Our journalist, GEMMA WEIR takes a look at the possibilities of the unexplored aspects of the Canary Islands…
Ah, the good old reliable Canary Islands. Where holiday makers from this drizzly little island flock to in pursuit of a bronzed hue and an annual shot of vitamin D that doesn’t come in the form of a pill.
Even in the midst of a cold, dark winter, we know that that extra little cheeky winter sun week is just over four hours away to where the weather is almost always guaranteed to be ‘just right’. It seems like we Northern Irish can’t get enough, and who could blame us. We’ve evolved into a more intrepid bunch of travellers in recent years, seeking out treasure troves in far off lands, but we always return to the islands…
The obvious draw of sun, sand and sea is an element of our repeat custom, but what else have the Canaries got going on that we might be missing out on? Is it possible to have a real off the wall adventure in a well conquered land? Of course it is – and here’s how…
Zen Hottie in Lanzarote
So you’ve already been to the glorious black ashy terrain with beautiful exotic beaches and yellow and red rocks on the volcanic island of Lanzarote… you know all about Costa Teguise, nestled down at the beautiful east coast, known for it’s sandy beaches and and the wonderfully lively Pueble Marinero square – You’ve taken the kids to the aqua park while Gran sits with a Stella under the sun brolly; it never fails to rid you of all the rainy woes of back home, but maybe in the age of instagram and ‘you do you’ generation, you might be looking for a new perspective on an old charm.
Head for a bit of hip flexing, downward dogging, warrior posing yoga action on a fully immersive yoga retreat! In Lanzarote, you can find a retreat for everyone, from the anti-bendy-beginners to the elastic-fantastic advanced yogi’s who live life with one leg casually tucked behind their ear in a constant state of mindful awareness – Whoever you are, there’s a retreat to suit you if you want to break the mould of the daily grind and get some properly irritating photographs for your social media. Who doesn’t love a pic of someone drinking a green juice on a fabulous beach on their head? You can actually book a retreat designed with your specific needs in mind, check out a detox retreat that combines a lot of water melon and leaves with your daily yoga and mediation routine, or for those who like a bit of bang for their buck, combine the chill factor of the yoga mat and incense with a bit of surfing on a yoga and surf retreat – I’ve been looking for a wine and yoga retreat, I haven’t found one specifically of that nature, but I’m sure there’s one on this eccentric little island somewhere! I’ll keep looking!
Away for a hike are ‘Ye’?… I always love the idea of hiking, the physical activity element of it somewhat puts me off a bit, but I would absolutely get my boots on at the promise of a nosey into the crater of a volcano! A dander through the village of Ye through the landscape of vineyards and a gentle hike of less than an hour will see you at the top of Monte Corona’s volcanic crater. You’ll be treated to views of the beautiful blue ocean as you gasp longingly for the air you left at the bottom – but that’s a cracker tick for anyones bucket list!
I have only been to Tenerife once and I am utterly ashamed to say that I wasted the entire experience – Playa de las Americas was the place and 2000 was the year. The year I discovered what most eighteen year olds discover about the Canary Islands… They’re great for a party. And they still are, but as the wonky knees and inevitable exhaustion after 10pm starts to kick in somewhere around the mid-thirties, you realise that there’s more to a holiday than a roof top veranda and a vodka fish bowl – Hallelujah! So then Tenerife – Show us what else you got for the more mature traveller who isn’t entirely devoid of fun just yet?
When I started my quest for all the things I missed the first time around in Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, I was a little bit amused to see that one of the first things that I discovered, was a tree. I giggled to myself as I remembered that episode of Father Ted when Ted and Dougal went off in the caravan and their tourist attraction was a big rock in the middle of a field. I had visions of trailing my family back to Tenerife to stand and look at a big tree. It’s pretty cool though, it’s called the ancient dragon tree and it’s said to be as much as 1000 years old – it looks old, it has all the knobbly bits that develop on us all over time – you’ll find it at Icod de los Vinos which is the north west of the island. The name ‘dragon’ comes from its maroon resin that is called ‘dragons blood’ and is supposed to have medicinal healing properties! Still just a big tree?
OK, well, how does this sound… Get out of the tourist trap for a while and discover the quaint beauty that is the little town of La Orotava. This is a little gem for those who like to get to the heart of their destination and get a real sense of the history and raw tradition. La Orotava has it all. It’s a traditional treat of quirky architecture, stunning ornate balconies that I could sit out on with a glass of chilled vino and write my memoirs, overlooking the most scenic gardens. And as if all that wasn’t a romantic poets dream as it is, the gardens of Hijuela del Botanico could be the setting of your own sepia toned love story as you walk around the picturesque floral sprays – Or of course, if you’d rather opt for a bit more prickle on your succulents, head over to Los Cristianos and check out their giant cacti in The Exoticpark Cactus and Animal Park!
City sights and traditional bites in Gran Canaria
I love a city! A stunningly scenic city is even better. Las Palmas seems to have it all going on. The capital of the island is made up of two bays and their sandy beaches, riddled with rich cultural heritage and culture – the Vegueta district particularly so and was even declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990… And you can grab a bit of duty free while you’re getting your teeth into a bit of local education! It’s a win-win!
It couldn’t really be any easier to get stuck into this fabulous city than to jump onto that world famous big red bus! Hop on, hop off around all the major must-see’s. Santa Ana Cathedral in the heart of Vegueta quarter with its magnificent architecture, get a few more social media trend-setting snaps sprawled up one of the ornate doorways of Casa de Colon (Columbus House), one of the most beautiful offerings of traditional latticed balconies and carved ceilings and historical value… Las Palmas shows there’s much more to Gran Canaria than sand and sea.
Get a real feel for local life at Puerto Morgan and saunter by Italian inspired water canals as you take in a bustling street market, laden with Canarian artisan bits and bobs, gastro delights and the quirky memorabilia and fridge magnets that will adorn every fridge freezer in the family for years to come. And for all you fellow foodies out there, you can even get a full Spanish/Canarian gastronomic education with a cookery class… Learn how to prepare the traditional fare of Gran Canaria overlooking the sparkling blue ocean and enjoy your hard work with a local wine as you contemplate entering the next series of Master Chef to flaunt your newly acquired skills.
I remember way back to my early days as a travel agent and the main feature I could dig out from my memory fact file about Fuerteventura was ‘FLAT’ – Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly great in that role! So, the relatively Flat Fuerteventura, lets take a closer look…
The second biggest of the Canary Islands, and yes, much of the inhabited areas are quite flat – there are no major ‘cardiac hill’ scenarios to avoid, unless you purposefully head towards the mountainous terrain and cliff tops that are scattered aesthetically around the island, in which case, you’ve got to take responsibility for your own poor life decisions!
For me, I think it’s all about that turquoise water… You can get right into the Canary Island water sports, surfing, snorkelling, even try a bit of scuba diving at one of the certified scuba schools, or for those who have kept up with their regular supplement of cod live oil and are feeling particularly agile, try a one day kite surfing course! Me? Well, you’ll find me lounging on one of the beautiful yachts after having spent the day doing a spot of island hopping to Lanzarote for a wine tasting tour (might as well get two islands for the price of one, eh?), watching the orange sun disappear into the water, while the moon slowly peeps up from behind a mountain on the other side, sipping more chilled wine (I sense a theme here?) and nibbling on my authentic Spanish Tapas.
The Canary Islands have everything they have always had – family friendly fun at water parks, animal sanctuaries, sandy beaches, sun, sand and the opportunity to pretend your work colleagues were just a bad dream you once had (yup… I said it). A couple of weeks of pure, unadulterated escapism. But take a closer look from a fresh perspective – each island offers so many different types of holiday…
From the hip Zensters of the 20’s, to the adventurous kite-surfing hiking adrenaline junkies, to the wine sipping, catamaran cruising luxury traveller dipping their perfectly pedicured toes into the twinkling waters of the the Atlantic Ocean – I dare you to find something on the islands not to love. The subtropical climate, exotic landscapes and the warm breeze blowing gently over from the Sahara desert, carrying with it a bronze glow only leaves one question… When are you going to go?
Why not begin exploring your island of choice before you even leave the sofa? Check out the local tourist board for activities – pre-book tickets with your local travel agent or online before you arrive and ‘jump the queue’ – spend a few pounds to save something much more valuable… You time!