Forget about package holidays and crowded beaches - discover the other side of Lanzarote, with its diverse and dramatic landscapes, rugged coastline and pretty whitewashed houses
There is so much more to Lanzarote than hordes of tourists vying for coveted spots on beaches, or claiming territorial rights to sun loungers. Hire a car and drive only a few miles inland, or along the coast away from popular resorts, and you will be rewarded with hidden treasures such as cactus gardens, striking moon-like landscapes, sleepy rural villages and unexpected, captivating views.
I first came across this unique island as a teenager, when I came to work here for a few summer months. I recently grabbed the opportunity to return, to explore the island and see for myself whether island life had changed or whether it had managed to hold on to its timeless charm. I was pleasantly surprised.
Mountains and markets
Leaving pretty Playa Blanca, we took the coastal road through the lava fields, and made our way, albeit gingerly, along the coast, admiring ever-changing scenery until we arrived at El Golfo. Still a bit off the beaten track, this is very much an unspoilt fishing village. The main draw here is the stunning lagoon, which has mesmerising acidic green water set against dramatic rocks and jet black volcanic sand - truly a breathtaking sight. We stopped for coffee at one of the many cafes in the village, and ended up having breakfast alongside local fishermen who sat sipping whisky after a night at sea.
Heading inland, we followed the road to the Timanfaya National Park, at the heart of the volcanic island. It's home to montañas del fuego (fire mountains), which were created over 300 years ago when multiple volcanoes violently erupted, leaving behind this beautiful and unique lunar landscape. You can see for yourself just how hot the temperatures are just beneath the surface, by throwing water into a hole only to see it erupt seconds later like a geyser spring.
Next on our itinerary was a trip into the hilltop town of Teguise, the old capital. As we wandered through the narrow streets of the old town, we felt as though we had stepped back in time. It’s very typical, and has changed little in centuries, with its simple whitewashed houses standing side by side around the plaza, around which village life revolves. Try to visit on a Sunday, as we did, when the popular market takes place; stalls sell anything from locally produced food and wine to leather goods, works of art and crafts. There are many inviting cafes where you can stop for a coffee or lunch. We dined in Acatife (1, Plaza Constitución), a traditional Canarian restaurant, and sampled the local speciality of patatas con mojo (potatoes in a spicy sauce) with the fish of the day, dorada.
Caves and cactus gardens
Passing through the charming village of Los Valles, we headed north and followed the winding road down through the Haria valley, enjoying stunning views along the way. Haria is an ideal spot to stop for a coffee.
Mirador del Rio was next on our agenda. Perched right on top of the cliffs at the most northerly tip of the island, it offers jaw-dropping views from 480 metres above sea level and across to La Graciosa.
The Cueva de los Verdes is the natural result of a massive volcano over 4,000 years ago. Formerly used as a hideout for pirates (and sometimes locals hiding from pirates), this magical place is now a tourist attraction.
On the way back, it's worth making a detour via Guatiza, where you can enjoy the jardin de cactus (cactus garden), designed by local artist Cesar Manrique. Home to more than 10,000 types of cacti, it's a unique and inspiring sight. If time allows, visit Manrique's house at Tahiche, which was built on circular volcanic formations, transformed into a contemporary living space. This influential artist not only shaped the landscape through his unique art and architecture, but even campaigned for all structures to be no taller than the tallest palm tree, and for all to be painted the same colour. His legacy lives on in Lanzarote.
End your day back in pretty Playa Blanca, which I was very relieved to find much as it was all those years ago - still a charming coastal village built around numerous beaches and secluded sheltered coves. Bougainvillea-covered white-painted cottages dot the coastline. While a few more luxury hotels have sprung up, and a new marina has been added, it remains thankfully unspoilt.
Where to eat
In Playa Blanca, restaurants are plentiful, particularly around the sophisticated marina, where places like Casa Roja are aiming at the high end of the market. Cafe del Mar is also a relaxing spot to chill out, have a drink and sit and people-watch in the marina. El Maño is a popular spot with great views.
For seafood, try any of the restaurants on the promenade overlooking the main beach. La Bocaina, just back from the coast, offers delicious fare with an international twist in a stylish atmosphere. It costs about €35 per person.
Where to stay
Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort (Avenida Papagayo, Playa Blanca) has been renovated since I was last here, and is simply the best hotel of this calibre in the resort. It has a superb unbeatable location overlooking Papagayo beach and promenade. Rooms and suites are huge and decorated in traditional style, with gorgeous super-king-size beds. Rates start at €200.
For a traditional stay in a hidden gem, try the relaxing rural retreat of Finca de las Salinas (17, Calle la Cuesta). Set in the gorgeous inland village of Yaiza, and only a few miles from Playa Blanca, this converted 18th-century mansion oozes charm and elegance in a quiet and peaceful location. The hotel is full of hidden surprises, including a Michelin-starred chef and a spa. Rooms are gorgeous and decorated in keeping with the rustic charm of the hotel, with pink stucco walls, terracotta tiles and ornate antiques. Rooms start at an amazing €104.