Lanzarote is quite unique amongst Spain’s Canary Islands. For a start, its low, arid terrain of volcanic cones of varying ruddy hues gives it a very different appearance from the other islands.
The once volatile landscape isn’t the only reason the island is unique. Its approach to tourism differs as well. On Lanzarote you won’t find any of the towering hotels that blight some of the main tourist resorts of the Canary Island neighbours Gran Canaria and Tenerife. Instead, Lanzarote’s tourist centres and towns are low-rise with buildings that are often blindingly white with appealing green or blue wooden door and window frames. If anything, the island’s towns, especially the capital Arrecife, have more of a North African character than a Spanish one.
The reason for this is all thanks to one man, César Manrique.
Manrique was a man of many talents – artist, architect and a visionary environmental champion.
It was his passionate protestations during the birth of mass tourism on the islands in the late 1960s that prevented developers from ravaging the land in a bid to create more and more accommodation for visitors.
His stubborn determination resulted in a legacy that remains to this day. Lanzarote is an immensely popular holiday destination but, thanks to Manrique’s efforts, it is one that has maintained a respect for the environment.
To fully appreciate César Manrique’s Lanzarote, it’s best to visit with his spirit in mind and explore the island in a way that would have fitted his ideology.
Where to Rest the Head
Finca de Arrieta—next to a small fishing village that shares its name—is an eco-retreat covering 30,000 square metres that draws its energy from solar panels and wind turbines. A far cry from the soulless cheap hotels found in other holiday destinations, accommodation here is either in sumptuously decorated Mongolian yurts or quaint cottages.
A nice touch is that the finca’s owners can arrange for a ‘farmer box’ of Lanzarote goodies to be delivered for new arrivals. As well as being a tasty introduction to the area’s wines, cheese, herbs and vegetables, these are purchased directly from small producers, thereby injecting money straight into the local economy.
Exploring on Foot
Lanzarote doesn’t boast the dramatic mountains and plunging ravines of some other Canary Islands. The upside of this is that its hiking trails are that bit more accessible to a wider range of people.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t scenic pay-offs. Routes through Timanfaya National Park take in a vast volcanic world used in many a sci-fi movie, including an evocative stop-off in the centre of a, thankfully, dormant cone. Alternatively, a trek from wild and wonderful Famara beach to Mirador del Rio (a Manrique creation) reveals stunning views across the ‘Rio’ to the desert island paradise of La Graciosa.
Hitting the Road
As the island isn’t heavily populated, there aren’t too many cars on the roads, making for a cycling scene that attracts both novices and professionals. The area around La Santa is tranquil, beautiful and suited to people who are seriously into their sports. Just a cycle ride away, Costa Teguise on the opposite coast offers leisurely coastal trails through small fishing hamlets mixed with the trappings of a more conventional resort.
It would be an ecological crime to visit Lanzarote without taking in some of the architectural flights of fancy created by its eco champion. Now a museum, Manrique’s Taro de Tahiche home is set in volcanic bubbles. The blissful serenity of the underground lake at Jameos de Agua and the natural whimsical creations in the Jardín de Cactus in Guatiza are all wildly imaginative memorials to a man who respected his environment above all else.
Jack Montgomery is a travel writer/blogger currently living in a banana plantation in the Canary Islands who specialises in writing about hiking, gastronomy and local culture. Photo by luc.viatour