There is an authenticity about life in Lanzarote, more than in many places in Spain. Although undeniably popular as a tourist destination, the island remains essentially rural and was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1993. (A biosphere reserve is a voluntary reserve created to protect the biology and culture of an area but in a way that allows sustainable economic development.) The most easterly of the Canary Islands, just 80 miles from the coast of Africa, is rich in unique, centuries-old traditions, where many locals still tend their own plot, with an abundance of home-grown produce.
With less rainfall than the scorching Sahara desert and year-round sun, the lovely island of Lanzarote is often mistaken for a barren landscape sprouting nothing but volcanoes. Yet, a huge variety of food is grown here, in the same way as it has been for hundreds of years, using simple and largely organic farming methods. Vines for the surprisingly good Malvasia wine, corn and sweet potatoes are amongst the bumper crops.
Farmers’ markets showcasing local produce offer the opportunity for visitors to get a real taste of Lanzarote life. These markets take place all over the island and there is now one on nearly every day of the week. Watch where the locals shop to find the best food available for picnics on the beach or for cooking up your own meals in self-catering accommodation. And don’t forget to pick up a bottle of the excellent crisp, dry local white wines, best drunk very cold. Some items, such as home made fig jam and olives, can be taken home in your suitcase for a taste of Lanzarote on your return.
Haria (the village of 1,000 palm trees) which has a farmers’ market on Saturdays, (10am–2pm) is a lovely, atmospheric event, where local men go to get a shave and islanders catch up on the week’s news in the square. A newer addition to the island’s market calendar takes place in the capital of Arrecife also on Saturdays (9am–4pm), selling traditional crafts as well as local produce. Tour buses take visitors in their hundreds to the market at Teguise (Lanzarote’s ancient capital) market on Sundays (9am–2pm). Crafts and souvenirs are mainly on sale, with traditional music and dance in the main square. Although touristy, this market still retains elements of its village roots and is worth a visit.
Mancha Blanca’s farmers’ market on Sundays (10am–2pm) is a delightful affair. Wander around the stalls selling huge heaps of dried anchovies, giant bunches of fresh herbs, a variety of artisan cheeses and homemade, unlabelled bottles of wine. Around this village the soil is especially fertile which probably explains the quality of the produce that is sold. Look out too for smoked salmon from the nearby village of Uga, which can be bought vacuum packed. Then relax with a coffee or a chilled glass of the island’s white wine on the terrace of the café in the village square.
In restaurants, look for the good value Menu del Dia, a set menu of at least two courses, usually for around 10 Euros. Sociedades (social clubs), sometimes also called teleclubs are small bars catering mostly to local people that often serve excellent value meals, although don’t expect a menu. Robust, rustic dishes, such as rabbit, goat stew, and whole suckling pig are usually eaten by islanders as part of a celebration but are well worth trying if you see them on a restaurant menu.
Seven ‘Centres of Culture’, including the Fire Mountains of the Timanfaya National Park, a cactus garden and a spectacular look out point take you into the heart of the little island’s art and traditions. Local artist and architect César Manrique created unique works of art out of Lanzarote’s distinctive volcanic landscape. With the charming Monumento al Campesino (Monument to the Farmer), and house museum, he paid tribute to Lanzarote’s farming traditions and rural workers. Take in the displays on agriculture and local culture and don’t miss the tapas in the restaurant in the lovingly restored traditional farmhouse.La Geria, the island’s wine region, which cuts across Lanzarote’s largely empty, is dotted with boutique wineries. Stop here to learn about the local wine interior traditions, shop for your favourite bottles and enjoy a scenic lunch surrounded by vineyards. Two of the best are El Grifo (www.elgrifo.com), the oldest bodega (winery) in the Canaries and Stratvs Bodega (www.stratvs.com), the latest addition to the island’s wine scene – and already responsible for some award winning wines.
Lanzarote has a variety of lovely places to stay. For those of you who want to get close to the food and wine traditions of the island try Amatista Villa (www.villa-amatista.com) which is a real retreat within the vineyards of La Geria Natural Park and has its own organic garden. At the Eco Fishermen’s Cottage (www.lanzaroteretreats.com) in the unspoilt fishing village of Arrieta, you feel as if you are a local, and can even catch your own fish supper with the tackle supplied.
As one of the most popular destinations for British and Irish tourists, there are a variety of airlines and tour operators who will take you there. Virtually every regional airport has a connection.
If you want to hear and taste a little of Lanzarote (and all of Spain) then look out for A Taste of Spain. (www.atasteofspain.co.uk) It’s a colourful free festival of Spanish food, art, sports, music and events. It takes place in Regent Street, London 5th June, Leeds 2nd to 3rd July and Edinburgh 16th and 17th July.
For more information click here for the Lanzarote Tourism website,