Discover the dramatic volcanic landscape of Lanzarote

A vivid reminder that you are a stranger in a strange land

Henry Myhill was the author of an early English-language travel guide named simply
The Canary Islands. It is a handsome hardback, published in 1970 at a price of two guineas (£2.10).

The year before publication, |as Myhill was completing his research in the Canaries, the first Moon landing took place. Myhill was one of few British travellers who had, up to that point, enjoyed the good fortune of visiting the easternmost Canary Island: Lanzarote. “Lunar” is the term that he uses more than any other to describe the raw, volcanic terrain at the island’s core, and I imagine he empathised with the crew of
Apollo 11 when they crunched across the Sea of Tranquillity.

There are indeed plenty of similarities between Lanzarote’s surface, coarser than a crumple of sandpaper, and the grainy images of the Moon. But the island’s remarkable geology is better seen as a dramatic representation of something much closer to home: the centre of the Earth, or at least as much of it as will fit on a fragment of terrain in the Atlantic the size of the Isle of Skye.

Unesco seems to agree, which is why the organisation has designated the whole island as a Biosphere Reserve. Lanzarote even has a patron saint, Dolores, who is known as the

“virgin of the volcanoes” after saving the village of Mancha Blanca from destruction in 1824.

On a detailed map, parts of the interior of Lanzarote look unfit for human habitation – yet the island is ideal for human exploration. Using that map (which will show place names like The Depths and Oasis of Nazareth), find your way to Timanfaya, subtitled las Montañas del Fuego: the Fire Mountains.

Best go close to sunrise or sunset. Dawn and dusk cast a dramatic golden light upon this angry outburst from beneath |the Earth’s crust, which has |the colour of rust, the texture |of hot coals and the shape of a mountain range put through a wringer so that all the life has been squeezed out of it.

Lanzarote’s landscape was last rearranged substantially by the forces of nature in the 18th century, when the Fire Mountains sprouted. They are currently officially dormant, though if you take a tour safely around the range aboard a specially adapted bus, you can expect the guide to show that the land still seethes.

At the end of the tour, at the raised area known as Islote de Hilario, he or she may pour water into a fissure, and a split second later you can witness a spurt of steam – a vivid reminder that you are a stranger in a strange land.

Strange creatures are, appropriately, available to take you around this wilderness. Only camels allowed past the sign specifying Solo paso de camellos.

A caravan of dromedaries is led through the Fire Mountains, adding a Lawrence-of-Arabia aspect to plenty of package holidays. As these fine (if occasionally grumpy) creatures clamber around the recently restless earth, you may speculate on the prospect for imminent activity on the part of these geologically lively rocks; fortunately, the best 21st-century technology has been deployed to identify any threat well before residents and holidaymakers find themselves at any risk.

One islander decided to befriend Lanzarote’s outlandish terrain and establish a cohabitation between the rough end of nature and the creativity of man. He |was César Manrique, a visionary artist who was born on the island and saw the potential for fusing its inherent beauty with art (see panel, right). He harnessed the |island’s natural curves and caves to great effect, extracting beauty from the raw terrain.

Manrique also used his considerable influence and energy to make sure that tourism was a force for good. Given Myhill’s description of Playa Blanca four decades ago – “The poverty-stricken village of the far south” –

Manrique evidently succeeded; Playa Blanca is now a flourishing and attractive resort.

Inland, man has had a generally benign effect on the landscape. North-west from Playa Blanca, the upland village of Uga provides an excellent example of how the people of Lanzarote have worked with the curves of the landscape, their pretty and predominately white homes and churches filling the folds in the terrain.

Even the island’s food bears more than a passing resemblance to the scenery. The clue to papas arrugadas is in the name, which means wrinkly potatoes: new potatoes are roasted in their skins with salt. (They are often then served with mojo picón, a spicy sauce.) To accompany your feast, try some of the island’s own wine, produced thanks to some inventive viniculture.

A swathe of terrain is pocked with craters, each about the size of a child’s paddling pool. One vine has been planted in the middle of every crater and packed with volcanic dust that attracts dew each

night. This natural mechanism feeds the fruit with just enough water. The result is an intense, strong red, which Myhill boasts of buying at a bargain eight pesetas a litre, then the equivalent of just 3p.

The final element of the rock-of-ages tour of Lanzarote takes you to the far north of the island. Manrique, that one-man cultural and architectural dynamo, decided that the summit of a mountain one third of a mile above the Atlantic Ocean needed to be properly crowned. So he devised a network of tunnels to lead you, with increasing anticipation, to a most agreeable bar by the name of Mirador del Río, Viewpoint of the River. But where’s the river? Answer: the name refers to the narrow strait between here and the island of La Graciosa, a seaway so tricky to navigate that they nickname it The River, El Río.

It was here that Jean de Béthencourt, a French adventurer from Normandy, arrived in 1402 to seize Lanzarote. Six centuries later, and long after Spain

asserted control of all the Canaries and fought off raids from Africa, distant descendants of Béthencourt proliferate – you can even find a good number in Venezuela, the next step for |many colonists.

La Graciosa itself is well worth a visit, a gracious island that |feels like a natural satellite of the mother island. A suitable lunar metaphor to lead back to the Earth-Moon divide. At the end of my last visit to the island I like to call Lanzarocky, I flew back to Gatwick and touched down on one of those fresh, slightly damp days that made the Sussex countryside glisten like an emerald.

Lanzarote could never be described as a green and pleasant land. But different is good, and this raw, rocky perch in the Atlantic is very different indeed.

Mirador del Río (00 34 928 526 548); Timanfaya bus tours |(00 34 928 840 057)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine