Not So Grotty

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A guide to Lanzarote, beyond the beaches and thronging nightlife.

Not So Grotty

The Canary Islands are well known for their year-round wonderful climate, gorgeous beaches and seductive nightlife. Lanzarote is no exception. Its miles of fine volcanic sand, sultry African climate and strong cooling Atlantic breezes; make the island a beach bum’s Babylon. Famous as an ideal winter sun destination for the young at heart, nevertheless the quieter winter months are the best time to appreciate some of the island’s lesser known aspects.

Lanzarote is certainly an island of outstanding beauty, both artistic and natural and the genius of Cesar Manrique can be seen everywhere. Manrique returned to the place of his birth in 1968 after training to be an artist in Paris, a contemporary of Pablo Picasso. On return he was commissioned by the islands authorities to ‘design’ Lanzarote, and set about constructing a whole series of artistic features, using the natural materials and landscapes of the island.

As soon as you leave the island’s capital, Arrecife, you are confronted by one of the many Manrique mobiles dotted around the island. This first one is an imposing tower of metallic cogs, wheels and shafts; that spin and bob like some insane Dali-inspired windmill. Another of Manrique’s sculptures stands before the Jardin de Cactus (Cactus Garden). The oversized metallic cactus stands like a spiked sentry dwarfing the vehicles in the car park. The cactus garden is a masterpiece of landscaping; pools of blue water are set among the groves of cacti contrasting the succulent greens, browns and whites of the exotic flora. The sheer variety of plants impresses; tall chunky giants stand beside spiky green footballs, whilst others sprawl out across the ground like huge spiny spiders. The rows of cacti are set out symmetrically and offer a distracting view from the terrace of the garden restaurant.

Manrique’s vision is manifested in his moulding of the natural landscape, evident at the Jameos del Agua. Set in a partially collapsed underground volcanic channel. The artist transformed the tunnel into an open roofed chamber, in which sits a subterranean lake, fringed by rocks and plants and home to crabs and birds. There is a huge auditorium in an adjoining chamber which provides perfect acoustics for the orchestra nights sometimes held there.

Arguably the most impressive of Manrique’s creations is the house in which he lived until his death. Now one of the biggest tourist attractions the artist’s individual style even extended to his immediate surroundings. Fundacion Cesar Manrique is an inspired piece of architecture, housing a wonderful art collection, including works by Tapies, Picasso and Manrique himself. The house is built upon a series of volcanic holes, each of which has been transformed into a room and assigned its own theme and colour.

Perhaps even more striking are Lanzarote’s many natural beauty spots. The tortured peaks of Timanfaya, the largest volcano on the island, can be reached via a short drive into the mountains. Thirty minute trips around the volcano take you on a winding journey through the lava encrusted peaks, blow holes and bizarre dunes of red, black and gold sand dotted with strange succulents.

To the northern end of the island buried under more lava scorched plains lie the Cueva de las Verdes, a cavernous volcanic fissure which can be explored in the company of a local guide. The walk takes between thirty minutes and an hour; at some points the roof ducks low and the walls narrow before opening out into a grand space large enough to several dozen people. As you pass through the claustrophobic passages the guide recounts stories of how hundreds of villagers once hid in the deep caves to escape the slave traders that once plagued the island. The cave is lit to great effect, using subtly coloured lamps, enhancing the eerie grotto-like quality. The cave tour ends with a cunning optical illusion.

The spectacular lagoon at El Golfo is certainly worth the climb over the headland. From the overlooking isthmus, the lagoon contrasts with the surrounding black cliffs and ash grey sand, that stretches down to the ocean. The town itself is charming, a traditional fishing village still relatively untouched by the onslaught of mass tourism. After the climb you can take refreshments at the nearby café terrace which offers beautiful views of the cliffs and out to sea.

With such an array of delights Lanzarote is the perfect way to escape the frantic festive preparation or recover from over indulgence. Sublime during the quieter winter months but still popular enough to ensure that every restaurant, bar and hotel stays open. If you’re not energetic enough to hurtle round the island, attempting to see everything in a week (some feat), even in winter you can sit on the beach or balcony and enjoy chilled sangria or a few bottles of San Miguel, muy bien.

Prices for a weeks holiday flying from Gatwick between Jan-Feb range from £200-£280 (late availability) per person on a room only basis travelling with Airtours 0870 238 7788 or via . Car hire from £56 for 3 day hire through Mytravel.