Small islands have a magic way of bending time, finds writer and photographer, Joe Pickard, as he explores the beautiful Spanish island of Formentera, revelling in its laid-back charm and bone-white sand.  




Much like the island itself - which is really no more than a slip of sculpted rock and bone-white sand in the Mediterranean - our time on Formentera was shaped by the wind. Some days it was barely perceptible, the hot air lying heavy over the island like syrup, forcing us to seek shade and swimming spots; on others it raced through the threadbare trees and along the sandy tracks whipping hair and branches into tangles and uprooting our parasols, sending them cartwheeling across the beach.

The locals give these winds different names depending on the direction from which they blow in - poetic monikers that belie their strength: the mischievous Mistral barrels in from the north-west, the Migjorn from Africa to the south and when the maddening Tramuntana rattles through all the way from the Pyrenees, it’s time to batten down the hatches. Small islands have a magic way of bending time.

We would head to bed late, drunk on the heavy pine-scented air and the incessant shrill of the cicadas, and rise even later. After breakfast we would pour coffee, smooth the map out across the table (a great slab of weathered wood on the terrace) and choose the beach with the most enticing name, hoping the winds were in our favour. Then we would load up our scooters, parasols strung across sun-browned shoulders and spend the day hopping from bay to bay, chasing the sun.

One of our favourite spots was Platja de Ses Illetes at the island’s northern tip, where the land dissolves into sand before eventually petering out completely, and the afternoon light hits the edge of the waves like chipped glass. On the horizon, just off the coast of neighbouring Ibiza, sits the craggy silhouette of Es Vedrà, a rocky limestone islet said by some to be the gateway to Atlantis and others the home of sirens luring sailors to their watery deaths. Such stories abound here, where even the churches look like fortresses – windowless cubes with walls two meters thick – built as refuges from the marauding pirates that once scourged this stretch of the Med.

In the late afternoon we would return to our whitewashed villa by the salt-fringed lagoon with sand tattooed on our calves and caught in between the pages of our books, our shoulders a shade browner. We would hang our swimwear to dry between the wind-warped trees as lizards flickered across the tiled sink and the sky turned a dusty apricot, lighting candles and playing card games.

One night we visited San Francesc Xavier, which was decked out for a local festival. Strings of winking lights were laced across the plaza and traditional dancers in white shirts, waistcoats hung with filigree bells, red wool caps and espadrilles tapped their way across the flagstones like wind-up toys. The women wore wide skirts and emprendada necklaces hung with chains, crosses and medallions. I’m told that their movements represented the phases of the moon, which that night rolled heavy at the bottom of the sky like a grapefruit, sending silver ripples across the lagoon.

On our last evening we took the straight, cinematic road to La Mola lighthouse and stood right at the edge of the land, the ocean folded and creased like a great indigo tablecloth below. The wind toyed with us as if teasing us to stay longer, before rushing on south across the sea nothing standing between it and Algeria.

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