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Holiday mercury: Peace and quiet for the over-30s.

Y OU could be forgiven for getting the wrong idea about Ibiza if you visit San Antonio - a town where you feel positively pre-historic if you are 30 or more.

Yet a kilometre from Ibiza's second town you'll find yourself in a sea of cool pines.

It was a far cry from the pulsating discos that continue to draw others to the island.

Our villa was set high up with panoramic views spanning San Antonio - a riot of colour by night - and further east a remarkable coastline of deep inlets and deserted white coves.

The villa, rented as part of a Meon Villas package, was close to being paradise.

White-washed with colourful blue and yellow paintwork, it had sun terraces on several levels, a cool cave-like sitting room to escape the sun and its own swimming pool. Sticking limpet-like to this haven for the first 48 hours, we determined to explore o nly on day three.

Known in Greek times as "Pitiuses" - the Pine Islands - this smallest of the Balearic trio is prettier and lusher than its two counterparts. In the west an excellent network of roads dip from high mountainside into little bays, each with a quite distinct character.

Cala Carbo is a quiet hideaway - with two good-sized beach cafes and a brand new road leading down to it which hints of future fame. Cala Vedella is more cosmopolitan and Cala Tarida is undeniably a resort with a capital R, but stunningly attractive none theless. It was the children's favourite by miles.

Happening upon Tarida early morning was a revelation. Totally deserted at 9.30, half an hour later its wide expanse of sandy beach was teeming with humanity on holiday.

So does Ibiza get a fair deal? Detractors had told me it was "the toilet of the Med". In reality the island has many more Blue Flag beaches than the south of England and the waters where we bathed were crystal clear.

The island has its trippy side - but so does every comparable resort area in the Med. Tour buses pour into San Jose, a white village set high in the hills in western Ibiza, and I wondered why. A few white-washed buildings do not make a major tourist attr action - although the juice bar with freshly squeezed orange, apple and carrot juice is worth a detour for the cool, shaded courtyard setting.

A few kilometres south-west is a real treat - Es Cubells has spectacular cliff and quiet beach bars reached only by traversing 90- degree dirt tracks.

We took a deep breath before descent and far below, at Restaurant Ses Boques, found a handful of similarly intrepid explorers. We returned three times for the Spanish omelettes.

Another day we drove cross-island to the hippy market at Punta Arabi near Santa Eulalia in the south west. This is a major tourist attraction, evidenced by the crocodile of coaches on the approach roads.

We didn't find many real hippies - just lots of ethnic types wearing beads. No matter.

The short drive inland to San Carlos unearthed a much less touristy experience. This is another hamlet of white-washed dwellings and in its heart Anita's Bar, the local meeting place. Quite apart from excellent-value lunches - crisp pizza pies, grilled p rawns and the ubiquitous Spanish omelette - this is the place to people-watch. Locals amble in to collect their post from the wall of post boxes to one side of the bar and then settle down to talk.

By contrast L'Elephant Restaurant at San Raphael - another white village and the island's ceramics centre - provided a glimpse of Ibiza's high society. Seated beneath a remarkable elephant pastiche of the Mona Lisa - one of the many imaginative examples of elephant art adorning the restaurant's walls - the confident, careless behaviour of neighbouring diners was as much a clue to their circumstances as the smiling banter at Anita's.

Good as the food was at L'Elephant, I preferred the atmosphere at Anita's.

Our final day out was to Eivissa - Ibiza Town. In this seltyled style capital of Europe we found colourful slip dresses suitable only for slips of girls and impossibly high platform shoes. But to dwell on this side of Ibiza Town would be to undervalue it s antiquity.

The Dalt Vila - High Town - is its main attraction, boasting walls designated a national monument and providing an enticing warren of tunnels and narrow streets to explore in the exhausting climb to the top of this 16th century fortress.

We never saw any evidence of the discos - and we didn't miss them.

Fact file: Lindsay Watkins travelled with Meon Villas (01730 230370) which has wide selection of villas with private pools in Ibiza. Prices for one week start from pounds 329pp (six sharing) and include return flights, villa accommodation with private po ol, car hire with unlimited mileage and cleaning service. Mariposa, Lindsay Watkins' five-star luxury villa at Can Germa, costs from pounds 344pp for one week.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Nov 1, 1998
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