A 30-minute boat ride across the Mediterranean from Ibiza, this most laid-back of the Balearics is a place to disconnect. Dalt Vila behind you, fading on the horizon with the goings-on of the White Isle. Step off the ferry at La Savina for sleepy fishing villages, turquoise waters and white-sand beaches. Dusty caminos between salt flats and fragrant pine forest.

For centuries, Formentera was far from the world’s radar, almost deserted owing to pirate raids from the African coast. But by the 70s the likes of Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd and Joni Mitchell were carving the island’s bohemian, artistic character that resonates today.

Beach clubs and restaurants have washed up on its free-spirited shores, but Formentera remains an unspoiled refuge. Its natural beauty preserved by eco-friendly initiatives and the blissful absence of an airport that keeps it far from the well-trodden tourist track.

Less really is more here. Dip between sea and chinguritos. Wander aimlessly. Or hop on a bike or a scooter to explore; the island’s just 19km from end to end, and threaded by pathways, hiking trails and more than 100km of smooth, flat cycle routes.

Traditional Formentera Doors

Formentera Restaurants & Bars

Facing Ibiza on the eastern shore are some of Formentera’s most renowned restaurants: Molo 47, where artful plates of seafood are crafted by Giorgio Armani’s former personal chef, and Can Carlitos for tapas, sangria and views of Es Vedrà. The latter is owned by Nandu Jubany, the Michelin-starred chef also behind Es Còdol Foradat on Migjorn beach. Drop anchor outside Es Molí de Sal, a renovated salt mill with a classic menu of fresh tartar, grilled squid and paella studded with lobster. Or try Juan y Andrea where, surrounded by palms, a husband-and-wife team have served shrimp a la plancha since 1971.

Inland, dine in the blooming garden at A Mi Manera. Much of what ends up on your plate – courgette flowers, beetroot carpaccio, crimson cherry tomatoes – are organic and homegrown. Es Mirador is a no-frills affair, but its terrace views stretching across the island are Formentera’s best. In Sant Francesc Xavier, make sure to get a seat in the courtyard garden of Can Carlos.

On the southern coast, the palm-roofed Beso Beach restaurant is more relaxed. Sun worshippers pour in from Playa Illetes for Basque dishes by chef and El Bulli-alumni Carles Abellan. Or they tuck into a Mediterr-Asian seafood menu at 10 Punto 7, serenaded by a Balearic soundtrack of chilled beats and crashing waves. Its sushi is Formentera’s freshest. The laid-back vibe ups its tempo as the sun sets at Tiburon beach club.

Paella sea food beside the sea

Formentera Beaches

Near the port, the butter-soft sands of Es Cavall d’en Borràs melt between sea and tufted dunes – the perfect spot for a lazy lunchtime picnic. It’s the quieter sibling of Playa de Ses Illetes, the A-list of Formentera’s beaches. Think superyachts, sugar sands and gin-clear waters that could be straight from the Caribbean. 

Like a necklace of dune-backed coves strung around southern Formentera, Migjorn is the island’s longest beach. Come aperitivo hour, ferry between its bars and chiringuitos via boat or sun-bleached wooden walkways. 

To get off the beaten track: Es Pujols for friendly vibes, watersports and pit stops at Bartolo; Playa de Llevant within the Ses Salines Nature Park; or the pristine Playa de s’Alga, over on the lesser-trodden islet of Espalmador. There isn’t much in the way of amenities here, so pack a picnic.

Done with sunbathing – nude is the norm here – rent a kayak to explore the virgin coastline and hidden caves. Or try diving and snorkelling among the seagrass fields. For beginners: Caló des Mort is a brilliantly shallow lagoon. Come sunset, climb the almost-Martian cliffs above Cala Saona on the west coast. Or sip a mojito from its stilted beach shack.

Things to See & Do in Formentera

Sant Francesc Xavier is trinket-box capital. Between the main square and 18th-century fortress-church, bougainvillea-lined streets host quaint boutiques – try Parfumerie Centrale – and a morning market of handmade items. But it’s on Wednesdays and Sundays that island residents rock up the pine-covered hillside to the El Pilar de la Mola for original paintings, leatherwork, handcrafted jewellery and such. Just off the market is the showroom of Enric Majoral, one of Spain’s leading jewellery designers.

Like her sister Ibiza, Formentera has a patchwork of Unesco-protected salt flats, part of the Ses Salines Natural Park. Especially beautiful when flamingos migrate across the reserve in spring and autumn, and year-round when the plains reflect a psychedelic sunset.

Spot the island’s three lighthouses as you explore: La Savina, caught between Ses Salines and the marina, or La Mola, where Jules Verne sent his protagonist Hector Servadac. Look out for a ladder poking out the ground near Es Cap de Barbaria lighthouse; climb down to enter a secluded cave with stellar sea views.

Elsewhere: embrace your wild side on a horseback ride through the countryside around Sant Francesc with Club Hipica Can Savines, or follow in the footsteps of Formentera’s creative, open-minded crowd at artist retreat Can 7. Oenophiles, set your sat nav for the sun-drenched, southerly vineyard of Cap de Barbaria for bottles of the island’s famous red. Or scoot east along the coast to Bodega Terramoll.

An insider’s guide to life on Formentera

Roberto Ballanbeni visited Formentera for the first time 12 years ago and immediately fell for the island’s unique magic, turquoise coastlines and white-washed fincas. We chatted to him about his memories of summer evenings in Can Nella, as well as some interesting inside information on the property market in Formentera. 

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