Let’s face it, Lanzarote used to have a bad reputation. I can even remember the bad old days when it was sometimes referred to as Lanzagrotty. Yet Lanzarote in my experience is an island of geographical, cultural and artistic interest. Small enough that you can comfortably visit most places on the island in a week and blessed with decent weather for most of the year.
Lanzarote, for the uninitiated, is one of the Spanish Canary Islands
Cesar Manrique is the name you hear a lot in Lanzarote. A compatriot of Picasso, Manrique was born and died on Lanzarote. It was Manrique who suggested that all the buildings be painted in local colours, mainly white, and that none should be highrise. Manrique is to Lanzarote what Gaudi is to Barcelona. He designed many of the key buildings on the island and, as you drive around, you will see his intriguing mobiles on many roundabouts. Artist, designer, architect and lover of the Canarian way of life, Manrique left his mark on a Spanish island that is well worth a visit. Drag yourself away from the sun lounger and hit the highlights of Lanzarote.
TIMANFAYA NATIONAL PARK
Timanfaya is one of the most extraordinary places I have visited and, I imagine, the closest I will get to a Martian like landscape of red and black scorched earth. A vast lava field from volcanic eruptions over hundreds and thousands of years stretches out before you. Whilst the volcano has lain dormant for centuries, beneath ground the temperatures still soar to 600 degrees and when water is poured into holes, it shoots back out like a geyzer. To see the lava field you cannot wander at will around the park – you take a coach tour on a route designed by Manrique. There is a visitor centre and restaurant, also designed by Manrique, and they cook with the heat from the volcanic earth. This is your chance to eat lunch cooked by volcano!
Driving to Timanfaya you will pass the most unusual vineyards I have ever seen, the vines planted in small dips in the black volcanic earth, separated by low stone walls.
JAMEOS DEL AGUA
An astonishing place, Jameos del Agua is another Manrique creation. A huge cave with a collapsed roof it hosts a concert hall, swimming pool and gardens. The bright blue colour of the water surrounded by the white landscaping and cacti make it aesthetically very pleasing. The imagination and innovation shown by Manrique in developing this cave is astounding.
Near Jameos del Agua is Manrique’s Foundation and this is my favourite of all his creations. A stunning development, Manrique created a house out of a series of volcanic bubbles by joining them together. You really have to visit to comprehend just how the artist used the landscape to create this building. It has a 70’s vibe and houses works by Picasso, amongst other renowned artists. A white bubble leads to a red bubble with a tree growing out of it, a sunken garden leads to another of Manrique’s azure blue pools.
One of the rooms looks onto the lava field with a huge window and lava running across the floor of the room. It gives the sense that there is no window there, with the volanic rock spiling into the house.
It’s a house like no other, beautiful, futuristic, crazy, artistic and designed to reflect and enhance the landscape. It reminds me of a location from the Avengers.
Imagine this is your living room….
On roundabouts throughout the island and outside key Manrique locations, you see large, geometric colourful structures that move in the wind.
I’ve scratched the surface here for there is much more to see in Lanzarote than I managed to get to in a week. Manrique also designed a cactus garden and Mirador del Rio, a viewpoint concealed in rock, neither of which I have yet visited. But I like a reason to return.
If you are looking for culture, for art, for breathtaking landscapes both man-made and natural, for buildings conjured from volcanic rock and pure imagination, then Lanzarote should be top of your list.
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