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Beguiling, contrasting, inspiring and relaxing; just a few of the epithets readily associated with this unique destination. As the most easterly and oldest of Spain's Canary Islands, Lanzarote nestles in the Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of Africa. Boasting an average annual temperature of 22°C and over 2500 hours of sunshine per year the climate of this wonderful island is the envy of many.
Over 40 years ago, showing commendable far-sightedness, the local government completely ruled out the idea of developing Lanzarote for mass tourism meaning that today over 40% of the land is officially protected. While clear pockets of tourism development most certainly exist, it is still the case that large tracts of hinterland as well as long stretches of the coast remain pleasingly devoid of any obvious tourist presence and it is in these unsullied and attractive spots that we have chosen to focus our hand-picked selection of properties.
Famously volcanic in origin, Lanzarote stretches 60km from north to south, is 25km wide and has a total coastline of 213km. A designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1993, it is home to one of the most dramatic landscapes on earth, the Timanfaya National Park, locally and accurately known as 'The Mountains of Fire'. Formed when a chain of now dormant volcanoes erupted in the 18th and 19th centuries, Timanfaya is one of only fourteen national parks in Spain and remains a part of the world completely frozen in time.
The most influential figure (many say the key figure) in the movement to preserve Lanzarote's natural state and innate wonders was the celebrated local artist César Manrique and evidence of his pervasive influence can be seen all across the island. Testament to the enduring legacy of one of Spain's greatest 20th Century artists is a magnificent body of work comprising sculptures, murals, buildings, landscaped gardens and even a selection of large quirky mobiles.
Alongside tourism it is agriculture that provides the main stay of the island's economy. Onions, potatoes and spinach are the chief crops and it is still not uncommon to see camels being used by the older generation of farmers to plough their land in traditional, time-honoured fashion (although these days they are mainly found carrying visitors through the national park - the camels that is, not the farmers!).
The arid La Geria region is a renowned centre of viticulture; a fact which to the casual observer may seem a surprise if not a contradiction in terms. How can vines grow in such a barren landscape? The answer lies in the ingenious way islanders have combined nature and know-how by constructing low semi-circular stone walls (zocos) out of volcanic rock within which the vines are planted 2-3m deep in porous lava granules. Protected from wind and drip fed water absorbed by the rocks from the night dew, the vines flourish, producing a respected Malvasia whose reputation stretches back even as far as Shakespeare who specifically mentions the wine in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor'.
Capital of the island until 1852 (when that honour passed to Arrecife), the sleepy demeanour of Teguise disguises a rich history. One of the oldest towns in the Canaries and the epitome of laid-back island life for six days a week, Teguise bursts into life only on Sunday mornings when a rambling market takes over the streets and bouts of exuberant folk dancing break out in front of the parish church.
Nearby Los Valles, equally somnolent yet no less appealing is the convenient location for one of our chosen properties. Heading south, La Asomada is a gentle rural community, full of pastoral charm and perfectly positioned for easy forays to the island's most notable attractions. The bright lights and vibrant nightlife of bustling Puerto del Carmen are also within easy distance - although you would never know it.
Regularly voted one of the prettiest villages in the Canaries, whitewashed Yaiza, together with its satellite settlement Las Breñas, is the gateway to some of the island's most notable beaches. Papagayo, the name given to Lanzarote's most southerly tip, has also become the assumed name for a series of remarkable coves of soft black and gold sand that border the peninsula. In contrast to nearby Playa Blanca, not an iota of development has ever been permitted here and strictly controlled access ensures Papagayo has been and is being kept in as virgin a condition as possible. It is a gorgeous spot.
Wonderful views of Timanfaya and La Geria can be enjoyed both on the way to and looking back from Tinajo, another typically relaxed village. Here the road forks; north leads to the impressive sporting centre of La Santa (a regular pre-season training camp for famous sporting individuals and teams); east brings Famara, one of the wildest and most dramatic, cliff backed sandy beaches in Spain, renowned as a world class location for all forms of surfing.
Lanzarote is home to over 500 different plants (around 20 of which are endemic), none more impressive than the soaring Date Palm found in abundance around Haría and the romantically named Valley of 1000 Palms, a stirring sight all year but particularly when vegetation is at its most colourful in February and March. Crown jewel of views on an island of remarkable scenery is undoubtedly the 479m high Mirador del Río.
An incredible architectural achievement and brainchild of César Manrique, the panoramic vista across to neighbouring La Graciosa island, spread out in bas relief just 1000m away, is one of the most impressive in Europe. Regular ferries cross the 'río' to this 27 km² outcrop of unblemished sand, rock and pristine beaches which has no tarmac roads, a population of about 500, a bakery, three supermarkets, a DIY shop (!) and a decent choice of simply-styled bars and restaurants. This is a place made for the sort of barefoot, sun-soaked and chilled-out living normally only associated with the more remote parts of the Caribbean.