If you’ve never been to Lanzarote, there’s every chance you’re picturing it like your standard Spanish resort – parasols dotting the beaches, whitewashed Lego-brick hotels, coastal promenades thronging with tourists – and that’s certainly true of a few pockets of the island. But there’s a lot more to it. Imagine an otherworldly volcanic landscape, rugged yet beautiful, that looks in parts like it could barely sustain life at all, let alone the millions of visitors that pass through each year, and the easternmost of the Canary Islands becomes a lot more strange and interesting.
The César Manrique Foundation
Much as the fiery actions of the Earth and several decades of tourism have shaped the identity and appearance of Lanzarote, one individual is more responsible than any other for many of the man-made things that make the island such a fascinating and appealing place to travel to. Artist and architect César Manrique was born and died on the island (in 1919 and 1992 respectively) and his legacy is everywhere – as much in what you can’t see as what you can. His former residence in Tahiche, on the east side of the island, is now home to the Fundación César Manrique. Apart from allowing visitors to access this extraordinary building, this not-for-profit works tirelessly to ensure the island remains largely free of high-rise architecture.
The Foundation itself, where he lived between 1968 and 1988, is part homage to the traditional houses of the island, part swooping architectural experiment, and part paean to the basalt lava fields that surround the property and are, in places, integrated into the design. Further north, you can also visit the smaller, quieter César Manrique House Museum in Haría, where he lived from 1988 to his death in a car accident in 1992, and the Mirador del Río, a spectacular viewpoint and bar built into a cliffside. The views across the extreme tip of Lanzarote are, as you’d imagine, well worth drinking to.
The House that a Celebrity Lost in a Card Game
For another unique taste of Manrique’s legacy, wind your way through the backstreets of the small town of Nazaret – once a popular hideout for bohemians and celebrities – to find LagOmar. The artist helped conceive this warren-like home built into the cliffs, but it was designed by another Canarian artist, Jesús Soto, and made famous by the actor Omar Sharif. The Doctor Zhivago star bought LagOmar (geddit?) in the 1970s and later lost it in a game of bridge – allegedly. There’s a restaurant on site, plus a bar-come-shop where you can taste local wines and load up on souvenirs.
Due to the consistently warm weather, it’s possible to take a dip in the sea year-round
Visit the Timanfaya National Park
Even César Manrique didn’t have a hand in the creation of Lanzarote’s most valuable asset, the Timanfaya National Park in the west of the island, though he did design its emblem, ‘El Diablo’. This remarkable (and active) volcanic landscape is brutally stark and wild – and as a result fiercely protected – though it’s possible to take a coach journey through la Ruta de los Volcanes and eat food cooked over geothermal heat at its restaurant, El Diablo. There are two walking routes, too, if you’d rather trundle or race along at your own pace.
Hit the Beach
Though the average temperature dips (and rainfall rises) a little during winter, variations aren’t wild and it’s therefore possible to take a dip in the sea year-round. Luckily there are plenty of places where you can do that, with a clutch of sandy beaches in the resorts of Puerto del Carmen in the south east, Playa Blanca in the south and Costa Teguise in the east. Of course, hiring a car (which tends to be relatively good value in the Canaries) gives you access to beaches that are further off the beaten track, like those clustered around Punta del Papagayo on the southeastern tip of the island. Reached by a tooth-rattling dirt track (with a toll) that seems to go on forever, these six beaches aren’t exactly people-free, but they’re far enough away from the hubbub to offer an authentic slice of pristine Lanzarote coastline – not to mention a hefty dose of weirdness. The west coast, on the other hand, is a magnet for surfers – try Famara and La Derecha for the prime spots, ideally between October and April when the swell’s most consistent.
Get on Your Bike
Like several of the other Canaries, Lanzarote is increasingly popular with cyclists – presumably more for the year-round balmy conditions than the short, very sharp climbs and exposed volcanic flats where winds whip across sparse, plantless stretches of basalt. If you’re really keen (and really fit) the island’s Ironman triathlon in late May is one of the tougher endurance events out there. If you don’t fancy flying your own bike over, there are several good rental shops on the island.
Unsurprisingly given the quirks of its natural environment Lanzarote has developed its own unique cuisine
Eat & drink
It must have been some kind of visionary who looked at the empty, volcanic south of the island and thought about planting vines there. But that’s exactly what they did, and the result is a growing industry and wines that are starting to make ripples beyond their native Canary Islands. There’s no getting away from the fact this is winemaking on the edge – the black soil presents a unique challenge to winemakers, plus harsh winds mean many vines are planted in unique divots, creating a strangely beautiful spectacle. The subtropical climate means the harvest takes place in July, among the earliest in Europe. One way of looking at this, of course, is that no one would bother if the wines weren’t worth it, and many of the wines – dry, sweet, sparkling and even a few reds – genuinely are.
Most of the wineries are in the centre of the island, and the road that cuts through the protected La Geria valley is dotted with them, many with tasting rooms and a chance to find out more about production. Bodegas La Geria, El Grifo and Rubicón are among the better known, and all three have won international awards for their wines.
Unsurprisingly given the quirks of its natural environment – not to mention its aboriginal Berber and Spanish heritage, and the 18th-century volcanic eruption that dramatically reshaped the island – Lanzarote has developed its own unique cuisine. Along with the Canaries’ famous mojo sauces and wrinkled potatoes (boiled in heavily salted water), you’ll find excellent artisan cheeses and native breed meat like that of the black pig.
The island’s seafood, though, is predictably excellent, and while you’ll find it everywhere, coastal towns like El Golfo in the central west – with its waterside fish restaurants and distinctive pea soup-green lagoon – La Santa in the north west and the port-city capital, Arrecife, in the east, are all excellent places to try tuna, sea bream, prawns, squid, sardines and winkles all hauled out of the surrounding ocean.
In short, make sure you come hungry.
Lanzarote’s south coast is undoubtedly one of the island’s best assets, with spectacular sandy beaches, volcanoes looming in the background and views across to neighbouring Fuerteventura. Five-star suite hotel Princesa Yaiza occupies a large slice of southern real estate just outside the buzzy beach town of Playa Blanca and offers a vast and varied array of facilities that’s made it a tried-and-tested go-to for families and couples alike.
Though it’s undoubtedly a big hotel, the design and architecture throughout is of the comfortably luxurious kind, with nods to traditional Spanish style and mixed with Saint Tropez sophistication. The whole complex – from the soaring ceilings of the lobby to the quiet, shaded plaza that opens out onto the seaside promenade – has the feel of a small village rather than an overwhelmingly massive resort.
The main building, where you’ll find most of the restaurants (there are eight in total), reception area, shops, the main pools and that plaza, connects to the family complex via an underground passage. Be warned: the latter is lined with large tanks that are teeming with tropical fish, which, if you happen to have kids with you, will make the journey a little longer than you may have intended. The family complex houses large, thoughtfully appointed suites, a huge variety of kids’ clubs and activities at Kikoland, a family pool and poolside restaurant, and the hotel’s sports centre. Whatever your age, you won’t run out of things to do, whether you’re looking for an active break or a rare chance to chill.
Princesa Yaiza’s eight restaurants are as varied as you’d hope, from simple but tasty Spanish and Italian cuisine at +Tapas and Don Giovanni to Japanese teppanyaki show-cooking at Kampai. There are three buffet restaurants, too, each packed with a bewildering and constantly changing array of international food, plus high-end gastronomy at Isla de Lobos, where hotel residents and non-residents can taste locally sourced cuisine cooked with flair.