Friday 15 February 2019

Lanzarote: The warm waters of my island home from home

Lanzarote offers as much or as little as you might want from a holiday, writes Áine O'Connor

Playa Blanca in Lanzarote at sunrise
Playa Blanca in Lanzarote at sunrise
Pleasure island: Playa Blanca in Lanzarote
Papagayo beach, Lanzarote
Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote
Aine in Lanzarote - where the weather is always warm and everything is at duty free prices

Aine O'Connor

There is something really relaxing about arriving in a foreign country and only having to find the nice lady with your name on a clipboard.

Instead of having to find a taxi, or the car hire desk and debate the excess and find the car and the right road on the wrong side. The nice lady with the clipboard tells you what bus to get on, you hand over your case and are deposited at the door of your accommodation.

Lanzarote, especially the resort of Puerto del Carmen, is in many respects a home away from home; an easy, relaxing and incredibly good value holiday where you can totally unwind.

The relaxation element actually starts with the packing. A daughter raised on the 10-kilo hand luggage restrictions could barely comprehend that she alone was supposed to fill an entire 20-kilo suitcase. I'd been to Lanzarote before so was able to advise that she leave some space for shopping. I knew that the tax-free delights of the Canaries would fill the rest of the suitcase and empty my wallet.

It's a four-hour flight from Dublin to Arrecife airport where that nice lady with the clipboard directed us to our coach, and the less than 20-minute trip to Puerto del Carmen and our home for the week; Acuario Sol II Apartments.

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Aine in Lanzarote - where the weather is always warm and everything is at duty free prices

Separate from the main Aquario Sol building and reception, it's a quiet, low-rise apartment complex with pool, bar, restaurant and just a 10-minute walk to the busy resort centre. Our one-bed apartment was clean, well-equipped, and a cleaner came every second day. There's a late night shop around the corner so you can stock up on important things like a celebratory bottle of anything and some crisps. Priorities.

The thing about a holiday like this is that you can set up a camp that you barely stray from, the apartment complex offers weekly rates of €20 for a safety deposit box, €15 for wi-fi, and an adult could go half-board at the onsite restaurant for €16 per day. But there are plenty of options to wander further.

Puerto del Carmen is a predominantly Irish and UK resort, hence the home away from home idea. This will undoubtedly hold a lot of appeal to people - there is no language barrier (indeed the locals are surprised if you hit them with Spanish), everything familiar is at hand, just a lot cheaper. Along the main drag a full Irish or English breakfast starts at €1.99 and doesn't get too much dearer. A pint of beer, at €1.50, is the same price as a mineral water and all the happy hours offer generous cocktails from around €5. It might not be PC but a lot of people do still drink and smoke and the Canaries work out as a particularly low-cost holiday for them.

There is every possible kind of cuisine on offer within a kilometre long stretch, and all of it is well priced. We got great sushi, wonderful Italian, noodles, pizza, pasta, rice, potatoes and really whatever we wanted. Obviously it is Spain and tapas is on offer in lots of places, mixy-matchy in terms of quality but we were recommended to try La Carmencita del Puerto and it's a recommendation to pass along. The food, proud Spanish fare from the islands and the peninsula, was delicious and all the more enjoyable for the wonderful hostess who has a special place in her heart for Irish people, as she spent some of her formative years in Bray, Co Wicklow. A selection of tapas and two drinks each cost €32, but it's a small and busy place so booking is advised.

In the old town, around the port, a stroll or €5 taxi ride away from the resort area, there is a further selection of restaurants and bars. The open air market, good for souvenirs like aloe vera products, belts and jewellery, is held on Friday mornings. That end of town is also home to the Biosfera Shopping Centre which is good for serious label and outlet shoppers. My darling daughter mostly contented herself with perfumes and imitation designer wallets, some shoes and a lot of toe rings. Everything is open fairly late, so there is that lovely holiday stroll of an evening, where at no point is your wallet safe from plundering by your child. The Sunday market in Teguise is a must for market fans, almost the whole town is taken over with lovely stalls and it's a really nice day out.

As it's so close to the Equator, the weather on all the Canary Islands is fairly constant. It can be cloudy and windy, but do not be fooled into skipping sun cream - we learned that vest-shaped lesson the hard way, but the average winter temperature is 20C. There are beaches all along the front, and the main beach, Playa Grande, has lovely built-in sheltered circles where you can set up camp. Further up, Playa Chica is good for snorkelling. There are beautiful beaches all over the island like Playa de las Mujeres or Playa Papagayo (below), and surf beach Playa Famera is really nice if you prefer waves.

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Papagayo beach, Lanzarote

Bus travel is cheap and easy and so too is hiring a car - a small car for a week in October starts from under €70 before insurance and extras, and the driving is relatively easy.

There is lots to see on the island and it offers a couple of days good exploring and eating. The south of the island really is quite something, the colours and shapes of the volcanic land against the Atlantic make for beautiful views and strange green water in places. That is also available to do by bus tour and so too is a trip to Timanfaya 'Fire Mountains' National Park (below) which gives a real sense of the geology. At the park you are put on buses, each with an expert guide, who explains the extraordinary Mars-like surface. It's a good family trip too, with tickets costing €20/€10, and it is advisable to book in advance. You can also do camel safaris there. They are stinky but they're the sort of thing you really have to do once in your life.

There are also wine-tasting tours, volcano hiking tours - all kinds of options in fact. The island is extraordinary looking and it is very much worth making at least one trip into its less-populated zones.

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Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote

Closer to Puerto del Carmen there is plenty to do too, and following a trip to Rancho Texas my daughter wants a sea lion. This Wild West themed park (day tickets cost €30 per adult, €22 per child which includes bus transfer) is a full day out. There are shows with dolphins, sea lions and birds of prey, then buffalo, armadillos, snakes, turtles, farm animals and a snow leopard (who they are at pains to explain was rescued from awful conditions in a circus). There's a couple of pools and a big water slide. Two or three times a week, depending on the season, they also offer a wild west evening of music and shows with food, drink and suitable for all ages. It costs €40/€22.

There is a full-on water park (the biggest in Lanzarote) in Costa Teguise, which as well as the usual water-based splashy fun has a paintball park and a cinema. It's €22.50/€16 plus €4 bus fare, all of which racks up - but there's enormous fun to be had with kids, especially those beyond the minimum height.

If it's isolation and bit more exertion that takes your fancy, jump on a ferry from Orzola to La Graciosa, the unofficial eighth Canary Island. Supposed to have been the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, it is home to Playa Francesa, a 45-minute hike from the capital Caleta de Sebo. La Graciosa also has nudist beaches should you want to feel the wind in the, erm... willows.

Lanzarote offers as much or as little as you might want from a holiday. There were people on our trip who were very happy to have stayed within the same square kilometre for their week away. But there are all kinds of trips and adventures on offer. There really is something for everyone, and all good value, making it an affordable family or longer-term holiday option.

And when the days get short and cold here, the sun will still be shining in Lanzarote.

Take two: Top attractions

Shop for bargains

Whether it is market fare or designer labels, Lanzarote has it all. Teguise Market makes for a wonderful Sunday morning. Check out shopping centres in Puerto del Carmen for tax-free labels.

Fire Mountains

Timanfaya National Park is the best reason to leave the cosy environs of your home away from home. Whether by bus or car, visit the  island’s incredible and dramatic volcanic beauty.

Getting there

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Pleasure island: Playa Blanca in Lanzarote

Sunway offers holidays to the beautiful Spanish island of Lanzarote.

Flights to Lanzarote depart every Saturday and run right through the winter as part of Sunway's Winter Sun programme.

Lanzarote is the perfect year-round holiday destination suitable for families, couples and individuals alike, with beautiful beaches, stunning resorts and plenty to do, including fantastic day trips and water sports.

Package holidays with Sunway to Lanzarote start from €399pp, including flights, seven nights' hotel on a self-catering basis, transfers, 20kg baggage and services of a Sunway representative.

Price is subject to availability. Call 01-2311800 or visit sunway.ie.

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