Tales of the unexpected: Lanzarote
Lanzarote is so much more than sun and sand. Travel and lifestyle photographer Zoë Timmers @zobolondon ventures beyond the beach to capture a different side to the island – and leaves her heart behind
Q: Was Lanzarote what you expected?
Not at all! I knew very little about this island before my visit. There’s sun, there’s sea, of course, but I would never have put ‘Canary Islands’ and ‘culture’ in the same sentence. There’s a wealth of history and culture that I really wasn’t expecting. And the volcanic landscapes blew me away. The vast moonscapes of solidified lava leading down to stunning beaches have to be seen to be believed. These were just two of the things on Lanzarote that took me completely by surprise.
Q: Who does the island appeal to?
It’s a cliché, but there really is something for everyone on Lanzarote. Of course, you can relax on the beaches. But lots of walkers, adventurers and cyclists are drawn to the wild landscapes inland to explore soaring hills and dramatic canyons. It’s also known as the ‘European Hawaii’, so you get a lot of surfers on the more remote sweeping beaches in the north. And if you’re in search of peace, you’ll find it in the quiet villages, tapas bars and secluded coves around the island. You can really get away from it all if you want to.
Q: What makes the landscape so striking?
I loved the sense of space on the island. The black volcanic terrain, the whitewashed villages dotting the landscape, and the lush greens of cacti, aloe vera and vineyards… And wherever you go, giant sculptures pop up in unexpected places. It’s all very dramatic and a photographer’s dream. There’s a distinct aesthetic thanks to the influence of the local legend, artist and architect César Manrique. He reimagined this strange and stunning place.
Q: What are the best places to see César Manrique’s work?
A good place to start is the César Manrique Foundation, once his avant-garde vision of a home. It’s built into a vast lava flow, complete with five lava bubble caves. This is an amazing modernist space full of artwork and incredible views. I challenge anyone to get to the pool and BBQ area and not think, ‘I could have an amazing party here’.
The Jardín de Cactus is another wonder. It’s a landscape-gardening masterpiece with over 4,500 cacti (from 13 families of cactus across five continents) set out in an amphitheatre of volcanic rock. And to top it off, there’s a windmill! It’s a unique place.
Manrique’s Mirador del Río in the far north of the island is also astonishing. The lookout-cum-café is camouflaged by lava rock and carved into the side of a cliff – and what a cliff! Two giant windows give views of the island of La Graciosa and the Chinijo Archipelago. Out on the viewing platform, stick a Euro in the telescopes and gaze down over 500m of moonscape.
My favourite Manrique creation has to be Jameos de Agua, a breathtaking fantasy grotto. It involves a volcanic tunnel (one of the longest in the world at 6 kilometres), a series of sunken caves (jameos) and a lake that looks almost translucent. You’re then led into an area of tropical plants and a swimming pool so special that no amount of money will buy you a swim in it. Harmony and creativity ooze out of this place – Rita Hayworth called it ‘the Eighth Wonder of the World’ for good reason.
Q: Is it worth spending time in the capital Arrecife?
Definitely. This bustling little city is great for pottering around and is full of lovely surprises. I strolled along the promenade then out along the sea wall to Castillo de San Gabriel. It was built in 1572 to protect the port and city from sea attacks and now houses a little history museum. It’s especially lovely when the tide is in, and there’s a great view back to the city.
The seawater lagoon the Charco de San Ginés is very picturesque, too. It’s filled with cute little boats and surrounded by white houses. You’ll also find some great restaurants and cafés around the lagoon. I’m a big fan of the island’s café-con-leche-with-a-pastry culture.
Arrecife’s second castle, San José, is well worth a visit, too. It houses the International Museum of Contemporary Art. Time your visit here for lunch in the castle’s modern restaurant Qué Muac, designed by, you guessed it, César Manrique. I feasted on enyesques (local tapas) and a smoking grilled octopus.
Q: Are there any other cultural hubs to tick off?
Don’t miss Teguise, to the north of Arrecife. This charming whitewashed town was the island’s capital until 1852, its inland location favoured to avoid pirate attacks. The Pirate Museum is just one feature of Santa Bárbara Castle, which sits high on Mount Guanapay overlooking the town. This is the only point on the island where you can see the sea on both sides.
The town itself feels like a Spanish pueblo with African influences. I kept imagining cowboys making their way across the main square, the Plaza de la Constitución. This space also hosts a huge Sunday market but I’m glad I came on a quiet weekday. The little cobbled side streets host some very cool tapas spots. Just off the main square, look out for one called Queso Project. I tried a variety of delicacies while chatting away to locals.
Q: Did you try the famous Lanzarote wine?
You’ve got to make a stop in the island’s winegrowing region La Geria. The setting, on the outskirts of the Timanfaya National Park amidst swathes of lava Badlands and extinct volcanoes, is spectacular for starters. And the way locals cultivate their wines on the edge of the volcanic fields is extraordinary. They plant each vine in a semi-circular pit filled with soil and then cover each one with layers of volcanic ash called picón to lock in moisture. A small stone wall, the soco, protects the vine from the wind. Set out in their thousands, these honeycomb-like vineyards are works of art. I visited the centuries-old Bodegas Rubicón to sample the wines made with Volcanic Malvasia, one of the oldest white grape varieties in the world. Sitting outside with a glass of crisp, dry white watching the sun set over the volcanoes was an experience I won’t forget.
Q: Is once enough for Lanzarote or will you be back for more?
I never thought I’d say such a thing, but I left my heart in Lanzarote. It’s a hipster, cool place with so many interesting things to see and do. My trip to this wild and beautiful island was more than I could have hoped for. I’m planning my next trip already.