Fly.com is delighted to report that Sasha Arms, a respected freelance journalist and founder and editor of Hungry Nomad, has now joined our guest blogger team. Sasha brings a wealth of travel and food writing experience that includes past contributions to the Lonely Planet Bluelist, as well as a stint as editor of Foodie Magazine. Known for getting caught up in travel experiences that veer toward the bizarre (from wangling her way into a Latin America prison and being bitten on the backside by lion cubs in South Africa), Sasha offers a fresh and unique perspective in her travel reviews. We hope you enjoy this first post about her recent trip to Gran Canaria. Be sure to check back in with us for more reviews from Sasha’s travel exploits.
I’d heard rumours of Gran Canaria being called a mini-continent, but it all sounded a little far-fetched to me. After all, how could the third largest Canary Island of a mere 600 square miles display characteristics of a continent? I was about to find out.
During the winter months, it’s well-known that the Canary Islands is one of the only locations you can visit in Europe for great weather, even though it sits less than 100 miles off the coast of the actual continent of Africa.
But, more than the weather, Gran Canaria appeals because of the sheer diversity it offers. On an island where it takes less than four hours to drive around the circumference, you can enjoy volcanoes and mountains, hiking and biking, sand dunes and spas. That oft-told marketing phrase of ‘having something for everyone’ is actually true here.
For those who like to get out and about while on holiday, Gran Canaria certainly satisfies the active appetite. The north and central regions of the island are home to some of the most dramatic volcanic landscapes around, veering between Gran-Canyon-esque cliff-faces, volcanic calderas and lush forests. Seeing it on foot is absolutely the way to get stuck into the surroundings. An easy hike that pays great dividends is on Montaña del Nublo (pictured above), defined by its upstanding shaft of rock (also an attraction for rock-climbers) and views over the Tejeda caldera.
A hike down into the Bandama caldera is impressive too, albeit infinitely more tiring in the humid heat. Check out the abandoned winery, the house of the one inhabitant that lives down there and take a packed lunch – it may be the first and last time you’ll be able to say you’ve eaten lunch inside a volcano. Do it yourself or take a guided tour to get the story of the region too: Guillermo Morales from Nortetrek certainly knows his stuff.
Another brilliant walk is the route around the Azuaje Valley, setting off from the town of Firgas. You’ll take the journey earlier settlers followed to extract water from the bottom of the valley and get the chance to explore an abandoned hotel while you’re at it – it’s hauntingly exciting. The spirit of adventure is what this walk is all about – you’ll even hoist yourself around particularly rocky outcrops by rope. But this walk definitely requires a guide and you shouldn’t go with anyone other than Uli from Andú Turismo Aventura .
Other Things to See and Do
The south of the island offers activities on the other end of the spectrum. Postcard-perfect seaside towns such as Puerto de Mogán abound; even the biggest tourist resort of Maspalomas is not at all shabby, with a wide sea-front promenade and open air bars and restaurants. Puerto de Mogán itself is home to the Atlántida Submarine , taking you to the bottom of the ocean to watch divers explore shipwrecks. If you prefer to stay above water, there’s a whole array of water sports and boat trips on offer, including responsibly-run dolphin and whale watching trips.
Even though it’s within the Eurozone, eating out on Gran Canaria can be very, very cheap and a number of local taverns and restaurants offer a menu of the day that features three courses for as little as €7. Tapas dishes are common for starters, while mains are often hulking pieces of meat or fresh seafood. Green or red mojo sauce is a typical Canarian treat and is a common accompaniment to ‘wrinkled’ potatoes.
One top restaurant on the island is the gay-friendly Let Me Take You, or ¡Déjate llevar! – an absolute must-visit in the favourite Canarian mountain town of Tejeda. Not at all seedy, despite its name, this restaurant has a modern-stroke-chintzy décor and serves fresh dishes with a distinctive Greek twist. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting when the owner’s mother is featuring as ‘guest chef’, do not leave without sampling the tzatziki and moussaka. Not far away is the even smaller, slower town of Artenara and La Cilla restaurant, accessed through a tunnel that transports you to the ideal spot for a sunset, followed by a big, fat mountainside steak.
Down in the south, many of the best restaurants are attached to hotels, but there’s no foodie shame in eating out in a mere hotel restaurant. La Palmera restaurant at the Sheraton Solobre Golf Resort and Spa is an impeccable option, with hearty menu options such as Iberian ham croquettes, Canarian potatoes with mojo sauce and a Canarian cheese platter with palm tree honey. The views from the resort over the coastline are impressive, as is the wild-west-esque expanse of red cragginess in between.
Another great option for lunch at a surprisingly reasonable price is at the restaurant at the Gloria Palace San Agustín Thalasso and Hotel . An all-you-can-eat buffet costs just €12 per person and the quality is impressive for mass catering – don’t leave without trying the Valencian noodles.
Also crammed into this tiny island are a number of majestic spas and thalassos, very much making Gran Canaria a spa destination in its own right. The most visually impressive has to be the five star Corallium Thalasso Villa del Conde at Lopesan’s Villa del Conde Resort in Meloneras. The private sea-facing Jacuzzis and treatment rooms emit pure pampered-ness, while the heated marble chairs are ideal for an afternoon snooze.
A four star Lopesan resort – the Costa Meloneras - can be found a couple of blocks away from Villa Del Conde, and is another top contender for Gran Canaria’s spa scene. The hydro circuit here is huge, filled with secret rooms along cavernous passages, each good for the soul in a different way. The womb room is totally bizarre (check out the red-carpeted ‘lips’ as the entrance) but one of the most relaxing things you’ll ever do. Flotation pools are popular in Gran Canaria’s spas and the one here is huge yet serene.
The thalasso at the Gloria Palace San Agustín Thalasso and Hotel is another top contender on Gran Canaria’s relaxation scene and many people flock here for the medical treatments as well as the hydro circuit. An open-air massage is definitely the way to start your holiday in style.
Where to stay
With tourism as its main source of income, there’s no shortage of places to stay in Gran Canaria, but this doesn’t mean the options are uninspiring. Rural tourism is the next big thing in Gran Canaria and there are a number of restored or sensitively developed accommodation options in the north and central regions of the island. Near Santa Brigida are the Casas Rurales El Caserío de San José de Vegas – faithfully restored farm buildings with modern interiors and traditional countryside views.
Even more unique for the average traveler is a stay in a cave house, in tune with the rural way of living for many Canarians to this day. The Casas Rurales de Artenatur provide a selection of cave houses with modern facilities, including outdoor areas, barbeques and swimming pools to take advantage of when you surreally emerge from your cave each morning.
For a non-self-catering option in the mountains, Hotel Fonda de la Tea is a cutesy and eco-friendly option. It’s a restored, former 19th century inn and every inch the rural stay with creature comforts.
On the south coast, there are more hotels and guest houses than you could ever possibly count. Any of the spa or thalasso hotels also make for fantastic accommodation options, especially if you want regular access to all the facilities. Alternatively, the Hotel Cordial Mogán Playa in Puerto de Mogán offers comfortable Canarian accommodation with a few added extras, such as its very own archaeological site. When building the hotel, the remains of pre-hispanic inhabitants of the valley of Mogan were discovered and the site has been retained as a slice of history for guests to this day. Puerto de Mogán is the last resort along the coast and has a classier and more remote feeling than the other towns in between.
- Visit Gran Canaria Natural for more information about rural tourism options and activities
- Visit Gran Canaria Wellness for information about spa and thalasso holidays
To learn more about Sasha and her travels, be sure to check out:
- @sashaarms on Twitter
Featured Image: Montaña del Nublo (Sasha Arms)