Guiding skills in Dalt Vila

Hector Bonet


Guiding Skills in Dalt Vila aims to propose a model for the successful guiding of a tour. To that purpose, the author uses the figure of Bell, an imaginary tour guide, leading a group of British tourists from a cruise ship on a three- to four-hour visit to Dalt Vila, Ibiza's old town. The account of the visit goes through a series of points, such as the pre-conditions which must be met by the guide and how to go about the actual guiding, which are key to a successful tour. The article also poses some questions for the reader to consider.

Keywords: Eivissa– Ibiza, guiding skills, Dalt Vila Eivissa – Ibiza; Tour commentary; Excursion


Guiding Skills in Dalt Vila (Tècniques de Guia a Dalt Vila) té l'objectiu de proposar un model per a dur a terme amb èxit una visita guiada. Amb aquest propòsit, l'autor utilitza la figura de Bell, una guia turística imaginària, dirigint un grup de turistes britànics arribats en un vaixell de creuer fent una visita de tres a quatre hores a Dalt Vila, el nucli antic d'Eivissa.El relat de la visita passa per una sèrie de punts, com ara les condicions prèvies que ha de complir el guia i com realitzar el guiatge mateix. L'article també planteja al lector algunes questions, deixant oberta la resposta.

Paraules clau: Eivissa, Tècniques de guía, Dalt Vila - Eivissa , Explicació turística, Excursions

Rebut: 28/01/2020

Revisat: 07/02/2020

Rebut: 18/02/2020

Acceptat: 03/03/2020


As a tutor of English IV, I aim to help my students learn how to guide successfully, especially around the Pitiüses. Guiding successfully is a complex business. First impressions, the guide's appearance, their voice, friendliness, the quality of the commentary, … the success depends on countless factors which are not always easy -or even possible- to pin down.

There are, of course, some features which must be present for any venture to succeed, such as energy and enthusiasm, but then there are others as well which are required for this particular job. And that is the object of this article: to identify those features and propose a model for the guide to succeed. The article also poses some questions and invites the reader, or prospective guide, to position themselves.

To that end, I have conjured up an imaginary guide, Bell, conducting a typical excursion.

Bell is around thirty years old. She knows the importance of first impressions, so she's made sure her appearance is appropriate, dressed neither too formal nor too casual, spotlessly clean, discreetly made up. No piercings or tattoos showing.

She's also aware of the magic effect of smiling. Smile at them, and they'll smile back, and we'll all feel better for it, Bell often says.

The audience are a group of British visitors to Ibiza Town. They have just arrived on a cruise ship. After getting off the ship, they get on a coach which takes them to the top of Dalt Vila, Ibiza's old town. They then walk down through the medieval streets, get some free time, and meet the bus later at the Formentera Maritime Station. The tour starts at 09.30. It is, let us say, a Tuesday in late May.

The clarifications may sound random, but they're not. Consider:

  1. A British group is very different from, say, a group from South Africa, or the USA. Even though they are speakers of the same language, their socio-historical context is widely different. A guide's familiarity with their clients' customs is vital (CG. Commisceo Global, 2018) . It is so easy to put your foot in it!
  2. Cruise tourists are markedly different from holidaymakers staying in, say, Santa Eulalia, since they cannot be expected to have the same knowledge of the island, for one thing, so any references to place names will often require an explanation.
  3. The fact that it takes place on a Tuesday, for example, and starts at 09.30 hours means that both the cathedral and the Madina Yabisah interpretation centre will be open (the former is open from 10 to 2, the latter is closed on Mondays).
  4. The weather in May is usually good enough for a pleasant visit to Dalt Vila, but the same cannot be said of July or August.

I quote the guide's commentary word for word, interspersed with explanations, comments and instructions.

A guide's job is to give information and do their best to make sure the clients enjoy the visit (FEG, 2020). That means they need to decide how much information they will give, keeping in mind that a guided tour is not a historical lecture, and nor is the audience a group of historians, which has obvious implications on the information delivered. How to best achieve that aim is the object of this article.

As the reader will see, the guide's words are italicised. The author offers his own comments to explain some aspects of the commentary, or to open them up for debate.


Right from the very start, even when she's checking that everyone is happy with the quality of the sound, Bell makes sure she establishes a good rapport with her clients, showing interest in how they are feeling. She's aware of the importance of projecting an agreeable, positive, approachable image.

She double-checks the sound system (McKenzie, 2013). Double-checks because she's already done that prior to the clients boarding the coach. She's also checked how this particular one works and adjusted the volume.

Introducing the tour

Good morning, everyone. Did you have a good trip? Can you all hear me loud and clear? Good. First of all, welcome to the island of Ibiza! We'd like to introduce ourselves up here in the front. Our driver's name is Antonio, and my name is Bell. I'm going to be your guide on this tour to Dalt Vila. Yes, Dalt Vila, but don't worry: you're not on the wrong excursion: Dalt Vila is the local name for the old town of Ibiza, the capital of the island. It means Upper Town, obviously because it's at the top of a hill, the hill you can see on your left. Anyway, we'll be walking through the town, visiting the highlights, and I'll be telling you all about it. And if there's anything you feel curious about that I don't mention, all you have to do is ask me, any time you like. After the walk through the town, you'll have some free time to walk around by yourselves, and we'll meet the bus again at 1 p.m. to come back to the ship.

Bell introduces herself and the tour. She holds the microphone at the correct distance from her mouth , to get the best sound possible, and never too close to the speakers near her, since the feedback produces an ear-splitting howl. As she speaks, she turns around, looking at her audience most of the time. She makes sure the mic does not cover her face, and she sits pretty, so breathing's easy, and her voice sounds its best. (McKenzie, 2013)

View of Dalt Vila

If you look to your left, you'll see Ibiza's famous skyline, with the cathedral at the top, the castle right next to it, and the city walls encircling the old town, called Dalt Vila by us locals, which literally means Upper Town. You should know that Ibiza is one of the oldest cities in the Mediterranean. It was founded in 654 BC by the Phoenicians, so it's much older than London, for example, or Barcelona, Madrid, and many others. Through the centuries it has been inhabited by different peoples: Carthaginians, Romans and Moors, among others.

Bell begins the commentary. Dalt Vila in the distance, across the harbour. It's the world-famous panoramic view of Ibiza's old town. She mentions the cathedral, the walls and other landmarks which she'll be explaining again soon, but it is okay to deal with objects twice or more times, making the explanation more complete each time. The audience like it because it helps them to remember the information.


The island's name, of course, is Ibiza, but you'll often see the Catalan version of the name: Eivissa. The reason is the island was conquered by the Catalans in the 13th century. Until not many years ago, that was practically the island's only language. But being part of Spain, the Spanish language has been in use for many years too, and has lately overtaken Catalan in the number of users.

So now there are two official languages: Castilian Spanish and Catalan. The two are romance languages, so they have a lot of similarities, just like Portuguese and Italian, for example, two other Romance languages. The road-signs are often in Catalan, but they're easy to understand as the names are very similar to their Spanish translations.

Catalan is a sensitive subject in Spain, and Bell has her own opinions, but an excursion is not the place to make political statements. Holidaymakers are understandably often averse to the topic, and Bell is aware of it: so a quick mention will do.

On the way

Here on your left we can see the Formentera Maritime Station. Take a good look at it, because this is where we shall be meeting again at 1 o'clock to go back to the ship. Formentera, by the way, is our sister island, and also a very popular tourist destination: all sorts of boats take travellers constantly to and fro.

Bell takes every opportunity to talk about, and point out, places that can be seen from the coach. The coach is not a walled-in auditorium but a vehicle travelling along a huge screen, so to speak, hopefully made interesting by the guide!

As the coach makes its way up Carrer Joan Xicó to the small car park behind Es Soto Fosc, Bell has a drink of water. She knows a guide's tool is their voice (NIH, 2017), and she takes good care of it. Water is necessary to keep her vocal chords hydrated, and during the stops, she goes easy on caffeine and alcoholic beverages . Needless to say, she does not smoke(NIH, 2017).

Arrival at Es Soto

So here we are! We're getting off now, going through a tunnel and up to the cathedral.

Feel free to leave your belongings on the coach, they'll be quite safe, as Antonio will be staying here. Please notice our coach is number 51, in case there are other coaches when we get back. The number is clearly visible on the wind-shield and at the back.

Bell points out the coach number. It is important that people be able to identify their own bus easily. They should also be able to spot their guide easily. Some guides carry a red umbrella , or any object which will be easy to spot from a distance. Bell, personally, does not like that, and prefers to just make sure they're all there when she starts speaking to the group (Manning, 2014).

At the tunnel's entrance

Right, everyone. We're standing just outside the impressive fortified walls of Ibiza town. I'll be telling you more about them, but right now we'll be entering the old town by what used to be a secret passage. It's the tunnel called Es Soto Fosc. The old town had two official entrances, of which we'll speak later. But this one is different. As I said, this passage was secret, so to speak. It was built so the town dwellers could sneak out in the event of a siege and surprise the attackers1.

This is an ideal moment to get close to the group. Bell is aware of the importance of body language. She stands facing the group, not facing what she's showing to them, and she leaves no one behind her. If anyone does move behind, she repositions herself to get them back in front.

Upright but relaxed, showing plenty of self-confidence, making sure she looks at all of them, not just one person.

She moves her hands naturally, just enough to support the commentary, not waving them around madly.

She does not balance on one leg, then another, as a nervous beginner would be apt to do (Tonner, 2016 A).

A witches' meeting point

But there's another reason why we stopped here. Tradition has it that this very spot was a popular meeting point for witches. They would meet here at sundown2, especially for a plant that grew here before the whole area was covered by concrete. A plant known in Catalan as caramels de bruixa, meaning witch candy, and called White henbane in English. It is, in fact, a potent drug, also known as herba de Santa Maria, St Mary's herb, used by the locals to alleviate a severe toothache3, for example. So if an Ibicenco needed to see a witch for whatever reason, like to recover a loving partner, or to get rid of an enemy, they'd come here to procure the services of a witch.

Bell is knowledgeable and knows everything about the topic (FEG, 2020). She knows that is essential for complete peace of mind. But she also knows to mix the dry facts and stats with traditions, superstition, witches, dark nights. Audiences love that (Anderson, 2008). They suddenly become aware that the place is alive below the cold, grey concrete.

Through Es Soto Fosc

Anyway let's go in. As you can see, there was a second door here, about 3 metres into the tunnel. And look up: there's a hole up there, called machicolation, through which the inhabitants of the town used to drop stones or hot oil over any invader who'd managed to break through the first door and was busy trying to knock down the second4. Let's go up.

In Bell's commentary, she displays a rich variety in pitch, volume and rhythm. As she speaks, her pitch goes up or down as necessary. Her voice sounds louder, or quieter, faster or slower, depending on the effect she wishes to have on the listeners. There's nothing more soporific than a monotonous, robotic speech. (Anderson, 2008)


Here, half way up through the tunnel, as you can see, there are rooms where they used to keep cannons and ammunition, and if anyone was arrested, he would be locked up here. These rooms are called casemates. Okay let's continue.