Life Travel

Saturday 30 August 2014

The feather in the Canary's cap

Bairbre Power discovers Caribbean-style paradise in Fuerteventura

Bairbre Power

Published 24/02/2013 | 06:00

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If only I could go back to... It's a mind game I often play when I'm sitting frustrated in rush-hour traffic. A quick edit of my favourite holiday images invariably brings me back to the Maldives, with its white sand-beaches and aqua-blue ocean.

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The sandy beach lifestyle shocked this culture vulture out of her usual city-break mode, but, with a flying time of more than 10 hours to Male, it isn't a runner when you have only seven days off.

As I researched the options for a pampering sun break to recharge my batteries, distance and time became my enemies. I was beginning to despair about finding something closer to home when I chanced upon Fuerteventura, with average temperatures ranging from 17°C in January to 25°C in August.

The second largest of the Canary Islands – and closest to the coast of northwest Africa – Fuerteventura is visually arresting. It's a curious mix of landscape: dramatic desert inland with a spectacular necklace of white and golden sandy beaches around the coastline.

You could do a different water sport every day of the week, from kayaking to deep-sea fishing, diving to snorkelling and kite surfing to flyboarding – an energetic cross between jet pack and jet ski.

The word 'Fuerteventura' means 'strong wind', but we didn't experience anything more than a cool breeze in the evenings, which was very welcoming after we stepped off our four-and-a-half-hour flight from Dublin. For the next seven days, we were spoilt by all-day sunshine in mid-January.

I've been stung by the Spanish's hotel star-rating system and found myself at an alleged four star that didn't even merit three. Here, however, I stayed at the Gran Hotel Atlantis Bahia Real, which lived up to its five-star Gran Luxe status – the top rating for hotels in Spain.

Recently awarded the Most Excellent Waterside Hotel in Europe in the Conde Nast Johansens 2012 Readers' Award, the hotel is located beside the Parque Nacional. Just turn right and you are greeted by miles and miles of unspoilt beaches.

Unesco declared Fuerteventura and its marine habitat a Biosphere Reserve in 2009. The island is on the migration path of birds, so you never know who will drop by to tweet you at breakfast.

After that, you can get into active mode and chose to go golfing, horse riding (on Irish horses from Co Wicklow) or bring the children to a water park or zoo.

However, I was totally in need of a five-star chill-out, so when I discovered there was no wi-fi in my hotel room, I seized the opportunity for an electronic detox.

The iPad, iPhone and wrist watch were banished to the drawer. I swapped emails for lazy breakfasts followed by barefoot walks on the beach and a trip to the hotel's Bahia Vital spa to catch up on some Pilates and yoga; all those relaxing classes that I sign up for at home but never manage to get to.

Listening to the ocean outside our balcony brought its rewards. I slept 10 hours a night and was in no rush down for breakfast, because the buffet ran until 11am.

There were lots of pampering touches, such as free Champagne with breakfast. I indulged only once – honest – because I was so smitten by the juice bar's offerings, which were made freshly beside my table.

Chefs will rustle up your heart's delight on the spot, such as egg-white omelettes for breakfast or fresh fish at the buffet dinner in La Alacena Real – one of the hotel's five restaurants.

The fishing village of Corralejo is 25 minutes away on foot or a €3 taxi ride, and it is packed with restaurants and bars near the harbour.

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At the hotel, we went on a food safari. Being a tapas fan, I opted for the €38 tasting menu at the Las Columnas restaurant and it was good value.

Another night, we tried the Yamatori Japanese restaurant, where we sat around the chef as he cooked at a teppanyaki bar. It was an ice breaker, and we chatted and swapped notes with fellow guests we had spotted earlier, lunching at the open-air Las Palmeras restaurant.

If your travelling companion doesn't share your agenda to sit by a luxury pool or catch some rays on on the beach, they can island hop and take a 30-minute ferry ride from Corralejo to Playa Blanca in Lanzarote.

Better again, they can bring back the dinner after going deep-sea fishing – the chefs at the hotel will gladly serve up your catch.

The Queen of Spain stayed at the Atlantis Bahia Real when she came to see the release of baby loggerhead turtles on Fuerteventura.

While the hotel is luxurious and impeccably clean, it's not stuffy, and the smart-casual dress code means that there is no need to dress up at night.

There is a children's club and pool for little ones, so parents can plan a pampering family experience in the sun.

You won't feel an outsider if you are travelling on your own either. The hotel and spa staff are especially friendly and you can mingle easily with other guests while enjoying music in the El Mirador piano bar at night.

I finally found my shopping mojo on the last night and managed a quick dash to Zara, where I was rewarded with sale prices. Happy days! Surf-dude shops are thick on the ground, cheek by jowl with discount alcohol and perfume shops.

Locally made aloe vera products are widely available, but my biggest saving was at the pharmacy, where I bought four months' worth of tablets for the price of one month at home.

A head of highlights for €45 at the hotel spa didn't go unnoticed either.

Tourism came late to Fuerteventura, compared with its sister islands of Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Tenerife, so you will discover excellent value, allowing you to 'trade up' to a five-star hotel for what you'd pay for a four star on a neighbouring island.

The package also made me re-think my policy of always booking red-eye flights in order to extract maximum time out of the first day of my holidays. The afternoon flight gave me time to pack and then arrive at my destination just in time for dinner.

Good holidays are supposed to stretch you and take you on a road less travelled.

Fuerteventura certainly did that for me.

Irish Independent

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