Family Traveller Magazine editor, Katie Bowman, has an enduring passion for Lanzarote. She’s travelled the world and yet it’s this little Canary Island that keeps calling her back. Here’s why.
What’s the question I’m most asked as a travel editor? Well the toughie I’m asked at every dinner party, hairdressers, even at school parents’ evening is, ‘Where do you go on your own holiday?’
My answer isn’t one anybody expects. It often raises eyebrows or provokes a disappointed, ‘Oh. Really?’ Because the trip I’ve taken almost annually for 20 years, with and without children, is to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.
I’m secretly pleased by people’s reaction, because it means they’ve never visited themselves. Probably because they’ve heard of ‘Lanza-grotty’s’ bad reputation and avoided the island. Which is fine, because it leaves more room for me and my family to spread out on Lanzarote’s spectacular golden-sand beaches. And means a much better chance of bagging a waterfront table from where to savour giant langoustines and a bottle of local dry white.
Lanzarote is not the Canary Island you imagine
You see, that package holiday, skyscrapers-on-sea status that Lanzarote has, is completely unfair. The island was simply lumped together with a handful of other Canaries, when development boomed in the 1960s and 70s, blighting them with multi-storey hotels and wall-to-wall Tesco Metro.
In fact, Lanzarote’s skyline is low-key and stylish, thanks to the vision of César Manrique, a local-born artist, architect and contemporary of Andy Warhol.
Legend has it, Manrique saw what was happening to the other Canary Islands and rushed home from New York in order to warn town planners. They worked together and set out clever building guidelines for Lanzarote. For example, no new buildings should be higher than a palm tree. Houses had to be whitewashed. And all shutters were painted either blue, green or brown, depending on whether they faced the sea, the trees or the mountains.
Spend some time in the wonderful world of César Manrique
You’ll spot Manrique’s extraordinary wind sculptures dotted around the island, on a roundabout here, at traffic lights there. The whole island is, in fact, a fabulous living, breathing art gallery. And its residents – often artists themselves – would like to keep it that way.
One perfect example is Jameos del Agua, a brilliant day out for kids and grown-ups. These underground lava caves sat abandoned until Manrique transformed the magical subterranean network into an auditorium, restaurant and gardens set around a spellbinding emerald-green lake. Now you can hear live music in, surely, Europe’s coolest concert space. Or you can let the kids run wild with your camera taking shots from weird and wacky angles.
Then there’s Manrique’s cactus garden, once a quarry, and now a riot of spiky yucca plants, lofty saguaro cactus, palms and outdoor stone sculptures crafted by the man himself.
I love to take my daughter to Lagomar, a kitsch but cool house that has been turned into a cafe and gallery. Apparently, Manrique designed the space for the actor Omar Sharif, who’d fallen in love with Lanzarote after shooting a film there. However, card-fiend that he was, Sharif lost the house in a game of bridge, before ever living in it, or so the story goes…
Lanzarote has blue skies and sun 300 days a year
But, of course, the real reason I return to Lanzarote almost every year, isn’t its art scene, it’s the fabulous weather. I’ve visited in almost every month of the year and can vouch that this Spanish island’s position, just off the Saharan coast of North Africa, even makes it a winter-sun banker.
Families will also be happy to hear beaches are sandy rather than volcanic or rocky. There is wind for surfing, but it only affects the blustery and beautiful northwest. If you want surf schools for kids seek them out around Famara.
Take your pick of sensationally beautiful beaches
My favourite beaches are at Papagayo, within the Los Ajaches National Park. This protected coastal reserve levies an entrance fee of a few euros. Turns out that’s enough to deter quite a few people so the sands are most often blissfully crowd-free.
You have to drive a long dirt track to reach these beaches, although they’re worth every jump and jolt. And if you want facilities and frills, these aren’t the ones for you. However, Playa del Papagayo itself does have a pretty clifftop café and public loos. It’s the most famous of the park’s seven beaches a good choice with younger kids.
For bells and whistles beaches, when you want ice cream on tap, and a gin tonica to hand, you should make for Playa Blanca. Lanzarote has three resort towns, and Playa Blanca is the most serene and upmarket of them. Fish restaurants line its classic promenade and beach clubs fill the sands. But head eastward, all the way to Marina Rubicón, and you’ll find things a little quieter.
Lanzarote adds carnival spirit to the Canaries
Looking for a kid-friendly day trip? Make for the Sunday market in Teguise, Lanzarote’s lovely ancient capital. Children can spend euros on Spanish football shirts and fridge magnets, but there are also gorgeous boutiques in the back streets. Here artisans sell leather handbags and hand-crafted jewellery. In fact I treasure an oil painting made on a piece of old boat board, bought in Teguise years ago but which still makes me smile every time I wander downstairs.
Unlike the Balearics, the Canaries have a strong Latin American influence. Christopher Columbus started the close relationship between the islands and Venezuela, as well as Cuba and Hispaniola, when he hired sailors as he travelled back and forth. As a result Lanzarote is an island where you can eat excellent tapas, but also churrasco steaks. You’ll see flamenco performed in the streets, but you’ll also witness salsa and tango. In fact, the island’s February Carnival is one of the rowdiest outside South America.
Speaking of food, Lanzarote has that perfect balance of unusual dishes, that kids just happen to love, so you don’t have to reach automatically for the kids’ menu. My daughter’s favourite is papas arugadas or wrinkly potatoes: tiny skin-on roasties that are smothered in island salt. Or there’s ropa vieja, ‘old clothes’. This slow-cooked stew of leftover beef from the day before is so melt-in-the-mouth kids won’t even notice the vegetables.
Don’t miss El Golfo and its twisting road through volcanic rock
But the one trip we never miss is El Golfo. Funnily enough, we skip the main attraction here. It’s a neon-green mineral lake that looks like something from vintage Dr Who, but we’ve seen it many times before. What we visit for these days is the drive along the twisting road that carves through giant black, volcanic rock, revealing glimpses of the ocean every so often.
If you pull over in a layby, you’ll likely be sprayed by the waves, it’s that turbulent and forceful (keep little ones away from the edge). Then, on arrival in El Golfo, there’s a clutch of astoundingly good fish restaurants congregating here, presumably to feed the lake day-trippers. We go for late lunch, avoiding the hordes, and let the afternoon disappear as plates of jamon Iberico, croquetas and grilled sea bream come and go…
Have I convinced you yet? Have you fallen for Lanzarote as I did the first time, 19 years ago? Part of me hopes so, part of me not. If you do make it to the island and find yourself smitten, let us know. But beyond that, keep it to yourself, will you?
Planning your family holiday in Lanzarote
Lanzarote is the furthest east of the Canary Islands, sits off the coast of North Africa and enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year.
How to get here
Direct daily UK flights to Lanzarote year round take from 4 hours, 30 minutes.
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