Viva Las Palmas

A winter sun break planned around a penthouse in a great location comes up trumps

Sat, Mar 1, 2014, 01:00

Nothing reinforces your preconceptions of the Canary Islands and makes you question your sense of adventure like repeated sightings of our illustrious former tánaiste and health minister Mary Harney. We’re in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, making a break for it in the bleak days of January, a tradition that started with freezing but fun fortnight in the Czech Republic about 12 years ago. Since then, we’ve enjoyed destinations as far flung as Australia, as exotic as India, as colourful as Cuba. But this year we’re cutting our cloth to suit our measure, and damn glad of the opportunity for a blast of vitamin D.

Harney Watch starts in the lobby of the grandiose Hotel de Santa Catalina. It’s the morning after a pretty trashy dinner on the beach strip (I know, I know) and just before a visit to the hotel’s spa, uncomfortably reminiscent of a scene from Cocoon. We give the indoor pool a miss for now, not wanting to disturb the handful of septuagenarians doing water weights and gently splashing along the edges. Upstairs, around the outdoor paddling pool, the clientele are a little more sprightly, and we even spot some children (two) and a teenager and their parents (two).

It’s with some relief, therefore, that today turns out to be the eve of the Three Kings (the Epiphany), the traditional day for Christmas gift-giving in Spanish and Latin American cultures. After a delicious lunch of grilled fish at the bar of a full and festive La Teta de la Vaca, we return to the hotel to discover children of all ages lining the streets, waiting for the parade of the Three Kings. Riding on camels, they pass through the island’s capital city ahead of a busy night delivering presents to all the good boys and girls, and coal to the naughty ones.

The Hotel Santa Catalina is one of the city’s most historic buildings, in the ilk of Havana’s Hotel Nacional, all wicker furniture and palm trees and marble floors. But its grandeur is fading and it has seen better days. Across the street, a park and running track suggest new life, and beyond that again we stop off for an evening drink and tasty morsels at Pantalan, part of a complex of modern restaurants and bars overlooking the marina. But still, the next morning we are glad to be moving on.

At our apartment in the Triana neighbourhood, a five-minute drive in the direction of the oldest part of the city, our Airbnb hosts Adriana and Miguel greet us like old friends, showing us around their impeccable apartment before heading off to join their family for the day’s festivities.

This is more like it. Quiet and cobblestoned, Calle Perez Galdos feels more San Sebastian than Playa del Ingles. The ático, or penthouse, is super stylish, with a completely private furnished sun terrace overlooking the city. A spiral staircase climbs further up again to a neat solarium on the rooftop (where the utility room and, in a stroke of genius, the ironing board are located).

Our pedestrianised street is dotted with quirky little design shops and Michelin Guide recommended restaurants, and in this part of the city we pass humans of all ages – it feels more like real life and less like a cruise-liner invasion.

Down by the Cathedral of Santa Ana, in the Vegueta neighbourhood, children play on a peaceful plaza; outside bars and cafes friends gather for drinks as the sun goes down; on Calle Triana shoppers take advantage of the sales. A nearby grocer’s and a supermarket provide everything we need to take advantage of our well-equipped kitchen, and a pair of bikes left by the owners give us the freedom to cycle the 5km (of mostly cycle lane) to and from the blue-flag Playa de Las Canteras.

Low tide is the perfect time for snorkelling at Playa Chica, where you’ll see bream and flounder, maybe some colourful parrotfish and trumpetfish, or some mildly terrifying lizardfish, stargazers, and former health ministers. If snorkelling has whet your appetite, the 7Mares diving centre runs PADI courses for all levels. The Oleiros bar overlooking the beach is a great spot to catch the last of the evening sun with a cervesa and pintxos.

Besides the perfect weather – Las Palmas has the world’s best climate, according to the internet – the city has just enough distractions to keep boredom at bay. Parque Santa Catalina is great for people-watching and home to a surprisingly high-tech tourist office; museums open late and include the Centro Atlántico De Arte Moderno, which has a charming, albeit concise, modern art collection; the Teatro Pérez Galdós runs seasons of jazz, opera and recitals. But not so many to make you feel guilty on days when a good book in the sun is enough to be getting on with.

Relaxation is the name of the game, and we leave Las Palmas a picture of health, rather than picturing a health minister – even after one last sighting at the airport.

Ryanair flies direct from Dublin four days a week and to/from Cork on Tuesdays. Aer Lingus flies direct from Dublin three days a week and to/from Cork on Fridays.

Hotel Santa Catalina, Calle León y Castillo 227, from €120 per night, Adriana and Miguel’s penthouse, Calle Perez Galdos, €80 per night, We built our trip around this stylish, spacious and generously stocked apartment. Highly recommended.
Brisamar apartments, Paseo De Las Canteras 49, €67 per night, Clean budget apartments in a fantastic location overlooking the crashing waves of Las Canteras.

Amaiur, Calle Pérez Galdos 2, Recommended by the Michelin Guide and run by three charming Basque brothers. Try the wild mushrooms, picked fresh each day, and die happy.

For a hearty lunch, also on this street, Dara organic restaurant is perfect for veggies and great value at €7 for soup, dish of the day and a beer or water.
Oleiros, Paseo de las Canteras 60. Great sea views for lunch or evening sun. Keep it simple with pintxos and two beers for €12.

Off the main beach strip, La Teta de la Vaca, Calle Ferreras 7, has great food and atmosphere for dinner or a late lunch (about €50 for two courses and wine for two).
Pantalan Centro, Comercial Sotavento planta alta (via Calle Joaquín Blanco Torrent, under the dual carriageway), Overlooks the marina for an evening cocktail.

Teatro Pérez Galdós, Plaza Stagno,

Centro Atlántico De Arte Moderno, Calle los Balcones 11, adm €5,
7mares, Calle Tenerife 12 (next to Mercado del Puerto), discovery scuba dive from €60, Casa del Turismo, Parque Santa
Catalina, with touchscreen information kiosks.
Carnival Las Palmas, until March 8th,

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