Fuerteventura: The ocean has never been so blue
The glamorous blonde in the skinny jeans roared at us: "Come on my lovelies, smile you're on your hols," before ringing the bell, declaring the bar open and urging us all to partake of her Champagne Cava Cocktail. When we signed up for an afternoon's gentle sailing on a catamaran, a booze cruise was not quite what we had envisaged.
Along with my island-loving younger sister Justine, I was holidaying on Fuerteventura, the oldest of the Canaries and one I hadn't visited before. Translated it means 'windy island', which given its location (50 miles from the Sahara) and the fact that we were there in early June proved a great bonus as constant breezes took the sting out of the heat; it also explains the island's allure for wind and kite-surfers.
From the get go, we were mesmerised by its beauty. Essentially a monochrome outcrop of volcanic rock and desert, Fuerteventura was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2009. The 45-minute bus ride to our hotel just outside the fishing village of Corralejo brought us through miles of dunes: it was here in the recent movie Allied that Brad Pitt parachuted in and frolicked in a jeep with Marion Cotillard.
We were on an all-inclusive week in the four-star Suite Atlantis, a well-designed resort set among attractively landscaped gardens, vivid with hibiscus and bougainvillea. The suites are all incorporated in two-tier low-rise blocks and our upper floor billet was more like a mini-apartment, comprising bedroom, ensuite, walk-in wardrobe, sitting-room with television, desk and fridge and a small balcony overlooking one of the resort's seven pools.
We quickly discovered the 'quiet pool' where the no inflatables rule guaranteed a child-free zone. There was plenty to do, if you so desired, from volleyball, kite-surfing and tennis to a variety of classes: Justine, a yoga devotee, joined one and enjoyed stretching and bending in the midday sun.
Despite firm pre-holiday health and fitness avowals, I confined myself to two of my favourite activities - reading (seven novels in as many days with the American author Maile Meloy a dazzling new discovery) and swimming endlessly. My generous sister gave me a present of a trip to the hotel's Wellness & Therapy Spa where I enjoyed a 90-minute treatment comprising a citrus and sea salt peeling scrub followed by a full body vitamin massage. Fantastic and at €79, very good value.
A shuttle bus operated mornings and afternoons taking guests on the five-minute run from hotel to the nearby Grandes Playas and what grand beaches they were. Miles of fine white sand stretched as far as the eye could see, dotted with tranches of sun loungers, parasols and the occasional chiringuito where we enjoyed simple lunches of prawn and avocado salad and cold local white wine.
In fact we were both delighted with the food, especially our hotel's culinary offerings. Superb breakfast fare included everything you could possibly want from Prosecco (though I only indulged on our last day) to a superb selection of fruits, cereals and more or less any hot food.
Lunches and dinners were also plentiful and imaginative, though if you tired of the buffet in the main restaurant, there were also the options of Spanish and Asian-themed eateries.
On a couple of evenings, after a brace of mojitos at the nearby Sunset Longue, a cool spot peopled by surf dudes, we strolled along the beachfront to downtown Corralejo.
The main thoroughfare is a bit 'honky tonk' but venture seaside and you'll be rewarded by a myriad bars and restaurants slung along the ocean's edge offering all manner of food with stunning views of the Isle of Lobos.
Our most memorable dinner was in Tapas Oscar (in a small square behind the waterfront) and featured a luscious mix of Spanish produce - Iberico ham, local goats' cheese, tiny fried fish, fried cheese, prawns sizzling in garlic and olive oil, pimentos padron - accompanied by a flinty Albarino, all for €60.
There are plenty of excursions if you want a change from your sunbed; among them ferries to the various islands: I liked the sound of the glass-bottomed boat which takes visitors to see Lanzarote's still active volcano and the green lagoon and sea caves. There are shopping and sailing jaunts, tours of Fuerteventura and its villages, and for children there's the Oasis Park (to which a free bus operates from Suite Atlantis) promising everything from swimming with sea lions to camel safaris.
Near our resort, a shopping centre hosted a lively, local market on Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings, filled with stalls selling everything from jewellery made from citrus, to aloe vera plants and back massages.
But back to the week's highlight. Despite our initial misgivings, our catamaran Catlanza turned out to be sensational fun. It's also - at €59 per adult - eminently affordable. A shuttle collected us, picking up from other hotels along the way to the harbour at Corralejo. About 50 (adults only - though a pirate themed kids' trip is available) were efficiently embarked and after a safety drill, off we went crashing through the surf at speed.
The best bit was eventually mooring off lovely Papagayo beach at Lanzarote where for a couple of hours we lunched on a simple delicious pasta with tuna and tomato sauce, with watermelon for dessert, then swam and snorkelled in cool, clear waters while the ebullient crew delighted in taking the more intrepid voyagers on fast and furious jet ski runs.
Heaven it was to sunbathe on the net of the catamaran, the vessel rising and falling gently with the bobbing of the waves - it felt rather like being on a giant sunny open air water bed. The drink flowed and the return home was a lively affair with the younger gang bopping away happily to the music. It was tremendous fun in the sun but be warned: you need your sea legs. And remember to smile, you're on your holliers!
Madeleine travelled to Fuerteventura with Sunway, staying seven nights in the 4* Suite Hotel Atlantis Fuerteventura Resort, Corralejo on an all-inclusive basis.
Prices start from €799pp for two adults sharing - and this price includes Sunway's 5 package-holiday components, which are; flights, seven nights' accommodation, transfers, 20kg baggage and services of a Sunway representative.
Price is based on select July and August departures and subject to availability.
Call Sunway on 01-2311800 or visit www.sunway.ie.
Sunday Indo Living