I am ploughing up and down a swimming pool in Ibiza and a slim-hipped man at the water’s edge is blowing his saxophone straight at me. At either end a dancer in a sequinned swimsuit, flouncy red net coat, electric blue gloves and 8in heels is perched on a wooden box and wiggling her body to the music.
There are various other people in the water, though I’m the only swimmer. A woman in gold bikini bottoms bares her breasts, which are the colour of conkers. A few men in trunks are sitting on the edge. All are drinking champagne.
This is Nikki Beach, the “sexiest place on earth” according to its website, which also boasts of taking the number one spot in the Travel Channel’s “World’s Sexiest Beach Bars” list. Since 1998, it has been importing white leather beds, champagne buckets and mixing decks to beaches in Miami, Marbella, Mexico and now, finally, Ibiza. The night before, 1,200 people clad in white gathered for the opening party; today the trees are still strewn with silver streamers.
Alas, due to a prior engagement with one of the earth’s least sexy corporate governance events, I missed the party but am here for lunch with the owners, Jack and Lucia Penrod. We settle ourselves at a round wooden table, which Jack tells me he has had specially made in Vietnam and is solid enough for guests to dance on. Even though it’s two in the afternoon, the combination of sun, a couple of mojitos, and the unreality of this sun-soaked playpen means I can just about imagine clambering up on to it. Fortunately, a rival attraction is on the way: food. Two ridiculously handsome waiters, dressed in sailors’ caps and blue-and-white striped T-shirts (for today the theme is “Yacht Party”), approach carrying between them a wooden boat bearing a cargo of sushi.
I load up my plate and ask Penrod how many drunken guests fell into the pool the previous night. “People can’t get drunk at my prices,” he replies. Glancing down the champagne list, I see what he means. The humblest bottle costs €150 while a six-litre bottle of vintage Cristal is €25,000.
You need to be rich even to stay sober at Penrod’s prices: merely to lie down on the famous “VIP” white leather beds by the pool costs €650. The economics of Nikki, he explains, are that 10 per cent of the visitors do 80 per cent of the spending. His best customers, who always arrive by yacht, were once London’s investment bankers, but then came the financial crisis, and now the big spenders come from elsewhere, in particular, somewhat bizarrely, from Belgium.
Only looking around, they don’t seem to have turned up today. The deluxe beds are empty, although further off, one of the cheaper four posters is occupied by a threesome of tanned bodies, rubbing oil into each other’s skin.
Penrod points to the next table where there is a group that are a typical Nikki crowd, consisting of a few Russians, an assortment of Europeans and the rest Americans. There is no knowing which is which as they are all wearing the same aviator glasses and the same expression of mild boredom.
I am suddenly reminded of a song from The Boy Friend that has lain dormant in my memory since I performed it at primary school and that goes: “Sur La Pla-ge / You may run up against a Ra-jah … Ev’ryone looks the same.” The only people who don’t look the same on this particular pla-ge are me and my son, white and weedy and wearing M&S swimwear and happy like visitors at the zoo – a zoo with a view.
The sea beyond the club is a translucent aquamarine and looks so good that we step off the imported perfect sand on to the grubbier real version (shunned by all other Nikki customers), and wade into the sea, which turns out to be disappointingly shallow and slimy with seaweed. Turning back to look at Nikki Beach from the water, I see it quite differently: a small slice of someone else’s fantasy, squeezed between an unprepossessing hotel and a car park.
Having investigated sexy Ibiza, the next stop is clubbing Ibiza – 20 minutes down the coast by taxi. We’ve been invited to eat steak at Ushuaïa Tower, patronised by the elite DJs who perform at the club next door. The hotel has recently had an expensive refit to include giant ceramic ants marching up the walls, which my son assures me look cool. Later it occurs to me that these are the only bugs we see the whole weekend, raising the interesting question: what has Ibiza done with its insects? The marketing manager proudly shows us some of his most expensive suites and says Leonardo DiCaprio stayed in the grandest one (€10,000 a night) on the opening night a few weeks earlier. The actor must have really liked his circular bed, his giant PlayStation and his jacuzzi on the balcony with its view of the stage as, according to the manager, he didn’t leave his room the entire time.
That evening Fat Boy Slim is playing but once again we miss it, as my son isn’t allowed in. And so we watch the thousands of people arriving instead, and are struck by another interesting fact: Ushuaïa is the tattoo capital of the world. All the clubbers have them, the only difference being that on the newcomers the small bits of skin you can see are a painful pink, the others a dark brown.
The next day we go off on our own in search of another version of the island that has recently been engraved on the popular imagination: Cameron’s Ibiza. It was here in May that the British prime minister came on holiday just days after Drummer Lee Rigby was hacked to death on the streets of Woolwich, southeast London. The nation thought worse of him and decided Cameron ought to have stayed at home.
But when we arrived at Benirrás, a mere 20 minutes’ drive from the heaving clubs, I was inclined to think rather better of the prime minister for finding the perfect family beach. A lovely round bay with pretty hills behind, and little fringed green umbrellas by the pale blue water. The latter was so clear that you could get a good view of a few jellyfish swimming about. My son took one look at them and declined to swim; whereupon an ugly scene broke out with me accusing him of being a hopeless wimp and then crossly swimming out alone. My reward was a savage sting across the neck and the necessity of having to pretend that it didn’t hurt one bit.
But all pain was soothed away by lunch at the simple beach café at which the Camerons were pictured in May looking as if they didn’t have a care in the world. The place had the same effect on us: it was simple, cheap and delicious. The chips were some of the best either of us had eaten, the Coke was sweating with cold.
From there we went in search of an even quieter Ibiza – the remote one. As the island is so small it didn’t take long to get to Es Portixol, where you park under a tree before a 45-minute tramp down through pines and fennel and rosemary bushes to an almost perfectly circular bay. Our only companions were a couple of ageing Dutch hippies who come to Ibiza every year not for the noise but for the silence.
Having absorbed the beauty and sweated back to the car, it was time for one last Ibiza – the mellow one. Amante, a beach bar that has been cut into the side of a rock, is as laid-back as Nikki is flash. It’s all driftwood and white canvas and more implausibly good-looking waiters serving guests plates of salad and spare ribs on oversized bean bags. Here is the original Ibiza crowd, the old and the young, hanging out drinking cocktails and baking themselves in the harsh sun.
As I look at them I start to think about hedonism – and how bad it is for everyone’s skin. Ibiza seems to hypnotise all who go there – the plutocrats, the clubbers, the families, the hippies – into the pleasures of the moment, making life far too short for factor 30.
Indeed, on Ibiza, it is possible to go on living in the moment for longer than in any other place on earth. Even at the airport, the fun goes on. Between gates seven and eight is the world’s first departure lounge club, started by the French DJ David Guetta and opened last year.
I had thought that the fact we were leaving at 9.30 on a Monday morning would rule it out but not a bit of it – the club, called F*** Me I’m Famous, starts pulsing at 6am. Yet we still missed our last chance to dance: our easyJet flight was calling for its load of sunburned Brits and ready to fly us all back home to Gatwick.
Lucy Kellaway was a guest of Nikki Beach (www.nikkibeach.com) and the Insotel Fenicia Prestige Suites in Santa Eulalia (www.insotelhotelgroup.com; doubles from €295). Villas such as the one David Cameron stayed in close to Benirrás beach are available through www.dynamiclives.com; for cheaper options, see www.jamesvillas.co.uk. See also www.ushuaiabeachhotel.com and www.amanteibiza.com