48 Hours In Lanzarote

The most northerly Canary Island has ditched its down-market reputation and is a now a great place for a short break, says Rhiannon Batten



"Lanzagrotty" has smartened up its act. Aside from the usual unattractive display of baking flesh, today there's little evidence of why this small but dramatic Canary Island acquired such a nickname. With year-round average temperatures of between 20-25C and virtually no rain, the promise of good weather packs in the crowds. Volcanic activity has created a landscape of massive craters, crimson mountains and crackly black lava fields. Add huge beaches, picturesque whitewashed villages and intriguing architecture and Lanzarote puts Ibiza firmly in the shade.


British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) flies from Gatwick on a Thursday (returning the following Sunday) from £130 return, and from December-March has additional outbound flights on Fridays. From 1 November, Monarch Scheduled (08700 40 50 40; www.flymonarch.com) will fly from Luton. If you stay for a week, charter airlines offer good deals. Thomsonflights (0800 000 747; www.thomsonflights.com), for example, has flights from a dozen UK airports to Lanzarote for as little as £88 return, though £125 is more usual. The airport is close to the island's capital, Arrecife. I hired a car from Holiday Autos, which does one-week rentals in Lanzarote from £89 (0870 400 0100; www.holidayautos.co.uk). Be warned that signposts on the island are terrible.


Lanzarote is the northernmost of the Canary Islands and lies about 100km off the coast of Morocco. Although technically and linguistically it belongs to Spain, some of its interior villages have a north African feel. Most of the population live in Arrecife, which is also the location for the main tourist office (00 34 928 801 517; www.turismolanzarote.com), on Avenida Generalisimo Franco; it opens 8am-3pm Monday-Friday. Holidaymakers usually stay in one of the three main resorts: Playa Blanca, Puerto del Carmen or Costa Teguise. Unlike the other Canary Islands, even the resorts are low-rise and fairly low key. These three are all on the south coast away from the north-westerly winds, but close to the island's main attraction: Timanfaya National Park.


The best hotel on the island is the Finca de Las Salinas (00 34 928 830 325; www.fincasalinas.com), a converted 18th-century hacienda in Yaiza whose bright, block-colour decor and cactus gardens give it a Mexican feel. Prices start from €104 (£74) for a double including breakfast. Caseiro de Mozaga in San Bartolome (00 34 928 520 060) has doubles from €86 (£61). Arrecife has a number of smaller, cheaper places to stay. Most other hotels cater to the package market, although they often have good last-minute rates for non-package tourists.


The Mirador del Rio (00 34 928 526 548), hewn from cliffs in the far north of the island, offers leg-quivering views out over the north of Lanzarote and across to the island of La Graciosa. It's one of seven spectacular buildings designed by one-time Lanzarote resident Cesar Manrique and opens 10am-5.45pm daily. Admission is €4 (£3); like the other Manrique sights, under-12s go free.


Unless you suffer from claustrophobia, it's hard not to be impressed by the Los Verdes lava cave (00 34 928 173 220) in the north of the island. Part of a network of underground galleries stretching between the La Corona volcano and the sea, this 2km cave can be visited on guided walks in English. These run every half hour from 10am-5.30pm and cost €8 (£6).


Papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes) are new potatoes cooked in their skins with lots of salt and served with mojo, a spicy local sauce that's either green (made with parsley or coriander) or red (peppers and chilli). For an authentic taste, try Casa Gregorio (00 34 928 830 108) in rural Uga, where a portion costs €2.70 (£2).


The Cesar Manrique Foundation (00 34 928 843 138; www.fcmanrique.org) was established in the artist's home in Tahiche in 1992. Manrique helped shape many of the island's attractions and oversaw the development of tourism on Lanzarote. His house is a James Bond-style hideout with white leather seats slotted into cave-like dens, a sleek sunken swimming pool and architecture that gives the illusion that the house is part of the surrounding lava fields. It's currently open 10am-5.45pm daily, admission €7 (£5). Continue to the Castillo de San José in Puerto Naos, just east of Arrecife, a 17th-century fortress converted by Manrique into an art museum. It opens 11am-9pm daily, admission free. Try the retro-cool restaurant below for views of Arrecife harbour (00 928 812 321).


The Jameos del Agua (00 34 928 848 020), another Manrique-designed jaw-dropper, is a cave and subterranean lagoon near Arrieta that you can either wander around during the day (admission €8/£6) or visit on weekend nights when it becomes a restaurant, bar and nightclub (admission €9/£6.50). More laid-back drinking is to be had in La Geria, Lanzarote's wine-growing valley. The El Chupadero vineyard tapas bar wouldn't be out of place in Ibiza, with its cool white walls and sun-soaked terrace (00 34 928 173 115; www.el-chupadero.com).


The food on the Canary Islands is a spicy version of Spanish. Look out for goats cheese, fresh fish and gofio - a roasted wholemeal flour that's used in everything from traditional soups and stews ( puchero) to puddings. La Era (00 34 928 830 016) on the Carretera General in Yaiza is a 300-year-old farmhouse with cosy, rustic dining rooms set around a pretty courtyard. This is as close as you'll get to the real Lanzarote. Try the octopus salad, fried kid goat, marinated pork and traditional baked fish. Three courses, without wine, costs around €30 (£20) per head.


The Ermita de los Dolores, just outside Mancha Blanca on the road to La Vegueta, is a simple stone church with an elaborate altar. It was built in honour of the "virgin of the volcanoes", the island's patron saint, after she saved the village from destruction in 1824. It opens all day, every day, with Sunday services at 9am and 12.30pm.


Teguise was once the capital of Lanzarote. Its old buildings and plazas make a picturesque backdrop for the island's main shopping experience, a huge market that takes place on Sundays from 9am-2pm (sadly it loses its appeal when the buses start arriving from the resorts at around 10.30am). Most of the stalls sell the kind of tat you could find without jumping on a plane - rip-off Burberry caps, cheap jeans and dodgy art - but if you search you can find some local products. Traders flog Aloe Vera gels (€9/£6.40) and soap (€1.50/£1.10) - handy if you've overdone the sun.


In the small fishing village of La Caleta de Famara, the Restaurant Sol (48 Calle Salvavidas, 00 34 928 528 697), occupies a simple blue-and-white building near the harbour. You'll pay around €8 (£6) for grilled fish or fried baby squid and around €13 (£9) for a bottle of local wine. It opens 11.30am-2.30pm daily. When you've finished eating, head to the neighbouring beach - a huge arc of white sand backed by mountains.


The cactus garden (00 34 928 529 397) in Guatiza, inevitably designed by Cesar Manrique, contains nearly 1,500 species of bizarre spiky plants. Like the Eden Project, it was built in an old quarry. The cacti are displayed along a series of quirky terraces. It opens 10am-5.45pm daily, and admission is €5 (£3.50).


The 50 sq km of volcanoes and lava fields at Timanfaya National Park are accessible only as part of a 40-minute bus tour that costs €8 (£6). They leave roughly every 30 minutes from 9am-5.30pm and start from near the Islote de Hilario (00 34 928 840 057), a hole in the ground that, when provoked by the park attendants, spews flames and steam. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings the visitor centre also runs free guided walking tours (adults only), but they're popular so book two weeks in advance (00 34 928 840 839).


You can't go to Lanzarote without spending at least some time on a beach. The best - and emptiest - are those around Papagayo point on the island's southern tip, with gold sand, turquoise water and a backdrop of either dunes or cliffs (you can walk between them and choose which you like best). It costs €3 (£2) per car to enter Papagayo.

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