The Canaries have long offered a temptingly convenient retreat from the cold British winter. The combination of relatively cheap short-haul flights (you can currently find cheap flights to Tenerife from Gatwick for less than a hundred quid in November and December) and year round great weather mean that those looking to flee grey, overcast Britain can step off a three hour flight into another world of continuous sun.
This enduring appeal has unfortunately led to an all too familiar landscape of over-developed resorts blighting large chunks of the islands. For those not keen on spending their holiday imprisoned in a mass-tourism infested concrete jungle however there still remain relatively un-spoilt areas that retain plenty of the islands original character. Look beyond the resorts and you’ll find picturesque whitewashed villages, orange groves, perfect blue skies and the idyllic hush of lazy sun-drenched afternoons.
Indeed, away from the nightclubs, sun-loungers and draught lagers is a world of stunning architecture, rural idylls, delicious cuisine and fiestas just waiting for you to discover it. What follows is a brief guide to the islands.
El Hierro, before Columbus discovered America, was considered to be the end of the world. These days, it still preserves something of the wilderness in its heavily wooded terrain, and of course the ubiquitous volcanic landscape adds that air of the unfamiliar. It’s the smallest and most westerly of the islands, and, as such, is certainly the most tranquil.
Tenerife is surely the most popular island in The Canaries (1.6 million tourists from the UK alone in 2005), boasting the most uninterrupted sunshine and hence the most bustling resort life. Of course, veer slightly away from the capital Santa Cruz, and you’ll find a surprisingly chic seam of designer hotels, exclusive restaurants and boutique life. The little known Isla Baja area of the island retains an almost entirely unspoilt feel, where the villages and towns retain their original flavour and heritage, along with some wonderful food. The majority of flights to The Canaries are flights to Tenerife, with access to the other islands via connecting flights of ferry journeys.
Lanzarote conjures perhaps the most vivid imagery of The Canary Islands. Black, volcanic sand jets of sulphurous steam and vast craters are reminiscent of some distant, alien planet, while the unique architecture of César Manrique creates a vision of utopia unparalleled anywhere in the world.
Gran Canaria is known as “The Miniature Continent” due to its astonishing variety of micro-climates. For this reason, it as a real lure for those seeking natural beauty; there are 32 Natural Protected Spaces, each one boasting a different vista. Of course, as with every other island, here there is no shortage of beaches to wander, swim out from and relax on.