“When things are done with love, it really shows,” says Guillermo Bernal, a guide who showed me around the island of Gran Canaria.
We are sitting in the leafy shade of the vines in a small courtyard outside a small bodega in a small vineyard hidden in the depths of the García Ruiz ravine.
In the kitchen of the Señorío de Cabrera (senoriodecabrera.com), Felisa Cabrera is busy preparing several dishes of homemade delicacies. Crispy croquettes giving way to sticky toppings; local sheep’s and goat’s cheeses; a chickpea stew called “old clothes” (from a tradition of using leftovers); and torrija, a version of French toast served with island honey and orange blossom on top.
The family photos, kitchen presses and TV around Felisa remind me of an Irish B&B behind the scenes at breakfast time…apart from the orange, lemon and coffee trees that spring up outside. outside, the African blue tit tinkling between them and the soothing constancy of 20 degrees Celsius.
Up front, Felisa’s husband, Agustín, delivers his dishes, watches as we taste, fill the wine and nod approvingly. The couple produce only around 4,500 bottles a year, organize meals like this for small groups (from €30 pp; advance reservation essential) and thus seem to have found a formula for happiness. It’s fine home cooking and the meal ends with coffee roasted from their own beans.
It’s made with love, okay.
Not what I expected from Gran Canaria. One of the best-known Canary Islands, it’s a fly-‘n’-flop poster child, a place people have been coming to for decades to sunbathe and party. “For many years the image has been of a cheap place where Germans roast in the sun,” as Guillermo puts it. But as I learn in a few days to explore its pine forests and peaks, there is more to it.
But above all. Gran Canaria has been a hotspot for package holidays since the 1960s, when the development of Maspalomas was launched by an architectural competition. The island’s geography means that the southern end is sunnier, and its sprawl has pretty much continued ever since.
Today, Maspalomas connects with upscale Meloneras and Playa del Inglés via a 6km stretch of golden sand. Walking through its dunes and the promenade that passes in front of its famous lighthouse, I soak up a mixture of life, languages and essential vitamin D. Although its wide boulevards, shopping malls and chic hotels don’t seem particularly Spanish, I am surprised and drawn in by the retro-chic and modernist resorts and villas. There’s a coffee table book in there, that’s for sure.
My own stay is the Seaside Palm Beach, a five-star hotel built in the 1970s to plans by Alberto Pinto (hotel-palm-beach.com).
Its curved facade is reminiscent of Miami, and the interiors pop with Pucci-style patterns, Barcelona chairs, Murano glass, and a mix of travertine, marble, and chrome that might be cheesy (reminds me of Las Colinas, the resort apple tv retro seaside Acapulco where “the guest gets what the guest wants”), but still classy. At breakfast, I spill coffee in my saucer and a waiter floats around to swap out a replacement in seconds.
A plum pool, a buffet at the end of all buffets and a location about 100m from the beach made me check package prices for a family trip. High season prices from around €1500 pp half board are beyond me, but if your budget is stretching I would recommend.
Playa de Mogán and the densely stacked resorts of Puerto Rico are other mainstays of Irish holiday brochures, and another popular base is Las Palmas, the largest city in the Canary Islands.
Strolling here I find a real Spanish colonial atmosphere, with cafes spilling out into leafy squares (a cortado costs €1.20), alfresco tables on atmospheric strips like Calle Cano, and nuggets like Ermita de San Telmo, a century-old church I peek inside to see a priest saying mass beneath model boats hanging from the rafters – a nod to the archipelago’s seafaring heritage.
Nearby, the wrought iron Mercado del Puerto (mercadodelpuerto.net) is the place to mingle with the locals for pintxos and cañas (start in Pisces y Buchos, and go from there).
Guillermo describes Gran Canaria as “a miniature continent”. I see what he means as we move from the rocky south to the lush north, much greener thanks to “la panza de burro” (donkey’s belly), the cloud that regularly lands there.
As we cycle through ravines and winding mountain roads, we pass whitewashed villages and a few cyclists in Lycra. The island is about the size of Co Kildare, with a circular shape rising up to a volcanic caldera, and a patchwork of hiking trails, small vineyards and lesser-known villages that feel a world away from the resorts.
At over 1,800m, Roque Nublo is Instagram’s best-known rock formation, but we hike the short trail to Bentayga, a similar stone giant that contains signs of the indigenous Guanche people. The views are truly scenic, with the caldera teeming with early summer wildflowers and floating kestrels. And best of all, we only pass a pair of walking buddies, so we almost have it all to ourselves.
The Canaries offer year-round sunshine, but in my opinion the best time to visit is the shoulder season – autumn, before the winter sun crowds arrive, or May, for the wildflowers. Early summer provides perfect weather for my visit, when we also stop for lunch at the Parador Cruz de Tejeda (parador.es), visit a banana plantation with a pretty villa for rent (haciendalarekompensa.es), and find Dulceria Nublo, a 75-year-old bakery in Tejeda, stuffed with goodies.
“When we were young here, there was no confectionery,” the owner tells me. “Our sweets did things with almonds! »
These too are made with love. A reminder that even at the busiest resorts, there are surprises to be savoured.