Lanzarote is one of the lesser known destinations of the Canary Islands. Drier and more volcanic than its sisters, it became a Unesco biosphere reserve in 1993, which helped preserve its authenticity despite the arrival of European tourism. It’s an unexpected paradise of black lava, white houses and blue ocean, blessed by a cool breeze that keeps temperatures reasonable and mosquitos away.
Famara & La Caleta
The most dramatic and beautiful spot on the island is probably La Caleta de Famara and its long sand beach. A single road leads to this surfer’s paradise, 30 minutes North of Teguise. When reaching the sea, there is the small fishermen’s village of La Caleta to the left and a group of villas built for the European elite to the right. Despite its attempt to stay true to the architectural style of the island, the rigid grid map of the “ubaninisacion Famara” creates a big contrast with the old authentic village of La Caleta with its sand roads, small alleys and crooked houses.
The village looks fragile facing the fierce ocean, hit by its strong wind and in the shade of a dark red mountain. Its 600m high slope looks like a massive wave of volcanic rock about to crash on the land. Despite the mighty elements, there is a sense of serenity and carelessness in the air. Time goes slower on this remote beach than in the rest of the world.
Climbing a volcano
Lanzarote was the theatre of a series of major volcanic eruptions in the late 18th century. The events were related by a priest from Yaiza in his journal. He described the earthquakes, mountains raising from the ground in a few hours, clouds of burning ashes and rivers of melted lava devastating an entire region before he had to flee to another island like the rest of the population. The centre of the eruptions is now the Timanfaya national park. The guided bus tour, camel safari and restaurant cooking meat over a natural well descending towards the center of the earth are major touristic attractions. The view is impressive but tainted by the number of visitors and waiting time.
To get a better look at the geological wonders of the Montanas del Fuego, there is a hiking track outside of the village of Mancha Blanca. It is a 4 hours walk through a field of black lava that leads to a first volcano, Montana Caldereta. Then it’s a steep climb to the largest crater on the island, Caldera Blanca. The view is so extraordinary that it’s easy to imagine that it could be another planet. 300 years after the eruption, life still struggles to claim back this place. The silence is absolute and there is not a soul or manmade construction in sight. The descent circles around the volcano and through the lava again. At the end of the hike, we were left with a mixed feeling of great achievement and humility.
It seems that almost nothing could grow on the dry, volcanic soil except for small potatoes and cacti. But the inhabitants have developed an innovative form of agriculture that allows them to grow grapes and make wine. They built small walls with basalt rocks in semi-circles to protect the crops from the wind and sun. The vines grow on black lava sand that absorbs the humidity in the air and trickles it down to the roots. The process is laborious but the result is worth it. The dry white wines in particular work really well with fresh fish dishes. In the La Geria region, bodegas offer tastings in their cool cellars at very low rates. A little light headed, it started to look like the island is a giant fish with black and green scales.
The island’s most famous inhabitant is Cesar Manrique, a Post-War artist. He made of Lanzarote his largest work of "art total": every round-about has one of his kinetic sculptures and he designed the major touristic spots. His foundation just outside of Tahiche is a wonderful tribute to the island’s landscape and traditional architecture. The house is an organic structure built on and under a lava field with lounges in open ceiling caves, lava flowing inside the house and a swimming pool. We have found our ultimate dream house.
To get in the mood:
Watch: Lanzarote extraterrestrial landscape would be the perfect setting for any science fiction story.
Taste: The mojo verde or mojo rosso.
Read: The Drago Tree by Isobel Blackthorn is a contemporary novel about a love trio. The main character explores the island in search of who she is and what she wants.
Listen: Cheo Feliciano - El Raton