Monday 22 January 2018

Lanzarote: A grape escape

This volcanic region offers a sizzling brew of attractions

What a corker: A vineyard in the La
Geria volcanic region of Lanzarote,
What a corker: A vineyard in the La Geria volcanic region of Lanzarote,
The Cueva de los Verdes, one of the longest volcanic tunnels in the world

Nicola Brady

At first glance, it seems like nothing should grow on the mountains of Lanzarote. The landscape is dramatically barren, with volcanic rock meeting black, scorched plains. Journey further into the hills, and you could well believe that you're on another planet.

But scattered throughout the austere peaks are little patches of greenery, surrounded by a semi-circle of stone. These crevices, scraped from thick layers of volcanic lapilli, each protect a single vine, which in turn creates some interesting and beautiful wines.

Bodega Stravs (stratvs.com) is one of the newer vineyards in the wine region of La Geria. With manicured gardens and a stylish restaurant, it's a great place to spend the afternoon, a delicious glass of Dry Malvasia in hand. There's a weekend brunch menu, and daily tours of the winery for €12pp.

La Geria is home to a number of vineyards, many of which open their doors to tourists. Every year, the Lanzarote Wine Run leads eager participants on a running tour of the region's bodegas. The event is a peculiar concoction, combining wine tasting with a half-marathon, with runners (or trekkers) sampling the wares of the wineries along the route.

The combination may be unusual, but it comes as no surprise that it takes place on an island so popular with athletes. Cyclists are a common fixture on the hills, and more than 1,800 participants arrive each year to partake in Ironman Lanzarote.

All this meant that I felt a little inadequate merely driving to the Timanfaya National Park, rather than donning some lycra and runners. Also known as Montañas del Fuego (Fire Mountains), the region was created between 1730 and 1736, when 100 volcanoes erupted and devastated the area. What remains is a region that has barely changed since that time. The landscape is eerily calm and other-worldly, a series of red plains and bubbly black rock.

At the start of the national park, a long line of camels await passengers, for a trek over the land. I opted for the drive, up a long and curving road to the visitor's centre. I wasn't the only one – coaches filled with tourists had made the journey to the peak.

At the visitor's centre a man stood, shovel in hand. After digging a shallow hole in the rust-hued pebbles, he brought around a scoop of the gravel for us to touch. It was piping hot. Another man threw straw into a different hole, which took a few seconds to ignite into a roaring flame. You can see why the attraction is popular – it's a visual and living reminder of the explosive life that resides just below your feet. Museums and exhibits are all well and good, but if you're standing on a volcano, you want to see some fire.

In the restaurant, El Diablo, you can dine on food cooked over the heat of the fiery earth. Potatoes, sardines and meat are all griddled over the volcanic heat, which are then served up at tables overlooking the striking terrain.

The underworld is less sizzling in the north of the island, but no less dramatic. The eruption of La Corona created one of the longest volcanic tunnels in the world, sections of which are open for public exploration.

One of these segments is found in Cueva de los Verdes. An hour- long tour leads you through the labyrinth of spooky caves, the walls and rocky expanses illuminated by atmospheric spotlights. When walking through the tunnels, there are stretches of wide open spaces, such as the natural auditorium, a cavernous chamber where concerts are sometimes held. However, there are also sections where you are forced to duck and dive, squeezing through gaps and walking while bent double.

Of course, Lanzarote isn't all volcanoes, caves and vineyards. Most of the visitors who flock to the island each year want sun, sand and sea. There are some gorgeous beaches along the coast, even hidden in the busier resorts like Puerto del Carmen. But to get a real sense of the surroundings, I headed off on a catamaran tour.

My heart sank as I boarded the boat at Puerto Calero. The crew, kitted out in pirate regalia, were dressed to the nines and ready for theatrics. They were also keen to thrust a cocktail into the hand of anyone who stepped aboard, which led me to believe I was about to unwittingly embark on a stag party's dream cruise.

I swore that if anyone were to break out in a shanty, or utter the words "walk the plank", I would hurl myself overboard pronto.

But luckily, the cruise was calm, cool and pleasantly free of pantomime. Passengers leapt off the side, snorkels in hand, or sped off on jet skis.

I was content to lie out in the sun, happily drifting on the cool blue waters, eternally grateful that nobody's timbers were shivered.

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