Gran Canaria

Costa Rica

Gran Canaria, in the Canary Islands, is one of our most popular and enduring winter holiday retreats, just off the coast of Africa, yet still in Europe. Gareth Huw Davies visits the volcanic outpost in the Atlantic, said by one scientist to enjoy ''the best climate in the world”, and draws up his list of things to see and do. (Photo: heart of Gran Canaria in December, Gareth Huw Davies)

Stay in style

Is a design revolution brewing on the Canary Islands? The Apollo, built at the dawn of the tourism boom on Playa del Inglés, at Gran Canaria’s sandy, southern tip, 20 minutes from the airport, has been entirely remade as the swish and sumptuous, adults-only Bohemia Suites & Spa. Rooms, looking over the rippling dunes of Maspalomas, are elegantly colour-coded in gold, red or purple, with style touches such as an illuminated armchair by French designer Philippe Starck on the balcony. Opened in 2012, the Bohemia is an elegant retreat of distinction and originality smack in the centre of a busy destination.
It is one of only two places on the island in Design Hotels’ global list of 260 independent properties. Each place reflects the ideas of a visionary hotelier, in this case German Rembert Euling.

Sea Symphony

Gran Canaria, in the the Atlantic Ocean 93 miles off the NW coast of Africa and a four-hour flight from the UK, is one of the most easily reached locations for guaranteed winter sun. In 1996 a US academic concluded it enjoyed 'the best climate in the world”. At the end of the three miles long Las Canteras, the island’s best beach, in Las Palmas, they set the seaside to music. The Alfredo Kraus Auditorium (named after the great Canarian tenor) was built in the 1990s as a “theatre of the ocean”, set on a pedestal of volcanic stone. This is one of the most drum-rollingly impressive locations for any performance centre.
See the Atlantic rise and fall, through an enormous picture window behind the stage, while you watch distinguished visitors such as the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, or the island’s own Philharmonic Orchestra and world stars in the Canaries jazz festival.

Take the high road

There are two ways to cross the 30 mile long island. Take the dull but fast coastal motorway, which runs along the eastern and southern coasts of this circular island. Or follow the twisty, switchback route right through the island's 6000 feet high heart, along with serious cyclists on their warm-weather training. When the light is right, there is a dreamy vista of mountain upon mountain pulling away to the high centre. The road passes towering ravines
and an ancient volcanic crater, scattered with the ubiquitous cardon cactus. Centuries separate the crowded coastal resorts and old villages such as San Bartolomé, with its cobbled streets, where the air is fresh and clean. On this island of so many paths, the finest of all is the island-crossing Pilgrims Way, the Camino de Santiago.

Plaza perfect

Old Las Palmas made a rare and long-lasting export to the New World, its little central square, the Plaza Mayor de Santa Ana. With its neat arrangement of town hall, Santa Ana Cathedral, Episcopal Palace and other civic buildings, all in one place, it was taken as the model for many of the plazas mayores in Central and South American cities in the 16th and 17th centuries. Today old Las Palmas is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for its role as an architectural staging post between the Old and New Worlds. Columbus called here three times on his journeys west. He is celebrated in the Old Town in the fine old Columbus Museum, Casa Museo de Colón, where he is thought to have stopped in 1492.

Coffee break

In the shade of ancient pines in the Agaete Valley, under the Tamadaba Mountains on the north of the island, they raise a rare crop. This is the world’s most northerly coffee plantation, and the only one in Europe. We visited La finca de La Laja where we were shown round the family estate by infectiously enthusiastic Victor Lugo Jorge, naturally keen to show us a photograph of Stephen Hawking on a recent visit. Receiving visitors, and serving a delicious lunch of home produce, is the latest stage in a busy diversification at this combined Arabica coffee plantation, tropical fruit farm (they raise guava oranges, avocados and mango), vineyard, cheesemaker and olive oil producer.

Colour cooking

Papas arrugadas, small wrinkled potatoes boiled in saltwater, then baked, and topped with red and green peppery mojo sauce are the brightest dish in the Canary Islands chef’s repertoire. They made a colourful starter on our visit to Smile Cooking, in Las Palmas. Smile, in Calle Travieso, lets you observe a visiting chef at work, and to try your hand at the dish in question if you choose, before settling back to enjoy the meal. One local star helping to raise the island’s culinary standards is Xavier Franquet, executive chef at the Bohemia Suite and Spa’s 360° Restaurant. Xavier worked at the famously innovative el Bulli restaurant in Spain, and offers a menu full of invention and daring. The restaurant, on the hotel’s eighth floor, is open to non-residents.,

Gareth stayed as a guest of the Bohemia Suites & Spa,

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