herald

Saturday 18 November 2017

The sunny island playground

Mark Evans beats the bad weather to take in some sun on the southern tip of the Canary island of Lanzarote

The Club pool area.
The Club pool area.
Mark's room.
The main pool.

Reputation can be a funny thing. Stick a photo of an island drenched with near year-round sun and inform would-be travellers that it’s a 10-hour flight time away, and it becomes a “dream” destination.

Lanzarote has all these things – but it takes seven hours less to get there.

Easily my favourite Canary Island, it's got the buzz of Gran Canaria without the tack; the landscapes of La Gomera without the lack of facilities; the diversity of Tenerife,but at a more upscale level.

Even Lanzarote's busiest resort, Puerto del Carmen, is no egg and chips nightmare, while its southern neighbour, Playa Blanca, is even more sedate, but with enough restaurants and chill-out bars to keep you going for a fortnight or more.

From a traditional fishing village, the resort has transformed itself in recent years – most recently with the kind of glitzy marina that you'd find in Majorca or Puerto Banus.

The Hotel Volcan is slap bang in the middle of the Marina Rubicon area, my favourite area of the resort.

The Volcan is an architect's dream – the entrance is through the recreation of the 16th Century Our Lady of Guadalupe church in Teguise town on the island, and it's an impressive introduction to the five-star resort.

Chanting monk music and candles lead to the volcano-shaped lobby, one of the most unusual I've ever witnessed. It's imposing and with the classy feel of the kind of old colonial hotel you'd get in Malta or Singapore.

The rooms, as with the rest of the resort, are traditional in style. Think Moorish blues and cream colours, and spectacular views over the marina and Atlantic Ocean beyond. Beds are enormous, the bathrooms have his-and-her sinks and a dazzling array of toiletries that are every hotel scrounger's dream.

There's a pillow menu, Ipod-compatible Hi-fi, and if you've been in plenty of identikit hotel rooms, this is a refreshing change, cute and traditional in equal measure.

Whisper this quietly, but Irish tourists might fancy upgrading to a club room.

There's an enormous rooftop pool area, with hot tubs, swim-up bar and waiter service. The area exudes calm, with plenty of outdoor beds for lazing under the hot sun (I dozed off there a few times) or looking down on the local martello-like tower, built to defend the island from marauding pirates in days gone by.

Nowadays the only boats going past are jealous cruise ship passengers, banana boats or the regular ferry service to Fuerteventua, which looks as if it's within tipping distance.

But that's not all. The big plus for Irish visitors is the club level's happy hour (from 6pm onwards for a couple of hours), with an enticing selection of beers, gins, vodkas and whatever else takes your fancy for a sundowner.

The manager comes around for a chat, with the upmarket clientele talking about their daywhile considering whether to go for another G'n't sundowner or a chilled glass of cava.

Earlier in the day, it's a select area for breakfast and complimentary nibbles and it's a great way to work up an appetite for dinner.

The main dining room is in a lovely spot, sticking out into the main pool and we tried the half board option with Mexican night setting us up for a night on the town.

For a chilled out afternoon, try el Mirador, just down the road in the marina. It's a scorching spot, but you can take a dip in the sea in between tapas. It's a bit pricier than other spots, but worth it for the chilled out scene alone.

Il Commendatore is a nice little Italian, with a lovely waterfront setting in a marina area that's teeming with fish in the crystal-clear waters.

Further downtown, Mollie's, in the central Papagayo Centre, is a must-stop for anyone looking for a friendly Irish bar and music, while DJ's next door is the spot for catching up on sports on its myriad TVs.

Only 10km from Timanfaya National Park, a trip up the volcano is a must-do, or if you're too hot and bothered there's plenty of watersports along Playa Blanca beach.

The area's not a golfie spot, but you can't beat the pitch and putt (handily placed in between the marina and Papagayo Centre) at Hesperia Playa Dorada.

The course ain't bad, it's two rounds for the price of one, and even better there's an open air bar afterwards.

All that partying can pile on the pounds, and that's where the Hotel Volcan comes up trumps.

It's got free classes in everything from pilates to yoga to aqua aerobics, and I tried my hand at Tai Chi for some inner peace, and it's a fantastic way to really switch off on holiday.

If you want to get stressed again, head out past the pool into the marina area as tourists swarm over local leather goods, food products and clothes.

It's exhausting, but a great day out for bargain hunters right on your doorstep.

But the whole point of Lanzarote is doing as little as possible. It's an older crowd, better travelled and better behaved.

If you're looking for the attractions of the Costas, without the clientele that often comes with it, Playa Blanca is the dream spot without the jetlag.

FACTFILE

Mark travelled down to Lanzarote with a cheap fare booked in advance with Ryanair, with the new service also offering a seat number.

Flight time is around three and a half hours from Dublin to the capital, Arrecife.

Book accommodation with www.hotelvolcan.com or check out packages to the hotel with the likes of www.falconholidays.ie

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