Next to the door of a little white house, three ladies sitting in their plastic chairs take us back to the past through so many cool afternoons. There are white sheets spread on a dreamy blue, a bougainvillea swollen with stories, deserted boats with tattooed mermaid names and a nostalgia that resonates through the alleys in the form of a breeze, the aroma of rice and the songs of seagulls.

All the charms of the Mediterranean are found in Tabarca, an island located off the coast of Alicante where time seems to stop to give the gift of a timeless summer. A former stronghold of Berber pirates, today it is home to 55 people, a number that reaches up to 3,000 on any given summer day, reason enough to get ahead of the summer and enjoy all the charms of the only inhabited island in the Valencian Community.

When we take the boat in Alicante (22 kilometers via the famous Kontiki cruise) or Santa Pola (8 kilometers, and the fastest option), the coast is left behind and before us an island appears, almost a mirage, where Mediterranean life seems stopping to envelop the visitor through all those irresistible images.

However, before launching into the adventure, the best advice: reserve your cauldron – delicious brothy rice with fish -, or fideuá in one of the several restaurants that overlook the pier – as a suggestion, the mythical Amparín -, before you get lost between fairy-tale streets and legendary coves.

The charm of Tabarca lies in the sum of various historical milestones that today present an archipelago for the senses in the form of four islets called Isla Plana (Tabarca, the main one), La Cantera, La Galera and La Nao. An ancient redoubt baptized by the Greeks and Romans as Planesia and which soon became the perfect base for the Barbary pirates when it came to plundering various mutinies on the Alicante coast. An icon whose first settlers belonged to various Genoese families held captive on the Tunisian island of Tabarka (in fact, the contemporary Alicante island is called Nueva Tabarca) and rescued by Charles III in 1770.

Today, the charm of the old island survives through the fortress built to contain pirates, the whitewashed alleys where the shutters protect so many secrets, the upside down boats, the hanging clothes that converse with the blue and the bathers sheltered in a cavern alone with a sea that here even moves you.

Designated as the first marine reserve in Spain in 1986, Tabarca combines the best combination of nature and history in the 30 hectares of its main island: in the western area we find the small town of San Pedro and San Pablo, a true oasis of customs where we find three entrances -San Miguel, San Rafael and San Gabriel- through the wall and rocky areas where you can spread your towel next to the superlative blue. Stop to have a beer, look up at the dome of the local church, or dry off while contemplating an islet in La Cantera from which the material is extracted to build the fleur-de-lis-shaped windows of the various houses in the town.

After a well-deserved feast of rice or fideuá, there is nothing better than walking towards the eastern part of the island, where the arid moors dotted with cacti and wandering seagulls provide a timeless landscape. A setting caressed by various secret coves where you can practice naturism among crystal-clear waters rich in posidonia and various fish that are the best excuse for snorkeling.

At some point, you will also discover the old watchtower of San José and, towards the horizon, the iconic Tabarca lighthouse. A construction that dates back to 1854 and whose status as a lighthouse keepers’ school transcended into a biological laboratory.

In the distance, new travelers disembark, but you feel that you are alone, that you are the first person to arrive on an island where summer exudes nostalgia and joie de vivre. Dusk, one last walk, the balls of stories in the form of nets that dot the most unexpected places, the neighbors who have already started chatting in the fresh air and the sound of the seagulls that extend the blue hour. Only then, after returning to the coast, do you discover that the Mediterranean of 2024 is not enough for you.