Hola amigos! We're home from a last minute escape to the sunshine. Did you even notice that I'd gone?
The Canary islands, although part of Spain, are closer to Morocco than Madrid. With a sub-tropical climate (the all-year average daytime temperature is 22°C) , the islands have been a magnet for tourists since the wealthy Victorians arrived by ship to spend months in the lush mountain villages, enjoying the temperate weather and clean air.
Back in the 1990s, before the internet made independent travel a viable alternative, Jon and I took package holidays to the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, staying in tourist complexes in the purpose-built beach resorts which sprung up in the 1970s. We travelled the islands by bus, searching but failing to find signs of the Canaries' fascinating history or much in the way of Spanish culture. Although both islands had their charms, we decided that they weren't for us and never returned. A quarter of a century later and in need of some winter sunshine, I found return Ryanair flights from Birmingham to Gran Canaria for just £38 each - cheaper than staying at home and switching the heating on. With less than a week before departure, we booked. This time we didn't bother with the tourist hotspots and headed to Las Palmas, the island's capital and Spain's ninth largest city. Described as cosmopolitan with a Latin American vibe, from the windows of the guagua (pronounced wah-wah, the island's public buses), the view certainly looked more Brazil than Benidorm.
After the invasion of Gran Canaria by Spain, Las Palmas was founded by the Castilian army's leader, Juan Rejon on 24th June, 1478. Rejon and his soldiers settled at the mouth of the Guiniguada ravine, now known as the district of Vegueta. The war against the island raged for another five years until, in 1483, the native Aboriginals were finally subjugated.
Awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1990, staying in the heart of historic Vegueta was a no brainer. Our compact studio apartment, located within three hundred year old townhouse, was the only holiday rental in a building occupied by two local families, set on a quaint cobbled street a stone's throw from the 15th Century cathedral and, at £270 for the week, an absolute steal.
Although I'd not recommend it to anyone with mobility issues - negotiating the ladder to the mezzanine bedroom after a few beers took nerves of steel!
Unlike our previous trips to the Canaries we saw so much culture and history during our seven night stay that I'd be boring you for weeks if I wrote my usual post-trip daily travelogue so, instead, here's our Top Ten Las Palmas Highlights.
1. Casa De Colon
In 1492, Christopher Columbus (or, as he's known in Spanish, Cristobal Colon) anchored in the port of Las Palmas en route to the New World where, hoping to find a shortcut to India, unwittingly stumbled on America instead. Whilst his ship, Pinta, underwent repair he stayed with the governor of Gran Canaria in his luxurious home in Vegueta, now a museum dedicated to the explorer.
2. Catedral de Santa Ana / Plaza de Santa Ana
Dominating the city's skyline, the cathedral's twin bell towers are the most recognisable landmark of Las Palmas. Construction started in 1497, but additions continued to be made late into the 19th Century. The result is a microcosm of Canarian architecture: Gothic, Neo-Classical, Renaissance and local styles are all represented. Although this massive edifice differs wildly from the original, remnants of the 15th Century structure are still visible.
Flanking the cathedral are the handsome bronze hounds of Santa Ana Plaza, Vegueta's main square where dogs are walked, romances flourish, children learn to cycle, the elderly practice Tai-Chi and neighbours exchange gossip until late into the night.
3. Museo Canario
Since they died soon after the Spanish Conquest, little is known about how the Canarii (the early Canarians) lived although this fantastic museum, founded in 1880 by the marvellously titled Dr. Chil, offers everything from Aboriginal ceramics, traditional pottery, leatherwork, basket weaving and pintaderas (ceramic stamps) to mummies, funeral rites, burials, skulls and bones accompanied by a downloadable audio guide - hoorah for smartphones!
4. Parque de San Telmo
The park offers a leafy respite from the hustle and bustle of the main shopping district of Triana and the breathtakingly lovely Art Nouveau kiosk alone is worth a trip across town - not to mention the iced cappuccino it serves. As a fully paid-up member of the Bandstand Appreciation Society, I was more than happy to strike a pose.
On our previous Canary Island holidays the food on offer had been of the English All Day Breakfast, burger 'n' chips and Tex Mex variety and we'd struggled to find an olive, let alone any authentic tapas. In the chic cafe bars of downtown Vegueta we were spoilt for choice, Canarian cheese, papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes with Mojo sauce), tomato salads, tortilla, empanadas (flaky pastries) and all manner of vegan and vegetarian delicacies assembled before our very eyes.
6. Playa de Las Canteras
Although we'd not come to Gran Canaria to sunbathe, we walked from Vegueta (and back) to have a look at the city beach, a round trip of just over eleven miles. Playa de Las Canteras is made up of three kilometres of fine sand, sandwiched between a wide promenade and the Atlantic Ocean. The Western end, known as Le Cicer (or Surf City) has been a destination for surfers since 1960.
Having worked up an appetite crossing the city, we treated ourselves to some amazing Canarian food in a hip cafe bar we discovered hidden amongst the high rises.
Jon had pan-fried chicken with rice and vegetables, I had plantain tortillas with alfalfa sprouts and local vegetables...yum!
7. Espiritu Santu
In palm-tree lined square flanked by grand mansions, stands the Holy Spirit Hermitage, where Columbus is said to have prayed before setting off on his voyage. With the porticoed fountain in the centre, it's a wonderfully tranquil spot, day or night.
So many amazing buildings in a myriad of styles. It took me an absolute age to walk anywhere as I had constantly had to stop, get my camera out and capture something.
9. Free Art
Whatever your tastes, there's a plethora of free art in and around Las Palmas, from Goya's lithographs of the Peninsular War, digital watercolours and graffiti to sculpture, textiles and recycled metal. Housed in post-modern exhibition halls, 18th Century mansions, the artist's childhood homes or just out in the street, there's barely a corner of the city without something interesting to look at.
10. City Vistas
The colourful barrios of San Nicolas and San Juan situated on the cliffs overlooking Las Palmas were the first on the island to be inhabited, the irregularity of house shapes due to the fact that the majority were self-constructed. A bit of a climb to reach them but the panoramic views of Las Palmas are incredible.
Still with me? More winter sunshine to follow shortly....I'm off to find out what my friends in Blogland have been up to in my absence.
It’s donkeys years since we visited the Canaries, your trip brought back many memories. We had our first holiday together in Tenerife and got stopped in customs on the way back as we were both wearing fur coats. I think they thought we were drug dealers. Looking forward to the next episode xxxReplyDelete
Haha! Drug dealers! How very dare they! Liz and Al are off to Tenerife, they went last year and loved it. I'd definitely go back to that part of Gran Canaria, loads to do but not at all touristy! xxxDelete
Food, glorious food! I could live on the tapas you found there, Vix. And what wonderful sunbaked colors against the sky and sea! Even a line-and-watercolor amateur like me would be channelling Hugh Casson. * But where were the cats? Did those formidable macaws intimidate them? * And what was scarier: the staircase at your rental or the ossuary? Yeep!ReplyDelete
The food, the food! I love just ordering a small dish and asking for more if I'm still hungry rather than being confronted by a huge plate of food. No wonder the Spanish are so trim!Delete
The skies were amazing. As we were so close to the mountains the weather would change in an instant, it was exhilarating in a way.
We didn't encounter any cats out and about but lots of the apartments had catios and we saw lots of pampered housecats having the time of their lives! xxx
It was lovely! xxxDelete
Oh, lovely Vix, looks like you had a great time!! Delicious food, beautiful places to visit, sunshine and those palm trees, what more could you ask for?!! We've been to Fuerteventura, Tenerife and the island of La Palma (beautiful!) but not to Gran Canaria yet. Love the Canary Islands, it's going somewhere exotic without having to pay through the nose! Lots of love from a freezing Barcelona!! 🥶🥶ReplyDelete
Hola, Diana!! I've been reading about your weather - stay warm! We had a lovely time, Gran Canaria was fantastic, we loved our time there so much, I know you would, too. You're right, I'd forgotten how much further your money goes in the Canaries (if it wasn't for Brexsh*t I'd be very tempted to live there!) xxxDelete
Why is Jon posing with a statue of Michael Gove? Indeed, why is there a statue of Michael Gove on the island?ReplyDelete
That's hilarious, Alison! If he'd realised the similarity he'd never have put his arm round him...honest! xxxDelete
Oh what a brilliant time. Love all the pictures.ReplyDelete
Thanks so much! It's a fabulous little island, something for everyone! xxxDelete
That's a lot of skulls! I think I would struggle with that ladder too...ReplyDelete
I was mesmerised by their teeth, the early Canarian diet must have been really good, maybe it was all the bananas! xxxDelete
Hi Vix. It all looks fabulous and you are really setting us off over here! We tend to fly from Birmingham so those Ryanair flights are v v v tempting! Like you we don't fancy the tourist resorts and would far sooner go independent and in an Old Town area. If you don't mind me asking, where do you find the apartments from? An absolute bargain and the veggy tapas sounds amazing!! Perhaps not the ladder in the room though! :) Louise (from the Midlands)ReplyDelete
Hello Louise! Are you tempted? Ryanair have some great deals if you're not tied by school holidays and it's brilliant to get a train straight to the airport without faffing around with parking or relying on mates for lifts.Delete
I use Booking.com for accomodation. Its really reliable and easy to use - fee free to message me if you need any help. There was a picture of that ladder in the photos so it wasn't a complete surprise! xx
Like you those 90s holiday islands never appealed to me. They seemed to attract sun worshippers and I never heard anyone who visited discussing their cultural delights, but goodness you found plenty! It just goes to show how we should ignore the travel agents' supposed tourist hotspots and go it alone.
Your smart phone couldn't have been more timely. Love the photos, particularly the architecture (the kiosk being my favourite) and Espiritu Santu. I can imagine kicking back there for a couple of hours. Just lovely! xxx
There's nothing wrong with a bit of sunbathing but it'd never be the main reason for travelling abroad, I'd be bored senseless. You'd be surprised by the Canaries, lots of people go there for the hiking trails, they even have the Womad festival and it's free!Delete
The kiosk was to die for, I just kept staring at it! xxx
It's so colourful! I love seeing the streets and houses, it's a very picturesque place and how lucky to get such a nice and well placed studio apartment. BettyReplyDelete
It really did remind us of downtown Salvador in Brazil, we loved it! xxxDelete
What a wonderful bargain and what a wonderful place to visit. I'd always puzzled about the Canary Islands; not quite being able to mentally place them in relation to Spain - I should have looked at an atlas, I know! My colleague at the charity shop is off there next week but I'm not sure where she's staying. I'll find out when she comes back and then tell her all about where you stayed.ReplyDelete
It must have been lovely to escape the cold, wet and gloom!
Hello Vronni! They're just off the Western Sahara on the map, a fair distance to Spain. I think you'd love Gran Canaria, a lot of people go there just for the walking, it rarely gets above 30°C or below 8°C all year round so it's easy to see why they're so popular. I hope your colleague enjoys them as much as us! xxxDelete
Did we notice that you were absent? Of Course we did!! Chuckle. Love how you ferret out history and interesting things in the places that you visit, at home or abroad. xxxxxxReplyDelete
Bless ya! I'm obsessed with history, now I've got a phone at my fingertips I'm even worse! xxxDelete
Oh that blue blue sky. And those parrots are gorgeous. I bet you had a fantastic time. All the better that it was a spur of the moment holiday.ReplyDelete
It's crazy to see parrots and parakeets flitting through the trees, it's more like India than Europe! xxxDelete
Sigh. I feel like I've been on vacation along with you - what an amazing place that is! I'm so envious that it's that cheap and close to visit! The food looks incredible, and everything looks so warm and chill. Glad you and Jon had a good break, Vix! Welcome home!ReplyDelete
Hello, Sheila! It was fantastic, lovely to escape the grey and cold for a few days! xxxDelete
When your last post ended with "See you on the other side," I knew you and Lord Jon were off on another adventure. 🙃ReplyDelete
I started reading your post, but my eyes are closing! 🙄 I began working four hours, four days per week on January 2nd. My body is completely confused--it has been nocturnal for 5+ years. Regular office hours are a shock to my system! LOL
Tomorrow (Tuesday) is my day off and we're supposed to receive SoCal's rain, so I should catch up. :-)
Hello Taja! Lovely to hear from you. Goodness me, that shift change must be brutal. Don't push yourself too much, my brother went through the same and it took a couple of months to readjust properly.Delete
Enjoy your day off and fingers crossed you don't get all of SoCal's rain, it's made headline news here, us Brits are weather obsessed! xxx
Those bloody parrots bit me!! I’m glad you went to Las Palmas it’s a wonderful place. Did you go to the empty shopping arcade at the port. It’s huge and kinda like a dead mall.ReplyDelete
We always go to the science museum near the port.
When we go when it is my birthday there’s a huge festival that lasts all week. But sadly I won’t be going this year.
It does look a bit scary when you get off the plane and some of the areas are full of graffiti.
But it always changes. We normally stay at the Reina Isabel. It’s on the beach front I am sad I’m not going this year.
Love and hugs allie
Hello Allie! I remembered you saying about how much you loved Gran Canaria so it was the first island I looked at when I was searching for flights. Las Palmas is fabulous, definitely not your Brits Abroad kind of place! What a shame you didn't go this year - wouldn't it have been amazing if we could have met up?Delete
We didn't see that shopping arcade. I was surprised by how many charity shops there were but we only took hand luggage and wouldn't have been able to carry anything back so I was a good girl and didn't shop (except for fruit).
The Science Museum was brilliant - if I do The Best of the Rest, that'd be in there. We had such a laugh with those interactive screens running around in a big green box being chased by dinosaurs!
Is it the Womad festival? The sign was already up. It's amazing that it's free. xxxx
Welcome back 😊. Yes, your absence was noticed, I guesed you might be somewhere warmer than here. Many decades since I did the package holiday thing to the Canaries, always wanted to return.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Jayne! It had to be done. We'd probably have spent more money at home attempting to divert ourselves from the miserable weather.Delete
We loved Gran Canaria and decided it would be the perfect place to live - year-round great weather, glorious scenery, atmospheric villages, fabulous hiking trails, lovely people, good food, cheap & reliable public transport and lots of charity shops....perfection! xxx
Thanks for all the brilliant photo's and info. Your blog is so interesting! Thought you had gone on hol.😉 Glad you enjoyed it.So kind of you to give your travel info too.ReplyDelete
Thanks so much, Caz! Years ago I was a bit scared of travelling independently but once we'd tried it I don't think I could holiday any other way. If it inspires people to do the same I'd be thrilled to bits. xxxDelete
What a fantastic trip you've had. I mean, sunshine, culture and glorious food, what more can you want. The panoramic views of Las Palmas are just glorious. The 3rd photo from the top - not counting the collage - almost looks like a painting! xxxReplyDelete
It was fabulous, I've now changed my mind about the Canaries, I'd happy go back! xxxDelete
Yes, I think we noticed you had gone!! How very dare you jet off to those lovely blue skies and that warmth while we festered in cold, wet and windy conditions. ;-)ReplyDelete
The Museo Canario looks fascinating and would have really appealed to me many years ago, the years when I lurked in the Manchester Museum loitering mainly in the mummy section and drooling over the preserved body of 'Pete Marsh'.
What have we been up to in your absence? ... mostly shivering and getting wet actually, oh and mopping up after a poorly doggy!!
Weren't we naughty? I thought about it for almost 24 hours and then decided, sod it, you only live once!Delete
I'm a fellow mummy loiterer, there's an incredible Egyptian mummified cat in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, I've loved it since I was little.
Sorry about the poorly doggy and the incessant rain. xxxx
Well we've mostly be behaving ourselves in your absence Vix... mostly. What a treat this post is! Stunning Cathedral. I have never seen so many skulls :0 You are taking the Band Stand Appreciation Society to a new level here. I was going to say something about the stunning third photo but that Ann beat me to it :) xXxReplyDelete
I've very glad to hear that you've all been behaving without me, Lulu! I was fascinated by the plethora of relics, skulls, mummies and piles of bones. In the cathedral enclosed in a glass case were the dessicated remains of a bishop who'd died 200 years ago, he looked so gruesome I decided against sharing my photos! xxxDelete
I wondered where you had popped off too this time. Looks like you had a marvellous time and some glorious shots. Not a place I've ever been bar sitting on the runway in a plane on a quick refuel in the dark! ArilxReplyDelete
Hehe! We booked it so late, I didn't have time to blog about it! xxxDelete
I visited here Vix and hoped that you and Lord Jon had gone on a expedition overseas xReplyDelete
Your suspicions were correct, Flis! Hope you're well! xxxDelete
That looks fab. I love the cathedral.ReplyDelete
I've never been drawn to the Canaries, but I must say I'm tempted now. A friend also swears by Lanzarote, which apparently was the home of a well known artist and has some good cultural areas away from the sea. Xx
César Manrique's work is fantastic, there's a few great places to see his work on Lazarote and your friend's right, as long as you avoid the built-up tourist areas, the Canaries really are lovely! xxxDelete
So fabulous post, thanks for taking us with you in your travels!. Totally fascinated by this isle and your beautiful photos of the architecture, it's amazing!, I'm always mesmerized by Canary Islands' fantastic greenery, not just the cacti but some massive trees and forests and suddenly some volcanic landscapes. Never been to this island (no company flies to it from our nearby airports, so annoying). It doesn't cease to amaze me that it's cheaper to fly anywhere (even to spanish cities) from british airports than from any spanish ones.ReplyDelete
We've been planning our own 'winter holidays', so inspiring to hear from yours!
Hello Monica! I wondered if you'd been to Gran Canaria. That's so annoying that you don't have direct flights from any of your local airports! I remember seeing some of your holiday posts from the Canaries and thinking that we ought to go back and take another look!Delete
Looking forward to hearing about your Winter plans! xxx
The streets and buildings look great, but it would be a hard no to a bed with such a ladder. My middle aged bladder could never.ReplyDelete
Once we got used to it it wasn't too bad! xxxDelete