New Zealand. We had already planned a trip to that mythical (at least for us) land twice before, but postponed it because of friends’ weddings in South Africa and India respectively. But 2015 was to be THE year. And then life happened again, or more precisely, two lines on a pregnancy test happened. Not knowing how things would pan out, we decided to postpone NZ once again to a not so foreseeable future and look for a closer ‘baby moon’ location before our new arrival.
We were looking for a safe location no more than a few hours away from London that offers sunshine and warmth in late November, while also boasting good medical facilities should things go wrong (luckily they didn’t). A 4-hour flight from London and with November averages of 23 C, the Canary Islands seemed like a perfect choice. Of the different islands we chose Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, easily accessible yet not too touristy. Of those two Lanzarote proved to be a real winner. Here is why.
One – Landscape
In 1730 the earth opened and started spitting out fire. Tons of molten lava continued to flow for 6 years, leaving behind smouldering ruins of villages and forests. The volcanoes of Lanzarote have been dormant for two centuries, but their legacy is still present. Wherever you look, you are surrounded by a weird lunar landscape: volcano peaks on the horizons and a sea of solidified lava. No place illustrates this better than the famous Timafaya National Park where you can drive around the volcanos admiring the out-of-this-worldly landscape barren of all vegetation.
You are also made aware of how fragile the current state of affairs is. The volcano is like a slumbering dragon that can be woken any time. It may not be erupting, but it’s hot breath can be felt in many places on the island. In the park, there is a restaurant that serves meat grilled directly in the heat of the volcano.
The local authorities have invested in signposted walking trails, so, as long as you are out of bounds of the national park, you can walk among the lava rocks and hike up a volcano to look down an enormous crater.
If you’re looking for a classic beach experience, Lanzarote has something to offer too, as long as you are not expecting white powdery sand. Lanzarotean beaches are of volcanic origin too – black and pebbly, but sunny and inviting nevertheless, and much less crowded than elsewhere.
Two – Architecture
I’m absolutely allergic to typical holiday resorts where the seafront is lined with high-rise concrete monsters of hotels crammed with package tourists. Sadly, such establishments dominate the Canaries these days. Luckily, Lanzarote is different thanks to one dedicated man – Cesar Manrique. You’d better memorise this name, because you will hear it at every step of your way on the island.
In addition to being a top-notch local artist, Manrique was a devoted lobbyist for the preservation of his home island’s natural beauty. He wouldn’t stop until the local authorities committed to restricting all new developments on Lanzarote to low-rise buildings in respect of the environment and the natural landscape. It is the latter that particularly inspired Manrique – he was passionate about integrating man-made artefacts into the volcanic landscape. How he approached the task becomes apparent when you visit Manrique’s house, a luxurious residence with a pool entirely submerged in the black lava.
Lanzarote is dotted with Manrique’s architectural creations, such as junction sculptures, Mirador del Rio (a viewing point at the Northern tip of the island), Jameos del Agua (a cave-like structure transformed into a swimming pool and a bar) or the Cactus Garden.
Three – Food and wine
Canarian cuisine is known for its wholesomeness. It is based on quality ingredients prepared in a simple way. Of course, the sea abounds in all kinds of delicious edible creatures from fish to lobsters, octopus, crabs and limpets. The latter is true of other islands too, but because of Lanzarote’s relatively low key tourist development, you can find plenty of exquisite seafood restaurants in small fishing villages where the catch of the day is so fresh it is almost flapping on your plate. The seafood dish is inevitably served with a green salad and papas arrugadas – traditional salted potatoes with the skins on.
To complement your meal, you can order excellent local wine, one thing which I sadly couldn’t sample. Vine on a volcano? – you may ask. Well, yes. It turns out that the same thing that destroyed the islanders’ households ended up becoming their livelihood later. Volcanic soil provides excellent nutrition to the vine and the almost eternal sunshine does the rest. Vine is grown in pits encircled with stones, protecting fragile plants from the strong winds. These pits further reinforce one’s impression of being on the moon.
There is nothing better to end your meal with than Lanzarotean goats cheese or local desserts. For a sweet finish, you can choose from all kinds of flans and mousses, the most famous one of which is made with gofio, a local maize flour mix. Add strong, black coffee, and you’re in heaven.
So next time when the skies turn grey with cold rain, head to Lanzarote for a spell of sunshine, culture, nature walks and good food. It may not be New Zealand, but you won’t regret it.