A snow-capped peak, a Dragon tree said to be 3,000 years old, a chat with a parrot and a dip in a natural salt water pool – you can do all of these in the space of the same day on the largest of the Canary Islands. From the fun-filled beaches that line the south west coast, to the green valleys strewn with orchids in the north east, there are rare Laurisilva forests rich with jungle-like vegetation, arid volcanic slopes dotted with candelabra cacti and dozens of species of flora and fauna you’ll only find here. Along with this botanical who’s who, traditional fiestas happen around the calendar, restaurants serve up local delicacies doused in red or green mojo sauces, while bars and clubs open round the clock.
Where do the smart people go in winter? For many years, one answer has been the Canary Islands – although they were known to the Romans and Greeks, and Columbus stopped off on his inaugural Atlantic cruise. Where do the really smart people go at any time of year? Same answer, because of the constant pleasantly warm, sub-tropical climate with an average temperature range of only 18-24° C ‘winter’ and ‘summer’. Of the seven main islands, the principal attractions for visitors are Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Fuerteventura, and Lanzarote. Known as the Fortunate Islands to the ancient world, the volcanic origin shows in black lava sand on some beaches and snow-capped peaks overlooking others. If you can drag yourself off those sun-drenched sands, there are lush forests to explore, and whales and dolphins to spot in the clear waters. Eating can be a revelation with a natural geographic fusion of Spanish/African/Latin American. ‘Canary’, a sweet wine, once rivalled Marsala and port, while today you have to try the ‘Honey-Rum’ that’s as good as it sounds.
Closest to Africa, Fuerteventura is the oldest and also the least developed of the Canary Islands. For those seeking to escape the hubbub of busier coasts, the island’s 150 beaches will leave them spoilt for choice. Some feature golden sands, others dark volcanic pebbles. Many are backed with rolling dunes that lead the eye over largely low and rolling hills parched by the sun, but enjoying a climate milder and kinder than its Saharan neighbour. Resort life serves up a host of sporting options – golf and tennis, with surfboards and glass-bottomed boats eager to whisk you out to sea. Inland, sleepy village squares hide artisan workshops while neat little chapels mark time, looking out over a landscape dotted with goats, geckos and windmills.
Sometimes billed as a “continent in miniature”, what Gran Canaria may lack in size, it certainly makes up in variety. Between the bustle of the capital and the buzz of its beach resorts, you’ll find all the ingredients for a perfect holiday. With a mild climate year-round, landscapes that include sandy dunes, banana plantations, lush valleys and slopes that soar to the centre of this circular island, there are also man-made distractions aplenty. Visit Columbus’ house in Las Palmas, browse upmarket marinas and resorts, have the family watching a wild west brawl at Sioux City or feeding time at a crocodile park, or send the kids splashing down the slides at one of several water parks.
Landscapes around Lanzarote transport you to a different universe, one that legend claims was once Atlantis. With its lunar looks – nowhere more evident than in the spectacular Fire Mountains – and beaches than run silver, black and ochre, you might think this was the setting for a science fiction film. Yet it is nature that predominates. Over 300 volcanoes crowd the island, cinders a few inches beneath your feet feel warm to the touch, while digging a channel deeper and pouring a pail of water is all you need to create an instant geyser! Camel trails and towering cacti add to the sense of the exotic, while friendly resorts right along the coast bring you closer to the world we know.