05 September 2014

Canary Islands - Lanzerote

Playa de Famara
 Canary Islands - the name conjures up a vision of beauty, peace and tranquillity. We shall see! Getting to the Canary Islands from South Africa involves quite a number of flights and is rather draining when flying "cattle class". For Europeans, the journey is much quicker and seemingly easier. There are 7 main  islands and we will be visiting 3 of these during this trip. It seems crazy that these islands are only 100 km off the African coast and yet we had to fly to Europe to get here!
It is thought that the volcanic island of  Lanzerote could be between 16 and 20 million years old. With an interesting history spanning hundreds of years, with the Canary Islands being part of Spain. Tourism brings in 80% of  the islands revenue so one hopes that the islands continue to attract those seeking the warmth and sunshine! 

Lanzerote is very arid with fields of black and high volcanic peaks. We drove to Playa Quemade for a swim. Scrambling over thousands of rocks to reach some very hot black sand, we embraced the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Topless is OK here - nobody seems to bat an eyelid. One old dear even took off her bathing suit and stood starkers before putting on her underwear!

The buildings are strictly controlled so remain in traditional style, with mainly  white and mainly low rise, which is in stark contrast to the black landscape.

A great stop was the Jardin de Cactus - this garden was established in 1990 and the entrance is unmistakable with a huge metal statue of a cactus at the entrance. Fees are reasonable and a wander around plants from South Africa,  Mexico, Zimbabwe, Chile, Peru, Brazil and Mozambique all make for an interesting display. A white windmill, which can be climbed, dominates the pit in which the gardens are situated. This pit was originally dug by villagers who required the volcanic ash to fertilise their fields. There is a restaurant on site and, with over 1000  species of cactus, it is a stunning place to visit. The town of Guatiza has vast plantations of prickly pear. This plant hosts the cochineal insect, weird as it may seem! The islanders also make some sort of liquor from the fruit. We chose not to explore that avenue! 

If you are on this road and in need of a swim, stop at the village of Punta de Mujeres. There are many small coves with steps or stainless steel hand rails to get you into the crystal clear water. A very Spanish village, with  the locals out in force over week-ends. The day we visited, there was evidence of a concert going to take place as the parking restriction signs were all over the place and the stage was already set up. A great place to be.....!

Orzola has a ferry service to La Graciosa, a beautiful island which begs to be explored, and is best seen from the highest point on Lanzerote. We stopped for a light lunch at El Norte Pescada - great choice for delicious starters of home made fish croquettes and aubergine with honey. They also serve great local draught beer, Tropical.

The drive to Mirador del Rio is an absolute must when visiting Lanzerote. The views over to the island of La Graciosa are simply stunning. This is the highest point on Lanzerote at 474 metres and the views are so stunning that many photos will be taken. With a fresh breeze, one feels on top of the world. The restaurant offers plate glass clear views if you are hungry or thirsty.

The land on Lanzerote is harsh and dry - the fields are black with volcanic ash and stone walls protect the vines, yes vines, from the winds. It is incredible that farming of prickly pears and vines do flourish in this very unforbidding landscape.

A must see when visiting the island, is the town of Teguise on a Sunday! Parking is 1.80 Euro and there is loads of parking which tells one that there are also thousands of visitors. I lost count of the number of tour buses that we passed. The market is spread over a huge expanse and I doubt that we covered it all. Loads of bags, jewellery, table cloths, toys and magnets. It is a great place to be if you are interested in clothing or jewellery. We were so lucky to be near the square where the folk dancing takes place. Traditional dance done by enthusiastic locals was the absolute highlight of the morning. The music was superb and the dancers had spirit and great smiles. We decided to sample lunch at a local spot which served Spanish food. Most enjoyable. 

Our next stop was Playa de Famara, (see top of page photo) one of Lanzerote's most beautiful beaches. Being a Sunday, the place was packed and we struggled to find parking. The views from this beach are to die for and it has fairly white sand, not black sand. A fantastic beach of 3 km in length, it provides glorious views over to Isla Graciosa. The locals were out in full force and we cannot blame them for using this beach whenever they can - it is really a magnificent setting. Topless is OK it seems so don't be shy if you feel like exposing your boobs to all and sundry!

The landscape is so weird - black volcanic rock with the odd palm tree thrown in. The vines are all protected by rock walls and it is seldom that one sees any green. We did chance upon some green crops just outside of Teguise  - YEAH!

Round-Abouts are the order of the day here on the island and our friendly GPS lady keeps telling us which exit to take. " Go left on the round about and take the 3rd exit". If we miss this we are told in no uncertain terms to " Turn around when possible" Imagine having to live with her!!!!

A day trip took us to :
The vine growing area of La Geria. Its a fascination sight to behold - black landscape dotted with hollows which are surrounded by semicircular walls. The area is now protected, it covers 52 sq km and the wine is very sweet. There are over 10,000 of these hollows and it makes for interesting landscapes. If you have time to stop, there is a wine museum and one can also sample wines before purchasing.

Yaiza - a small village at the foot of the Montanes del Fuego. Its a pretty little town and is one of the more picturesque on Lanzerote. 

El Golfa is a tiny seaside village with a number of restaurants where service seems to be very slow or totally non-existent. We stopped at Casa Torano, established in 1981....the setting is suberb, the waiter was pathetic - so much so, that we left without eating. The main attraction in El Golfo  is the emerald green lagoon which is reached by following a path up the cliff. The views are stunning with many interesting rock formations. This semi circular volcanic crater is filled with sea water that has filtered thru the black sand and become trapped. The algae causes the green colour which looks so out of place! 

 Los Hervideros, meaning Boiling Waters, is another spectacle of nature. These series of caves and blow holes have been eroded giving rise to crashing white surf at times. Today it was fairly calm - however, the views and intricate holes below the cliffs are worth a visit.

 Timanfaya National Park is a must visit. Entrance fees are reasonable and this includes a  very hair-raising ride on a bus around hair-pin bends on sheer cliff edges. Excellent driver but wow, scary stuff!!!! The colours of the earth are glorious and the ride takes about 40 minutes. One cannot get out of the car except at the restaurant where the guides demonstrate how hot it is beneath the surface.....dry bushes catch fire, meat can be cooked on a natural braai and water poured into the earth erupts as steam within a few seconds. 

By now our nerves were on edge so we headed to the cool waters of Playa Blanca - a very large resort town with many shops and restaurants. The beaches are good and the ferries to Fuerteventura seem regular. A great place to visit or stay. Unfortunately, we did not have time to go back to these beaches - I loved the vibe here and the water is crystal clear and refreshing. 

Our next excursion was to try and absorb some cultural stuff....so we headed for the town of Tahiche to visit the former home of a rather famous citizen of Lanzerote, Cesar Manrique (1919 - 1992). This very talented artist, sculptor, architect and town planner had amazing vision when he built this house in 1968 on the lava fields of  the eruption of 1730 - 1736. 

The house has huge windows looking out to these black lava fields - incredibly striking despite the starkness. But what I truly loved were the tunnels leading downwards where the house was incorporated into 5 "volcanic" bubbles. Cool, white and so tastefully decorated, this is a haven of peace and tranquility with the most incredible swimming pool to complete the picture. Cesar lived here until 1988. So popular, with too many visitors, he decided to move. The house where he spent his latter years  is also open to visitors and clearly depicts  his lifestyle. We did not visit this house  - there are photos in Tahiche and it looks very interesting so do make time if you can - tickets are available in Tahiche. Cesar died in a car accident in 1992 but his legacy to Lanzerote lives on in the height, style and colour of the buildings in Lanzerote. Whilst this does make the villages look very "same, same" it also gives a feeling of space and openness, lacking in the built up areas of Tenerife.

Carrying on with our cultural theme, our next stop was in Tiagua, to visit the museum Agricola El Patio. This shows an old farmhouse from the 1840's with furniture and old implements/farming equipment. This farm became the most successful on the island until approx 1945. They still produce wine - Malvasia, a dry white, a red and a lovely sweet Moscatel. You get a taste of these when you reach the exit. There is an old windmill but one cannot get inside. Whist the history is fascinating, the museum was not as good as many others in other countries so we were a tad disappointed. However, having said that, how anybody manages to grow anything in this stark, volcanic island is a total miracle and should be applauded to the highest degree. It must take guts and determination.
Today, much of the water is via desalination plants and tourism accounts for a staggering 80% of revenue. Fishing is still sound and besides my horrid whole fish (I hate the eye looking at me!!!) it is fresh.

Our last stop was in the city of Arrecife. The area around the beaches has a wonderful promenade in both directions, one leading to a small boat harbour. There are a number of small cafes here where you can cool off before heading towards the old fort. The promenade in the other direction goes on and on and we did not make it to the end unfortunately. The area is alive with local life, kids at the skate boarding park, lovers entertwined, couples running, cyclists on the cycle path, kids on bicycles etc. The beaches are not too busy as this is more of a local hang out that a tourist mecca so our swim was pleasant and cool.

Unfotunately, our time on this fascinating island has come to a close - memories? Oh YES!

Good tapas in most places
Great roads
Many round-a-bouts!
Stark beauty, albeit mainly black volcanic rocks.
Really good beaches with clear waters
Wonderful weather
We hope to visit again one day....!

© Judelle Drake

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