We talk to Roberto Ballabeni, the owner of the beautiful Can Nella on Formentera, about the allure of the island life.
The smallest of the Balearic islands, and perhaps its least trodden, Formentera remains a paradise of white beaches and unimaginably blue seas. For centuries the island was largely unpopulated, but now, this idyllic spot just off the Ibizan coast is firmly on the radar – its bohemian character and pristine landscape resonating with those looking for somewhere to disconnect. Roberto Ballabeni first arrived over a decade ago and has been devoted to the island ever since.
“It’s hard to describe, but the island is really magical. I always think of what Nostradamus said, that ‘Ibiza will be the last refuge of the Earth’. The super-plant Posidonia Oceanica cleans and oxygenates the water, making Formentera’s some of the most turquoise coastlines. On most summer mornings the Ibizans arrive in their boats to swim in the sea around Formentera. There’s something truly special here.”
Can Nella, Roberto’s first home on the island, stands on the crest of a hill and enjoys unparalleled views over the soul-soothing sea and the majestic silhouette of the Es Vedra rock. We chatted to Roberto about his experience of life on Formentera and in this one-of-a-kind villa.
When did you first visit Formentera?
12 years ago. A friend invited me to visit Formentera with him — quite honestly, on the first day, I wondered why he had brought me here. But by the third day, I had already decided I wanted to live on the island. It was a quick love story. Two years later I bought Can Nella.
Where is your favourite place to sit in the house?
It’s difficult to pick one place but if I had to, I’d probably choose a spot under the porch in front of the pool, with the whole island and Ibiza in front of me. I often sit there with my breakfast as the sun rises behind me and by midday, it’s right above the house so you really enjoy the shade. And then you watch as the sun sets into the sea in front of you. I have travelled a lot in my life – I’ve seen Polynesia, Seychelles and the Maldives – but the sunsets here at Can Nella are really something special.
How would you describe the view?
Unique. Breathtaking. You really can’t find a better view anywhere else.
Can you describe how you feel when you’re in the house?
The house sits on a hill that is 300-metres high and you practically have the whole island beneath your feet. Just below the cliff in front is the most beautiful stretch of sea on the island. The colour of the water is amazing. On the days when the sea is very calm, many boats come and stay there overnight. From the house, I can see all the lights of these boats below me. A guest of mine once told me that it’s like the twinkling of city lights but under the magical stars of the island.
You can walk to the sea in ten minutes if you follow what’s known as the Roman path – it takes you down to Es Calò, where there’s a charming village. It’s a steep climb back up, but then you jump in the pool after.
The house is surrounded by UNESCO-protected land, so no one can build around it and there is no pollution.
Any particular memories of being in the villa you want to share?
There aren’t really specific memories, just a consistent feeling I get there. It’s an emotional place; you immediately feel calm in the house. You blend with the nature around you. The light is magical. You can only hear the music of birds and crickets. You sleep so peacefully in the house, you have to find somebody who’ll come to wake you up in the morning!
The private balcony of the master bedroom is so big that, if you feel romantic, you can sleep out there under the stars.
What can you tell us about Formentera?
There is only one tarmac road on the island, the rest are dirt roads. The buildings are surrounded by beautiful, original dry stone walls. Formentera is slowly transforming from a very wild place into a more modern island. Still, as things improve and change, the people of Formentera have done a brilliant job of preserving the heritage and atmosphere.
What are your thoughts about property on this island?
The island is fast increasing in value. In the last ten years alone, the property prices have tripled in comparison to doubling in Ibiza. There’s still great potential for value increase in the next few years.
It’s a very long, complicated process to build anything new here. To obtain a construction permit on Formentera, you need a plot that is a minimum of 15,000m², and in some areas, it needs to be even bigger to build a house. In terms of what you build on the land, it can only be 260m² in size, and one storey high. It can take five years or more to get the permit.
In the area around Can Nella there are five houses. My house is the only one to have electricity.
Is there much of a restaurant scene on the island?
Definitely. There are around 130 restaurants for all possible tastes and budgets. The food is very good here.
What is the community like on Formentera?
There’s a very welcoming feel to the island. In winter, the peacefulness is absolute as the locality is small. In the summer, the island attracts people from all over the world but mainly Europe, since it is conveniently located just an hour-and-a-half flight from pretty much everywhere. The locals here are very friendly and gracious.
What is your best insider tip for enjoying a trip to the island?
Explore the crystal clear waters in the Es Calò area just below Can Nella during the day. Stay and watch the atmosphere in the evening transform as dozens of boats gather at sunset – it’s truly incredible.
Can Nella is a charming villa with a license to rent on the frontline of Formentera. Five bedrooms plus an additional staff room, a swimming pool and an al-fresco dining area make the most of the uninterrupted sunset vistas of Ibiza and Es Vedra. There’s a dynamic synergy between the villa itself – a classic palette of white walls, local stone and terracotta tiles – and the natural environment that envelopes its north-western location. Can Nella is for sale.