11.27.2019 - 12.03.2019
Continuing with our posts from Sunny Spain to warm all of you up back home, up next Lanzarote. Be sure to check out Time Out in Tenerife and Tenerife & Lanzarote - Amazing in Their Diversity (Part 1), for our take on Tenerife.
Before we get into the stark differences in the landscape, the difference in the "authenticity" is also worth mentioning. Tenerife is the largest and most populated island of the seven Canary Islands with a land area of 785 square miles and 904,713 inhabitants. By comparison, Lanzarote is just 326 square miles with 149,183 inhabitants. Tenerife first started receiving, mainly British, tourists in the late 1800's but tourism really took off in the about the 60's and today close to 5 million tourists visit each year. The development is extensive and geared at European tourists. As a result, much of the authenticity of visiting Spain can only be found in the highland villages.
Lanzarote got a later start and got lucky in its native son, César Manrique. Born on Lanzarote in 1919, he went on to become a famous artist before returning to Lanzarote and starting a crusade to preserve it's traditional building methods, banning roadside billboards, and helping to design visitors centers and tourist attractions in a sensitive way. As a result, developments are smaller, shorter, and more contained solely along the coast, not rising unchecked up the sides of every hill with a view. They are all white, as are the traditional villages, and most incorporate the local architectural features of green or black wood trim, cupolas, and onion-shaped chimney pots.
His sculptures adorn many of the round-abouts.
And he designed, with an architect friend, the important visitor centers, miradors, and the cactus garden.
As a result of his efforts and the adoption of his beliefs by a non-profit that now monitors development, Lanzarote still feels like Spain. It's much easier to get away from the "international" areas (aka British pubs and Chinese restaurants) and see traditional ways of life. And the natural landscape is accessible, protected, and unspoiled. The villages are well maintained and hide beauty around each corner.
Saying Lanzarote is a volcanic island is like saying New York City is a village. There are over 300 volcanoes on Lanzarote! The close up from Google Maps above shows the greatest concentration of them in Timanfaya National Park and the dark, black landscape of the area. The island's volcanoes erupted over six years in the 1730's. Amazingly no one died but whole villages were destroyed and the landscape changed forever. Tour guides say that Lanzarote looks like the moon and when I read that I thought it was just a tease but there is no escaping that the place is otherworldly.
That last shot is of a volcano with a bunch of antennas on top and could easily pass for some kind of sci-fi civilization. There is virtually no naturally occurring vegetation other than a few hardy shrubs in some of the lava fields and tons of different varieties and colors of lichen. The lack of vegetation adds to the sense of being somewhere "other". The closest we could come to thinking of other similar places are some places in Baja and the American Southwest but they really don't compare. We are so glad we decided to come see the island and highly recommend you add it to your list. Rent a car, drive around, be amazed by the colors (these photos are not photoshopped!), and see if you can keep from saying "it's like being on the moon!"
Timanfaya National Park - Montañas del Fuego
The National Park is accessible by a short road to the parking area and restaurant from which the only access into the park is on tour buses. The entire area is so well done and well preserved it is a real gem of sensitive land use. There is no trash, no footsteps, and no ATV tracks disturbing the smooth ash fields. It's as it was the days after it happened. Truly amazing!
Check out this video to ride along on the tour.
The visitor center and restaurant are built above a number of hot-spots. Where else can you get food cooked by a volcano??
Jardín de Cactus de Lanzarote
The Cactus Garden is located in an old quarry that César Manrique re-designed into a garden with 1,000s of different species of cactus, large and small, from all over the world. It is a really beautiful and peaceful place to visit. A word on visiting these sights. There is pass available for discounted admission to the six most popular sights that is a bargain and available to purchase at whichever you visit first.
The garden is surrounded by fields of Opuntia cactus that are grown to support Cochineal, a scale insect used to produce a red dye by the same name. With the advent of synthetic dyes, production dropped significantly but it is making a comeback as the desire for natural products grows.
Agriculture and Wineries
One of the most striking aspects of the landscape is that almost everything is black, volcanic black. Homes and other structures are made from the black rock but most strikingly the "soil" is volcanic ash that retains both heat and moisture. Depending how hot the ground is underneath, they add depth to the ash to insulate and achieve the right growing temperatures - anywhere from one to six meters. In addition, they build retaining walls to protect the plants from the strong winds that whip across the island with nothing in their path otherwise. The traditional method was semi-circular walls that produce sunken growing beds but many have been straightened now for ease of harvest. It makes the landscape into the most incredible patterns and everywhere you see them they remind you of the incredible resilience of the islanders.
Lanzarote is known for the white Malvasia grape grown here. Although there is a red they cultivate as well and from which they make a rosado, the white is the best. People especially like the sweet Malvasias but the dry, which we prefer, is quite good. There are dozens of wineries so, of course, we had to patronize a few. The best among them, in our opinion, although it actually didn't have the best wine, was El Grifo. They are the oldest winery on the island dating from the early 1700's after the eruptions and the 10th oldest in Spain. They have lovely grounds, their own cactus garden, and a really well done museum. We did a sampling of their wines and, again, we'd stick to the whites.
Our favorite wine and a spectacular view can be found at La Geria. Set on the edge of the open fields and plains below Timanfaya, it should not be missed.
The black ash is also used everywhere instead of turf or gravel, around housing, restaurants, just everywhere.
The Malpaís de la Corona (Badlands of the Crown)
The far northern tip of the island is dominated by the results of the eruption of the Volcán de la Corona. An area of desolate lava fields, it is home to cliffs and caves. Notice he hardy shrubs and lichens.
In this area, north of the town of Yé, the Mirador del Rio (again built by Manrique) is an astonishing overlook off the cliffs. Built of lava rock and set into the cliffs, you'd hardly be able to pick it out as a manmade structure. The views of the cliffs and Isla Graciosa are amazing!
Also in this area are two caves, Cueva de los Verdes and Jameos del Agua. Cueva de los Verdes is an eight kilometer lava tunnel of which the first kilometer is open to the public. It's an amazing place and definitely worth a visit. I will pass on this information from the public website and highly recommend you DO NOT read much before you go.
We recommend you stay close to the tour guide during your visit in order to be able to listen to the characteristics, peculiarities, and secrets of Cueva de los Verdes. It is better if you do not look up too much information prior to your visit, let yourself be surprised.
Suffice it to say there is an AMAZING surprise in store for you inside the cave!
Jameos del Agua is a large cavern converted into a restaurant and pool with a few rooms (closed for renovation while we were there). It's claim to fame is the small albino blind crabs that live in the pool inside the cave. If you have time, it's fine to see and on your pass but don't go out of your way for it. DO you out of your way for Lanzarote!
It's been an amazing summer and fall! Since May 1st we've been in:
- Malaga, Cadiz, and Jerez, Spain
- Montpellier, France
- Sintra, Lisbon, and Porto, Portugal
- Split, Croatia
- Larnaca and Paphos, Cyprus
- and, Tenerife and Lanzarote, Spain!
We have seen so much, done so much, and learned so much. Tomorrow we head back to the DMV to celebrate our anniversary with our friends at the Scottish Walk in Alexandria and Morgan and Courtney's graduations. Then we go on to Colorado to celebrate Christmas with Marcy's family. It's going to be COLD but it's also going to be nice to see everyone! And then it's Vietnam! Stay tuned for more of Arrradventures and Happy Holidays to you all.