Back in the 1960s, Ibiza was a buzzing island reigned over by hippies, creatives and bohemians. It was a land of barefooted ease, where paradise and eternal happiness were well within reach. So, what about now? What has the hippie trail turned into? Does paradise exist or is it just an image we’re fed on Instagram? On a mixture of two and four wheels, we headed for Paradise Island!

We are standing stark naked on the beach. The breeze is rolling in off the azure waters and coming straight at us. We catch each other’s drift without having to say a word; this is paradise. Minus the 72 virgins, but hell, right now, we couldn’t care less.

There are many ideas about paradise. For some paradise is a place, for others it’s a mental or spiritual state, while for yet others, it’s nothing more than a dangling carrot in front of their noses – a grand promise for their next, great life. But we didn’t want to wait that long! So, we set out to finally solve the question of paradise once and for all. And for that, we were not only willing to travel through time and take the best from thousands of years of human history, but also, to critically question ourselves, our motives, dreams, and actions. Because if there can be a paradise, then there can also be a hell. No one knows this better than the sardines on our plate, but more on that later.

And who is “We”? That’s Kike Vega and Alex de Cortada from Barcelona, and Robin Schmitt from Stuttgart. 3 friends, 3 creative minds, with a soft spot for good design and good times.

As wildly different as every culture’s interpretation of paradise seems to be, there are usually some common themes:

  • Gorgeous scenery
  • Inner peace
  • Beautiful people, usually scantily dressed
  • Purity, but nothing is off limits
  • An end to suffering

Would we really find all this in Ibiza?

Our Tickets to Paradise: the new VW ID.Buzz and the Mondraker Dusty RR with Mahle X20 motor

If Paradise conforms to your every whim, why hold back? We couldn’t accept anything but the finest equipment in our pursuit of paradise, so we duly whipped up the wishlist of all wishlists and kept our fingers crossed that it would live up to our expectations. Spoiler: equal parts surprise and disappointment, and one majorly unexpected occurrence.

Is there a more fitting car for our expedition to paradise than the new fully electric VW ID.Buzz? Think of it as the future-forward bus of love, literally radiating a sense of freedom and nostalgia. Throw the bikes in the back, turn up the stereo, and whooooosh – we’re off!

Moving onto two wheels, we were pretty confident that a gravel bike with an almost invisibly integrated motor from Mahle and mountain bike-inspired geometry would tick all the boxes in paradise. After all, we plan on taking our fill of a mixture of wild adventure rides and gentle, scenic spins, so we knew that an electric-powered tailwind would come in very handy. Especially when riding in Birkenstocks and swimming trunks. Suffering has no place in paradise – should we want to get our heart rate up a notch, we could easily slip down an assist mode, or ride further. Our gear: the 13 kg Mondraker Dusty RR with a Mahle X20 motor and 350 Wh battery.

The pursuit of paradise has to start somewhere, so we picked the most obvious place in Ibiza that we could find: the Paradiso Art Hotel.

Paradiso Art Hotel Ibiza – Instagram vs reality

Buzzing with excitement, we pull up to the hotel in the ID.Buzz. This place has been popping up on our Instagram feeds for years, and right now we can see there’s only one place we should be: lounging at the pool bar, elated after a long bike ride, dangling our legs in the water, cocktail in hand. Alright, if dreams are made for living, where’s the entrance?

So here we are. We storm the lobby first, then the pool. We’re already obsessed and we’ve not even unpacked. With all three of us being into design, you could easily have predicted this. The hotel is a paradise for the hype generation. We can see shots and angles in every single direction; it’s almost too much.

We dive straight into the Paradiso world, splaying ourselves out across the sun loungers and visually gorging on what’s going on. It doesn’t take long, though, before some cracks start to show. You’ve got holidaymakers in their bedrooms with the volume cranked up to compete for auditory elbow room against the poolside DJ. Neither does a good transition. Left and right, all we can see is plastic, with plumped-up lips and mobile phones attracting all the attention. Clearly, the vibe doesn’t run very deep. It’s all photo ops and fake smiles. Us too, shamefully. This Paradiso is unfortunately not the paradise we were looking for, so it’s time to leave the circus, get on our bikes and explore the rest of the island.

Already chilling in the sun like royalty, despite having achieved absolutely nothing? Could this be paradise?

“Wait a sec, let’s take one more photo.” Another cocktail is pressed into our hands, and we resign ourselves to staying in Paradiso for a little bit longer—at least long enough to design a route before we ride.

Paradisiacal gravel riding on Ibiza

We head westwards away from the tourist hotspot of Sant Antoni, towards where the sun will be setting in a few hours. We choose to cruise, letting the Mahle motor do the bruising as our party shirts flap in the wind. All signs point to one thing: today is going to be a good day!

You don’t have to spend long on a bike before you remember how the simple act of riding taps into an almost unrivalled sense of paradise, with freedom and spontaneity coming along for the ride. Whether you’re grinding up an Alpine climb, exploring a gravel track with an e-powered tailwind, or riding over a sandy beach, bikes are a toy and the natural world is your playground. You’ve got to admit, that sounds a lot like paradise.

Nature is a wonderful thing. So is the gravel on Ibiza, laying out prime dust for drifting. The trails meander alongside the coast, gifting us jaw-dropping views and a few sketchy moments skidding to an impromptu halt. Kike chooses to throw out a foot to stay upright, while Alex always goes for air. Fortunately, our Dusty RRs are at their best here.

Had we been riding on Ibiza’s asphalt runways, we’d have produced more lactate, but way less adrenaline. That’s the thing with gravel: you can do precisely what you like. With an electric gravel bike, you get an amplified sense of freedom, in that everything is a little easier and faster than usual. In under two hours, it feels like you can experience more than others do in a lifetime. We make the most of the dwindling rays of sunshine, and jump into the ocean. Freedom, right?

Are we lucky or have we earned this?

The silence that envelops us is only interrupted by the break of the sea. The sun sets and we don’t feel the need to speak. Alex is the first to break the silence, commenting how lucky we are to be in this moment. Kike disagrees: Telling someone they’re lucky downplays the effort they’ve put in to get there.

If you’re reading these lines, the likelihood that you’re in prison, selling a kidney or fighting for survival is pretty low. You probably, in all fairness, have a pretty good life. We belong to a privileged fraction of society that have a hobby. We’re lucky to have been born in a certain place, in a certain country, and grown up with a certain family. But everything else? In Kike’s eyes, everything that comes later is a result of your actions. The decisions you take and the life you choose. Every day. Over and over again.

As sperm, we already won out against millions of other sperm. We swam quicker than the rest and picked the right spot to settle. This echoes through our later lives: Everything you do projects an image of you – of your capabilities, whether you’re reliable, good company, or both. This gets people’s attention and things may or may not happen. You can surf the waves, or fall into a trough of salty resentment.

Seen from that perspective, it’s not luck that’s been on our side and brought us to this corner of paradise. It wasn’t luck that made sure Alex and Kike joined Robin on this trip; it had to happen. Robin never doubted that Kike and Alex were the right guys to join him – that’s why he had phoned them.

Not our sort of paradise!

Reality is waiting for us when we get back to the hotel after the sunset ride. It’s deserted. Last orders at the Paradiso poolside bar must have been a while ago, because it’s already empty and it’s not even ten o’clock.

Mildly disappointed, we get some beers from the supermarket next door. Another nail in the coffin to confirm that the Paradiso is perhaps not our personal paradise, although we can understand why others have fallen for its charm. People come here to this island to party, so it’s logical that the hotel feels deserted in the evenings. And the same goes for the mornings – breakfast is only served from 9 am. Outdoor lovers and athletes are best served elsewhere. It’s not our vibe, and it’s definitely not our breakfast time. Sorry.

A new age: sharing without caring?

Humans have been wired to care about status. And going back through history there are so many methods that us humans have adopted to portray a glorified image of ourselves. These days, maintaining your self-brand has literally never been easier, with or without a filter. Although most of us go for filters, portraying a real-life that isn’t half as real as it looks. Whether it’s a location, a plate of food or a fancy cocktail, who cares how it tastes or how annoying the crowds are, as long as you look good in the photo?

Are we actually having a good time or is it just for show?

We live in a new age. Nowadays it’s less important to be in the moment, and more important to expertly time and perfectly capture the moment, ensuring you have the photographic proof of how you choose to live your life. It’s summed up perfectly by Paradiso’s own website copy: “Art and aesthetics in the pure Miami Ocean Drive style come to life in our most Instagrammable hotel.” Because as gorgeous as this hotel is, it’s verging on dangerous.

Is Robin actually reading, or is it all for show, with serious Wes Anderson vibes?

Most people (us included) will subject themselves to cringe-worthy poses in order to get the perfect photo. Art? Not always. Fulfilling? Almost never. Even amongst influencers – the legit ones who do this for a job – there’s a general consensus about how destructive the world of selfies and likes really is. Even for those who just like scrolling mindlessly, looking at other people’s projections of a perfect life rarely leaves you with a good taste in your mouth.

The warped reality that we’re constantly shown on the internet prompts a false sense of desire, or competitiveness. We share, like, and post, always wanting to measure up to the rest of your better-looking, better-paid, more-ripped algorithm. Most of the time, we’re not doing things because we want to – or at least that’s not the main reason – but because we want to be seen to have done it.

Our feeds occupy our thoughts while we’re in Ibiza: What image do our photos convey? Where’s the line between posing and reality? Or is posing part of reality? How can we make sure our articles – with all their slick imagery – don’t add fuel to the narcissistic fire? A photo may be worth a thousand words, but it can also give out the wrong message. Our conclusion: Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do otherwise. Stay honest. No flattering captions to embellish pictures, as you often see with Everything-Is-Perfect influencers. Don’t stay where it’s Insta-perfect; instead, keep searching until it feels right. We want to live in harmony with our emotions, not with superficialities, and that requires a healthy dose of self-criticism and reflection.

Out into the nature and a one-million-star hotel

We unanimously decide to say goodbye to Paradiso and look elsewhere for our slice of paradise. We pack our things into the ID.Buzz and have a quick round of rock-paper-scissors to decide if we’ll head north or take the ferry over to Formentera.

Our new plan is to go to Formentera and sleep in the world’s best one-million-star hotel. Leaving the Instagram hordes and hype overload is a bold move. And as humans, we’re prisoners of predictability. In life, there will always be uncertainties, unknown variables, and challenges, and that will never stop. Therefore, we cannot wait for everything to be safe, easy, and predictable to find happiness. The only thing we can do is to learn to surf and sail better. It’s up to us whether we enjoy the unpredictable winds and waves, or let the unknown and unplanned intimidate and hinder us.
No matter what direction you take, change is inevitable. And our biggest opportunity to create our own earthly paradise. Day by day, we can shape our environment into something more palatable – one step closer to paradise. The only condition: leave and say goodbye to what doesn’t feel right.

So, where is paradise?

We climb down a rickety wooden ladder into a pitch-black hole, relying on our senses and the echo of a voice that radiates confidence. There’s palpable tension in the air and we can feel the buzz of the unknown. This could be bringing us one step closer to paradise.

We can make out the silhouette of a woman on the cliff with a guitar in her hand. Her piece of paradise. The music comes from her soul. She plays as if no one is watching. With full force and grace. You can feel it. We approach cautiously, not wanting to interrupt the rhythm. She turns her head, smiles warmly, and nods in agreement that we can share her paradise for the moment.

The moment in question wasn’t necessarily ideal timing for us; we’d come out in party shirts and Birkenstocks for a quick spin to loosen the legs and visit the lighthouse before finding somewhere to set up camp before the sun set. The thought that we’d stumble across a private concert in a cliffside cave hadn’t crossed our minds. Still, we took the decision to take the time and enjoy this moment. As we shifted our attention and became fully present (no, we didn’t take out our phones to film it, but just stood there listening) this moment became special.

After that grounding experience, we ride to a decent-looking camp spot and talk about what just played out in front of us, the guitarist’s natural grace and how (and why) she’d ended up on that cliffside. It dawns on us that paradise doesn’t have to be restricted to a set GPS location. You can have everything at your fingertips, but still feel like shit. You can have nothing to your name and radiate happiness. What drives how you’re feeling? The answer is you: you’re the reference point.

One person’s paradise can be another person’s hell. Tucking into freshly caught sardines for lunch earlier that day, the realisation is even more stark: While we think this lunch is heavenly, the sardines most definitely don’t agree. Our paradise is their hell. As long as we are living, someone or something will be suffering.

Lost paradise – how everyday life can eat away at us

Our hammocks are set and we’re ready for bed. As the full moon reflects on the sea, we’ll admit to feeling pretty smug at our decision to take the unbeaten path. Instead of conformity, we’d found flow and experienced a rich and unique moment that had way exceeded all expectations.

We bathe in the sea the next morning wearing nothing but a snorkel. This is freedom. Offline, no meetings, no pinging phones. Two days in and we like what we’re experiencing.

Recent decades, if not centuries, have been shaped by the idea that your career, a certain car or watch, the places you choose to holiday, or the sports you practice can denote your place in society. It was all very linear thinking: do this, grow into that, meet that expectation. But the game of status symbols isn’t a must-play game these days; maybe it never was, but people joined in anyway.

We get stressed, grind our teeth, and force ourselves to do things in order to get something, be someone, drive a Ferrari, or count ourselves amongst the right group of friends. Because happiness is just around the corner! Probably. Hopefully…

In this world, stress has an audible hum. You’ll all know it, the thought that you’re on a treadmill and can’t keep up as some invisible person ramps up the speed. But who’s really in control of the speedometer? Beating stress comes from the decisions that you make – and sometimes you’ve got to be brave to make them.

There’s no guarantee of success in life. No road map to making things work out. It’ll never look like it does in your head. That’s why it’s always worth having the courage to do what you love and do something that inspires you. Because these are the ingredients that will make you shine. So many people sacrifice their individuality, passion and personality for money, status or belonging, every day. But if you can’t be yourself, how can you ever be happy? After all, you can always make more money, but you don’t get a second chance at being yourself, so learn to accept and appreciate who you are. Sure, it’s easier said than done, but have a go.

Did we find paradise on this Mediterranean island? Yes, but it could have been anywhere else, too. We learned: Paradise has no fixed coordinates, it can be everywhere. On your bike, in caves, in the water, in restaurants, on hammocks. But as quickly and as serendipitously as it comes, it can disappear at the same speed. A bike, a car, or a piece of technology don’t constitute paradise, but as we found out, they can sure as hell be key to unlocking it.

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Words: Robin Schmitt Photos: Robin Schmitt, Kike Vega, Alex de Cortada