Take in the Canary Islands' spectacular scenery
Stargaze, explore, or simply relax as you take in the islands' spectacular views
Saturday 07 November 2009
Aren't the Canaries better known for their beaches?
Certainly, but the islands also have some strikingly beautiful inland scenery – and more and more visitors are cottoning on. For the energetic, it's all about enjoying the great outdoors; others just love the idea of sampling a simple, peaceful alternative to the bright lights of the resorts.
Is there much to explore?
Think banana plantations, cacti, dunes and volcanoes. Five out of the seven islands (Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, La Palma, El Hierro and Gran Canaria) are wholly or partly listed as Unesco biosphere reserves in recognition of their remarkable landscapes and unusual flora and fauna.
La Palma, in the thinly populated western Canaries, has such clear skies that it's one of the best places in the northern hemisphere for stargazing. El Hierro's unpolluted waters are perfect for scuba diving and La Gomera is topped with glorious, laurel-forested hiking country. Tenerife is dominated by El Teide, the highest mountain on Spanish territory. On both Tenerife and Gran Canaria, plantations share steep slopes with pine forests. On the arid eastern side of the archipelago, the ancient hills and plains of Fuerteventura are scattered with pretty windmills. Its neighbour, Lanzarote, is an artful assemblage of twisted lava dotted with perfect little hamlets.
By rural, do you really mean rustic?
Yes, but in the nicest possible way. The Canaries are dotted with farmhouses and cottages that have been lovingly converted into hoteles rurales and casas rurales – country hotels and houses. Typically, they have walls of local stone and whitewash, painted shutters, tiled floors, cosy interiors and immaculate little gardens planted with fruit trees or sculptural cacti. Some grand old fincas have been turned into splendid hotels where guests can swan along shady timber verandas or curl up in a lounge stuffed with Spanish antiques. A number of places are sleek, minimal and positively stylish. But rural tourism in the Canaries is more about getting back to nature in a way that suits you, whether that involves hiking, cooking with fresh garden vegetables, chilling out in an outdoor yoga session, wandering around a village or just chatting with people who have lived on the islands all their lives.
How can I be sure we won't feel cut off?
Many Canarian country hotels and houses are tucked into gloriously secluded spots, some of which take some effort to reach, but that's all part of the adventure. Hiring a car is one answer. It sets you free to explore or just zip down to the beach: few rural villages are more than half an hour's drive from the coast. And if the mood strikes, you can go for an exciting spin, hugging the hairpins on mountain roads or cruising past dramatic lava fields.
If you'd rather not drive, you can pick a place that's an easy taxi journey from an airport, such as Senderos de Abona (00 34 922 770 200; senderosdeabona.com ; doubles from €54, including breakfast), a charmingly old-fashioned former village post office in southern Tenerife.
Will we be looked after?
Rural hotels tend to be small, intimate and family-run. There's a great selection of hotels on Tenerife and a good sprinkling on Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and La Gomera; to help you to choose between them, look out for the Spanish Q-rating, which denotes exceptional quality.
Hotels that have a homely atmosphere include El Patio (00 34 922 133 280; hotelpatio.com; doubles from €75, including breakfast) near Garachico, north-west Tenerife, a plantation house that has been in the owners' family since 1507, and Era de la Corte (00 34 928 878 705; eradelacorte.com ; doubles from €90 including breakfast) in Antigua, central Fuerteventura, where you're welcome to join in the cooking if you wish.
Walkers will love Ibo Alfaro (00 34 922 880 168; ecoturismocanarias.com/iboalfaro ; doubles €75, including breakfast), a pretty place among the banana groves of Hermigua, La Gomera.
Some rural hoteliers also run superb restaurants; one of the best is Caserío de Mozaga (00 34 928 520 060; caseriodemozaga. com ; doubles from €83, including breakfast), an elegant 18th-century house in central Lanzarote.
I'm a bit of a foodie
Then you're in luck – many of the very best Canarian eateries are found in rural villages. Even if you don't have a busy programme of mountain-biking and climbing volcanoes planned, the country air may give you an appetite. Get ready to tuck in to big plates of peasant fare such as puchero canario with papas arrugadas con mojo, pork and vegetable stew with salted new potatoes and garlic sauce. Stay in rural Lanzarote and you'll also be within easy reach of country bodegas where you can nibble chunks of local goat's cheese and sample wine produced in the island's intriguing volcanic vineyards.
For modern European dining in rustic surroundings, track down Restaurante Don Antonio (00 34 928 878 757) in the tiny hamlet of Vega de Río Palma, Fuerteventura, or the delightful Taberna Strelitzia (00 34 928 529 841) in Tiagua, Lanzarote and then bask in the smug glow from having made an off-the-beaten-track gourmet discovery.
Is there anywhere truly grand to stay?
Three of the island's paradors, or heritage hotels, hog blockbuster rural locations. On Tenerife, the Parador de Cañadas del Teide (00 34 922 374 841; parador.es ; doubles from €80, excluding breakfast) is the only place to stay within the Parque Nacional del Teide; its bulky appearance may be a disappointment at first, but just one glimpse of its mountain views and you're ready to forgive and forget. The Parador de Cruz de Tejeda, Gran Canaria (00 34 928 012 500; parador.es; doubles from €60, excluding breakfast) is a smaller, traditional building with much more natural charisma; like the Cañadas del Teide, it lies in excellent hiking country.
If you're excited by solar, hydro and wind power you'll be inspired by a stay on El Hierro, which is soon to become the world's first island that's totally self-sufficient from renewable energy sources. At the Parador de El Hierro (00 34 922 558 036; parador.es ; doubles from €70, excluding breakfast), located on a suitably wild and windy stretch of rural coastline, you can fall asleep to the relaxing sound of the waves.
Can we have a place to ourselves?
Yes – just book yourself a casa rural. Self-catering is a great solution for independent-minded families who want space to spread out and the freedom to manage their own meal times; many houses have barbecue areas and private pools, and larger places may have extras such as games rooms. There's also plenty of choices in idyllic locations that would be perfect for a gorgeous romantic break as a couple.
Rural houses are found in villages, hamlets and isolated nooks of mountainside or coastline on every island in the archipelago. Rental rates typically start from €40–70 per night for a place for two. There's an exceptionally wide choice at very reasonable prices on La Palma.
To book, contact the Asociació*Canaria de Turismo Rural, Acantur (00 34 902 225 580; acantur.com ), which puts people directly in touch with owners, or try a specialist agency. On La Palma, the Asociación de Turismo Rural Isla Bonita (00 34 922 430625; islabonita.com ) offers cottages in wild mountain locations, handy if you'd like to visit the famous Roque de los Muchachos Observatory or just indulge in a little stargazing from your terrace.
Rural Tenerife (00 34 922 085 015; ruraltenerife.net) has a tempting selection of houses, while Ecotural Gomera (00 34 922 144 101; ecoturismocanarias.com/ gomera) represents 50 places in La Gomera and Gran Tural (00 34 928 390 169; ecoturismo canarias.com/grancanaria ) covers Gran Canaria.
UK-based companies that offer carefully chosen Canarian properties include Responsible Travel (01273 600030; responsibletravel.com ) and Cachet Travel (020-8847 8700; cachet-travel.co.uk ). It's also worth checking out HomeAway Holiday-Rentals ( holiday-rentals.co.uk ), which puts you in direct contact with property owners, rather than providing a booking service.
How about something unique?
You can't get much quirkier than Casa Antigua in Lanzarote, a luxury split-level apartment created out of an ancient water store with exposed stone walls and vaulted ceiling. The owner, who used to work with the artist César Manrique, has scattered it with beautifully lit art objects. A stay here costs €160 per night for either one or two people, self-catering and with a minimum stay of seven nights, through Las Casas Canarias (00 34 922 491 132; lascasascanarias.co.uk).
The area around Artenara in north-west Gran Canaria is known for its distinctive cave houses, seemingly carved out of the volcanic mountainside. Artenatur (00 34 649 992 636; artenatur.com ; from €79 for two, self-catering) offers a couple of two-bedroom gems, Casa-Cueva Las Margaritas and El Mimo, with walls of wonderfully textured rock and, outside, small gardens planted with succulents.
But if you consider yourself more of a glamorous eco-camper than a cave dweller, you'll want to check out the gorgeously decorated yurts at Finca de Arrieta (00 34 696 982 873; holiday-rentals.co.uk ; from €120 per night, self-catering) in northern Lanzarote, a stylish retreat boasting the best green credentials on the island.
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