The beautiful land of Fuerteventura

Away from the beaches are the colonial mansions and rustic charm

It’s a warm autumn morning and a donkey is eyeing up my elevenses. Its owner notices at once, and tells it to behave. They’re on duty, after all. Both are traditionally dressed – the man in a waistcoat and trilby, the donkey in a burlap yoke – and they’re here to drive the community waterwheel.

I’m in Pájara, a quiet village in the foothills of Fuerteventura’s central highlands. Here, water has always been a precious, hard-won commodity. Irrigation used to keep the island’s terraced hillsides green, but deforestation and over-grazing by goats have long since left them a semi-desert. As soon as the opportunity arose, many islanders abandoned farming and turned to tourism instead.

Until relatively recently, they’ve focused their attentions on the coast. This is understandable, since Fuerteventura does beaches very well. It has soft ones to bury your toes in, breezy ones for watersports and secluded ones for skinny-dipping. Ask a random sample of tourists to name their favourite spot on the island and chances are every single reply will begin with ‘playa’.

However, over the last few years rural islanders have begun to offer an alternative. Pájara’s traditional-style waterwheel, installed by the village council, is a stop on its Ethnography Trail, just one of several nature and culture circuits designed to introduce tourists to life beyond the beach. Strolling around Pájara, you can call in at the old tannery, visit the bakery or admire the unusual church portico, decorated with Aztec-like carvings. Elsewhere, there are colonial mansions to admire, social history museums to investigate and wilderness regions to explore.

Visitors who are fit enough to handle merciless inclines can build a visit to the rugged highlands into a cycling tour of the island, or pick a base from which to plot their own hiking routes.

I’ve decided to explore by car. From Pájara, I drive through a region of long-dead volcanoes and ancient, weathered lava fields, my windscreen framing a striking panorama of terracotta, russet and beige. Road signs warn of leaping goats, but lichens and euphorbias are the only living things I can see. It’s only when I stop |the car and step out that I really register the subtle power of this strange landscape. There’s an |immense, silent beauty to it.

In the placid valley town of Antigua, I make a discovery: Fuerteventura’s traditional windmills are distinguished by gender. Female windmills – molinas – are one storey high, while male windmills – molinos – are generally two storeys. Built of timber and stone, with canvas sails, their purpose was to grind toasted maize into gofio, the Canarian staple. After goats, windmills are the island’s favourite motif, etched into ceramics and woven into lace.

In the garden of the Molino de Antigua, a well-kept rural museum, there’s a fine example of a 200-year-old molino, restored to full working order. Mentally donning a smock, I climb inside to inhale the woody smell of rustic flour.

By the time I reach Betancuria, a 600-year-old village in the highlands, an afternoon hush has settled. Cradled by ochre-coloured hills, this picturesque jumble of whitewashed houses was once the Fuerteventuran capital. Remembering its grandiose past, the parish church of Santa Maria still calls itself a cathedral and guards a hoard of priceless statues.

Spotting the sign for Casa Señores Saavedra above a worn stone doorway, I duck inside. The bar is small and cool, with whitewashed walls and stone benches. A pair of timples (musical instruments similar to lutes) hang overhead. The owner’s niece mixes me the house special – orange juice with pomelo, lemonade and grenadine – and offers to show me around while lunch is prepared.

Explaining that the house has been in her family since the time of the conquest in the early 1400s, she leads me out to a sun-dappled patio draped with bougainvillea. Little by little, her clan has been restoring the place, taking care to preserve its historic narrative: the original kitchen still has its wood-fired ranges. It’s a delightful discovery in a gem of a village – and my lunch, roasted goat from those ochre-coloured hills, is delicious.

* Molino de Antigua, near Antigua |(00 34 928 878 041). Open Tues-Sat, 10am-6pm. Admission €1.80.

* Casa Señores Saavedra, Betancuria (00 34 928 878 979; princessarminda.com). Open daily, noon-5pm.

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
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
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Service Receptionist / Warranty Administrator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion the Largest Independent Motor...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Holiday Homes - £100,000 OTE

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + £100,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: Birmingham, Derby, L...

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game