Easy holiday bliss in The Canary Islands

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Pastel-hued houses in Las Palmas

As a child of the 1970s, I didn’t have many holidays abroad. We were quite content with a couple of weeks in Swanage. But we did have a couple of trips to Spain. In fact, the last holiday I went on with my mum and dad and brother was to Gran Canaria, our current destination. I had never been anywhere as exotic (or hot) before, and I remember to this day the excitement I felt.

This time there would be no dad (he has to look after the dog) or brother (now lives in Australia). Just me and Mum with my children, Annie, 10, and Edward, eight, in tow, and they were as excited as I was. We had left mainland Europe shivering, but we were heading for the sunshine. With temperatures hovering  around the mid-20s during the Easter holidays, just a four-hour flight away, and in the same time zone, meaning no jet-lagged children, we knew we were onto a winner.

Off the plane and onto the coach, we headed south, and soon began to understand why the island is sometimes referred to as a ‘miniature continent’, because of the diverse nature of its habitats and landscape. We passed through mountains, ravines and heard from our guide that the volcanos are still active – although the last time they erupted was 3,500 years ago, so we should be safe… We soon arrived at our destination, the small bay of Playa del Cura, which is thankfully quiet and peaceful, free from the parties of Playa Del Inglés a few miles east.

Our home for the next week would be the Ocean Beach Club, a small slice of Scandinavia in the sunshine. It has only just been opened up to British families, but has long been a favourite of our Nordic neighbours. Very stylish and newly refurbished, the resort is situated slap bang on top of the beach.


Ed in action on the beach football pitch

The whole resort is pristine, with whitewashed low-level suites and miniature houses. The centre of activity is definitely the pool, huge but never crowded, and ‘awesome’ according to Ed, with a bar attached where the children can order ice cream to their hearts’ content (or at least until their mother catches up with them) –this place is all-inclusive. The best spot to be had is one of the swim-up rooms that run nearly the length of the resort – you can literally roll out of bed and into the water. It was at dinner in the hotel restaurant that it clicked: was there a big group discount on offer?

No, the Scandinavians visiting here liked to travel in large family groups. There were grandparents, aunties, uncles and lots and lots of children. We counted 15 on one table – they seem to have the right idea about relaxing, the more people together the easier and more enjoyable this whole holiday thing is. This was the secret of a great holiday, bring lots and lots of babysitters and you might just be able to stick those tired feet up. We fitted right in with our three-generation table for dinner.

Flower-decked homes in Puerto de Mogán

After a couple of days of well-earned rest by the pool, swimming and table tennis, we started to get itchy feet, and decided to discover what the island had to offer. We headed on the local bus to Puerto de Mogán for the weekly market. It stretches through the town and all theway along the harbour wall, and it seemed like half the island had turned out for the occasion. Being so near to Africa, there was plenty of leatherwear and crafts to be had,along with local aloe vera and, for the more adventurous, cactus juice. No, my children could not be persuaded to give it a go.

The next day, there was a huge treat in store – a trip to Aqualand. It was Annie’s 10th birthday and, on her request, we were to spend the whole day in water. We hired a car and whizzed down the motorway, a mere 30-minute drive from our hotel (OK, an hour – note to self: turn the sat nav on!) It was a good old-fashioned day out. More rides than you can shake a stick at, even if the park has seen better days. But with a lick of paint and the new Anaconda ride opening shortly, and all for not much more than £60, it was value for money.

We wished we’d bought beach socks, though, as the floor got incredibly hot in between rides. And we kicked ourselves when we noticed on our way out they were for sale in the shop. Our next trip brought us back to Puerto de Mogán, but an altogether different side of it. This time, we visited the old port area, known as ‘the Venice of Gran Canaria’. It was stunning, with its little sandy beach, dozens of fish restaurants, yachts and bougainvillea and coconut palm trees in abundance. It’s easy to lose a couple of hours strolling through the narrow streets and taking in the atmosphere.

Then, it was onwards to the Yellow Submarine in the harbour, a 45-minute sea adventure, it is a real working submarine where you descend to more than 20m below the surface. My mum and Annie were both apprehensive about feeling claustrophobic when they got inside, but the portholes were huge, and as soon as they catch sight of the sealife, all worries were forgotten. We saw plenty of fish, who seemed as inquisitive about us as we were about them. A host of parrotfish and two shipwrecks followed, and before we knew it, we reemerged and were back on dry land.

On the rocks at the hotel beach

All smiles outside a pretty doorway in Puerto De Mogán

Book a swim-up room for a splash-tastic time

After all this excitement, it was easy to slip back into the easy life of eating, drinking and swimming. This is not a resort if you want non-stop entertainment. While there is plenty on offer to keep the children entertained, there are no big shows or bands, and there is definitely a more laid-back vibe here than at some other family resorts. The highlight for Ed was the complimentary beach football, kicking up the dusty sand on the beach, rocks for sidelines. After a frantic match (and two shots on target), he was well and truly ready for a shower. For Annie, it wasa toss-up between the quiz and the water aerobics, which we did together. We missed out on the family yoga, but promised that if we were to return we would do it next time.

Our holiday was fast coming to an end, and we wanted to make the most of our last day, so a trip to the capital, Las Palmas, seemed to a perfect send-off. We’d read about the old town area of Vegueta, originally a military fort and an important stopping-off point for merchant ships, and wanted to check it out. Vegueta’s most famous visitor was Christopher Columbus, and his name is celebrated in those of the streets and plazas, and at the Casa de Colón museum.

Don’t skimp on time here, you can easily spend a couple of hours discovering the story of his voyages, and there is plenty to see – plus, it’s a welcome break from the midday sun. The cathedral was stunning, though I think it impressed me and my mum more than the children. One place we all enjoyed was the CAAM, The Atlantic Center of Modern Art. It’s free to enter and a great open space to view the art – the kids happily meandered around for an hour, wondering what it all meant.

We spend our last morning relaxing on the loungers, making the most of the Gran Canarian heat, with the children happily splashing away in the pool. Then it was time to leave. To the sound of groans and ‘It’s not fair!’ my mum got them dry and dressed for the journey home. ‘We can’t be going now, we’ve only just got here,’ chimed Ed. My thoughts entirely.

Checking out the leather goods at the weekly market

The lowdown: Gran Canaria

How to do it
Thomas Cook offers seven nights in Gran Canaria, Spain, from £829pp, based on two adults and two children sharing at the four-star Ocean Beach Club by Sunwing on an all-inclusive basis, flying from London Gatwick on 24 May 2018. This price includes 20kg luggage allowance, return transfers and rep service.

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