Venture further in Fuerteventura

By | Category: Travel destinations

the salt flats at Las Sainas del Carmen

A true cynic might say Fuerteventura is the perfect example of what happens when you cut down all the trees and then invite hundreds of goats to munch the grass, but being of a less cynical persuasion, I found myself developing a certain fondness for this comparatively quiet, if somewhat bleak, Atlantic holiday spot. It’s deservedly famed for its splendid beaches and year-round pleasant climate, making it an excellent option for a break this autumn.

Of the seven Canary Islands, Fuerteventura – stretching 100 km from north to south – is second in size only to Tenerife and lies within waving-distance of North Africa. In fact some of the island’s best sights – its towering sand dunes – are a direct contribution from the Sahara desert, carried across the sea by obliging trade winds. Despite its size, Fuerteventura comes across as remarkably peaceful and rather different from its more popular, and therefore more brazen, neighbour Gran Canaria. The beaches are undoubtedly the main draw, but for those intent on exploring further, Fuerteventura has some surprisingly interesting experiences in store.

I decided to start my own explorations with a pinch of salt, visiting Las Salinas del Carmen Salt Museum, on the island’s east coast. Although the museum itself is quite small, it manages to squeeze in a wealth of information, not just about local and regional salt production – a whole history of salt and its various uses throughout the world and the ages can be found within these humble walls. Salt production on the island dates back to the 1720s and is still being produced at Salinas del Carmen today. It’s possible to take a stroll around the nearby salt flats, sampling the goods right there and then – you just pick the coarse salt off the heaped little piles found all across the salt flats.

After such a salty start to the day, I confess I was secretly hoping that wine-tasting might be next on the agenda, but sadly that wasn’t on the cards until the following day. Instead my guide, Raúl, a very friendly local islander, whisked me off to check out some of the aforementioned sand dunes. Fuerteventura is one of the oldest of the Canary Islands, with parts of it dating back some 20 million years and, consequently, it is comparatively flat. The former volcanoes have been eroded by the elements over the millennia. We drove north, following the sea, past gently sloping, volcanic hills and through the capital Puerto del Rosario – home to roughly a third of the island’s 75,000 souls – before reaching the sand dunes in Corralejo nature reserve. Admittedly this wasn’t quite the Lawrence of Arabia landscape I’d envisaged – the dunes here are rather “tufty-looking” since they have some vegetation growing amidst the sand– but quite impressive all the same, the dunes undulating for miles along the seaside. Catching one of the island’s 4-5 annual days of rainfall put something of a damper on things, but at least proved an encouragement to the island’s struggling strands of greenery.

Cuddly goats? The cheese is good though!

If day one had been all about the sea and its varied landscapes from salt flats to sand dunes, it seemed fitting to spend day two exploring more of the interior. Goats may have had quite a devastating effect on Fuerteventura’s landscape, but these sturdy animals are still well-loved, well-looked after and, erm, well-milked. A lot of said milk gets turned into good quality local cheeses and there are a number of goat farms still on the island. To give me a pungent start to the morning my guide, Raúl took me to just such a farm, Quesería Julián Díaz, in the village of Tiscamanita, for a chance to sample the cheeses and even cuddle the goats, which is actually more than I’d bargained for, but they were rather cute as far as goats go.

As we all know, cheese goes nicely with wine, and Fuerteventura has a few wineries open to visitors, handily one of which is also in Tiscamanita. Agroturismo Gayría, a peaceful rural tourism venture, offers accommodation, horseback riding and other activities, as well as producing several different wines and liqueurs, all available to taste and buy. They use white malvasia and Listán negro grapes from neighbouring Lanzarote and Tenerife to create their wines and prickly pear and pomegranate for liqueurs, all of which were very tasty, if somewhat potent just post-breakfast.

the view from Morro Velosa

I figured it would be hard to top the yummy start to the day, but Raúl had plenty more in store for the afternoon. Leaving Tiscamanita behind we headed for the hills, quite literally, as the inland road snaked its way towards several lookout points, including Morro Velosa at 650 m, offering panoramic views across the island and beyond. We passed the settlements of Betancuria and Pájara, the former named after the Norman corsair, Jean de Béthencourt, who first conquered the island on behalf of the Spanish. It’s a rather sleepy looking place, but home to an interesting museum of archaeology.

Having crossed the island from east to west, we continued south to the province of Jandía, famed for its pristine, white-sand and black lava beaches.

the beaches at Jandía

The World Windsurfing and Kiteboarding Championship is held here each summer, a very busy couple of weeks on the island. The rest of the time, though, you get the pleasant feeling that there is actually enough room on the 150 km of beaches in Fuerteventura. The images of thousands of north Europeans frying themselves to a crisp, packed like sardines on a tiny beach, don’t really apply here. Instead the beaches are fairly quiet and very laidback, as I found when I accidentally walked along the naturist beach, feeling rather over-dressed. Jandía’s abundant beaches are also blissfully free of concrete monster hotels for the most part, the sandy shores instead home to friendly beach bars and restaurants, serving up fresh seafood, somewhat scary-looking, but tasty fish and cold beers.

A few days exploring proved a good introduction to this island, so barren and bleak on the surface, but with a rich mix of landscapes and seascapes, easily accessible with a bit effort and a good guide. And there were of course some very cute goats. I’m glad I ventured further in Fuerteventura.

Getting there:
There are thirteen airports with scheduled and charter flights from the UK and Ireland to Fuerteventura. the airlines offering direct services are Aer Lingus, easyJet, Monarch,Norwegian, Thomas Cook, Thomson and Ryanair.

For more information about Fuerteventura, click here.

Images © Anna Maria Espsäter

First UK Rights

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