Island in the sun
LYDIA MORRIS HOLIDAYS ON THE BLACK SAND ISLAND THAT LOOKS LIKE THE SURFACE OF THE MOON
NOTHING makes it more apparent just how much a gloomy, drizzly grey sky can dampen your day than making your way to the airport to leave it all behind. Watching the dreary grey mist turn into a gleeful blue sky as the altitude rises is an unbeatable high for those of you who, like me, crave a bit of sunshine.
Then to be met by the wave of heat that hits you in the face as you step off the plane is always a major lift.
I was welcomed to Lanzarote with blissful temperatures but, best of all, the volcanic Canary island less than 80 miles off the coast of North Africa is very rarely rained upon.
And the fact that it’s only a four-hour flight away, yet remains in the same time zone as the UK, means a short trip to guaranteed sunshine is jet lag-free.
In 1993, Lanzarote was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO because of its unusual scientific and natural interest. Its moon-like landscape is an extraordinary, otherworldly sight – so alien it’s said NASA trains its astronauts there before they head off to the moon.
One of its volcanoes named Timanfaya, after the National Park, is still semi-active – and the tourist hotspot is where you can witness what nature is truly capable of.
As well as being able to taste dishes cooked by the natural heat of the magma bubbling beneath the mountains, you can also see a mini-geyser erupt from a borehole. The aptly-named El Diablo (the devil) restaurant overlooking the Fire Mountains uses the 450°C of geothermal heat to cook dishes on the menu, which is pretty cool.
Luckily, there’s little chance of Timanfaya erupting soon, after the last blast in 1824. However, nearly 200 years on, the unblemished scars of the bubbling magma that erupted across the island are still boldly visible today. It’s almost like walking through an artist’s oil painting exhibition.
I was staying at the whitewashed ‘adults only’ Barceló Teguise Beach hotel resort on the east coast in Costa Teguise. The 305-roomed four-star complex boasts panoramic views over the bracing blue Teguise bay and Las Cucharas beach.
Handily, it’s just 15 minutes away from the capital, Arrecife, which houses the black island’s only airport, so it’s a good base for exploring what Lanzarote has to offer.
You arrive to a warm welcome, and I must mention the glass of bubbly, which magically never managed to pass a certain level without filling itself back up!
Despite the fact that there’s no sea view from every room, the hotel’s heated swimming pool vistas, which can be seen from many, aren’t a bad compromise. And to make up for the loss of waking up to the sea breeze from your bed, pool-view rooms boast their own private hot tub on the balcony.
There are plenty of authentic restaurants and bars, British pubs and shops along the way to explore. However, it’s easy to see why some think the centre lacks an organic, central heart – it doesn’t boast anything as atmospheric as some of the island’s other resorts.
Head for the Old Town Harbour in Puerto del Carmen. About 10 minutes from the seafront, and up to the market square, you will find a number of little independent market stalls dotted around every Wednesday and Friday, selling all kinds of tourist souvenirs, handmade jewellery, handbags, clothes and traditional Canarian food.
From the moment you touch down on the island, you see the imprint of visionary artist, architect and environmentalist César Manrique, who saved Lanzarote from the ravages of uncontrolled development. You won’t spot a single high-rise apartment block, which have buried parts of her Canarian sisters, such as Gran Canaria and Tenerife.
Even the colour of houses is controlled, with all buildings painted white with green shutters in the countryside, or blue by the sea.
If it’s more of a relaxed break you’re jetting off to, the hotel boasts a luxurious, modern spa that offers a range of beauty treatments and a hydrotherapy circuit – perfect if you’ve had a tiring day taking in the sea views from one of the two infinity pools or drinking cocktails on the beach all day.
There’s no real need to venture out of the hotel for lunch or dinner. For more of a casual daytime lunch, Champs Sports Bar, which is open to the public, offers a range of American snacks while the Atlantic buffet restaurant has more of a sophisticated spread for evening.
Divided into three sections: Canarian, Asian and International, it’s like walking into a lavish food market. Chefs can be seen cooking fish and meat on the grill, while others roll up fresh sushi. And the best part of all is the colourful dessert stand, full of delicate bite-size pastries, cakes, sweets and an endless selection of fresh fruit and cheese.
But if it’s more of an adventurous break you have in mind, the windy weather experienced in the purposebuilt Teguise – an upmarket alternative to the lively resort of Puerto del Carmen – makes it an ideal spot for watersports. Segways are also for hire along the local seafront, just a few steps away from the hotel, so you can whizz around hidden nooks and crannies.
There are also plenty of day trips which offer adventure away from the resort. For the ultimate volcanic experience, explore the famous Timanfaya National Park in the south-west – it’s one of the island’s highlights and has been voted the top activity to do in Lanzarote.
However, if you’re easily put off by masses of tourists, I would advise avoiding such tours. Frequent excursions are also run to the valley of La Geria, a 20 square mile area of unique vineyards, filled with rocks formed into half circles with vines growing in the volcanic soil. It’s here the island’s famous sweet white wines are created, and it’s a must to stop and try a sample (or three).
For an unforgettable lunch, visit Lanzarote’s geographical centre, the Casa-Museo Cesar Manrique at Taro de Tahiche, just outside the National Park. Its impressive restaurant is built inside the natural formation of a huge volcanic underground bubble.
The museum, which houses the restaurant, was built in 1968 over a former lava river from the eruption in 1730.
There’s a similar tourist hotspot nearby – and not too far from the hotel – which is another must-see if you’re in the north-east of the island.
Jameos Del Agua is another underground volcanic tunnel also created by an 18th century eruption. It is, in fact, one of the longest in the world. But what makes it so incredible is the crystal-clear lake that lies at the bottom of the cave and homes millions of blind albino crabs which dot the rocky floor.
As well as being an affordable getaway, it’s easy to see why the Canary island draws in millions of sun-deprived holidaymakers all year round.
However, known as a favourite among some famous faces, including Hollywood star Penelope Cruz, F1 world champion Jenson Button, former Prime Minister David Cameron and MTV star Charlotte Crosby, it goes to show that even those with enough money to explore bank-breaking destinations are drawn back to this cheerfully cheap, unspoiled, sunny island.
Barceló Teguise Beach hotel and, below, Lydia Morris enjoying the infinity pool with its fabulous views