Lanzarote has a very distinctive style of its own. The mostly easterly of seven Canary Islands, it lies 125 km off the coast of North Africa. If I tell you that its original name was derived from “red mountains” you might know what to expect from the landscape. Volcanic like the other islands, Lanzarote has at its core living, breathing “fire mountains”, the Timanfaya National Park.
The result of massive eruptions between 1730 and 1736, the Timanfaya National Park is now completely safe to visit, but is one of those rare places in the world where you can see the power of nature still at work, albeit in a rather touristy fashion. Coach tours will conduct you through the Martian landscape, with a guided commentary explaining how and why the surroundings are as spectacular as they are. The last recorded volcanic activity was in 1824. Nowadays scientific studies monitor the magma and changes to the earths crust. Visitors to the National Park can observe a small amount of water being poured into a hole in the ground, then spurting out as a hot geyser. Dry grass ignites as a result of the 200 degree temperature produced by the magma just a few metres below the surface. More practically the geothermal energy has been harnessed in the restaurant El Diablo to produce tasty grilled chicken. (closes at 3pm)
Tricks they may be but there is no denying the haunting beauty of the place. Lanzarote specialises in the unusual. Where else can you find a subterranean garden with pools formed from lava bubbles? Jameos del Agua is just one of the inspirations of Cesar Manrique, an architect whose genius can to be seen throughout the island. Jameos del Agua is something special- the vivid blue of the lagoons against the dark volcanic rock and the abundant greenery invite you to linger. In the cool depths of the auditorium, tiny white crabs scuttle in a pool. Opening is daily 9.30 till 19.00 and some evenings.
Did I mention that the temperatures here are a year round pleasant 21-29C, making Lanzarote a popular winter destination? Or that there are miles of golden sands as well as the dark volcanic variety? The resorts are varied. A long level seafront walk down at the islands southern tip, Playa Blanca, makes for relaxed evening strolling, with no shortage of bars and restaurants to chose from. H10 Timanfaya Palace hotel is beautifully positioned. Costa Teguise, on the east coast is centrally located for all the islands attractions and just 20 minutes from the airport. Luxury hotels such as the Beatriz with its unique spa complex can be found there, and sometimes a cooling wind. The liveliest resort is Puerto del Carmen.
Where else to go on the island? Teguise itself was Lanzarote’s historic capital until 1852 and is the venue for a popular Sunday morning market. The Castillo Santa Barbara was built in the 16th century as a lookout against pirates, and contained a secret passage directly to the Palaccio de Marques as an escape route for the town dwellers. Nowadays it houses a museum following the history of emigration on the islands, from where there’s a fine view.
Still exploring, you might like to visit El Golfo on the west coast and the green lagoon, starkly contrasting against the dark rock. You can park outside the Siroco restaurant in the village if you don’t mind a bit of a steep walk, or drive there directly. The lagoon is coloured by algae and a green mineral, Olivine, and you can buy rocks containing this in the village.
The low lying whitewashed buildings in Lanzarote enhance the arid scenery. The village of Haria is remarkable for its valley of palms, and exclusively on Lanzarote, vines are protected from the landscape in nests of stones called zocos. Locally produced Malvasia wine is the most popular.
More of Cesar Manrique? If you are interested in this unique style of architecture you should visit the Cesar Manrique Foundation, the architect’s former home at Taro de Tahiche. From the outside it looks traditional in style but the lower house is constructed from 5 volcanic bubbles- it’s a place I would love to live. The Jardin de Cactus was Manrique’s last completed work on the island. A restored windmill in a former quarry of volcanic ash looks down on a sea of cacti. I’m not normally crazy for cactus but I was impressed.
One last place I want to mention on the island, again with a Manrique design. At the northern end of the island the Mirador de Graciosa is just that- a lookout point across to the tiny island of Graciosa. It’s just a coffee stop, unless you want to cross over to the island, achieved by a 35 minute ferry crossing from Orzola. With a population of just 700, the island has no paved streets and bike hire is the accepted method of transport. If you are on a round trip of the island you might be interested in the Cueva de los Verdes, also in the north, 2 km of caves through volcanic rock. Illuminated for tours, they are open from 10.00 till 18.00.
If you would like the opportunity to visit another of the Canary Islands during your stay, it’s very easy to sail to Fuerteventura for the day. Boats leave daily from Playa Blanca for Corralejo and the journey can be spent scanning the water for dolphins. The return journey across a pearl pink sea as the sun sets is a lovely memory. If you would just like to get out on the water for a little while, there are plenty of choices. Catamarrans will take you dolpin and whale watching, or off the stunning beach at Papagayo for swimming and lunch. Then there are banana boats, windsurfing and kayaks for the more adventurous.
So, I think I’ve answered my question- why choose Lanzarote? It certainly works for me. You might also be interested in Tenerife, another of the Canary Islands where you can visit the summit of a volcano by cable car. http://www.travelwkly.com/2011/12/top-spots-to-see-in-tenerife/