Volcanic parks, black sand beaches and mad artists. Lanzarote expert, Nick Ball, takes us on a tour to the less-well trodden corners of the Island of Fire.
The small Canary Island of Lanzarote is best known as a sunshine holiday destination, thanks to its privileged position just seventy miles off the coast of West Africa. This location creates a clement year-round climate that is often likened to an eternal spring, and temperatures rarely fall below 20 Celsius even in the depths of winter.
As a result, the island has long been a hot favourite with tourists from across Europe. attracting around 1.5 million visitors every year. But Lanzarote has much more to offer than just great weather alone; the island boasts breathtaking volcanic terrain, a host of natural beauty spots and a raft of unique man made attractions.
Lanzarote’s Unsettled Past
During the 1730s, Lanzarote was rocked by a series of cataclysmic volcanic eruptions devastating the most fertile agricultural land on the island, destroying thirteen villages and forcing many Lanzaroteños to flee for a new life abroad.
These eruptions totally altered the geography of the island, increasing the land mass of Lanzarote by around one quarter whilst carpeting large swathes of the island in lava and creating more than three hundred new volcanic peaks in their wake.
Today this volcanic terrain is Lanzarote´s most popular attraction. One million tourists a year visit the Timanfaya Volcano Park, which lies at the epicentre of these eruptions. Here visitors can view the raw and eerie scenery and mile after mile of twisted lava shapes up close. It’s terrain that really is out of this world and is often likened to the surface of the moon.
The Fight Against Overdevelopment
Fast forward to the 1960s and Lanzarote faced another type of threat. Package tourism was just starting to take off in Spain under the aegis of General Franco – and property developers eyed the island hungrily. High-rise hotels were already swallowing up large tracts of land in southern Spain and on other Canary Islands such as Tenerife and Gran Canaria.
César Manrique, an island born artist and architect, was aware of the threat that untrammelled development posed for his beloved Lanzarote. So he abandoned his work in New York where he had been exhibiting and rubbing shoulders with contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and returned to Lanzarote to fight for a more sustainable approach to tourism.
The Manrique family had friends in high places – in the form of the island governor Pepin Ramirez. Together they successfully secured an outright ban on all high rise buildings; advertising hoardings were outlawed and Lanzaroteños were encouraged to preserve the island’s traditional architectural styles.
As a result, Lanzarote today appears much as nature intended. With the three main resorts of Puerto del Carmen, Playa Blanca and Costa Teguise all well contained.
Lanzarote’s Environmental Attractions
Manrique also sought to create environmentally friendly tourist attractions as an alternative to the golf courses and water parks that were being constructed in most other Spanish sunspots, by fusing Lanzarote´s unique volcanic terrain with his own artistic aesthetic.
This first expression of this philosophy was the creation of the Jameos del Agua in the north of the island. Where Manrique transformed a collapsed volcanic lava tube into an underground auditorium. Replete with bars, beautifully landscaped gardens and a stunning swimming pool reserved for the sole use of the King of Spain.
His work immediately garnered architectural plaudits and international attention, placing Lanzarote on the map as a unique new tourist destination and attracting VIPs and famous actors such as Peter Sellers, Omar Sharif and Rita Heyworth.
Manrique went on to create a further six tourist sites around the island – all of which encapsulated his desire to fuse artwith nature. His work has paid off; in 1994, two years after his death, Lanzarote was declared a UNESCO biosphere, the first island in the world to enjoy this status.
Lanzarote’s Top 5 Attractions
Timanfaya Volcano Park
Visiting Lanzarote without taking in the volcano park would be like holidaying in Egypt and giving the pyramids a miss. Top of any itinerary.
Valley of 1000 Palms
Head for the verdant Valley of 1000 Palms in the north of the island for a lush contrast to the arid volcanic scenery of the south. Tradition has it that locals plant one palm tree for every new born girl and two for every boy.
Step back in time and visit the island’s historic former capital of Teguise. Home to the finest selection of colonial architecture on Lanzarote and the oldest building in the Canaries – the Palacio Marques, it dates back to 1455.
Mirador del Rio
Enjoy a natural high at the Mirador del Rio, a former gun battery transformed into a stunning lookout point by César Manrique. Perched some 500 metres high on the Famara massif mountain range, with incredible views down to the neighbouring island of La Graciosa.
César Manrique Foundation
The former home of the island’s favourite son never fails to blow visitors away. Built into five underground volcanic bubbles, it houses many of the artist’s major works, alongside originals from luminaries such as Picasso.
For more in depth Lanzarote tourist information visit lanzaroteguidebook.com to download a free copy of the spring edition of Lanzarote Guidebook, the comprehensive, 96 page holiday guide to the Island of Fire. Pictures by James Mitchell.