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Spanish Archipelago

Spanish delight

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BEAUTY SPOTS: (Above) A beach shack at Papagayo. (Left) A restaurant housed inside a passageway made by a volcano;and (far left) the road to Timanfaya National Park made up, again, entirely of volcanic soil

Lanzarote, the most easterly of the Canary Islands, is a relatively undiscovered gem with stunning volcanic landscapes and tranquil beaches

If you live outside Europe, chances are the Canary Islands don't feature on your travel radar. But if you like hidden villages, sleepy tapas bars, picturesque vineyards, tranquil beaches and stunning volcanic landscapes, then this Spanish haven is for you.
The Canary Islands are a Spanish archipelago, located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa. Lanzarote is the fourth-largest and most easterly island in the archipelago. And contrary to popular opinion, Lanzarote is a lush haven for the culturally-inclined traveller.

But it will also take you some time to recover from your landing. The size of the island and the position of the Arrecife airport ensure that the plane glides over water for the most part and then hits the runway mere seconds before landing. Once you have recovered from the stomach churning, you will notice the complete absence of high-rise buildings and hotels. Volcanic mountains and azure beaches punctuated by whitewashed houses dominate the landscape.
Lanzarote's beauty lies in these villages and in its secluded beaches. Which is why it is highly recommended that you rent a car to explore the island. A number of rental companies have booths at the Arrecife airport, and offer convenient and reasonable fares to tourists visiting Lanzarote.

Parts of Lanzarote, especially Playa Blanca and Puerto del Carmen, are geared to the package holiday market - so steer clear of them. Start your sojourn by spending a day at the Timanfaya National Park, made up entirely of volcanic soil. The nature of the soil makes it impossible to drive or walk through the park but a coach trip around the park is included in the entry fee. Or you could take a camel ride.

Volcanic activity continues under the surface of the earth, and generates immense heat. The on-site restaurant, El Diablo, uses this geothermal heat to grill meat and cook food. A fascinating culinary experience. In the same vicinity is El Golfo. A volcanic crater that houses a green pool - the water is green because of the algae that live on the surface and the minerals left over from the volcano's active days. It is easy to spend hours exploring the cliffs surrounding El Golfo.

Next, familiarise yourself with urban planner Cesar Manrique's work by visiting his house, Fundacion Cesar Manrique, which has been turned into a museum. The avant-garde architect carved his subterranean house from lava bubbles, and each room uses natural vegetation (cacti) to adorn the tables carved out of volcanic rock.

A short drive takes you to Mirador Del Rio, a viewpoint at the northern tip of Lanzarote. Perch yourself on a comfortable spot on one of the cliffs that line the road, bring some Canarian wine, and some warm clothes too, for temperatures can plummet in the evenings as you wait for the sun to set. Watching the sunset at Mirador Del Rio is an extremely sensory experience. Fields of bluebells line the road on one side while the other side offers a panoramic view of other islands in the Canarian archipelago. It's a moment you will remember for years to come.

Steer clear of the overcrowded and commercial beaches near Puerto del Carmen if you wish to unwind. Drive to the southern tip of Lanzarote to explore some of the island's most secluded beaches. The Punta de Papagayo is a crescent of sandy beaches sheltered by cliffs, hidden in a protected area called the Monumento Natural de Los Ajaches. A dirt track leads to five spectacular beaches, surrounded by volcanic hills. The beaches are a fifteen-minute walk away from the car park. Pack a picnic - once you're there you will not want to move. We suggest packing some local Canarian wine, grapes, and cheese for your day at Papagayo.

Good food and warm weather, both of which ensure an outstanding culinary experience, are Canarian staples. The number of al-fresco tapas bars in Lanzarote makes it hard to walk through a village without getting your tastebuds tickled. We suggest you steer clear of the over-priced touristy cafes and karaoke bars on Playa Blanca and Puerto del Carmen.

Instead, drive down to the smaller villages, each of which is a treasure trove of hidden restaurants, tapas bars, and cafes. Haria and Teguise top this list. Both villages are full of quaint and unpretentious bars serving local Spanish food. Sip on the local beer as you indulge in one of Spain's most traditional social rituals - nibbling on a variety of tapas. This makes for unhurried conversations, and wellspent evenings. Choose from a variety of options including, olives, anchovies, jam�n (cured ham), tripe, prawns pil-pil (garlic prawns), tortilla espa�ola (egg and potato omelettes), and alb�ndigas (meat-balls in a tomato sauce). Do not forget to try the boccadillo, the Spanish version of the humble French baguette. This one comes laced with garlic and a steaming fillet of meat. If you are a coffee lover, be sure to try the barraquito, a layered drink comprising an espresso shot, condensed milk, Licor 43 (a sweet, vanilla-flavoured Spanish liqueur), and a dash of cinnamon. You will come away wishing you had discovered it earlier.

So, if you're planning a trip to Europe this year and want to escape the crowds and traffic of Spanish cities, head to one of the strangest and most breathtaking corners of Europe where black volcanic soil, blue skies, azure waters, and golden beaches await, all in tiny Lanzarote.

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