In defense of The Canary Islands
So, we’re going to the Canary Islands.
Tenerife, to be exact.
We’ve been to the Canaries quite a few times now on last-minute winter sun holidays, and I’ll be honest: I hesitated to even mention this one, because the thing is, there’s a bit of stigma about the Canary Islands. When you say you’re going there, people tend to look down their nose a bit at you, like you’ve just admitted to owning a Nickelback album, or thinking McDonald’s is haute cuisine or something. If you’re lucky, they’ll just leave it there and not subject you to any further eyerolls: if you’re not, though, they’ll come right out with a whole bunch of “holiday snob” observations, and tell you they’d NEVER want to go to a tacky tourist resort, because those places are all just Burger King and ‘Brits abroad’ attitudes, aren’t they?
Well, some of them ARE, obviously. It’s not like the stereotypes exist for absolutely no reason, after all, and the Canaries have their fair share of tacky nightclubs and people like the ones in the Trip Advisor reviews I published last week. There’s a lot more to them than that, though, and I actually think these islands get a bit of a bad rap, all things considered, so here are 10 reasons I love the Canary Islands…
The Canary Islands are only about a 4 hour flight from the UK, which makes them one of the most affordable winter sun destinations for us. You can also get a direct flight there from Scotland, which is another huge point in their favour, as a lot of the places we’d like to go to are harder to get to from Scottish airports. And, I mean, we do HAVE airports, of course. A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who’d been travelling somewhere, and who’d managed to totally astonish a fellow traveller by revealing she was flying back to Scotland. “You guys have AIRPORTS there?” the person asked, amazed. And yes: yes we do. We also have have horseless carriages, those newfangled electric lights, and word has it that one of them crazy kids has even invented a portable talking machine, that fits in your pocket. The other night Terry and I were sitting out on the stoop, and I turns to him and I says, “Terry,” I says, “Can you believe we’ve lived to see the day?” And Terry, he spat out the piece of straw he was chewin’ on, and, “Amber,” he says, “I cannot.”
They’re close(ish) to the UK
Er, sorry, I got a bit carried away there with the “being affronted”. As I was saying, we have international airports, with big shiny birds in them which fly through the air, and take you to far-away places, the likes of which you can only dream of. There is, however, a limit to how many of these places you get to on a direct flight. We can fly direct to most of Europe, and a few further-afield destinations, but the vast majority of the places Terry and I would most like to go would require at least one stop-over somewhere, and as soon as you start adding in stopovers, the price goes up, and so does the length of your journey, so what was supposed to be a cheap, no-hassle holiday ends up being the complete opposite – and out of our budget.
A lot of people are surprised that, with Europe right on our doorstep, we don’t just to Italy, France, Greece or similar during the winter. Actually, though, much of Europe isn’t quite as warm as we’d like at this time of year, and while you could get lucky and get some awesome weather, you’re just as likely to get un-lucky and end up shivering in a lot of the places people tend to think of as “hot”. The Canary Islands get a warm (although not boiling) temperature all year round, and while we have had some wet weather at times during the winter, it’s not nearly as bad as it is back home. Relaxing in the sunshine and escaping the miserable UK weather is the main reason we like to go away during the winter, so the weather is a huge plus point for the Canaries!
They’re warm all year round
The volcanic landscape of the Canary Islands makes for some pretty dramatic scenery (and terrifyingly twisty roads…), from the black ash “end of the world” feel of Lanzarote to the golden sand dunes of Gran Canaria. Speaking of which:
4km of sand dunes
It’s actually worth going to Gran Canaria for the Maspalomas Sand Dunes alone. Some of them are as big as houses (really, really big houses), and they feel like they go on forever (4km is “forever”, right?). The last time Terry and I were in Gran Canaria, we found a little hollowed out area in the dunes, and we’d spend hours there reading, or, OK, sliding down the sand like big the big kids we not-so-secretly are. Be aware that one section of the beach is nudist, though: I found that out one day when I was sitting peacefully reading in my little sand hollow, and looked up to see an elderly gentleman standing right above me, buck-naked but for a pair of sneakers and a rucksack. And it wasn’t the last time something like that happened, either…
(He was right to wear the sneakers, though: that sand gets HOT.)
The world’s third highest island volcano
Mount Teide, in Tenerife, is the highest point in Spain, and the scene of one of the most terrifying episodes of my life, when my parents convinced me to take the cable car ride to the top. (This is the reason I wouldn’t go NEAR the cable car in Palm Springs last summer, incidentally…) The cable car has been closed due to high winds the last couple of times Terry and I have tried to go up it (and I’ve been secretly relieved every time…) but it’s worth going up as far as you can by car/foot – the drive is pretty hair-raising, but it’s worth it for the views alone. Terry has never been to the top, and is determined to go this year: everyone keep your fingers crossed for me, m’kay?
Surprisingly pretty towns and villages
So, the main tourist areas of Playa de las Americas (Tenerife), Puerto del Carmen (Lanzarote) and Playa del Ingles (Gran Canaria) are, indeed, pretty tacky in places, and filled with exactly the kind of stuff you’d expect to find in a tourist town that makes most of its money from package holidays. You don’t have to go there, though. Hire a car and venture inland, or around the coast, and you’ll find some pictureque little towns and villages in a much more traditional style – and not a high-rise hotel to be seen.
It’s quieter than you might think
Although some of the more touristy parts of the Canary Islands have reputations as party towns, if you visit in winter, you’ll actually find it much quieter than you’re probably expecting. I’m sure it’s a different story in the height of summer, but we always travel off-season, when many of the bars and clubs are either closed, or are operating reduced hours, and the restaurants and shops are much quieter. If you’re looking to party, of course, you’d be pretty disappointed, but we’re there to relax, so it suits us perfectly.
Gotta love those skies…
Although they’re technically part of Europe, the Canary Islands are exempt from VAT, which makes some items a little cheaper to buy over there. Personally I’ve never really found the prices to be significantly cheaper (there is a local sales tax, so that might be why), but I HAVE heard that Zara in Spain is better than Zara not-in-Spain. I couldn’t possibly comment on that, though: you all know shopping is SO not my thing. Ahem. Oh, and if you head to any of the islands’ capitals, you might just find a Sephora concession tucked away in one of the larger department stores. Or so I’ve heard, anyway.
OK, so technically you could say this about any holiday destination, but I think the thing I’m most looking forward to is getting to read a book for a few solid hours, without feeling guilty about it. (And ideally without anyone trying to kill a cat in it, too. Nope, still not over it.) Bring it on…