Nature has been a capricious friend to Lanzarote. First it gave the island a benign climate of warm winters and not-too-scorching summers, coupled with fertile soil and secluded, golden beaches; then it drowned swathes of the best farmland in a tide of lava, swallowing up houses, churches and miles of unspoilt shoreline. It may seem odd that somewhere so geologically restless should turn out to be such a relaxing spot. The beauty of the place is such that you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to, other than lazing on velvety soft sand at Papagayo beach with a good book. The Canary Islands make a great winter sun destination.
Where to stay in Lanzarote
Thanks to a quiet revolution in Lanzarote’s tourist industry, several small hotels – usually in converted farmhouses, have recently opened away from the main resorts.
CASA LA MOLINA
(00 34 928 529 266; www.casalamolina.com). This has a bohemian and slightly camp appeal (witness the heart-shaped lollipops placed on your pillow in the evening). £
HOTEL CASA DEL EMBAJADOR
(00 34 928 519 191; www.casadelembajador.com). The entire resort of Playa Blanca may have sprung up round the old house since the eponymous ambassador left, but the airy feel of the place and the fabulous setting, right on the shore, between two beaches and with stunning views over to Fuerteventura, mean you hardly notice the surrounding bustle.
CASA EL RANCHO GRANDE
(00 34 928 840 789; www.el-rancho-grande.com). Simply furnished rooms, painted with an artist’s eye for colour, lead off a small courtyard decorated with primitive sculptures and bleached goat skulls. £
(00 34 928 834 385; www.casategoyo.com). More modern in appearance is this hugely stylish hotel in a quiet, hard-to-find location in the hills above Tias. Aquaphiles will find it hard to resist the two outdoor swimming pools and the glamorous tiled bathrooms of Xiomara, one of the six suites. The well-regarded restaurant is open to non-guests. £
CASERIO DE MOZAGA
(00 34 928 520 060; www.caseriodemozaga.com). This was formerly the summer house of an aristocratic Madrid family who have recently turned it into a calm, elegant, rural retreat. The peaceful whitewashed bedrooms, judiciously scattered with antiques, are clustered round a small courtyard, and surrounded by enchanting gardens, well-stocked with native plants and inviting sun beds. £
FINCA DE LAS SALINAS
Yaiza (00 34 928 830 325; www.fincasalinas.com). At nine years old, this is the granddaddy of them all and a veritable giant with 15 rooms and two suites grouped round a small swimming pool. Best of all though, is the breathtaking view of Timanfaya’s volcanoes. £
Where to eat out in Lanzarote
Sophisticated it may not be, but Lanzarotean cuisine at its best is a thing of joy all the same. Traditional dishes veer towards the hearty: sancocho, salted fish and vegetable stew; the misleadingly named potaje de berros. (watercress soup), which is more meat than watercress and not particularly soupy either; and puchero, reminiscent of French cassoulet. Then there’s an array of fabulous rabbit and baby goat dishes, marinated with herbs and roasted. For something lighter, stick to seafood. Even the most basic-looking restaurants can be guaranteed to rustle up a plate of perfectly grilled fish.
CASTILLO DE SAN JOSE Av. Naos, S/N, 35500 Arrecife. Smart locals flock to this Manrique-designed gem in an old Pirates of the Caribbean-style fort for grown-up Spanish and Canarian dishes with a sophisticated twist. Don’t miss the curiously irresistible starter of dates wrapped in bacon, coated in gofio and fried.
RESTAURANTE COSTA AZUL Avenida Maritima, 7(00 34 928 173 199) Try an exquisite snack of fresh-grilled pulp (octopus) or fried calamari (squid). The most famous local speciality, though, is humble papas arrugadas, new potatoes cooked in salt water until the skins wrinkle, served with equally famous red and green sauces called mojos. Gofio (roughly ground corn, maize or barley) crops up in many dishes, but is at its most delicious in puddings such as the wonderfully creamy and cinnamon-scented mousse de gofio. The local wines are perfectly drinkable, especially the crisp, dry whites, but they travel badly.
BODEGA EL CHUPADERO La Geria 3(00 34 928 173 115; www.el-chupadero.com). The place to sample a glass or several of the local wine, mopped up with hearty portions of cheese, jamon serrano or lentil soup, while gazing out over the world’s strangest vineyards.
PARQUE NACIONAL DE TIMANFAYA
EL DIABLO Calle de Charco Prieto, S/N, 35560 (00 34 928 840 057). Fabulous views, chic Manrique décor, prompt service from snappily dressed waiters and – the unique selling point – your food grilled to perfection over a volcanic vent
ACATIFE Plaza Constitución, 1(00 34 928 845 037). Positively reeking of history – it was the first eating house in Lanzarote, Acatife serves up robust local food, including roast kid and rabbit stews, in a central location opposite the church.
LA STRELITZIA Avenida Guanartem, 55, Carretera Principal (00 34 928 529 841). Imaginative French dining, for when you’ve had your fill of salty, wrinkled potatoes.
LA ERA Calle Lanzarote,3 (00 34 928 830 016). Traditional Canarian food at its satisfying best, and an extensive list of Spanish and local wines to boot, served up in the deliberately quaint setting of one of the few farmhouses to survive the 1730s eruptions. Its restoration was an early Manrique project.
What to see in Lanzarote
ADMIRE THE GENIUS OF MANRIQUE
The island’s most famous, and favoured, son has left a permanent mark on the appearance of his native land. The Jardin de Cactus, just north of Guatiza, is one of his most glorious creations, a magical amphitheatre planted with hundreds of cacti in all their weird and wonderful variety. Spot the hand of Manrique too, in the huge abstract sculpture called the Monumento al Campesino (‘peasant’), not far from a museum dedicated to farming. It’s also thanks to him that the old gun emplacement at the Mirador del Rio in the north, looking across to tiny Graciosa island, is now a groovy bar, like something out of an early Bond film, and with a view to die for.
FALL IN LOVE WITH LAVA
You’re never far from a volcano on Lanzarote, but the most impressive cluster is in the Parque Nacionalo de Timanfaya, scene of the most recent eruptions in the 1730s and 1824. The Fundacion César Manrique, as it is now, looks at first like a typical one-storey whitewashed village house, but there’s a surprise: a lower storey slotted into a series of bubbles in the lava. Elsewhere, Manrique turned a half-collapsed volcanic tunnel into the superb Jameos del Agua. With an underground lake, concert hall, bar and part-time nightclub.
HEAD FOR THE BEACH
Even in November the sea is warm enough for a dip, and with average daytime temperatures in the low- to mid-20°Cs, a spot of sunbathing isn’t out of the question either. The more sheltered beaches are on the east coast, so its no coincidence that the three main resorts are also there. But you don’t have to share your spot of sand with a thousand package-holidaymakers. Just off the coast road between Orzola and Arrieta, there are sheltered inlets with handkerchief-sized beaches, and Arrieta itself has a pleasant curve of off-white sand and an indoor changing area with showers. At the other end of the island are the five gorgeous beaches that make up the Papagayo reserve. You can go for an all-over tan on the furthest (Playa del Puerto Muelas), but whichever you pick, take your own drinks, food and shelter. For sea with a bit more oomph, join the surfing set at Famara beach or just watch them from the comfort of the long, windswept arc of sand.
VISIT A VINEYARD
A rocky plain covered with black volcanic pebbles seems an unlikely spot for Lanzarote’s main vineyards, and even less plausible is the idea that it might be even remotely beautiful. But the world is full of surprises. Drive along the scratch of a road through La Geria and be impressed by the geometry of the vines.
WANDER ROUND TEGUISE
Soothing by day, eerily quiet at night, the former capital is a delightful little town of narrow cobbled streets, with a little square dominated by the distinctive white-topped tower of the church of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. After dark, the only way you’ll know for certain that the place is inhabited is by the babble of cheery voices floating out from behind shuttered windows.
WATCH THE SUN GO DOWN INTO THE SEA
For comfort and easy access, head to the tiny fishing village of El Golfo and the terrace of the Restaurante Costa Azul (00 34 928 173 199). Not only is it a great spot for relaxing with a drink and a little dish of something – unbelievably fresh grilled octopus or tender squid. If that’s not elemental enough for you, take the corrugated dirt track through Timanfaya (you’ll need four-wheel-drive) to the remote Playa de la Madera, a tiny black-sand beach surrounded by stark volcanic scenery.
How to get to Lanzarote
AIRPORT The international airport is Guacimeta, which lies between Arrecife (the capital) and the resort town of Puerto del Carmen. Lanzarote lies about 100km off the north-west coast of Africa.
AIRLINES FROM THE UK British Airways (0844 493 0787; www.ba.com) flies four times a week from Gatwick to Arrecife. Taxis are fine for short journeys on the island; for anything more adventurous, hire a car. Most of the major companies (Avis, Hertz etc) have offices at the airport.