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Published: January 14th 2017
We have just spent a glorious week in Lanzarote
visiting our friends, Sue and Jim who have visited the country many times and often stay during the cold UK months to get some winter sunshine. We flew into the capital Arrecife
from our local Bournemouth
airport and the flight was only three and half hours so we were soon enjoying the warm sunshine too.
We had visited the island once before a few years ago and had grown to love this scenic Island. There are eight main islands forming the Canary Islands,
which are an archipelago and autonomous community of Spain
located on the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Morocco and the Western Sahara. The largest is Tenerife which we visited many years ago and did not have a very good impression of at that time. The others are Fuerteventura which we also planned to visit, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro as well as a number of smaller islands including La Gracisoa and Isla de Lobos.
In ancient times, this island chain was often referred to as ‘the Fortunate Isles’.
In more recent times though the small island of Lanzarote has been nicknamed ‘Lanzagrotty’ which is really unfair as it is far from this. Yes there are some rundown places but we did not come across any and instead found vast, empty yellow sandy beaches, dark volcanic rocky coves, huge mountains and volcanoes, sweet little white washed villages with rustic tavernas and tapas bars, vineyards, art galleries and spectacular volcanic and ocean views. CÉSAR MANRIQUE - A TRUE FRIEND OF LANZAROTE
Even though we had visited before we were again totally amazed at the white washed buildings blending naturally into the wonderful volcanic landscape. The island has a lot to thank its most famous resident, César Manrique who has left a legacy of sculptures and artwork on the island. He was an important and probably the most well-known artist and architect on Lanzarote who did a lot to maintain the authentic character of the island. His love of his birthplace and sensitivity to its protection resulted in many beautiful sites. Manrique passed a regulation that houses were allowed to be painted in white only and that the traditional colours green, blue and brown
were permitted for doors and window frames as well as all houses were not permitted to have more than four floors. He vision allowed the island of Lanzarote to retain its own character so different from all the other Canary Islands.
On our last visit we were able to view some of his work the most amazing of which was his incredible home/studio; ‘The Home of Manrique’
which he designed for himself built within the volcanic bubbles and hollow tubes in the middle of a large lava field. We also walked around the Jardín de Cactus
, a botanical garden which is quite a different example of his work. It has more than 6000 cactuses some of which can’t be found in the wild anywhere else in the world.
This time we visited Manrique’s lookout point at Mirador del Río
and again were amazed at the incredible architecture with its fine views looking out overlooking the small island of La Graciosa
. Mirador literally means a lookout and this particular vantage point is right at the end of the Risco de Famara mountain range. You can walk around
Mirador del Río
View over to the small island of La Graciosa
the site which has awesome views or you can sit sipping coffee in the cafe and still see the same views through the large windows blended into the rocks themselves.
There are so many Manrique influences all across the island and we saw many more including the Monumento al Campesino
- a memorial in honour of the hard working peasant farmers of Lanzarote. A rough sculpture in white building blocks made into a fantasy figure of a Lanzarote farmer and his camel at the complex there was also an interesting museum and large underground restaurant that was full of local families celebrating Christmas. A STUNNING DIVERSE ISLAND
On our previous visit we had hiked completely around and inside old volcanos within Timanfaya National Park
, these extensive lava fields formed by the 17th and 18th century eruptions that devastated the island. The rocks textures and colours still looked as though they had just ‘cooled’ and as we passed through the village of Yaiza on our way to Playa Blanca we again marvelled at its unique history. As many other towns were swallowed in the molten mass, this town got
The Peasant by Cesar Manrique
The Monumento al Campesino - a memorial in honour of the hard working peasant farmers of Lanzarote. A rough sculpture in white building blocks made into a fantasy figure of a Lanzarote farmer and his camel.
lucky as the red hot flow split in two as it reached the edge of the town leaving it unscathed.
The island has so much to offer, from the wonderful natural landscape to interesting cultural buildings to tiny hillside villages. One day Jim drove us around the island, the roads are really good and it was easy to stop and walk around the quaint villages and peer into small white washed churches. It was Christmas time and we saw many a ‘father christmas’ climbing up the sides of houses and at one village centre there was has a large nativity scene based around village life of long ago.
We were again surprised to see so many vineyards we had forgotten that they produce a lot of wine here. How these vines could grow in such stark conditions is astounding but grow they do, sometimes right up the old volcano’s steep sides. They make very scenic pictures within the landscape as each vine is protected by it’s own little wall of volcanic rock to protect the vine from the harsh wind but at the same time allow the sun to reach
its grapes. These walls make interesting patterns blending into the black dust. We drove past many scenic entrances to the vineyards including one of the most well known, the Bodegas el Griffo maybe we will go for a wine tasting tour or two on our next visit .… … PLAYA BLANCA
Sue & Jim’s apartment was near Playa Blanca
which is the most southerly resort on the island of Lanzarote being approximately 37 kilometres from the capital city of Arrecife and the ariport. The resort has a brand new attraction, a unique dive site called the Museo Atlántico.
Artist Jason deCaires Taylor is known for his underwater creations and here divers can visit the only underwater museum in Europe. Large cast sculptures have been taken by boat and sunk at the site, more are going to be added but currently there are several including the Raft of Lampedusa
, which is a reference to the current refugee crisis. It is a shame that it is not really accessible to snorkelers, too far from the beach and too deep at about 12 metres to be seen clearly and of course the water was far too cold whilst we
Raft of Lampedusa - Depicting the current refugee crisis.
were there ..… However it looks an interesting dive site for scuba divers and we are sure our friend Sue will be out there diving very soon! Apparently the material used to create these underwater statues is harmless to the environment and it is envisaged that in time it will create an artificial reef which in turn will attract a marine habitat for endemic species. Maybe then it will also be more of interest to snorkelers as well when the waters are clear.
On most days we walked and walked it was great to be able to get outside and take in the fresh air - we miss the warmth and have not enjoyed the many cold winter days in the UK. One day we took a picnic along the less developed coastline with its undulating steep cliffs dropping down to some stunning beaches. At Papagayo
, a perfect cove of white sand, which reminded us of Lulworth Cove in Dorset with it similar perfect horseshoe shaped cove, I even managed to paddle in the sea, whilst some brave souls (young children mainly) swam in the crystal blue green water. Situated in a hollow
Reminded us of Lulworth Cove, Dorset on a much smaller scale but the same perfect horseshoe shape bay ... ...
it is well sheltered from the wind and in spite of its isolated location there is a small beach bar on the hillside where you can buy drinks or have something to eat. What we loved was that it is really quiet along this stretch of coastline as to get here (if you do not walk like us) you have to drive a couple of miles along a bumpy dirt track then take the steep walk down to the beach.
The island looked quite different to our last visit as recent rainfall had changed the landscape and the hillsides were carpeted with colourful yellow, white, pink and purple flowers and green grasses. Stunning yellow flowers which I think were members of the Daisy family, clung to the volcanic soil and covered the ground leading down to the sea. We heard before we saw several birds including the Trumpeter Finch, Berthelot's Pipit and Southern Grey Shrike, but did not get to see a Hoopoe this time.
Once a quiet fishing village stranded at the end of the island, Playa Blanca
is the fastest growing tourist resort on Lanzarote and
considerable building work has taken place since our last visit but it did still feel tranquil and is far less noisy than the two main resort of Costa Teguise and Puerto del Carmen which are nearer the airport. Sue & Jim’s apartment overlooks a wide paved promenade which runs close to the coastline with many shops, restaurants, cafes and bars serving traditional tapas, fresh fish and an array of international dishes. Sue and Jim did not have WIFI in their apartment so sadly we had to walk down to the ‘tapas bar’ in this area to pick up our emails!! The new development has been very well designed with many hotels, villas and self-catering accommodations set back from the seafront but it was still quite pleasant to meander along during the day or night. There is a twice weekly market and the area is really busy on these days with locals and tourists scanning the stalls but again it did not feel ‘tacky’.
The long promenade passes the 18th century Castillo de las Coloradas,
which sits high on the cliff edge. Similar to the Martello Towers found around the UK, the tower was originally built
Fishing just below the Promenade
In the distance the Castillo de las Coloradas built to protect the island from pirates
to defend the island from pirate attacks. This is also the spot where Jean de Bethencourt setup base when he began the conquest of the Canary Islands in 1402. He would be quite surprised to see the difference to the area now particularly as a little further from this spot is the recently developed Marina Rubicon,
a development of upmarket restaurants and designer boutiques positioned next to a Marina full of luxury yachts and boats very different to the vessel that he would have arrived on the island in with only 63 sailors out of an original 283 - so many had deserted him … ….
Eventually at the end of the promenade you arrive at the Port
where ferries take locals and tourist to other islands and a little further on is a new Lighthouse
built from white stone and replacing a much older one. It is really easy to island hop from here, so one day the four of us took the 20 minute ferry crossing to Fuerteventura
, the second largest of Spain’s Canary Islands. The name translates to ‘strong wind’ which is certainly a characteristic of the island which is particularly exposed
to strong trade winds but we had chosen a very good day and the wind was hardly noticeable until you climbed higher into the interior that was.
We were so lucky being with Sue and Jim as they had visited the island a few years ago and knew how to make the most of our day’s visit. The island is only 60 miles long by about 18 miles wide so we picked up a hire car at the ferry port in Corralejo
and travelled down the centre of the island through Villaverde and La Olivia where there were several scenic windmills dotted across the wide open plains. Before long though we were heading up into the high mountains stopping off at various Miradors
(viewpoints) along the way. The roads to the miradors were steep (really steep) and sometimes hair-raising but they were on good sealed roads and many had white painted concrete bollards so you could see the edge clearly, although I did close my eyes a few times but of course I was not driving, that was Jim’s domain! It was so worth the effort
though as the views were awesome, stretched out far below was the whole of central Fuerteventura. These viewpoints were great spots to see the breadth of the Island, as well as its volcanic peaks and the aged caldera which are so stunningly beautiful.
At the Mirador Morro Veloso
which is the highest road on the island there was an interesting museum outlining a brief history of the ‘Creation of the Canaries’ with plenty of pictures including a good Topographic model. This lookout point alone was well worth a trip up the winding mountain roads but as you walked around the side of the lookout the strong wind nearly knocked you over, although you could see the same view from inside the cafe which was much warmer.
A little further along the winding road and up yet another incline was the Mirador Corrales de Guiz
which was adorned with two giant bronze statues of the island's ancestors - Ayoze and Guize
. In the distant history of Fuerteventura, the island was divided into two kingdoms. Jandia was in the south of the island, and Maxorata in the north, two of the
Ayoze & Guize
Ayoze who ruled the south and Guize who ruled the north of the Island.
kings were Ayoze, who ruled the south, and Guize, who ruled the north. These two kings played such an important part of Fuerteventura’s history that the statues have been erected just above the old capital city of Betancuria
Hidden in the middle of a picturesque valley, uniquely balanced in between steep mountain sides we finally arrived in Betancuria
which was overlooked by the scenic Cathedral of Santa María de Betancuria
. Founded in the early 15th century by Frenchman Juan de Bethencourt, it was the capital of the island of Fuerteventura until 1834. As we approached the centre square on foot a local man was playing soft melodies on his guitar and we enjoying relaxing alongside the cathedral church to eat a picnic lunch. Jim had baked some delicious Cheese Muffins (will not mention the chocolate ones Jim!) which we quickly devoured as we were really hungry. It was a good place to spend a little time wandering around its narrow streets. These cobbled streets meandering through the town indicated that the place was once very prosperous, but due to lack of economy development many locals migrated to the coast where the soil was
more fertile. Today the town relies mainly on tourism with its scenic setting and cathedral drawing them in from the coastal resorts providing a much needed income for the small number of locals that still live there.
We finally descended out of the mountains arriving back on the coast before crossing the island at its narrowest point and heading back inland toward the ferry. We passed through an industrial area and several villages with Aloe Vera
plantations alongside the road. Just south of Corralejo there was a sandy dune area which is part of the Parque Natural de las Dunas de Corralejo
. The sand here was very light coloured almost white and extremely fine - hot dry winds blow in from Africa carrying sand from the deserts and dumping it on its nearest landfall. Our tarmac road snaked between the dunes - very reminiscent of the roads heading north from Perth in Western Australia. A large group of Kite surfers were gliding across the skies and we stopped to admire the view. However the next ferry was due so we had to move on and just managing to make it, being the last
foot passengers aboard. We did wait for Jim though who had to run for it after sorting out the final paperwork for our hire car … … What a brilliant day we had touring around this very different island and I am sure we would be back one day to sample some more.
On the way back to Lanzarote we passed the Island of Lobos,
now a small nature reserve which is really close to the coast of Fuerteventura. It got its name Lobos from the large population of seals ‘wolves of the sea’ as they were called, that used to live there. It is only a tiny island small enough to be walk round in a few hours with the entire coastline being only about 7 miles and probably would be good to hike on our next visit. BACK TO LANZAROTE
The ferry crossing back to Lanzarote was again very slick and smooth, lots of space on board, free WIFI and really comfortable seating - it even had a Solarium Grandes Playas
complete with a variety of local cactus plants. From the Ferry Port we walked back along the promenade,
it was only an hours walk back to our apartment but we decided to stop in a delightful Tapas bar at the Marina Rubicon for dinner and drinks on the way home, a fitting end to our day ‘off the island’.
It was great staying with Sue and Jim again in Lanzarote, we had a lot of laughs and enjoyed playing games of Codenames and Dobble as well as finishing several of the Times cryptic crosswords. Sue introduced us to a local delicacy of the Canary Islands, ‘papas arrugadas’
. The locals still call the potato, ‘papas’ and not patatas which is used in mainland Spanish. This is because they were called papas when they were originally introduced to the islands in the 1550s by Latin American explorers. Tiny wrinkled salted potatoes are paired with two of the CIs most famous sauces, ‘the mojos'. Mojo picón is red and slightly spicy, while mojo verde is refreshing and bright green - real traffic light colours on your plate and very tasty indeed … ….
Thank you Sue and Jim for inviting us to join you in Lanzarote we throughly enjoyed
our stay and hope that you enjoy the next few months chilling on the island before you head off on your travels again. Not sure where we will meet next time but somewhere around the world! Before then I am sure you will dive the Museo Atlántico
Sue so let us know how you get on … … On our last night we were invited by your close friends who were also staying in Playa Blanca to celebrate a big birthday for Colin. We had a delightful evening with Colin and Pauline, daughter, Zoe and her husband Chris and their delightful 3 year old daughter Ruby so a big thank you to them as well. Ruby was such a delightful girl, so well behaved and with a great ‘sense of fun’ for someone so young. Zoe was expecting her second baby due on my birthday 12th April so we wish them every happiness with the new member of their family - what a great day to be born!
Finally would we recommend this interesting, beautiful and surprising scenic small island - yes we most definitely would, it is well worth a visit, not ‘grotty’ at
all - perhaps it should become known for its ancient name as one of the ‘Fortunate Isles’ - we felt fortunate to be able to visit it once again ... ... ...
Next month we head off to South America
and around Cape Horn so hopefully see you there … … …
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