Sun, sea and sand are just the start of a holiday in the Canaries' paradise-like island of Fuerteventura, says Pól Ó Conghaile
I feel as if I've just walked on to the glossy pages of a travel magazine. Before me, royal-blue water stretches out towards the rocky hump of Isla de Lobos. Under my feet is a hot carpet of chino-coloured sand, stretching several kilometres in either direction.
I throw down a towel to mark our spot on Fuerteventura's Grande Playa. "Toes in!" squeals our toddler, making a beeline for the water. In my bag, I've got a snorkel, buckets and spades, a bodyboard and a stash of fruit, water and kiddie biscuits.
Fuerteventura soaks up 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. The island may not be as developed as fellow Canaries such as Lanzarote, Gran Canaria and Tenerife, but it catches just as many rays and features the same jolting, dramatic contrasts – in this case, azure oceans lapping up against an arid interior that looks and feels like Arizona.
Summer holidays, anyone?
Grande Playa, Fuerteventura
The bulk of a family holiday in Fuerteventura will be spent by the pool or at the beach. That's a no-brainer. But it's worth setting aside at least one day for a rental car.
I knew the Canary Islands were volcanic, but I was taken aback by just how barren the landscape could be.
Striking inland from the sandy beaches, Fuerteventura feels like Mordor meeting the Med – black basalt and scorched earth rise up into mountains spotted with tufts of cactus, hardy goats and the odd aloe vera farm. You simply don't get a sense of it from the coast.
The beauty of an exploratory drive, however, is that miles and miles of desert-like expanse suddenly bloom into historic towns such as Pajar and the old capital of Betancuria – named for Jean de Bethencourt, the Frenchman who stepped onto the island in 1402 to exclaim: "Que forte aventure!".
Renting your own wheels, of course, also opens up Fuerteventura's off-the-beaten track beaches.
Book an all-inclusive holiday to Fuerteventura from just €529 here.
Corralejo is Fuerteventura's largest resort town, and well serviced by Irish tour operators. But at its heart, you can still get a sense of the ancient fishing village from which it sprang.
Our favourite meal came at La Marquesina (0034 928 535 435), a seafood restaurant set on the old stone harbour wall. It's not the cheapest of the numerous restaurants packed into the old town, but the views are sensational. Just as I'm tucking into a snapper plucked fresh from the counter (€16), the moon floats up over the ocean like a hot-air balloon.
Another option, and a different vibe, is the tapas at Pincha Cabra (Calle le Milagrosa 17), a funky little joint on Plaza Calero. Calamari, goat's cheese, peppercorn beef and the fresh melon and artichoke salad are good here.
Caleta de Fuste, south of the airport, is a second major resort featured by Irish tour ops. You won't lack eating options here, but do consider driving 10 minutes further south to Los Caracolitos (0034 928 174 242). Fish, paella or papas arrugadas – the Canaries' famous 'wrinkly potatoes' with Mojo pepper sauce – are the dishes to try in this restaurant overlooking the salt pans at Salinas del Carmen.
If you have a car, and you fancy a sense of what Corralejo might have looked like 30 or 40 years ago, then make it your business to drive out west towards El Cotillo.
Wrapped around a deep-cut harbour and inlet on the wilder west coast, this little seaside town is Fuerteventura's hidden gem. We sat eating ice cream at one of the cafés overlooking the stony beach, before dipping into the Clean Ocean Project (cleanocean project.org), a tiny shop selling jewellery, T-shirts and other trinkets made with flotsam reclaimed from the beaches.
Caleta de Fuste is set around a shallow, manmade beach that is ideal for children – one reason the purpose-built resort is so popular with families, despite running a little low on authenticity. Although the desert-like landscape mightn't suggest it, this is also the place to base yourself if you fancy a round of golf. The Spanish Open was held at Fuerteventura Golf Club in 2004.
We stayed on Las Marismas Apartments in Corralejo (en.lasmarismas.info), grabbing lunch at the apartment and breakfast and dinner at the resort buffet. The three-star property is featured by most Irish tour operators selling Fuerteventura, and includes a couple of great outdoor pools and a decent kids club.
The apartments are a bit basic, and the buffet won't satisfy any gourmet cravings, however, so I'd think twice before booking seven days on an all-inclusive basis.
For a splash-out, two of the top hotels on the island are the Atlantis Bahia Real in Corralejo (bahiarealresort.com), and the Sheraton Fuerteventura in Caleta de Fuste (sheratonlacaleta.com/en).
Both are five-star, both come with spas and wellness centres, and the Sheraton sits just opposite the resort golf course, just 150m from the beach.
Sun, sea and sand on the Canaries...
In summer, passenger boats leave the harbour in Corralejo between 10am and 4pm, taking 15 or 20 minutes to reach Isla de Lobos offshore.
As a volcanic nature reserve, the island is completely free from traffic, and visitors are dropped off at a pier with trails leading to various beaches, lagoons and a lighthouse. Bring your own food, water and shade.
Some of the best snorkelling in Corralejo is here, though you have to hit the island at high tide to walk in off the sand on Playa de Concha (more intrepid swimmers can scramble off the rocks). If you don't fancy disembarking at the island, glass-bottom boat tours are also available.
Baku Waterpark (bakufuerteventura.com) bundles a slow river, wave pool, playground and jumping castle just outside of Corralejo, with central slides branching off a hill offering brilliant views over the northeast coast.
There's a good spread for all ages here, from soft-foam multi-tracks on a gentle, bumpy incline, to kamikaze runs and black holes that really get the whooping going.
Day tickets are pricey at €25/€19pp, and lockers cost an annoying €4 a pop on top of that, though it is possible to get discounts from some hotels or by buying seven-day tickets (€85/€60).
Bring a picnic to save spending silly money on even sillier food, and, whatever you do, don't forget to douse everybody in high- factor sunscreen at least 30 minutes before they hit the water.
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) and Ryanair (Ryanair.com) fly direct from Dublin to Fuerteventura throughout the summer. Ryanair also flies from Cork on Saturdays. For more, see visitfuerteventura.es.
NB:All prices/availability subject to change.
Prior to my first trip to Tenerife some five years ago, I had the misconception that it was a hotspot for 'geezers' with string vests and tattoos. Something to do with the fact that Bet Lynch from Corrie used to regularly come back to the 'street' having spent time there. I was wrong. It was gorgeous and so I leapt at the chance to return. It's the largest of the Canary Islands and because Pico del Tiede, the highest peak in Spain divides the island, there are two very definite climates. The South is hot and rocky and the North is verdant and humid.