Lanzarote

The Canary Islands

All the Canary Islands are volcanic in origin, but - to paraphrase Orwell - some islands are created more volcanic than others. Nowhere else is the awesome power of nature to create and to destroy more apparent than on Lanzarote, the easternmost island in the archipelago. Subjected to one of the most violent volcanic eruption in recorded history, when Mount Timanfaya disgorged millions of tons of lava and rubble for six continuous years in the 1730s, the island's landscape may at first appear arid and barren, yet there is unique sense of drama to the scenery and a distinct beauty in the way the afternoon sun picks out the different shades of crimson, ochre, amber and olivine in the rugged terrain.

The island's hardworking farmers have made their contribution to the landscape too. Being one of the sunniest and driest islands in the Canaries, with no natural springs, Lanzarote was never the easiest place in which to make a living from the land, so when Mount Timanfaya covered a quarter of the island with black volcanic ash, the temptation would surely have been to simply give up. But the porous ash actually helped to absorb what little moisture could be gained from the air, and tomatoes, potatoes and especially onions are cultivated in neat little fields, together with opuntia cacti, used for making liqueur. Most impressive, however, are the vineyards around La Geria, where each vine is planted in its own circular mini-crater and protected from the wind by a dry-stone wall. Setting up these vineyards must have been a Herculean labour, but the mesmerising geometrical pattern that results is as pleasing to the eye as the wine itself is to the pallet.

Lanzarote's inhabitants have a strong sense of aesthetics, and the island's architecture complements the landscape perfectly, with the whitewashed walls contrasting brilliantly with the parched earth, and the traditional green paintwork echoing the shades of the palm groves, the vineyards and the onion fields. With their well- preserved historic buildings, inland villages such as Yaiza, Haría and Teguise could stand comparison with Andalucia's pueblos blancos, whilst small fishing villages like El Golfo, Orzola and Punta Mujeres remind visitors of the Greek Islands. Even the three main beach resorts - Puerto del Carmen, Costa Teguise and Playa Blanca - are by no means unattractive. The former two have become a little too busy for our liking, but in our opinion Playa Blanca is the most appealing of all the major resorts in the Canary Islands.

Situated in the very south of the island, Playa Blanca has grown considerably since the days when it was just a small fishing village, but the centre retains its original charm and the atmosphere throughout the resort is thoroughly relaxed, with nightlife largely confined to the excellent selection of restaurants along the seafront. Blessed with wonderful views across the ocean to the islands of Fuerteventura and Lobos, the entire seafront is pedestrianised, only interrupted by the fishing harbour and port for the ferries to Fuerteventura. There are three sandy beaches within the resort itself, whilst just to the east - accessed by boat or via an unsurfaced toll-road - lie the protected Papagayo beaches, which are considered to be the island's most beautiful. Furthermore, with up to 12 ferry crossings a day, each taking less than 30 minutes, a day trip to the famous sand dunes of Corralejo on Fuerteventura is perfectly feasible.

There are numerous other beaches to be explored around the island, from the jet-black shore of El Golfo on the west coast to the white sand that lines the volcanic rock pools near Orzola in the north east. Most of the resort beaches offer a full range of facilities including various water-sports, whilst on some of the more remote beaches naturism is widely accepted. Being less mountainous that the western Canary Islands, Lanzarote is easy to drive around, so if you are a dedicated sun worshipper, you could try a different beach for every day of your holiday.

But there is much else to be explored, not least of all the legacy of the late César Manrique, Lanzarote's most prominent artist, who was largely responsible for shaping the island's tourism policy and averting the high-rise horrors that have spoilt large chunks of the coast in other parts of Spain. Manrique's most famous works took some of the island's natural attractions, to which he then applied his own artistic vision - the subterranean lake of Jameos del Agua, the volcanic tunnel Cuevas de los Verdes, the viewpoint "Mirador del Rio" across the islands of La Graciosa and Alegranza, and the Cactus Garden in a former quarry in the village of Guatiza. Partly due to Manrique's influence and partly due to the quality of the light, Lanzarote continues to attract a sizeable artistic community, so there are several galleries and museums with interesting permanent and temporary exhibitions to be visited, especially in the island capital, Arrecife.

To fully appreciate the natural energy that has shaped this island, a visit to the Timanfaya National Park is highly recommended. Here, you can see a demonstration of the tremendous heat that still exists just below the surface before enjoying lunch barbecued over a mere hole in the ground, using only geothermal energy!

Lanzarote has become one of Europe's most established and popular winter-sun destinations, but continues to surprise many first-time visitors, who come primarily attracted by the island's mild climate and sandy beaches, but return captivated by its dramatic scenery, picturesque villages, unique style and distinct sense of identity.

The unspoilt Papagayo beaches

The unspoilt Papagayo beaches

The unspoilt Papagayo beaches Haría El Golfo Playa Blanca Femes Papagayo Charco de San Ginés in Arrecife Dramatic volcanic coastline at Los Hervideros Carnival celebrations in Teguise Puerto Calero Marina César Manrique's artworks can be found all over the island View from the Manrique foundation, the artist's former lava cave home Caleta de Famara Flamingo beach in Playa Blanca

Accommodation in Lanzarote:

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