Oku Ibiza is San Antonio but not as you know it

Richard Brown

29 June 2022

The first five-star hotel in Ibiza’s San Antonio is painting the notorious party resort in a different light

29 June 2022 | Richard Brown

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ou can't help thinking that Thomas Cook was onto a winner. No, really. Back in 2016, three years before everything went belly up, the tour operator launched something called Casa Cook. The concept was simple. The world had changed and young people no longer wanted to stay in the kind of whitewashed identikit hotels their parents picked out from laminated travel brochures. Casa Cook was a collection of properties – in Rhodes, Crete and Spain – with polished concrete floors and hessian artwork hanging from the walls; design-led hotels for people that drank flat whites and didn’t balk at the cost of avocados.

And, unlike Thomas Cook’s planes after September 2019, it should have taken off. Ba dum tuss. Social media had hit its stride. Career Instagrammers were about to become a thing. People wanted to stay in places with resident pilates instructors, which looked a little bit Scandi and a little bit Japanese (the hotels, not the pilates instructors), and if they could get a picture of themselves eating sushi somewhere near an infinity pool, then bingo bongo. #Blessed #BestLife #Etc #Etc.

Alas. While Casa Cook was reading the metaphorical room – and installing reams and reams of rattan in its actual, physical rooms – the rest of the Thomas Cook Group was focused on the task of heaping up ever-larger mountains of debt. Following a soft launch in July 2019, Casa Cook’s fifth outpost opened in San Antonio, Ibiza. Two months later, its parent company went into compulsory liquidation. Shucks.

And then Christmas. And then Covid-19. And then a buyout from an investment company called Westfort Capital (previously Thomas Cook Hotel Investments Limited, a little digging on Companies House reveals), which purchased two Casa Cook properties – the one in Ibiza and another in Kos – and to April 2021 and the opening of Oku Ibiza.

Not that you should think of Oku simply as a change in the name above the door – I just wanted to explain how we got here. Casa Cook Ibiza was only half-finished when it half-opened in 2019. Local architects MG&AG studio had artfully re-rendered an existing building in smooth concrete and cedar-wood latticing. The rest of the project, including a six-storey new-build where breakfast is now served, was constructed in the winter of 2020. Say what you will about Spanish builders, but they got the job done in just two months. Oku, for all intents and purposes, is a brand new hotel. And it hit the ground running.

With 189 new-agey rooms, two design-led restaurants (both headed up by an executive chef from Sushisamba), two bars (one for booze; one for juice), two pools (one, at 50 metres long, the largest in Ibiza; the second for kids, although we didn’t see any), a rooftop yoga studio, and a gym with the sort of fitness equipment sold in The Conran Shop (get this: people were actually using it, on holiday. Mental.), Oku is San Antonio – Ibiza’s answer to Magaluf and Ayia Napa, for the uninitiated – but not as you know it (or don't).

Just how different is Oku from the other hotels in San Antonio? Oku has cubist portraits by LA-based artist Steve Tepas hanging on its bedroom walls. You can buy the artwork as a keepsake. The portrait in our room cost €9,000. But the damn thing wouldn’t fit in the suitcase.

In Japanese culture, ‘Oku’, roughly translated, means ‘deep inner space’. So, soothing stone, calming wood, lots of wicker and a colour scheme heavily into brown, green and grey. You’ll have been to similar spaces before. Indeed, you could be anywhere, really. Croatia, Greece, Fiji, Hawaii, Bali, Costa Rica. Nothing particularly shouts to the fact you’re in Spain, or Ibiza specifically. Though it’s a fact you get over pretty quickly.

It’s obvious to whom Oku is aimed. See the bit about flat whites and avocados. It’s heavily engineered, like anywhere that aims for that Insta-friendly Japanese-Scandinavian kinda look; Wabi-sabi is a paradox, right? But not in a lazy, purely-for-the-’gram sort of way. Props to the team behind it, Oku actually gives a crap.

You can hear it in the birdsong that plays in the lifts. Smell it in the Le Labo shampoo in the showers. See it in the Bird of Paradise plants between the sun loungers (how incredible are those plants, by the way?). Oku has character. Oku is cool. Oku has, and I hate this word more than you, trust me, ‘vibe’. (Apologies, we won’t use it again.)

The hotel’s dark-and-moody main restaurant is something straight out of Berkeley Square. It’s the work of Woodfever interiors; the design outfit behind that impressive glass wine cellar in Shangri-La The Shard, if you’ve ever seen it. It serves the sort of Japanese-Asian-Peruvian fusion food that’s been the bedrock of London’s fine dining scene for the past decade-and-a-half. If you’re a fan of Zuma, Nobu, Roka, et al, you’ll already know your way around the menu. Sashimi, nigiri, tempura, Black cod, Wagyu beef – you know the drill (revert back to the bit about how you could be anywhere, really).

Breakfast is further evidence of how seriously Oku is taking the F&B side of things. Served in an Inca-style, indoor-out dining area, the buffet covers everything from nuts and fruits, to meats and cheeses, to homemade carrot cake and honey served straight from the honeycomb. A made-to-order bar serves eggs whichever way you want them. Even the coffee tastes like it’s been roasted from beans that have passed through the backside of a palm civet.

What’s the crowd like? Young-ish, for a five-star hotel. Then, we are in Ibiza. Mostly couples in their thirties, former rave kids, maybe, grown-up, married, on one last mad-one before the babies arrive (note: Oku never properly kicked off when we were there, the in-house DJ sticking to a sweet spot somewhere between anthemic EDM and anesthetising deep house).

Next to me, a fella spent half an hour trying to nail a selfie in his new Aimé Leon Dore bucket hat (make sure you get that ‘NY’ logo in mate. Oh, you have, good lad. As you were). Around the pool you can play a game of count the Submariners (Rolexes, I mean. We didn’t notice anyone in wetsuits. Although I’m sure the concierge can help you organise that sort of thing). Plenty of Germans. Some French. Not too many English, result, and people reading actual books, not just scrolling screens.

Oku is Ibiza for grown-ups. For older boys and older girls who still Just Want To Have Fun – only while staying some place nice; somewhere they can get a fresh-pressed juice after their free rooftop yoga session. Now, let’s all inhale the future, and exhale the passsttttttt…

 

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From approx. £312 pn on a B&B basis, okuhotels.com