Coast to coast in Gran Canaria
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Gran Canaria is as popular as ever with those who want no
more from a holiday than a sun lounger, a pool or beach and a cold drink in
hand. Nothing wrong with that. The resorts and hotels on the south coast of the
island certainly tick those boxes and cater for all tastes and budgets. But,
there is more, a lot more to the island than just a 'fly and flop' destination.
For a start there is the fascinating capital of Las Palmas -
history is all around you in this wonderful, colourful city. It’s also great
for shopping, eating out and as a bonus has a lovely beach too. It would be a
perfect city break destination but, if you only have time for a day trip, it’s
well worth taking a guided tour to unpeel some of its many layers. The city was
founded in 1478 and 14 years later Christopher Columbus arrived en route for
his first trip to the Americas. The Colon House museum is named after him and
is just one of the many historical buildings to be found in the old town known
as Vegueta. The links between the island and the modern Spanish speaking world
run deep. Over lunch at the courtyard Casa Montedeosca restaurant our guide was
explaining how local families were sent out to inhabit and defend the newly
established settlements in the US taking the names of their home parishes with
them. Next thing we knew we were approached by a gentleman from San Antonio,
Texas who, it turned out, was a direct descendant of the Montedeosca family and
had come to Las Palmas to explore his roots - talk about living history!
The island's strategic location has always been vital and
much later it was destined to become one of the very first destinations to
offer a tourism product as we know it today. In 1851 Las Palmas was declared a
tax free region which naturally attracted a lot of wealthy Europeans, but
especially the British. They took to the temperate climate and loved it as much
then as we still do now - pure, clean air but much warmer than at home. Many
settled in the city and you can still see their legacy in British influenced
architectural styles and garden design.
For another 100 years or so, Las Palmas continued to be a
favoured retreat for the wealthy with the rest of the island largely untouched.
It’s hard to believe when you see the concrete jungle that is now Playa del
Ingles that, until as late as 1964, the Maspalomas lighthouse in the south of
the the island was pretty much the only building of note south of the capital.
The tourist boom of the 70s of course changed all that but development since is
largely restricted along the golden sand beaches of the south coast. Playa del
Ingles and Meloneras sit either side of the Maspalomas Dunes and are the best
known names but further along the coast, smaller resorts like Puerto de Mogan
and Amadores are also popular.
In between the beaches and Las Palmas, the volcanic interior
with its dramatic scenery, lush valleys, deep ravines, pine forests and
multiple microclimates remains untouched and 46% of the island is protected as
a Biosphere Reserve. For nature lovers, this is by far the most interesting
aspect of the island - within just a day you can experience so many different
landscapes. The contrasts are striking. Once again, a guide makes a tour of the
interior so much more interesting. The scenery alone is worth seeing but it’s
easy to miss the detail if you simply drive through it. At a stop at an oasis,
we discovered avocado trees, pomegranates, all manner of nuts and cochineal.
Something I would have dismissed as mould on a prickly pear plant turns out
historically to be one of the most lucrative sources of income on the island.
Synthetic materials have reduced its importance today but it is still used as a
In the small village communities of course the local guides
are well known and being their company can pay dividends as well as ease the
way with translations. In Fataga for example, strolling through the narrow
streets we ended up in an ancient bakery (making delicious almond cookies)
whose doors might otherwise have been closed and the studio of an elderly
gentleman who turned out to be the island's best known sculptors, Luis Montull.
Even having a coffee in a local bar, our status as a friends of the guide made
us instant friends of the bar owner.
Rural tourism is relatively underexploited here but there is
massive potential. There are actually lots of character hotels and 'Casas
Rurales' where you can stay if you wanted an extended stay in the area, perhaps
for a walking or cycling itinerary or simply to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
Detailed listings can be found at www.grancanarianaturalandactive.com
along with details of the annual Gran Canaria Walking festival which takes
place in November.
Cathy travelled as a guest of the Gran Canaria Tourist Board.
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