You may know the Spanish island of Ibiza as a playground for Europe's jet set -- an island of luxury hotels, condos, restaurants, discos, shops, a casino, beaches, a little flamenco, and perhaps a foray or two into the city of Ibiza when the sun isn't shining, which isn't often.
Or perhaps you remember Ibiza as a sort of con man's haven. It was the home of the legendary art forger Elmyr De Hory, whose paintings were sold to collectors and museums throughout Europe and the United States before he was exposed, and of author Clifford Irving, whose bogus "autobiography" of Howard Hughes led to one of the more celebrated scandals of the '70s.
But there is another Ibiza, one my husband and I have been visiting annually since 1965, when we purchased a home in the Walled City, or Dalt Vila. This section of the island's capital city is completely surrounded by perfectly preserved 16th-century walls built on top of ancient Arabic foundations. It is dominated at the summit by a massive cathedral (parts of which date from the 13th century) resting on the site of a Roman temple.
Our house, named Casa Elena, has no street address. The walls are whitewashed inside and out, the tile floors are honey-colored, and pale blue shuttered doors in each room lead to balconies. The rooftop terrace has views in all directions -- over the Walled City and port area, the beach resort of Talamanca across the bay, a Punic necropolis (an ancient cemetery) and low mountains in the distance.
It's a far cry from yachts and discos. When we enter the Walled City the decades fall away, and we savor the feeling of being in a medieval fortress with the drawbridge up -- at least figuratively.
Ibiza -- located about 80 miles off the east coast of Spain in the western Mediterranean Sea -- was first discovered by Phoenician traders in the 9th century B.C. During its long history it has been governed by Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines and finally the Arabs, who ruled from 711 until 1235, when Spain established its sovereignty.
Although the island was known to English tourists in the early part of this century, it was not until 1950 that visitors came in any numbers. During the '60s Ibiza became a haven for writers and artists; in the late '70s, tourism exploded. Now, all summer long, jets thunder into the international airport.
We used to spend summers in Ibiza, but no longer: The preferred season is fall. During September, October and early November the weather is usually superb, and most of the tourists are gone or going.
Perhaps the best way to approach Ibiza is by ship. From a distance you see the island's rugged coastline and gentle mountains. Small, dazzlingly white villages cling to the hillsides or cluster around quiet inlets.
The ship enters the calm Bay of Ibiza, passes the beach of Talamanca with its resort hotels and new yacht club and sails around a lighthouse at the end of the breakwater.
The scene from the water is dramatic -- first the cathedral perched at the top of the Walled City; then the cubelike buildings, with splashes of color from pots of flowers on balconies and terraces, cascading down the hillside to the surrounding walls; and finally, at eye level, the harbor area with its typically low Mediterranean buildings and cafe's crowded along the edge of the water. To the left is Sa Penåa, the fishermen's quarter, more and more occupied by boutiques and restaurants, and to the right is the beginning of the modern city.
Except for the golden-brown walls, everything is blindingly white -- not for nothing is Ibiza called La Isla Blanca (the White Island). Most buildings, both in the city and countryside, are whitewashed yearly.
The port area and the commercial district behind it are generally thronged with tourists, but don't be put off. To enter the "other" Ibiza, go to the open-air market, walk up the ramp (over what used to be a moat) and pass through the Portal de Las Tablas, once a drawbridge and now the principal access to the Walled City.
It's a most impressive gateway. Above the portal is a shield with the Spanish coat of arms and a Latin inscription that establishes the date of the gate's construction as 1585. Flanking the ancient wood doors (now permanently open) are two headless Roman statues, found on the site when the walls were built. The walls and the area within have been declared a national monument; no new buildings or changes to existing ones, except for repairs or restorations, are permitted.
Once inside, you're in an irregular-shaped plaza rimmed with cafe's, boutiques, art galleries, a couple of hole-in-the-wall grocery stores and some of the best restaurants in the city.
But onward. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Snows is not to be missed, and there are three ways to make the climb. You can walk up the only road for vehicular traffic -- the least desirable route, since cars and trucks whiz by and there is no sidewalk. Another choice is to take any of the staired streets leading up from the plaza. Best of all is to turn sharply right and follow the street that hugs the walls, which are only 3 to 5 feet high on the pedestrian side, but 100 feet or more on the outside.
This eventually leads to our district's, or barrio's, square. A steep, staired street leading upward may seem daunting, but don't stop here. Continue ascending and you will be rewarded with magnificent views of the sparkling Mediterranean and a tree-covered hillside containing the Punic necropolis located directly below the walls. (It is also the shortest, though steepest, route to the top.)
At the summit, you will see a castle, formerly occupied by an army garrison, now vacant.
A bit further on is Cathedral Square. Nearby are the Bishop's Palace, some excellent examples of medieval town houses and the Archeological Museum, containing one of the world's finest collections of Punic objects ( along with Greek and Roman pieces). A branch of the museum is located outside the walls, next to the necropolis, the Carthaginian and Roman burial grounds, where some perfectly preserved tombs can be visited in subterranean excavations.
From the cathedral, the best way to return to the lower city is to follow any of the narrow streets which frequently lead into small squares, some with working fountains and cool places to sit beneath a tree. The houses (some restored, some in ruins) are joined, usually in a haphazard fashion resembling an Arab medina. Most of the open spaces are on the flat roofs or interior courtyards of the houses. From time to time, a turn in a street will open to a breathtaking view of the city and harbor below.
Our neighborhood is the Dalt Vila in microcosm. In the square are two tiny grocery stores, carrying identical products, each with its faithful customers. Huge trees shade elderly men and women who observe the scene from straight-backed chairs. Children play after school (and sometimes into the night), and dogs amble about. A small open-air cafe' where the locals gather is perched on the edge of the walls.
Although most of our neighbors are Ibizans, there are also gypsies who have come from the mainland seeking jobs and a few foreigners -- Dutch, French and Italian.
Our house comes with a Spanish family attached -- in the best sense of that word. Justa (our neighbor-friend-caretaker), her husband, daughter and granddaughter are now part of our extended family. Justa has great dignity as well as a robust sense of humor. Like many Spaniards of her generation (she is around 60), she has known difficult times. But she has the wisdom to live in the present, and it is an antidote to the concerns we carry with us about problems that are increasingly beyond our control. I was fretting one day about a situation I could do nothing about. "Senåora," she advised, "when you have a pot full of garbage, it will smell worse every time you stir it." I stopped stirring.
We usually start our day with breakfast on the terrace, listening to the sounds of children going off to school and neighbors greeting one another as they sweep the streets in front of their houses. Then comes a stroll to the port to get the mail and to buy newspapers. The kiosk in the Paseo Vara de Rey -- the main center of the commercial area -- carries papers and magazines from all over Europe and the States.
The big decision then is where to have our cafe' con leche (almost equal parts of coffee and milk unless you specify "poco leche") and croissants. We might opt for the Montosol Hotel's sidewalk cafe', situated nearby on the Paseo and favored by locals and the foreign colony. If the day is warm, we'll choose the Mary Sol, around the corner on the edge of the harbor. It's popular with tourists, but we try to disassociate ourselves by reading the Diario de Ibiza.
A bit of grocery shopping on the way home, lunch around 2 and a long afternoon of reading. We have no television, phone or car -- only books and a radio. In late afternoon, Justa often finds a reason to come for a chat, usually bringing some cake to have with our tea.
Around 8 or 9 we return to the port to have dinner alone or with friends. There is a wide selection of restaurants with continental cuisine, many seafood places and a sprinkling of ethnic restaurants. Ibizan specialties are usually found in the restaurants in restored farmhouses in the countryside.
Afterward we stroll along the water's edge, or we might take the delightful trip across the bay to Talamanca. A small boat chugs over in about 10 minutes, and from the terraces of a couple of hotels one is afforded a magnificent view of Ibiza at night, the walls floodlighted.
Around 11 we head home. The sounds of the port cease a block or two away, and we enter the Dalt Vila.
An occasional cat crosses our path; Spanish lanterns give a pale blue cast to the houses; women bring in the caged birds affixed to the outside walls of their houses; a few children playing in the street are called home; the bar owner, closing for the night, softly calls out to us, "Buenas noches."
Just before turning in, we go up to the terrace for another look at the Dalt Vila silhouetted against the glow of the lights of the port. Almost every night a ship is docked below us, awaiting its midnight sailing. Silence is now total except for the occasional footfall of a late-returning neighbor.
The knowledgeable traveler can experience this world, too, if he will just go up the ramp and through the portal. Dagmar Miller is a free-lance writer who lives in Key West, Fla., when she's not in Ibiza.