I have to confess. For years now, I’ve been doing Lanzarote a disservice. See I pigeon-holed (Canary-holed?) Lanzarote into the ‘Typical Sun Holiday’ category that it, and the other Canaries, so often get placed in. In my defence, the last time I was here was some 16 years ago and to be fair I did have a very enjoyable, very typical sun holiday. It’s a great place to have one of those, and more power to you if that’s what you want… but driving across the island now, passing group after group of Lycra-clad cyclists, it’s clear that there’s a lot more to Lanzarote than just sunshine and sun loungers.
In the years since I was last here, Lanzarote has clearly carved out a niche for itself as a sports destination. It hosts its own annual IRONMAN event, as well as triathlons, marathons, trail running and trekking events, open water swimming competitions, and much more besides. I’m not doing anything quite as brave or ambitious as any of those, but I am here to get a little taste of just some of the sports you can get stuck into if you can’t hack more than a day or two on a sun lounger.
I’m staying in Club La Santa, a sports and fitness holiday complex on the west side of the island. Checking in, I can tell already that this is my kind of place. From reception, I can already see two 50m swimming pools and a bike rental centre (bike rental is included in the price of accommodation as is all other equipment and facility use), and the receptionist tells me that there’s also another leisure pool, an athletics track, a calisthenics bar park, an aerial yoga/pilates/relaxation studio, a full gym, an outdoor weights area, crazy golf, scuba diving, paddle-boarding, bike rental, personal training, TRX classes, tennis, squash, a sheltered lagoon for stand-up paddleboarding and windsurfing, restaurants and cafés with proper healthy options…
There’s even a 15-minute gymnastics session round the leisure pool every morning, where crowds of healthy holidaymakers get their day started off on the right foot with a bit of pre-breakfast movement. If you want an active holiday, this place is quite literally made for you.
After wandering round for a little while, I notice that the place is full of all kinds of people too, not only serious athletes or those training for a specific event. Their families are here, and other families too. There are people who are not so serious about sport but want to have a relatively active holiday, there people who are out of shape and want to kick start a new healthy lifestyle, people with disabilities, people of all ages – it’s an inclusive, fun place, and you don’t need to be a world champion athlete to enjoy it (although many do).
But as much action as there is in the complex itself, Lanzarote is a big and very beautiful island, and you’d be mad not to get out and explore what it has to offer people who like to stay at least a little busy during your holiday. Not least because some of the best action to be found on the island is in its surrounding waters.
One of the things it offers – and the first I try – is surfing with Kalufa Surf School.
Famara Beach in the north-west of the island is our surf spot, and it’s just beautiful – wide and golden, and flanked on one side by the dramatic Famara cliffs which fittingly resemble a giant breaking wave themselves. In front of the cliffs three small, rust-coloured islands – La Graciosa, Montana Clara and Alegranza – rise out of the sea in beautiful contrast with its sparkling cobalt blue. It’s really stunning.
My lesson goes well. Really well. Conditions are perfect, thankfully far better than my last surfing experience in the Canaries. Because it’s my first lesson with Kalufa, I initially have to stay in the shallow white-water while the rest of the group head out to the big waves, but I’m told me to head out to the big unbroken waves after I stand up on each of my first three attempts. Smiling like a nerd that just got given a gold star from teacher, I paddle out to where the big kids are playing.
There are instructors out here with the rest of the group. They welcome me and tell me to chill on my board, that they’ll shout when the perfect wave comes. They all look perfect to me, but I’m happy to defer to the experts – besides, there couldn’t be a more beautiful way to relax than sit atop my board out here in the sun, with this incredible scenery all around me. A few waves later, it happens. I hear my name and look at the instructors, who both start making the ‘PADDLE NOW!’ gesture. I turn myself round and start paddling and psyching myself up. The wave swells behind me, lifting me with it, and I somehow, somehow manage to stand up. Looking down at the big gap between where I am and where the surface of the water is,I realise that this is it. I’m surfing. Properly.
Well, perhaps not properly properly, in that I probably look like a baby calf taking its first steps… but I’m standing on a surfboard, on a wave, and I’m moving. And, I’m told afterwards, I’m also screaming with delight. It’s the best though. I feel like the champion of the world for about five glorious seconds, until the excitement gets the better of me and I wipe out spectacularly. It’s an indescribable feeling though, and Famara is the perfect place to feel it.
Surfing has a younger, more chilled out sibling known as SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding). I’m giving that a go too. My SUP session is taking place on the Costa Teguise, on the island’s east coast, at the beautiful Sands Beach Resort. It’s another dedicated health and fitness resort where you can train with pro-athletes (including the incredible Bella Bayliss, who I meet as I walk through the resort), try all kinds of new activities and sports, relax by the pool or on the private beach, and eat beautiful (and healthy) meals. The resort has a sheltered saltwater lagoon, perfect for trying out new water-sports, and this is where I’ll be gently paddling my way through the afternoon.
After a morning spent on the waves at Famara I’m feeling exhausted and a little battered, and very grateful to be doing something so chilled. The instructors here are lovely, and not just the one I am paddling with. Gliding around the lagoon I pass groups of children who are trying SUP and Kayaking, having the absolute time of their lives with instructors who are genuinely having a ball too – I can’t help but smile at the thought that these kids are having the kind of holiday that they’ll never forget. They shout at me to go faster. I try. We get in races. The kids win.
I have one more aquatic adventure to go on while I’m here, and this one goes deep. The Museo Atlantico – Europe’s first underwater art museum – is a new underwater art gallery, designed and created by artist Jason deCaires Taylor. Just off the coast in Playa Blanca, it’s taking SCUBA Diving on the island to a whole new level. It’s still being built, but there are over 80 of the planned 300 sculptures already in place in their seabed display. I’m diving to see what’s there, accompanied by Carlos from Playa Blanca’s excellent Non-Stop Divers. It’s a short boat trip to the museum, and Carlos gives me a great briefing about diving in the area as well as a little history about the museum itself. I can’t wait to get in the water.
Visibility is good, and the shadowy figures of the sculptures start to appear before me from about 3o metres away. They’re eerie and beautiful, and each work represents something pertinent to modern life, from our reliance on technology to climate change, and even a piece that symbolises Europe’s current refugee crisis. They are still obviously sculptures – stony grey with just a thin layer of mossy flora growing on them – and they’re still obviously quite new in their underwater world. But these sculptures will change.
They’re built using marine cement, which is PH neutral. This allows coral polyps (which create ‘skeletons’ out of calcium carbonate, and need that PH neutrality to survive) to attach themselves to the sculptures and grow, creating a kind of artificial reef which in turn attracts other marine life. Already there are schools of fish weaving through the stone figures, and even an Angel Shark lurking around on the sand. In years to come, it will be lush and colourful and full of life.
This museum is so much more than art. Like so much of the development on Lanzarote it has been carefully designed to be sustainable, to work with the environment, to blend in seamlessly with the beauty of its natural surroundings, and to unobtrusively become part of the island.
I think that’s one of the island’s biggest selling points. For such a massively popular tourist destination, Lanzarote has managed to remain incredibly beautiful (thank you Cesar Manriuque)! Red earth without beach-front high rises spoiling sea-views, or ugly architecture sticking out of its surface-of-mars landscape like sore thumbs. It’s what makes being outside in Lanzarote cycling, swimming, surfing, diving, running, hiking – whatever you want to do – through the volcanoes and along the stunning coastlines such an absolute pleasure.
There are lots of places you can do these things, but it’s nice to know you can do them somewhere as beautiful as Lanzarote.
Flights to Lanzarote
- Dee Murray