Formentera, a natural paradise unique in the Mediterranean, is a windswept rugged outcrop often referred to as Ibiza's hippy 'little sister', just six miles south from clubland. This tiny island, shaped like a dog's bone, is smaller than Bute. My family and I spent the last fortnight there in a remote house atop the only hill, La Mola, in a protected pine and juniper forest. We had a magnificent view of the 'two seas' to the east and west of the island facing Ibiza's mystical rock Es Vedra on one side, and Algeria (some way away, of course) on the other.
Formentera's beaches are picturesque, with crystalline aquamarine water, valuable prairies of Posidonia oceanica (seagrass) declared World Heritage by Unesco, and a well-preserved coastal dune system. Winding, rocky sand-tracks (which play havoc with the underbelly of your rented car), laced with low-growing rosemary, thyme and lilac, traverse the island from its one main road. Old and new dry-stone dykes with a reddish hue divide rustic dwellings, farmland and fields.
I've been coming to this island for nearly 30 years with my friend, a Californian philosopher who has lived in Glasgow for 40 years but was brought up in Beverly Hills before that beautiful area was vulgarised by celebrity. She fell in love with Formentera because it reminded her of her native California, to which she never returned.
For me, this year, I longed to see the island one last time which, given that I'm forbidden to lie in the sun, advised not to swim in the sea, and cannot drink too much of the local vino, is an odd destination. But there is more to Formentera than idyllic beaches. Relatively untouched, it's as if time stands still, especially during that hour before sundown when the earth, sea and body temperature align and the unique, reverberating 'song' of the cicadas is suddenly silent, producing the most contemplative serenity.
Stunning sunsets give way to an utterly glorious night sky when we would take to the roof of the house, gazing in awe at the stars, the Milky Way and the occasional shooting star. We were also caught up in the powerful thunderstorms of south-east Spain in the last days of our holiday but even then, given where we were located, the sight and sound of them was a frightening delight.
I can't find the words to describe this place: I'm no poet. But others are. Joni Mitchell wrote her Blue
album on Formentera sitting by the beach ('a place where the jive is really cool') during her break-up with Graham Nash: 'The wind is in from Africa… Last night I couldn't sleep… Oh, you know it sure is hard to leave here, Carey… But it's really not my home'.
King Crimson wrote a beautiful lament to the island on the album Islands: 'Houses iced in whitewash guard a pale shoreline… cornered by the cactus and the pine… here I wander where sweet sage and strange herbs grow… Lamplights glow on old guitars the travellers strum'.
Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, Chris Rea and Bob Dylan – to name but a few – all came here and were inspired to write. In fact, Pink Floyd's Soundtrack from the film More
used an image of the windmill of El Pilar (just up the road from our house) where Bob Dylan apparently lived in 1967. David Gilmour's solo album On An Island
was rooted in Formentera. And the guitar still endures supreme here. In San Ferran, an artisan home which houses Formentera Guitars, is considered by musicians as Europe's most prestigious school of guitars.
Chris Rea recorded the video On The Beach
which features the La Mola Lighthouse perched on the remote eastern edge of the island which is reputedly the inspiration for Jules Verne's novel The Lighthouse at the End of the World
. It is a staggeringly breathtaking and dangerous place. Standing too close to the edge of the cliff, my strange condition – that I'm afraid I'll jump even though I don't want to – left me shaking. I was relieved to discover years ago that this strange mental state is common, is not a wish to die, and is called 'High Places Phenomenon'. Phew. I retreated very quickly to the famous café, yards back from the edge, for a stiff drink and a blast of Floyd.
Formentera does indeed have a haunting and melancholic air. Its timeless beauty somehow makes you acutely aware of your mortality. At the other end of the island, another lighthouse stands on the aptly-named Cap de Barbaria.
It was here that Adam Laing, the troubled son of the psychiatrist R D Laing, was found dead in a tent in an isolated field, from a heart attack, with an empty vodka bottle and a quantity of drugs found at his feet. It has never been established whether the free-spirited, depressed lad had been on a suicidal binge following the end of his relationship with his long-term girlfriend. Well-known and well-liked by the locals, none of them knew that his father was a world-renowned, controversial psychiatrist. I've often wondered what his son must have gone through in his last hours alone in this ravaging, wild place.
This island is not my home either, but etched in my memory as a special place and always with me. As King Crimson wrote:
Time's grey hand won't catch me while the sun shine down
Untie and unlatch me while the stars shine
Formentera Lady dance your dance for me.