The Canary Islands are the remnants of the break up of the African and South American continents many millions of years ago. And even today these seven specks of Spain are still home to a mixture of Latin and African influences – along with a hefty dash of Iberian spirit for good measure.
Lanzarote is the most easterly link in this chain of islands and hence the closest to the West African coastline. Lying roughly 70 miles away from Moroccan ports such as Tarfaya and the outer fringes of the Sahara desert.
But parts of Lanzarote resemble another world altogether. As the island was subjected to the worlds longest ever volcanic eruption. Which lasted for six years from 1730 and which left around one quarter of the island buried beneath a sea of lava.
As a result, much of Lanzarote´s terrain is often likened to the surface of the moon. Indeed Apollo 13 astronauts were shown pictures of the famous Volcano Park at Timanfaya – the islands most popular tourist attraction – in order to better prepare them for their lunar landings.
However in reality the volcanic region of the island likes more like a land just formed – supporting little in the way of vegetation or fauna beyond lichen and lizards.
However, the same can not be said for the rest of the island – which boasts 90 plus golden sand beaches and some spectacular, verdant scenery. Such as the palm packed valleys around Haria and Maguez.
Consequently, Lanzarote is perennially popular with tourists – and welcomes over one million visitors from Britain and Ireland alone annually. Drawn by the islands year round clement climate – with a temperature that rarely falls below 20c and with an average of just six rainfall days a year.
Many visitors love the island so much that they choose to stay on – or invest in a holiday home or apartment – creating a buoyant market for Lanzarote property that shows little sign of abating.
Unlike many other Spanish sunspots Lanzarote remains relatively unspoiled – despite its popularity as a tourist destination. This is largely thanks to the influence of an island born artist and architect called Cesar Manrique. Who did much to shape the islands evolution and save it from a burial beneath a sea of four star hotels.
Manrique was studying art and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Andy Warhol in New York when package tourism started to take off in Spain back in the 1960´s. Fearful for the fate of his beloved island he returned to crusade for a more ecologically friendly approach – a stance that was fairly revolutionary in Franco’s Spain at that time.
Along with the help of an old family friend – and leader of the island government – called Pepin Ramirez, Manrique illuminated an alternative path for the development of tourism. And campaigned successfully against high rise buildings, road side advertising hoardings and non-traditional forms of architecture.
And whilst other destinations built golf courses and water parks Manrique instead sought to create a unique set of tourist and cultural attractions – by fusing his artistic instinct with the islands natural beauty.
As a result his influence is visible everywhere. Lanzarote became his canvas. Even roundabouts on the island are adorned with his giant wind sculptures. In recognition of his achievements UNESCO declared Lanzarote a protected biosphere in 1994. The first island in the world to achieve such status.