admits they probably won't see big bookings until 2021. "None of us are here to make money this summer," he laments.

The other surprise is the breakfast buffet, an institution most hoteliers have retired in our new germophobic world. When I enter the restaurant, a member of staff registers my temperature with an electronic zapper; anything above 37.5C and I'll be whisked into quarantine. Inside, a one-way system weaves past counters of food, although only serving staff can plate items, and even bananas must be picked up with tongs.

Along with sickness, fear of quarantine is one of the big stumbling blocks preventing people from booking holidays in 2020. TUI recently announced details of a new Covid-19 Cover programme, available to every guest until the end of the year, which promises to take care of costs associated with self-isolation abroad. It provides some reassurance during unpredictable times.

Most tourists I meet are simply relieved to be on holiday. It's unanimously agreed the only peculiarity is how normal it feels to be away.

Like everywhere in 2020, though, Ibiza looks different.

Local guide Pepe Costa, who's been leading tours for 38 years, says this is the quietest he's ever seen the island. "But it's still as beautiful as ever," he says from beneath a plastic visor, as we explore the breezy, hilltop ramparts of Dalt Vila, Ibiza's fortified old town. "Many people think we have only the nightlife, but there's the history, the culture, the gastronomy; there are many things to do."

Perhaps it's a trick of the soft, Mediterranean sunlight, but in the absence of busy ferry traffic, the sea sparkles and shimmers as if laced with sapphire gemstones. In the narrow, cobbled streets, only a few cafes have lifted their awnings, but walking alone through medieval archways allows me to instantly step back in time.

Many agree this is a chance to revel in Ibiza's past glories - from discovering early Phoenician settlements at Sa Caleta, to celebrating the free-spirited, hippy vibe that's made Ibiza such an inclusive place.

The disco lights may have temporarily dimmed, but there are still opportunities to party and have fun.

Owned by Duane Lineker (nephew of famous former footballer Gary), O Beach was one of the first venues to relaunch its daytime pool parties at the beginning of July.

The chic venue overlooks the bay of San Antonio, Ibiza's beating heart of entertainment, but today the typically hectic promenade ambles along at a gentler pace.

Inside the bar, I'm allocated my own seating area and poolside daybed, and politely asked not to move around too much. Using my phone to zap a QR code, I can order drinks and platters of food from masked waiters, while DJs spin a suitably laidback set. Aside from the absence of any dancing, it feels like a party in semi-swing.

"It may be different for this year, but it's still a great experience," says Duane, who remains positive about the season. "Especially when everyone has had to endure some form of lockdown."

A boutique day club for families, neighbouring bar Bam-Bu-Ku, also owned by the company, only launched a few weeks ago. Teens queue up to ride a surf machine and toddlers play in a sandpit, while parents sip extravagantly-crafted cocktails; its success demonstrates Ibiza's holiday spirit is very much alive.

Up in the rural hills of San Antonio, where olive groves and almond trees advertise Ibiza's beauty far more effectively than glitzy billboards, iconic hotel, bar and restaurant Pikes is also having a good summer so far.

Although numbers have been reduced and plugs are pulled at 2am (restaurants have been granted a later licence than bars), the atmosphere in the kitsch country farmhouse is still carefree. A couple play tennis on a court dominated by a giant roller blade, once used as a dancer's podium, while others laze in the pool with inflatable flamingos.

According to Dawn Hindle, co-owner and creative director at Pikes, now is the time to experience real Ibiza: amazing restaurants, superb, spacious beaches and 'back to mine' vibe chilled sessions.

"The healing, feminine energies that everyone and the world needs right now can be discovered in Ibiza," she enthuses.

"As we have been saying at Pikes for a while, it's a true 'rockovery' moment, and we may never get this experience or moment again."

Belfast Telegraph