Like many other people, Lanzarote was for me an island that all my friends and relatives had visited on holiday but was that one island in the Canaries that had somehow eluded me. It does after all get over 5.5 million visitors per year, so it was just a matter of time before I finally arrived on this unique volcanic rock just across the water from Morocco and the Western Sahara.
It was further than I expected, at 3 hours and 45 minutes flying it’s further than Moscow, but closer by an hour from Cyprus. You get a feeling of what Lanzarote is all about when you fly in on a clear day. It rises from the western Atlantic like a big black scar, the peaks, which are up 2200 feet (620 metres) high are shrouded in low cloud, but the coastal areas are bathed in glorious sunshine.
We arrived at the NH Hesperia Lanzarote Hotel just as it was getting dark to show a magnificent sunset over the south west headland of the Island. The hotel is in the Puerto Calero area, an affluent area where you’ll see some rather expensive boats in the harbour, (the largest of which apparently owned by the local landlord). It’s a great place to walk over to neighbouring El Barquito for an evening and not at all far to walk along the coast to reach the white beaches of Puerto del Carman.
You will however need to hire a car in Lanzarote. It’s easy to get the impression before your arrival that Lanzarote is a place to bake like a lizard in the hot sun, but there are so many things to do here that you could find it difficult to find time for the hotel pool, and the only feasible way of reaching them is by car. If you really wanted to lie like a lizard then you can easily do that at the NH Hesperia, but it’s a shame to miss all the island has to offer.
The next morning we set off to discover the unique vineyards of La Gería district of Lanzarote. This protected area is pockmarked by pits 4-5 metres wide and 2-3 metres deep where the vines are grown and protected by the constant wind from the ocean by a short stone wall. They are grown this way to maximise the collection of water from morning dew and any rainfall that occurs. The first few feet of soil is black ash from the big volcanic eruptions between 1730 and 1736 while underneath there is some clay. The most notable vineyard in this region seems to be the Stratus Cellars, a recently developed wine factory of impressive proportions which you can visit with some wine tasting afterwards. It’s mostly Crianza that is grown here.
If you’re a fan of Omar Sharif then you must visit LagOmar, a house built by the star into the side a hill with magnificent views over the Island. Omar Sharif filmed “The Mysterious Island” here and fell in love with the place, but the very day he moved in, lost the whole house in a game of bridge. It is now used as a restaurant and has two pools, one of which is suitable for bathing, but is worth visiting just to admire the ambition of the project and to imagine how gutted Mr Sharif would have been to have lost it in a game of cards.
The number one tourist destination on the whole of Lanzarote is Jameos del Agua, a cave with an opening at two ends formed by the eruption of La Corona volcano. The gases in the hot lava collapsed causing a large hole to be formed. It now has a restaurant at one end but you can walk to the 100 metres or so to the other end by means of a pathway from where you can look down into the waters of the small lake filled with “Jameito”, blind albino crabs which are indigenous and unique to Lanzarote. You may also want to visit Jameos del Agua for one its many music festivals here.
At lunchtime we headed up hill, and up some more to the top of one of the surrounding mountains, 2000 feet high to look over the seas below. Unfortunately, the clouds made that impossible, but on a hot day this is definitely the place to come as it’s at least five degrees cooler than at beach level, but can be windy.
The other major cave system that must be seen on Lanzarote is that of Cueva de Los Verdes, it’s one of the longest volcanic galleries in the world, again formed when La Corona erupted 3000 years ago. You can take a guided tour along nearly a kilometre of its length (it’s actually about 6km in total) where you will see dramatic rock formations and optical illusions carved purely by lava flows. Locals used to hide from pirates here.
The National Park at Timanfaya is just across the mountain from NH Hesperia Lanzarote, but covers an area of 51 square kilometres. It has the most barren landscape you will ever see because like many areas of Lanzarote was formed by the eruptions of 1730 onwards. It’s a UNESCO listed biosphere reserve, however because of the unique flora and fauna that has developed since the eruptions of the 18th and 19th centuries. Access is limited for this reason, so a visit to Timanfaya consists of a drive to the visitor centre at the centre of the park and a tour round the park by coach, a long and windy experience it is too, so if you suffer from car sickness, as I do, be ready for that. The alternative is to take a guided tour by camel, which would have been great but time didn’t allow for that.
Just a quick note about golf, there’s an 18-hole golf course at Playa Blanca, just a short drive from the NH Hesperia Lanzarote. As I don’t do golf, I can’t really add any more to that, but I can say that Playa Blanca is worth visiting on its own purely to experience the crystal clear waters of its harbour. It must be about 30 feet deep, yet you can see grains of sand at the bottom and dozens of fish at all depths. Incredible. You can also do some good shopping at Playa Blanca. If you feel adventurous, why not take the fast ferry for the 11km journey across the water to nearby Fuerteventura.
While your partner is playing golf, you can take some time to visit El Golfo, where you’ll see a lake covered in green algae at sea level, and then you can drive to Los Hervideros to witness the volcanic coastline.