This is my second visit to the Canary Islands. The first time was a solo surf trip to Lanzarote a couple of years back. But this time, with my man in tow, we head for Gran Canaria. What made us chose this island in particular, and which really set it apart from the rest, came down to 2 things:
SAND DUNES – Gran Canaria has an awesome stretch of huge sand dune formations in the south of the Island near the resort of Maspalomas. We made sure we were based closeby for ease of access, as more than one visit might be necessary. The dunes can be accessed 3 ways: 1) via Playa del Ingles beach – a touristy, resort to the east side 2) via Meloneras beach, a slightly more sophisticated resort to the west of the dunes, and 3) via the magnificent Hotel Riu Palace. This 3rd option involves less of a trek if you simply want to view the vast curves of sand from the safety of the street. But if you want to get in there and really experience the dunes, its also a good starting point. Firstly, make sure you have shoes on and not sandals. The sand is HOT HOT HOT. Trekking along the dunes involves a fair bit of effort as the sand shifts away from under your feet as you walk. Its almost like being in the desert, until reaching the peak of a dune, you can see the line of blue sea on the horizon. Aside from the beautiful scenery, we got a decent amount of exercise to boot. The photo below was taken on the return trip as the sun was going down. We took some time to sit atop a dune, eyes closed in meditation, absorbing the warmth of the sand and listening to the distant sounds of other dune-goers having fun sliding down the dunes and sculpting their names using nearby rocks.
Upon reaching the beach, we found a little oasis of a shack serving very tasty, cool sangria. They make it different in Gran Canaria. Its not just red wine and lemonade / OJ and sliced fruit. Here, it’s a much more complex mix of flavours, including Brandy, Banana Liqueur and I even think the bar tender poured in some Rum, or was it Triple Sec?! Either way, it was just what the doctor ordered and I felt refreshed and ready to walk along the VERY long stretch of flat sand to find a place to fill our hungry bellies in Meloneras.
TREKKING is the other reason this Island stood out. I always google images before going, just to make sure there are some outstanding spots for a romantic moment with a view. Gran Canaria has some very accessible trekking routes which make excellent day trips. Car hire is pretty much necessary if you want to walk solo (as we did), otherwise there are plenty tour groups – a fair few of which are German run, being as this is a very popular destination for German holiday-makers. Hiring the car with Avis was pretty straightforward. Driving on the other side of the road is something I haven’t done for a while, so I felt a little nervous, but bit the bullet and went for it. Pulling out of the small car park and onto a dual carriageway instantly made my palms sweaty.
We don’t have a SatNav, but Maps.me is a perfect substitute. We downloaded the Gran Canaria map before leaving and now don’t even need an internet connection to use it to get around. First up we visit the cactus gardens located up in the mountains. After leaving the car in the only shady spot in the empty car park, we are greeted by a family of ducklings and a kitten at the entrance. It’s already lunchtime so we grab a meal at the very sparse looking outdoor cafe. The owner tells my partner how lucky he is to be with the most beautiful woman in the world before handing us some thick crimson coloured cactus juice. Very delicious… an unusual sweet flavour accented with crunchy pips. We sit in the baking heat and sip our juice while a Spanish voice croons an old sounding song on the radio and some chickens and a donkey wander the nearby pathway. The Canarian salad I ordered (much like a Niscoise) is absolutely delicious, juicy and huge! I ordered fish for main but receive chicken… it’s good so I just eat it. Dessert seems to be an obligatory part of the meal here and even after protesting no thanks, the chef enthusiastically hands us fruit covered in chocolate sauce – we can hardly say no! After eating, we pick our way through the assortment of Dragon trees, palm trees and cacti which bobble the landscape like yellow fluff on an old grey jumper. The path isn’t clear and we end up a little lost, but find our way back to the car without too much trouble. I would say an hour is plenty for wandering around the gardens.
Back in the car… Nobody told me the roads would be thin, winding and steep… of course if you want to get up into the mountains for a trek, its always going to be that way. Every barrier-less corner was a stomach-lurching, heart pumping moment… half imagining pressing the accelerator instead of the break by accident, and plummeting over the edge, half worrying about colliding with oncoming traffic from the blind, hairpin corners (and this is why its good to go fully comp so you have less worry about scratches and accidents). One hair-raising hour later, we reach the beginning of the trail.
Breathing a sigh of relief, we begin trekking up the stony path through lush pine forest. Within less than an hour, we are met with incredible breath-taking views, the likes of which I had not entirely expected. The google images I found certainly didn’t do this place justice! The routes are well signposted so it would be hard to get lost. We found our way to the top of Roque Nublo, where quite a few other visitors were gathered, some precariously venturing out further onto a lone rock formation, which, if the wind blew too hard… they’d be in trouble!
We sit and enjoy the scenery for some time, soaking up the beautiful late afternoon hues of blues and greens, reaching all the way down to the coast. From here we can see all the way to Tenerife. After a long silent break form walking, we continue onto another path. This path is ours alone, nobody else seems to have come this way. The scenery is just as beautiful, with more flora decorating either side of the path. The fresh pine scent of the forest is invigorating. Its promising to be a spectacular sunset, but we want to get back before the roads get dark.
Dinner tonight is at the highly-rated La Palmera Sur. They are fully booked, but luckily there is a small outside table just right for 2. The waitress advises us to order 2-3 dishes each and share them. We start with some gorgeous cocktails, and before our food comes out, we are presented with 4 types of warm, artisan rolls and 4 flavoursome tapenades to go with them. Each dish comes out separately, as they expect you to share each one and then they bring out the next. My aubergine crisps go down well, they are crunchy-sweet with honey and toasted sesame, although too sweet for me to eat a whole batch. Next we have a beef tenderloin, which is soft, succulent and beautifully presented. Next a fruity strawberry, smokey cheese and toasted pancetta salad, which again is a little on the sweet side for me. The service is slow here, partly because of how busy it is and partly because that’s the general pace of life here.
BEACHES – there are plenty of beaches to choose from in the south, all with the typical sun-lounger set up. But since we have the car, it would be silly not to use it to go right to the other end of the island to visit the northern beaches of Aegate and Canteras. And with the boyfriend navigating, what can go wrong? Its roughly 40 minutes on the fast motorway all the way up to the north side. We pass the main town of Las Palmas, where the clouds are hanging tough and I begin to worry if we should have stayed down south. We exit the motorway and glimpses of sunshine light up the distant row of crumpled cliff-faces. A couple more turns, and things start to look a bit industrial and like there might just be nothing here at all. As we drive on, it definately looks like we have taken a wrong turning, but the boyfriend reassures me this is the right way. Within another 20 minutes, we find ourselves at a scrappy little patch of beach with some lop-sided houses which might just fall down at any moment. Oh dear. The disappointment! Turning back, we drive a little further down the coast and are greeted with those big rugged cliffs. If we can find a beach with those cliffs in view, that will do very nicely. We park up in a huge shipping car park and wander the very small town. We come across a very small patch of pebble beach called Las Nieves, which I’m sure translates as ‘the snows’ although I bet this beach has never known snow in the entire history of its existence. The beach is empty and the waters cool and calm. Perfect for a swim. The beaches in the south are fairly choppy, and although it’s fun frolicking in the white waters, it’s dangerous to swim in. I swim out toward those cliffs, now up close, sheltering us from the winds. Not too far out, past the pier, I spot a huge ship, which slightly ruins the scenery… As it sounds its horn, I turn around and swim back. The big pebbles on this beach aren’t the most comfortable, but if you arrange them in just the right way, it can work. There’s only one other couple here, so the beach is practically ours.
After the long drive and swimming, we decide to hit the row of restaurants along the marina. We pick a place called Diosa Del Mar. Lunch consists of a very hearty traditional dish called ‘Ropa Vieja’ which translates as ‘old clothes’. It’s a juicy chickpea stew with slow-cooked meat. The chef recommends his version with octopus and we agree. The dish is tender, full of flavour, and very filling. We decide to skip dessert in favour of an ice lolly from the nearby shop. I have found my favourite ice lolly. Its in the shape of a triangular slice of watermelon, but not only that, its a sorbet rather than dairy, and made of actual watermelon! Its a shame we don’t get these in the UK! It melts quickly, so I have to wolf it down before it ends up on the floor.
Next up is Las Palmas, heaving with traffic, and still cloudy, we find a spot along a busy road to park up. Busting for the loo, I completely forget to buy a parking ticket. But luckily for us, when we return a few hours later, there is no fine awaiting us. Canteras Beach again has a very different feel to the beaches in the south. There are no sun loungers (probably due to the clouds, which I am beginning to wonder if they are a permanent feature?). There are far less tourists here. Every few seconds a breathy jogger flies past us. There are a few people on the empty beach gently practicing yoga, really this temperature and cloud cover provides a perfect place for exercise. After strolling the entire length of the beach and viewing the many plates of food on offer, it takes some time to finally come to a decision. Eventually, we decide on a place at the top end of the beach where a busker plays guitar beautifully, called Arroz y Vino (Rice and wine). This place specializes in rice dishes. There is a dish called Arroz Caldoso, which is like a paella, but with far more sauce, so its like a soupy rice. The fresh orange juice and the warm bread which come out before the dish are divine (and I am not a bread fan)! Its hard to try and save some of the bread for mopping up the sauce from the main dish. The main dish is a deep orangey red colour (which likely comes form saffron) and fills our bellies with a warm glow. By the time we finish eating, the beach is dark and the colourful lights of civilization sparkle in the wet sand. Perfect for a barefoot walk before heading back.
NB. All images were taken with the Samsung s6, no professional cameras this time!