Returning to Lanzarote nearly 40 years after our first visit, turned out to be much more than a trip down memory lane. This Ramblers walking holiday opened my eyes to new landscapes, fascinating history and art, ingenious winemaking, some really ugly places (got to tell it like it is) and some beautiful ones too. So here’s what stayed with me:
1. The vineyards. Each vine grows in it’s own personally dug pit, so why? The pits, complete with little walls, provide shelter from the destructive, dry wind, and though the lava has made the soil very rich, that soil sits sometimes 2m beneath the volcanic fallout. The black ashy grit acts as a mulch, retaining moisture, providing useful minerals and protection. It was ‘winter’ when we visited, so there were few leaves on the vines, but clearly these plants are well tended: at the oldest vineyard on the island, we found this 270 year old vine (pictured below, with Tim, for scale), planted in a natural volcanic fissure. As for the taste….we decided the red wasn’t great, some of the whites were lovely, and the champagne was superb (end results also pictured!)
That anything is cultivated successfully in this environment is a testament to people’s determination and ingenuity. We saw countless small holdings growing vegetables: potatoes, squash and onions, for example, not to mention a very carefully tended and secured avocado plantation.
The vineyards are so unique and other-worldly that they are used for film sets, as we discovered, having our walk diverted one day. It was the filming of the second series of Apple TV’s Foundation sci fi series, which clearly also involved camels and a great deal of smoke. The set security folk were very helpful and courteous, guiding us around the site.
2. The volcanoes. These are pretty young ones, as volcanoes go, but in the Timanfaya national park we learnt alot about how the apparently barren black lava is already teeming with life, first the lichen, then insects quickly follow. The craters were awesome to peer into, and the contrasts of the black jagged lava with the sea was just great for photos. Walking over this lava was a ‘marmite’ walk, some of us loved it, some definitely didn’t, but either way, memorable.
3. The Manrique factor. The island is heavily influenced by just one famous artist, Cesar Manrique whose work and influence pops up everywhere: roundabouts, galleries, churches, houses, tourist viewpoints, whole villages. Manrique’s style was to create in harmony with the natural forms around him, be this in buildings, paintings or sculpture. The houses he created with swimming pools and rooms inside the existing lava bubbles, have smooth curves and a stunning use of highly polished dark wood set in the white painted stone.
You can’t miss his playful ‘wind toys’ appearing on many of the island’s roundabouts, huge sculptures that move around in the wind – and there was always plenty of that!
Manrique was passionate that the island should not be overrun with the concrete hotel monstrosities taking over resorts in other Sanish Islands in the 60’s and 70’s. Fortunately, being close to powers that be at the time, he was able to stop things getting too bad: in many areas advertising hoardings, tall buildings and the like were all banned. The profusion of low rise white buildings with green shutters and doors, are legacy from those days.
4. The contrasts of town, village and resorts. The smaller, rural villages were quiet, pretty, in a ‘undeveloped’ way, all white and green, with some extraordinary vegetable and cactus gardens. The ‘resorts’ ranged from the ugly, concrete, pub filled commercial disaster that is now Puerto del Carmen, to the more attractive, swanky harbour side development of Puerto Calero. If I were to go back, I’d probably choose the tiny seaside village just along the coast: Puerto Quemada.
The capital, Arrecife, where we stayed, was relatively compact, It had the feel of an ordinary working town, struggling a little from a lack of investment, with some familiar signs of closed down shops, But the seafront was immaculately tended, clean, and the old fort and harbour and museums were fine attractions with some fascinating history. And the Yacht club where we had dinner (twice) was a lovely old place, full of seafaring tales and art all around. Here, as everywhere, we were made to feel very welcome.
5. Walking in Lanzarote. The highlights were the volcanic craters and the extraordinary dramatic coastline: black sand, high cliffs, other worldly lava shapes. The views were stunning, and most of the time we had the place to ourselves. Last but not least, our wonderful group of walkers: a brilliantly easygoing group of likeminded people, all out enjoying the freedom of travel again…warm wind in their hair…crashing waves and striding out over the cliffs. For me, a week walking without any trees was quite enough, but I would choose to walk with this group again anytime, they were just great.
Photo credits and thanks to Roz Fentum and Ian Hogg for some of these lovely photos.