Walking on Lanzarote with a Cicerone guidebook

In this blog post, two regular Cicerone fans go walking on Lanzarote with the aid of a Cicerone guidebook. They took the latest edition of Paddy Dillon's guide Walking on Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. Paddy has written about all the Canary Islands as well as over 50 other titles.

"I first read about the Canarian island of Lanzarote in Josceline Dimbleby’s cookbook “A Taste of Dreams”. She holidayed there in the sixties and described where she stayed as “The fishing village is in a barren desert reached by driving through a sea of black lava which looks as though it bubbled out from the volcanoes yesterday.” Lanzarote sounded rather different to the other warm islands we’d visited over the years offering the prospect of an unusual landscape to explore.

Armed with Paddy Dillon’s Cicerone guide “Walking on Lanzarote and Fuerteventura” and the Brawn’s “Walk! Lanzarote” guidebook and map we set out for a week’s winter sun, based in the southern resort of Playa Blanca. Driving from the airport we could see that Spring starts early in the Canaries and we were not disappointed with the late January flora across Lanzarote.

First up was a combination of two of Paddy’s walks starting from Femés, a small village nestling in a col between two old volcanic hills, taking in both the Barranco de la Casita and the Pico de las Flores ridgeline. In particular, blue carpets of viper’s bugloss in the Barranco de la Higuera added welcome colour to the muted volcanic tones of the surrounding hills.

The paths across the varied landscape were easy to follow with only modest ascents. It should be noted that the shelter noted in Route 1 is now a roofless wall and should be considered as a windbreak only but still a welcome respite from the continuously brisk and cooling NNE trade winds!

We then decided on Paddy’s coastal walk from Playa Blanca to El Golfo to get close-up and personal with the more recent lava flows and their encounter with the Atlantic Ocean to see what Josceline Dimbleby was describing. After escaping the tourist development and the twin lighthouses, the path turns north, following the coastline. This is where the lava flows from six years of eruptions between 1730-6 met the sea, providing a dark and raw contrast to the foaming waves crashing out of the Atlantic. The rough path picks its way across the Rubicón desert, unexpectedly passing a large hotel building which has stood derelict for over three decades, its graffiti sprayed walls looking more like a scene from a war-zone. After several more miles of the black-stuff, with only seagulls for company, we reached the saltpans of the Salinas del Janubio where it was time to repair to the bar at the mirador for a welcome beer and view of the sunset before our return.

We then spent the next morning visiting the Timanfaya National Park containing the volcanoes known as Montañas del Fuego (the Fire Mountains) that gave rise to the 18th century lava flows. The walking here is closely managed for conservation reasons, but the coach trip around the volcanic cones is worthwhile. A scenic drive brought us to a short walk in the north of the island from the village of Haría, which led up through cultivated plots captured by dry lava walls reminiscent of the Dales to emerge at a mirador high above the sea at Malos Verdes, with a tremendous view along the coastline.

The next objective has to be one of the best walks on the island - an exploration of the Caldera Blanca, and another of Paddy’s walks. A series of information boards give insights into the visible features of volcanism along the way. Caldera Blanca is a huge volcanic crater over half a mile in diameter and this is ascended to obtain extensive views across the black sterile waste of the 300 year-old flows lapping at its base. The walk-out is on a track across the lava sea where the tortured debris is covered with a dusting of tiny pale lichens, the first living plants to breach the sterility.

Given the very limited access on foot in the Timanfaya Park, the walk into the blackened heart of Montaña Cuervo is a must-do walk (but not covered by Paddy). A good path leads across (yet more) black lava to this smaller caldera which is entered through a massive tear in its side – you can see part of the huge missing fragment lying in the lava where the explosion left it some 100m away. You walk into the exploded volcanic cone trying to imagine the awesome forces that led to its creation.

Mention must also be made of Lanzarote’s excellent fish and white wine, the latter produced in the extraordinary landscape of the La Geria valley. This area is covered in fine black volcanic grit (picon) to a depth of a metre or more expelled during the many explosions on Lanzarote. The Canarians have dug down through this layer to reach the fertile ground beneath to plant their vines, so each sits at the base of a depression in the grit mimicking the distant calderas. A horseshoe-shaped dry-stone wall is then added on the NNE aspect of the pit to shield the vine from the ever present trade winds. The thousands of these unique constructions across the vineyards make an unusual vista.

A week gave us a good opportunity to sample the varied scenery on Lanzarote and get close-up to the amazing volcanic landscape. We did not have time to visit Fuerteventura, Isla La Graciosa or Isla de Lobos which are featured in the Cicerone guide - these will have to wait for a return visit!"

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