You’ve got to laugh.
Residents of the Canary Islands refer to Lanzarote as “The Flat One”, but the thousands of lycra-bikers, and I, got a very different impression. The Lanzarote landscape is many things, but flat is not one of them.
This island is celebrating its 15 millionth birthday, but you would never know it; she looks fantastic for her age. All these islands are volcanic in origin which essentially means they were sculpted by the Moon and painted by the Sun. These two cosmic artists have conspired to create an almost overwhelming landscape of rich and contrasting textures that beat my senses into submission with their beauty and variety, from soaring peaks to open desert to amazing organic coastlines of twisted rock and pounding blue Atlantic waves. If you are a wanderer the only thing working harder than your legs is your camera.
Tranquillity is also abundant in thousands of coves, miles of beaches of white, golden and black sand, or the many unspoilt villages dotted about the hills and shoreline. You could happily spend a couple of weeks sun-worshipping by day and socialising by night, but this little island offers so much more if you want it.
My lodgings for this visit were provided courtesy of Lanzarote Retreats at their Finca de Arrieta complex just 15 miles north of Arrecife. The venue boasts 100% off-grid luxury with each dwelling including a well-proportioned private outside space and furnished to a very high standard – taking styling cues from Asia and Bali.
Mod-con’s such as wifi are available on site, but with an ethos of “disconnect to reconnect” you are encouraged to look up from your screen and take in the beauty, the people, and maybe even your family – controversial I know, but it seems to work.
Alongside the renewable power-generation, the site also boasts a heated pool in a generous communal sun-garden, a well-stocked shop featuring local and organic items as well as all the essentials you would expect, numerous relaxation areas and a yurt set by for yoga, relaxation or whatever takes your fancy at the time.
You will also find a well-equipped play area and a petting zoo with donkeys and chickens, children are well catered for at Finca de Arrieta.
I took advantage of their very reasonable hybrid car rental option (inclusive with some packages) as, even though my intention was to cycle the island, my physical limitations would have meant I missed anything from 50 metres above sea level. That would have been a travesty as I would not have visited Mirador Del Rio; which made my top three most stunning buildings list.
Mirador Del Rio is one of the island’s many stunning attractions created by the famous local artist – Cesar Manrique – whose sculptures, buildings and influence scatter the island. His inspiration is taken from the organic shapes thrown up by the volcanoes, and by the natural beauty of his surroundings, and Mirador Del Rio is a prime example, cut into the cliff-face and landscapes using the flow of the grounds to form stunning gardens and a residence that seems to be a hybrid of an incredible imagination, and a love of the retreats used by the bad guys in Bond films.
I lost two happy hours here watching Egyptian Vultures and a family of Peregrine Falcons playing in the cliff-winds. The Falcons love to show off, passing within a few feet of the balcony set against the breath-taking backdrop of 500 metre cliffs dropping away below you and across the turquoise channel between Lanza and the paradise island of La Graciosa.
That evening was the social event of the week back at camp – Paella night – and as I sat there with good people, drinking good beer and eating great paella my eyes wandered north to a solitary volcano – Volcan de la Corona – that looked like a textbook volcano straight out of my old school lessons, perfectly round and steep like a smaller version of the zits I had when I was at school. I felt a mission coming on.
Volcan de la Corona is a well-known attraction on the island, with a good number of 5 star reviews on trip advisor. Most of these reviews talk about taking the tour, or following the path.
I didn’t know about these things.
I parked up in a small car park to the SW of the volcano and started walking to the southern foot of the climb, it all looked very serene and stunning, out of the wind, and with a gigantic Egyptian Vulture circling overhead. It was 8:15 am and I had a milkshake, some ham, cheese and a couple of fresh rolls, and a great and thoroughly researched plan to have a solo-breakfast at the top by 9am.
(note – by research I mean I looked at the hill, and looked at the sky, and thought – yeah, looks fun.)
I tiptoed my way to the steeper reaches, passing a variety of the island’s near 800 species of flowers and shrubs and several hundred Pipits and lizards, following what may have been tracks, but probably weren’t.
Bit by bit I made my ascent, checking my Suunto watch for altitude gains, and happy to see the 300m halfway point reached on schedule after just 15 minutes without any more trouble than removing my outer layer.
After this point things started getting a bit real. The gradient was now beyond 45′ and it was certainly more of a climb than a walk. Just to add to the fun there were no more “tracks” to follow as I had wormed my way into the middle of a 200m wide scree field of pea-sized volcanic debris that offered all the security of a vertical ice-rink. Time to re-assess the situation.
A few minutes rest saw an end to the milkshake, but, thus energised, I pressed on toward the nearest solid-looking area to continue the assault. When reached, i found it to be a loose mosaic of crust made up of foot-sized holes held together with white lichen covered strata of weak solidified lava veins – quite like a massive deadly sponge. I made good progress on this.
After quite a few more minutes on this I was back into scree, but now at a 60′ angle and all the fun had long since gone. I found myself in a position where it was almost as dumb to turn around as to continue, as each step offered a variety of ways to help the kids reach their paltry inheritance. Sitting down to assess again I decided to knock it off. The Suunto told me I was just 60m from the top, 90% done, and I felt pretty humble, but happy that I had the sense to know when to quit.
So I stood up, and immediately used my skiing experience as I accelerated down the hill in an unscheduled plummet for about 25 metres into the only outcrop for tens of metres around and below me. I gave it a kiss, and noticed it carried on toward another more solid looking area that could take me all the way up.
Having now abandoned the plan to abandon the plan to climb the hill, I opted for a new plan – to climb the hill carefully, the last 80 metres dropped away without a hitch, and with a good number of the resident Kestrels showing off around me, The fun had returned.
My last 2 metres were unspectacular, and remained that way for a few more seconds before I popped my head over the rim of what can only be described as a mind-bendingly awesome beast of a crater. Shock, awe, wind and vertigo assaulted me all at once and all i could do was crouch again to let the wave pass. Standing more steadily this time, and clinging to rocks like toffee to a dogs mouth, I peered once more into the abyss, the awe remained, as did the wind, and I just stood and stared.
Once I had got over the inspiring panorama I started to take in the details – boulders the size of houses, fantastically sculpted vertical drops falling away below me, and there, on the far side, a group of geriatric folk with walking sticks and flasks of tea taking an easy stroll along a well laid path to the heart of the crater I had nearly died to witness from above, and to which I had no access beyond a final-solution plunge.
I felt a bit silly, so settled down to have my breakfast. It was 11.55, and I was quite thirsty. I did everything wrong, I repeatedly nearly claimed a Darwin award, and it was a very very good day.
A more sedate sojourn was booked for the next day, a visit to “The Desert” on a guided birdwatching safari arranged through the lovely Carmen at eco-insider.com.
My guide for the trip was Adolfo in his trusty Land Rover, we had three target species to look out for and the hopes of plenty more to see along the way.
Once again Lanza did not disappoint. We were looking for Cream Coloured Corser, Stone Curlew and Houbara Bustard. The last one excited me most, it is a relation of the largest flying bird in the world – the Great Bustard – and who can tire of saying “There’s another Bustard!”?
Once on the tracks we soon spotted a Stone Curlew, and straight after that came the Bustard’s; don’t they always?, within a few more minutes we had the Corser ticked. This was followed by Hoopoe, Trumpeter Finch and a raft of other species that were a first for this 40+ year amateur ornithologist. I strongly recommend taking one of Eco-Insider’s guided tours; you will without doubt see and learn far more than going solo.
I followed what looked to be the most interesting roads on my way back to base, and learnt something else about the residents of this paradise; they can outdo the British for understatement
Having followed a track to the water’s edge in a bay overlooking the impressive salt-works of Las Salinas, I spotted a sign in Spanish and English saying “Bathing not Recommended” a few more steps showed that it referred to the sea 20 metres below jagged and ominous cliffs battered by what must be God’s washing machine on a heavy stain setting. Yeah, not recommended. But then I spotted the Lightfoot or Red rock Crabs, and lost another few hours admiring their bravery, tenaciousness and sheer weirdness.
I ended the day with some truly magnificent grilled local fresh fish from an unassuming but exceptionally good beachfront restaurant in Arrieta called La Casa de La Playa, my best meal on the island, but not the most expensive.
An early start the next day saw me hunting for the stables of horseslanzarote.es. At one point I thought I was on the moon, but there it was. Upon arrival I was told that they could have collected me from the camp for a few euro’s more. Oops, I never was very good at doing my homework.
Hazel’s riding tours are well known on the island for their friendly yet professional service. Her approach is safety first for sure; but there is fun in abundance too. The horses all seemed very happy and liked a cuddle before heading off into the hills.
I was in a small group of 3 riders and 2 guides, Hazel and Naomi. My mount was Rombero, a great chunk of a boy with exceptional manners. We walked, we talked and we saw incredible landscapes which, from the saddle, you actually feel a part of. I was Clint Eastwood riding into town until we had a little canter, then Clint left and Mr Bean showed up, but it was incredible fun and definitely one of the highlights.
I had thought to go paragliding on my last day; the islands dependable winds make it one of the most reliable flying sites in the world during low to mid-season, but with a 20 minute tandem experience costing more than my return flight to the island (120 euro!) I opted to spend a bit of time in Arrecife instead. I’m not a shopper, and probably shouldn’t be allowed near the general public, but the main town on the island has a lot to recommend it.
It still draws an 18-30 crowd that you do not find anywhere else on the island but as a change of scene it stacks up well, varied shops, lively bars, gorgeous beaches and a stunning marina add up to a day (and wallet) well spent. You can also rent electric scooters; Lanza’s smart answer to the Boris Bike, to buzz around the town on, which is great fun and highly recommended.
So to sum up, Lanzarote is a concentrated nugget of Wow, it genuinely blew my mind over and over again and I will be back.
See you there?