The Canary Islands

Less than four hours flying time from the UK and northern Europe, the Canary Islands are the easiest way to indulge in a little winter sunshine. In summer, the weather gets even better, yet it's "low season" then, so the prices get even better too.

Mount Teide, Tenerife

The seven islands of the Canaries are the tips of under-sea mountains projecting up four miles from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Each island has it's own unique character, so let's step forward and take a look.

Walking on the Canary IslandsTenerife is the largest island and also the most-visited. At its centre it is dominated by the extinct volcano of Mt Teide, and the natural park that surrounds it is a paradise for walkers, birdwatchers and lovers of nature. The purity of the air on the mountain slopes is astounding. Around the coastline, there are many broad sandy beaches as well as steep rocky cliffs with commanding views. While some of the beaches have been turned into the well-known lively resorts like Los Cristianos, there are a multitude of quieter places offering more low-key facilities or even total solitude.

Our own favourite Canary island is Lanzarote, because it's a little less developed yet still provides every facility and home comfort. With over 300 extinct volcanoes and a few smouldering ones, its landscape is famously lunar-like in appearance. Canarian wildlifeThe signs of the volcanic activity of past times are never far away, and they bring many extra experiences of mountains and volcanoes that you simply can't get anywhere else. When you have recovered from the unique sight-seeing experience of the lava fields, the beaches will always beckon, whether you choose the large expanses of sand on the east coast or the tiny sheltered coves on the south-western tip.

Of the four largest islands, Fuerteventura has been most lightly touched by tourism, and it's all the better for that. The warm weather, consistent breezes and clear waters make Fuerteventura a mecca for watersport enthusiasts. Surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing are all hugely popular with lots of schools and courses for those wanting to learn. There are great dive locations too, and almost any stretch of sheltered water will be a joy for snorkellers. For a more laid-back approach to the water, the sea and the long sandy beaches are ideal for the simple pleasures of swimming and sunbathing. Being also the driest of the islands, the interior is mostly a desert of broad plains, lavascapes and volcanic mountains. Much of this consists of protected areas, although there are organised tours and vehicular access. This rugged natural beauty, combined with the balmy climate and 3000 hours of sunshine every year, makes the island an attractive destination for walkers too.

Sandcastles and kite surfersGran Canaria includes the capital city of the Canaries, Las Palmas, so is a little less dependent solely on tourism and agriculture. Nonetheless it is a geographically diverse little island featuring massive snow-capped mountains, rugged ravines and aromatic pine forests in the central area, lush sub-tropical valleys amidst cliffs and gorges in the north and never-ending desert-like sand dunes and beaches in the south.

The three smaller islands (and the most westerly) are La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. The recent volcanic eruption of La Cumbre Vieja brought La Palma to the attention of the world. Although big and spectacular, the area affected was a relatively small part of the island and tourism is largely unaffected, except for the upsurge in "volcano tourism"! Like every Canary island La Palma has rugged mountains, and lush and varied vegetation though fewer beaches. At the heart of the island the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory is one of the world’s most important, benefitting from the clear mountain air to give the best view out into the universe.


29 Dec 2022, 10:25