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The lap of luxury on an isle that's a perfect 10


Bentayga rock dominates the skyline

Bentayga rock dominates the skyline

Bentayga rock dominates the skyline

HAVING been to Gran Canaria twice before without ever venturing outside my chosen resort - other than a trip to El Corte Ingles to dispose of more of my non-disposable income - this time, I was determined to broaden my horizons.

Mind you, it was hard to tear ourselves away from our hotel - the five-star Palm Beach in Maspalomas, decorated superbly in retro style and situated next to the famous dunes and a 50-metre walk from the beach.

Even I can manage that.

We were booked in on a half-board basis, and I can honestly say I have never before eaten so much food in just one week - and that's from somebody who can eat for Ireland. We'd go to bed at night planning our breakfast, and believe me, with the choice available and a few drinks on board, this became extremely mentally challenging. Which fresh juice will I have with my champagne? Melon? Papaya? Carrot? Mango?

The breakfast area had every conceivable variety of cereal, cold meat, cheese, bread, croissant, yoghurt, fresh fruit and omelette you could want. I did mention, jokingly, that there didn't appear to be any Weetabix, and was assured they'd look into it.

The main restaurant had a barbecue a few times a week, and once again, the choice and quality were second to none. The downside was that I put on another half stone in a week. But at least my newly expanded body is covered in a gorgeous even tan - the weather is superb all year round in Gran Canaria.

In my own inimitable, hedonistic style, I went for a rasul treatment in a sister hotel, the Grand Hotel Residencia. This basically involved me being dressed in a paper thong and covered in different types of mud and sea salt. I was like a Zulu warrior and anything but a pretty sight, but my skin definitely felt amazing after it.

The Residencia has a one-to-one ratio of staff to clients. Spanish leaders Jose Maria Aznar and Jose Luis Zapatero have stayed there, as has Bo Derek. No, not together. That's how rumours start.

We met two Kerry women who had hardly left the hotel for the week. They just lay out by the pool, had lots of treatments and dined at night in the beautiful terrace restaurant. I must mention this to my daughter so that when she makes her millions, she can pay me back for the phone bills with a 'girlie' break.

We took a day off from eating and went on a guided tour through the centre of the island. It's similar to going through the Connor Pass, a tad scary but well worth the trip. We drove up through plantations of tomato, strawberry, mango and papaya interspersed with quaint whitewashed villages. There are fewer than a hundred inhabitants in some of these, and some of the houses are used merely as weekend retreats.

In the centre of the island lies the town of Tejeda, which is surrounded by lots of almond trees. Unfortunately, we missed them at theirbest as they come into flower in February.

There are two huge rocks dominating the landscape here, the Nublo rock and the Bentayga rock. The original inhabitants lived in volcanic caves and used to climb up to the top of these rocks and pray for special intentions, like rain. I should have climbed up and prayed for a wealthy man!

The fasting didn't last long, and we stopped in the town of San Mateo for lunch at Restaurant Raiz del Verol. Here, we tasted the small Canarian potatoes covered in Mojo, a spicy red sauce and a typical dessert, Bienmesabe, which consists of ground almonds and honey poured over ice cream. Divine.

The long and windy road eventually took us to the capital, Las Palmas, so called because of its many palm trees. We wandered around the old town and visited the Casa de Colon or the Columbus museum. Originally the Governor's house, Columbus stayed here in 1492 while one of his ships was being repaired. A beautiful building, it has now been turned into a museum, and what really struck me was the absence of America from the wall maps.

There are lots of interesting little churches in the old town, and a wander around the many parks is a must. One of the squares was being set up for TV cameras. A boy who worked in the nearby Carrefour supermarket had made it to the final of the Spanish equivalent of You're a Star, and everyone in the city was weak with excitement. They were all going to gather there to watch the final that night. (He won!)

A trip to any city is never quite complete, for me, unless I can be exposed to retail therapy. I was let loose in Las Arenas shopping centre which is close to the west end of Las Canteras beach in Las Palmas. In less than an hour, I managed to buy seven pairs of shoes at half the cost they'd be at home. Ikea is only a short drive away (and near the airport), and a dangerous place for a compulsive shopper like me. I now have a new supply of wall lights, lamps, bed linen and even an ironing board! I should have stayed in Maspalomas and left the delights of the island to the more controlled shopper.

For more information, visit www.seaside-hotels.com or www.grancanaria.com

Budget travel, in its 'Something Special' brochure, offers the Seaside Hotels, as do Falcon and Sunway Travel (Hotel Residencia only)