Northern Lanzarote: dramatic drives and lazy lunches

by Annie.Bennett

Explore the surprisingly undeveloped north of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands and take in sleepy fishing villages, volcanic landscapes and wild beaches

A lot of visitors to Lanzarote stay in Costa Teguise on Lanzarote’s eastern coast. As resorts go, it is pretty low key and tasteful, but for a totally different scene, hire a car and spend a day driving around the northern tip of the island, an area devoid of big hotels and shopping centres. You might well decide you’d rather stay there too on your next holiday.

This is not to say there is nothing to do, far from it. Most of the extraordinary sights created by César Manrique, the local artist, architect and all round visionary, are scattered around this part of Lanzarote, and you could easily spend at least a day visiting them all – as many organised tours do. Fabulous and unique as these attractions are, to get a real feel of local life in Lanzarote I really recommend stopping off in a few villages both on the coast and inland, where there are some great low-key and family-friendly restaurants, as well as spending time on the quiet beaches, whether swimming, surfing or simply chilling out.

Arrieta

Driving up the east coast from Costa Teguise, look out for Arrieta, which is still a fishing village even though quite a few of the houses are now used as holiday accommodation. It’s not madly pretty or picturesque, but coming from the totally invented Costa Teguise, it does feel absolutely authentic. The string of restaurants by the harbour may not look much from the street, but go into any of them and walk through to the back, where there are tables on terraces right on the sea. The tide actually comes up to the restaurant wall, so you couldn’t be closer.

My favourite is the family-run El Amanecer (La Garita 46; no booking), where a three-course meal with wine costs around €18, and a main course and a beer will set you back about €12. Start with sizzling prawns or grilled goats’ cheese, with the mojo dips which are traditional throughout the Canaries. The green one is made with coriander and parsley, while the red one contains quite a bit of paprika and can be pretty spicy. Then just ask the waiters which is the best fish of the day.

Punta de Mujeres

If you’re in the mood for a slightly fancier meal, try El Lago (Los Morros 27; tel 928 848176; around €20-€30), between Arrieta and Punta Mujeres, the next village along. The restaurant is very popular with locals, particularly at weekends, which is always a good sign. There are several tasty local fish varieties that are similar to bass or bream, so again, just let the waiters advise you.

In Punta de Mujeres, don’t miss the natural seawater pools that form in the volcanic rocks on the waterfont, where local women used to do their washing. At high tide, when the waves are crashing in, it’s a fun place for a dip. Opposite the pools, Bar Piscina does wonderful tapas. The hot pork sandwiches make a great brunch while you are gazing at the glittering sea.

Around Monte Corona

Rising up behind the village is Monte Corona, an extinct volcano which covered the surrounding landscape in lava when it erupted around 5,000 years ago. A lava tube runs underground from the volcano down to the sea, billowing out to form caves along the way. Part of this extraordinary labyrinth (clearly signposted from the main road just outside the village), the Cueva de los Verdes, is open to the public for guided tours along around half a mile of tunnels. Nearby (also well signposted), in another section of the lava tube, César Manrique created Los Jameos del Agua, a huge grotto which contains a restaurant, auditorium and an underground lake that is home to a colony of blind, white crabs.

As you go higher into the hills, you drive through lava fields covered in pale green lichen. At the northern tip of the island, at an altitude of 400 metres, Manrique designed the Mirador del Río out of an old gun battery on the edge of the cliff. The bar and restaurant there have panoramic views of the island of La Graciosa. See www.centrosturisticos.com for details of prices and opening times at all these sights, and check out other Lanzarote guides on Simonseeks for more information about these and other Manrique places on the island.

Heading south

The road winds around the top of the island and turns southwards down the west coast, above the spectacular Famara cliffs. You soon come to Haría, where Manrique lived for the last few years of his life. Hidden in a lush valley and surrounded by palm trees, it is one of the prettiest villages on the island with an elegant main square.

Mesón La Frontera (Casas de Atrás 4; 928 835310) is popular with locals for both lunch and dinner, with good meat and fish dishes using as much local produce as possible. Expect to pay €18-€25 for three courses with wine. There is a small play area too if the kids get restless.

If you like surfing, windsurfing or kitesurfing, head down to Famara beach, a bit further south. Backed by spectacular cliffs, the long, curving bay never seems to get crowded. Book lessons at the renowned Surf School Lanzarote (www.surfschoolanzarote.com), which is the only ISA qualified school in the Canaries.

End your day with a wander around the little town of Teguise, which was founded in the 15th century and the original capital of Lanzarote. Handsome colonial mansions line the cobbled streets, which lead of the Plaza de San Miguel, where there is a busy market on Sundays.

Where to stay

Just outside Arrieta, the Finca de Arrieta is a luxurious wind and solar-powered eco-retreat built in the local stone. You stay in villas or authentic yurts, all beautifully decorated with Moroccan and Indonesian furniture. The complex is run by Lanzarote Retreats, a local company which also has apartments and villas in Arrieta itself, Punta de Mujeres and Costa Teguise.

El Aljibe, in the inland village of Los Valles, looks like a traditional Canarian farmhouse from the outside, but inside it is an enormous stone space with a vaulted ceiling and a mezzanine sleeping area. There is an outdoor Jacuzzi and a shared pool.

If you want to be near Famara beach, stay at Bungalows Playa Famara, a laidback complex tucked into the foothills of the cliffs, which sleep from two to six people. There is a communal pool and the village of Caleta de Famara is a few minutes’ walk away.

If it suits you to be based in Costa Teguise, the Gran Melia Salinas is a stylish hotel which was partly designed by César Manrique and has fabulous landscaped gardens and a huge swimming pool.

Annie.Bennett

I specialise in writing about Spain for national papers and magazines, including the Telegraph, Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Conde Nast Traveller, Elle and National Geographic. This gives me a great excuse to mooch around the country, talking to everyone from Michelin-starred chefs to old codgers in mountain villages.

I have been living in Madrid on and off for the last 25 years, since I went there to improve my Spanish after finishing my modern languages degree. Soon I was teaching English, translating for art magazines and galleries and researching for television programmes. That was only meant to last a year or two, but I had made so many great friends, quite a few of whom were instrumental in the cultural explosion underway at the time, that it would have been daft to leave. Almost without noticing, I started writing about what was happening in Madrid.

I am passionate about Spanish food and wine, and love trying the local specialities wherever I go. In Madrid, I eat out nearly every day in a quest to track down the best restaurants and tapas bars. My UK base is on the Gower coast in South Wales.

My Madrid

Where I always grab a coffee: Pepe Botella in Malasaña (Calle San Andrés 12), with its marble tables and red velvet banquettes, is the perfect place to read El País with a café con leche.

My favourite stroll: I love walking through Los Austrias, the medieval part of the city, for the combination of history, tradition and contemporary life. I always see something I’d never noticed before.

Fiction for inspiration: Benito Pérez Galdós was a sort of Spanish version of Dickens or Balzac. A lot of his novels are based in Madrid - including Fortunata and Jacinta, Miau and Misericordia – and many of the locations still exist, relatively unscathed.

Where to be seen: Le Cabrera for cool cocktails after shopping in the chic Las Salesas area (Calle Barbara de Braganza 2, www.lecabrera.com).

The most breathtaking view: You can see right across the city trom the roof of the Círculo de Bellas Artes (Calle Alcalá 42, www.círculobellasartes.es).

The best spot for some peace and quiet: Madrid is incredibly noisy, but the Retiro Park is perfect for picnics, quiet reading at outdoor cafés, rowing on the lake or just strolling around.

Shopaholics beware!: The outlet shoe shops on Calle Augusto Figueroa in Chueca are difficult to resist.

City soundtrack: Fito & Fitipaldis seem to be blasting out in every bar. 

Don’t leave without...Having a vermut at the Mercado de San Miguel before lunch. It’s the best way to get a handle on what the city is all about (Plaza de San Miguel, www.mercadodesanmiguel.es).