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Sunday, 22 March 2015

Gran Canaria: Closing the Circle

After a week in Tenerife the Flashy and eight days in Lanzarote the Ancient, we conclude our final week in Gran Canaria the Recap.

This mini continent’s area is about twice Lanzarote’s and sums in itself a gamut of geological, scenery and climatic features, packing them in its almost circular area.

Indeed I had chosen it as the last leg of our trip in order to overcome our Tenerife and Lanzarote hiking exertions; I had heard it defined as “the least interesting” of the Canaries, certainly a good place to rest and enjoy being lazy.

This is true for Gran Canaria as for the rest of the archipelago, but it would be unfair to stop at that. Our first couple of days we did exactly that – rest – in peaceful San Agustin, next-door neighbour to vibrant Maspalomas, with its young, loud, colourful multitudes. San Agustin instead hosts a conspicuous, more mature Swedish colony, whose habits are less unruly. The beach is a wide, long stretch of white sand that the wind plays with, breaking up and recreating moiré effects. Ephemeral artists create imposing castles with drawbridges, turrets, battlements, standards, and also giant octopuses, dolphins leaping from the waves, pirate vessels and figures of fancy, all made of sand, precision, patience and a great sense of beauty. They lay a piece of cloth weighing it down with stones, on which passers-by can leave coins to show appreciation. Very often the wind blows cloths, stones and coins a long way away, forcing the artists to run after them.

Starting from San Agustin and walking on the shore or on the promenade for about four kilometres, we reach the Maspalomas Dunes protected area, covering four hundred hectares, bordered by twelve kilometres of coast.

At the end of our period of pure relax amid golden sand and long walks through lush tropical greenery, we begin exploring the rest of the island, with no precise destination in mind, just following our whim. Our first inspiration is Puerto de Mogán, skipping the horrid Puerto Rico – disfigured by urban sprawl. Puerto Mogán is a fishing village on the west coast and has been nicknamed “little Venice” for the number of canals that criss-cross it; it looks very attractive, with its winding lanes,  dazzling white little houses, flowers on balconies, several typical restaurants, boutiques and street markets, against the majestic mountainous backdrop. Obviously Puerto Mogán is a tourist attraction, where people look for the characteristic spot – a rarity in Gran Canaria, where the coastal resorts' city planning is inspired to Palm Beach in Florida or Palm Springs in California.

Another whim takes us into the heart of the highlands. We drive across very green valleys in the protected fairy-tale Fataga landscape, an alpine environment rich in conifer forests, ravines, harmoniously gushing streams separating orchards, olive groves, palm groves; the small settlements are few and far between, besides little white houses of peasants who display their produce on carts for the occasional buyers.

We arrive at the Finca Molino de Agua, a rural complex with restaurant, bar, guest rooms, a fabulous turquoise swimming pool, a yard with many farm animals kept in separate enclosures, including riding ponies, peacocks, goats; there are orchards, olive groves, mountain bike paths, a barbecue area, an adventure park, and a historical water mill fed by a miniature aqueduct. It is a paradise for lovers of both active life and leisure, because it also hosts a holistic centre offering anything from reiki techniques to hypnotherapy.

Although its nature is volcanic like the rest of the Canaries, Gran Canaria boasts neither an iconic peak as Tenerife’s Teide, nor Lanzarote’s huge number of old and young volcanos; it has however various volcanic peaks attracting photo safari enthusiasts for the beauty of the panoramas, the characteristic pinnacles and the variable weather – there are in fact several degrees difference in temperature in the north and south side of the same mountain, and seas of fog and low clouds suddenly appear around a hairpin bend  to dissolve beyond the next bend.

Cruz de Tejeda welcomes us sitting deep in fog and cold at approximately 1,500 m a.s.l. and 10°C. It is the hub of Gran Canaria, at the crossroads of routes and paths reaching some of the most attractive objectives, such as Roque Bentayga (1,415 m) and Roque Nublo, the highest peak (1,811 m) with its 80 m high basalt pinnacle, definitely phallic in shape. Cruz de Tejeda is a sort of tourist trap, with a dozen bars and restaurants, donkeys to photograph for a fee, shops and emporia selling winter clothes made of wool and fleece – the only place in the island where they are necessary. We leave Cruz de Tejeda rather in a hurry, following the road encircling the two peaks – Nublo and Bentayga – and it’s suddenly springtime with almond trees in blossom and blue skies. The ring road gradually takes us through opposite sights and climates; obviously we prefer the warmth, so we return to the coast and conclude the day at the seaside.

Another day we venture on the spectacular GC200, the panoramic route starting at Puerto de Mogán and following high up the impassable west coast,  ending at Agaete in the north. Between Mogán and Tasarte the road is winding and breathtaking. Vertical rock faces and deep green vales come in succession, competing to fill us with surprise, till we reach Fuente de los Azulejos and are awestruck. The mountain sides seem to have been painted by an artist: the rock formations display in blending horizontal bands the colours of the rainbow – from purple, to turquoise, to yellow, to red. Unreal.

The road goes on high up with unforgettable views and slowly approaches the coastline after Aldea de San Nicolas. From here it bends northeast and follows the coast much more closely, a stretch that is very steep and dangerous for falling rocks right down to Agaete. From the sunshine we move to the clouds, to strong north-westerly winds and to crags diving into the sea forming whirlwinds and breakers. Nature shows us its dramatic facet and we are mesmerised. Agaete seems to ward us off with nasty and inhospitable weather made of fog, drizzle and cold. We decide to have coffee somewhere else. At Agaete we leave the GC200 route and drive across the flat and uniform, sometimes industrial, northern plain.

The GC2 motorway takes us to Las Palmas, the capital, but we aren’t attracted, because of the weather and the mass tourism aspect, therefore we complete the tour around the island driving along the comfortable GC1 motorway to San Agustin, our base camp.

A final destination takes us again west. This time we leave the GC200 at Tasarte and drive down a narrow, twisting road inside a steep gully in the direction of the only beach. Towards the end, the road gets less steep and enters a fertile plain with banana and avocado plantations in sorts of greenhouses covered in very long strips of cloth supported by poles. They presumably protect against both wind and scorching sun.

Playa de Tasarte is minimalist, narrow, with no sand, only pebbles, two or three houses and a handful of fishing boats pulled on shore and, right at the end, where the rugged high cliffs begin, a bar restaurant with outside tables and parasols serving delicious fresh fish that has been caught by the men playing dominos around the last table.

It’s time to draw a balance. Gran Canaria does not disappoint. One can find a bit of everything, exactly as expected. It may not have the sensational attractions of the wilder Canary Islands, but it lacks nothing. It synthesises the archipelago.

And here are my recommendations on where to stay and where to enjoy good food:

San Agustin:
 - Apartamentos Tarahal. Very attractive, spacious and clean apartments, with garden and wi-fi.
 - Restaurante El Capitan. Excellent Paella de mar.
 - Restaurante Greek Taverna. Expensive but well appointed.
 - Bar Restaurante Atlantico. Rather chic.

Puerto de Mogán:
- Restaurante Clipper. Creative Italian cuisine. The manager is from Leghorn.

Playa de Tasarte:
- Bar Casa Oliva. Muy símpatico.

¡Buen provecho!



22nd March 2015

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