Green, not grotty, Lanzarote
ETHICAL TRAVELLER: CATHERINE MACKon a simple rural resort
I NEVER EXPECTED to come back from Lanzarote, of all places, with a yearning to be more creative. In fact, within minutes of arriving at Lanzarote Retreats, an eco hideaway in the small north coast fishing village of Arrieta, I had dropped all preconceptions of this much maligned destination. Because here, Michelle and Tila Braddock, of UK origins but living on the island for 20 years, have restored an old farm or “finca” into what is not only a masterpiece of eco design but also an exemplary flagship of what sustainable, rural and resort-free tourism can and should be.
The finca boasts seven stunning yurts and a handful of cleverly-restored stone buildings, all powered by 40 solar panels and two wind turbines. They source water from a spring and recycle all the grey stuff. The guests dip in and out of a communal, solar-heated pool area, beside which the old well now hosts an honesty shop selling everything from locally-sourced bread and water melons to local wine.
And the local wine is actually good – another thing you wouldn’t expect from a destination notorious for being grotty not green. There are wineries, or bodegas, spread throughout La Geria valley, where thousands of black, sandy craters house individual vines, each one surrounded by a stone wall to protect it from the almost constant wind.
These fertile oases as well as their dramatically barren volcanic plains are what make Lanzarote so unique. Michelle and Tila’s finca is a microcosm of this really, with brightly decorated yurts mirroring the soft mounds of the island’s myriad volcanic cones, and stone renovations a reminder of locals’ determination to find a way of surviving throughout its violent, volcanic history.
The general air of living life to the full is not surprising, therefore and, at the finca it certainly infused our holiday from the start. Although we had the use of a Toyota Prius, which came with our Eco Luxury Yurt package, Tila met us at the airport with a bottle of bubbly to wash our travel stresses away. Within minutes of arriving at their divine homestead, he had whisked our boys down the dusty path to the beach, complimentary body boards in hand, to show them where to catch the best waves.
The Braddocks have always been inspired by Lanzarotes visionary artist and architect, César Manrique, who worked closely with local authorities to prevent his homeland from resort ruination, and whose many architectural masterpieces are built into lava bubbles and caves we visited and adored. To visit Lanzarote without imbibing the creative juices of Manrique is like doing Barcelona without Gaudí.
Indeed, Manrique’s restaurant El Diablo is still at the core of Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park. A highly protected region, most tourists opt to visit by bus, but I managed to locate a superb local guide, Marcelo Espino of canarytrekking.com, one of a handful with walking permits, to lead me up Pico Partido volcano.
Our holiday highlights included jumping off the pier with a bevy of local kids, visiting the tiny island of La Graciosa, barbecuing freshly caught tuna, exploring volcanic caves and, on our last day, trekking up the finca’s nearby Temisa Valley with Michelle to the local artisan craft market at Haria.
On the way back we strolled into Haria’s cemetery where, hidden away, we found Manrique’s grave. Just a plain, engraved stone set into the ground, with a palm at one end and a cactus at the other it was, “just as Manrique had requested”, the gardener told us.
“Its simple, natural beauty is really quite touching,” said Michelle and, as we strolled back down the side of the volcano, in quiet contemplation of the good things in life, I caught sight of her simple, natural creation among the palms far below, and smiled, thinking that her hero must surely be looking down on it and smiling too.
Follow Catherine Mack at twitter.com/catherinemack or on her blog, ethicaltraveller.net