As an award-winning travel-writer, I am correspondent to Vogue and also write on spas, Slow Travel, food, cruises, soft adventure and skiing for The Times, Telegraph and Good Ski Guide. Funnily enough, Gran Canaria excels in those areas – though I’m pushing a point with skiing, even if the volcanic peaks do get snow. But it was the diversity of this `continent in miniature’ that drew me to the island a decade ago. That and the balmy beach weather.
On the same day I have clambered around an extinct volcano, picnicked on the peaks, snoozed on the beach, and drunk honey rum in the capital’s coolest bar – before bed in a banana plantation. But Gran Canaria has not sold its soul to the cult of cool. In Las Palmas, `Little Havana’, the locals still amble between cutting-edge bars and ramshackle tapas dens.
I confess to lapping up the chic spa retreats, set among palm groves, as well as the sleek beach hotels in the sand dunes. But I also love a minimalist golf resort and the Wild West country-house hotels. When not shooting from the hip about Gran Canaria’s rural residences, I’m roaming Italy and France, my other passions. Or writing travel features and foodie guides at home in London or Cannes. For now, let’s consign Gran Canaria’s cheap-and-cheerful image to old fish-and-chip paper - and head to the boutique hideaways beyond the beaches.
My Gran Canaria
Where I always grab a coffee: Las Palmas is lined with enticing café terraces. After a late night, I shake myself sober with a strong `cortado’ coffee in the time-warp Cafe Madrid. This is where General Franco declared the start of the Spanish Civil War but there’s no need to be that radical on your first visit.
My favourite dining spot: In beach bum mode, I love the Amadores Beach Club with its LA cabana-style vibe, Balinese beach beds, café on the deck, candy-coloured cocktails and cosmopolitan cuisine.
Best place for people-watching: Wander around Las Palmas’ historic Vegueta district. The colonial architecture conceals secret, Andalusian-style courtyards, stylish boutiques, funky Canarian tapas bars and soulful salsa haunts.
Where to be seen: In the heart of Vegueta is Quetal, a gastro restaurant and hip bar, where giant honey-rums are served in a glowing cave version of Hell. Promise it’s heavenly, despite my hellish description.
Most breathtaking view: Hiking around Roque Nublo (“Cloud Rock”), a weathered, mis-shapen peak that dominates the rugged interior. An easy trail leads to views over the volcanic terrain to Tenerife.
My favourite stroll: In the south, it’s the Maspalomas dunes, six kilometers of shifting sands shaped by wind and sea. A surreal sight is the camel train, which sends my young niece into hysterics. (Yes, you can ride the camels, but the nude sunbathers, hidden behind the hillocks, might have surprised Lawrence of Arabia).
The best spot for some peace and quiet: Almost half the island is a designated UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve so the interior is studded with volcanic craters and majestic rock formations, especially around the Ayacata and Roque Nublo peaks.
Where I’d go on a date: The Sunset Bar in the Salobre Golf Resort above Maspalomas enjoys lofty views of the mountains and ocean – best seen from a Balinese bed by the infinity pool. Arrive at sunset cocktail hour after a soothing aloe vera spa treatment.
Where to chill out: Spas are superb on the island, whether beguiling holistic retreats set among palm groves, or Zen-like gardens behind the dunes. As for massage, choose between mystically Asian and no-nonsense Swedish - or try a pool-based thalasso treatment.
Don’t leave without…sampling a rural retreat: Canny marquesses have turned their country estates into chic retreats, rural inns and restaurants. These `fincas’ are often close enough to the capital or beaches to allow you to wake up in a lemon grove after a night of going bananas in Las Palmas or Playa del Ingles.