Sometimes people are disappointed when they arrive,” says our driver from the airport “because they expect it to be lush and green like the other Canary Islands. But I think it’s beautiful.”
And so did we, as we took in Lanzarote’s surreal Martian landscape with its spent volcano cones and lava fields, vast ochre plains and craggy rock formations all around. Throw in rolling waves breaking on to beaches of white and black sand, green lagoons and layers of purple, red and orange magma, and it’s the landscape that makes this most easterly Canary Island special. It’s a one-off with guaranteed sun just a four-hour direct flight from Scotland – what are you waiting for?
When we arrive at the five-star Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort in Playa Blanca on the south coast, our base for a too short three-night trip, Lanzarote’s credentials as year-round sun trap are underlined by guests in shorts ambling past a massive Christmas tree in the foyer. As a destination resort the five-star Princesa Yaiza has it all: vistas of Fuerteventura and Isla de Lobos, the soft sands of Playa de Papagayo on the doorstep and the Timanfaya National Park, home to many of the island’s dormant volcanoes and lava fields, a short drive away. It has six pools, a spa, outdoor Jacuzzis, tennis, a gym, kids’ clubs and play areas and there are eight restaurants to tantalise your tastebuds – Italian, Spanish, Mexican, international, performance teppanyaki or traditional-with-a-twist à la carte at Isla de Lobos.
Food is high on our itinerary the first morning with the Princesa Yaiza’s Kilometro Cero Experience; a visit to the nearby high welfare dairy farm Finca de Uga followed by a gourmet dinner made from its produce in the Isla De Lobos restaurant. There are photogenic animals to pet, gardens and greenhouses to explore and cheese to taste (they make 23 kinds – check out the rojillo, a smoked goat cheese with a paprika crust) in the dairy.
“When the animal is happy the cheese has a special taste,” farm director Paco Fabelo assures us. And the animals do look happy, vast sows nursing cute piglets and legions of cavorting kids, and the carnivores among us confirm that their suckling pig that evening back at Isla De Lobos tastes divine, while the vegetarians are equally wowed by the likes of avocado gazpacho. All of this is paired with excellent local wines, such as those from Bodegas El Grifo, the result of a unique viticulture that sees vines flourishing in the black volcanic earth, protected from the dry hot winds by crescents of stones.
Next morning we head for Timanfaya National Park, home to many dormant volcanoes and lava fields, for a guided tour. It was created by eruptions of more than 100 volcanoes between 1730 and 1736 (the last in 1824), which left a quarter of the island buried under a thick layer of lava and ash and destroyed several villages. It’s forbidden to tramp around this delicate environment with its rare lichen plant life, so caravans of camels or minibuses transport tourists to the volcano top where the smell of sulphur mingles with the aroma of chickens barbecuing at 450C on a grill over a pit dug into the volcano.
We are treated to a demonstration of geothermics where water is thrown into the ground to be shot back in sensational geysers of steam and we all clamour to Instagram the moment. Then it’s back on the bus with Also Sprach Zarathustra, soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey, blasting through the speakers as we marvel at the stunning topographical formations round every hairpin. Little wonder that When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth, Journey To The Center Of The Earth and One Million Years BC were all filmed in Lanzarote and Apollo astronauts studied photos of its landscape. All that’s missing is Raquel Welch perched on an outcrop in her iconic furry bikini.
She isn’t at nearby El Golfo and its famous green lagoon and black beach either, our next stop, but plenty of other sunseekers are. Created when sea water flooded an old volcanic crater and turned green as the result of algae, it’s a great place for a hike along the cliffs. It’s also an opportunity to pick up some black volcanic rock jewellery from a carpark stall, which along with local aloe vera beauty products, cactus jam and some of the hot mojo sauce that Lanzarotians slather on their wrinkly potatoes, complete the souvenir haul.
Back at the hotel, there’s a treat in store at the Thalassotherapy Spa Centre, with its treatments based on the healing properties of seawater and seaweed, including new mineral therapies by Thalion spa treatments. A potassium body wrap and hydro massage with magnesium lulls me into another level of relaxation, aided by a “thousand and one nights” (OK, 20 minutes) circuit in the seawater pool heated to 34C with hydro massage jets. Then it’s time for another swim in the sea before dozing in the sand, only to wake to the nearby scattering of petals and the arrival of a gazebo. With a shoreline wedding about to take place, it’s time to retreat and leave Princesa Yaiza’s reputation as a wedding and honeymoon venue intact.
We have to leave with so much still unexplored – the home of artist César Manrique and his cactus garden, the capital, Arrecife, and the Atlantic Museum of underwater sculptures for starters – a return visit is a must. As our plane rises above the island, it’s the landscape that fascinates once more, the mountains rising up from the black and white sandy beaches and dazzling white villages. Lanzarote, a fascinating destination that surprises, intrigues and rejuvenates, but never disappoints.
Rates for a Basic Superior Room at Princesa Yaiza start from £169 per night including a buffet breakfast, based on two people sharing. For further details or to book your escape, visit www.princesayaiza.com or call 0034 928 519 300. Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort, Av. Papagayo 22, e-35580 Playa Blanca, Yaiza, Islas Canarias, Lanzarote
Thomas Cook Airlines fly from Glasgow to Lanzarote three times a week, April to October, see website for current prices. www.thomascookairlines.com