Why Lanzarote is the coolest of the Canary Islands
If you've never been to the fabled Canary Islands*, you might think they just offer great beaches, big resorts and sun, sun, sun but there is so much more to this volcanic archipelago that lies off the northwest coast of Africa.
It's certainly true that the fourth largest Canary Island, Lanzarote* is a firm favourite with holidaymakers who rely on its year round sunshine, good value and accessibility. But this rocky, caldera-dotted island can also credibly claim to be the coolest of the Canaries, too.
Don't worry, we're not just talking trendy, superficial cool. We mean world-class wines, striking architecture and funky places to eat, plus a wee offshore isle without tarmac roads that's a real-life Treasure Island.
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César Manrique's glorious pad
César Manrique is the mercurial architect and designer who helped to forge the way in which much of the built environment on Lanzarote looks today.
His unique architectural style is on show all over the isle (he had a major hand in stopping high-rise hotels from being built too), nowhere more so than at the Volcano House he fashioned for himself.
Located among the island's volcanoes, it's a 3,000sq-m oasis, brilliantly blended into the landscape, where he lived happily between 1968 and 1988.
Many of his trademark flourishes can be seen from the whitewashed walls and massive floor-to-ceiling windows, through to the subtle and creative use of lighting, both natural and artificial.
The lower floor swings around five 'bubbles' connected by tunnels through the lava. You can see the studio where this luminary once worked and the pool he dipped in, too.
César Manrique's magical creations
Manrique was more than a whimsical architect. He was a visionary who constantly interwove the natural world with the manmade. You can find his creative genius outdoors at the mirador viewpoints he fashioned; my personal favourite is Mirador del Rio.
Perched at an altitude of 400m it gazes out over the El Rio channel to the isle of La Graciosa and the Chinijo Islands National Park. Enjoy a coffee or local wine with a view.
Then there's Jardin Cactus. Even if you wouldn't normally tour gardens this is a seriously cool retreat. His final work brought cacti from all over the world to the island of Lanzarote.
Today, thousands of cacti from hundreds of species flourish here under the watchful eye of a traditional 19th-century white-washed windmill.
It's not that Lanzarote just produces world-class wines, which it most certainly does with its crisp volcanic Malvasia white, in particular, winning numerous awards in recent years, but it's the style in which it creates it.
This makes wine touring a pleasure in the island's compact winelands. Look out for the volcanic craters that local winemakers still use to grow vines to protect them from the wind and capture moisture.
These wineries, which are built into the landscape, are works of art in themselves. What's more, they're open to visitors and tastings are encouraged. A few excellent wineries that guarantee tipples for trying include Bodegas Vega de Yuco, Bermejo and El Grifo .
While whites prevail, do try the rich reds and delicious rosés too and be sure to take a funky bottle (the slim neck, tall blue Yaiza ones are beautiful) home to impress any guests.
The Jameos del Agua couldn't be anywhere by Lanzarote. This snaking network of underground volcanic tunnels and caverns was converted into a cultural space by Manrique. Think James Bond crossed with Jurassic Park.
Enjoy dinner in the cave restaurant with its ocean view or sip a drink in the bar that overlooks the interior pool, home to a rare species of blind crab.
Capital of chic
The secret of the island's capital, Arrecife, is out. It's no wonder people (and cruise ships) come to this laidback coastal charmer, which offers a soporific slice of Canary Island living.
There are independent shops and similarly indie cafés as well as the town's centrepiece, Charco de San Gines, a big lagoon peppered with bobbing boats.
The coolest building is the rugged Castillo de San Jose Manrique, an old fortress with an interior that was refashioned by the Fundación César Manrique to house a modern art gallery and a swish waterfront restaurant.
Culture beneath the waves
How about a museum that lies underwater, one that you're going to get seriously wet looking around? I'm serious here! That's exactly what you will find at Lanzarote's Museo Atlantico, which lies 12m below the ocean and is only accessible to scuba divers and snorkellers.
No mere gimmick, the striking sculptures created by Jason deCaires Taylor that lie on the floor of the Atlantic take on a collage of contemporary themes, from refugee issues through to selfie culture. They have been designed to attract aquatic life and are becoming living reefs in their own right.
We've all dreamed of that Treasure Island with endless sand and no roads. Well, the good news is that you've just found it. La Graciosa may lie just a few miles offshore of Lanzarote but it might as well be an ocean away.
There are no roads as such and few people; the residents use four-wheel-drive vehicles and bikes to get around. The local fishermen get out in their boats, so you can enjoy a seafood feast before heading off hiking or cycling. After you venture away from the ferry dock you probably won't see another soul.
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