Taking full advantage of non-term time holidays for the first time in 10 years, we headed to Lanzarote to stay at HPB’s Santa Rosa site. Rather used to the “spectacular historical building” side of HPB, the “pool based resort” version was a bit of a shock to the system, but our upper floor apartment boasted a sea view as well as the pool, a full sun balcony and the standard well-equipped self-catering kitchen. (I did use the butter dish, couldn’t find the soup tureen but didn’t use the rolling pin.)
Our main purpose of heading to Lanzarote was a cultural pilgrimage of the sites of César Manrique, a Lanzarote-born artist who had a 1960s vision for tourism on the island and built some des res resorts but whose vision of classy, artsy tourism eventually gave way to mass package holidays. Our resort certainly catered well for the English-speaker hoping not to have to deal with anything unspeakably foreign; but we were able to find the vaguely authentic without having to trek too far.
One feature of the island was unfinished and derelict development. The island has been hit by a planning scandal which saw notable politicians jailed for bribery and development malfeasance and the upshot is large scale half-finished projects. Driving to our digs we passed a huge number of empty, windowless buildings with flapping tarp, and the skyline view from our balcony was a huge concrete shell.
All my Santa Rosa pics
We visited 7 César Manrique places; some took well under an hour to get around, others were worth a longer stay.
Fundacíon César Manrique (all photos)
This was Manrique’s home up until the end of the 80s. Large rooms carved into rocks with passive ventilation, a view of a volcano and many, many rooms with banquettes built into walls with cushions on top. Some wag on the 4Square checking in app had labelled it César’s shag palace and the view of him running bunga bunga parties everywhere started to colour my appreciation for the interior design. All his rooms could certainly lend themselves to orgiastic pursuits.
For the past three years, the Fundacíon has filled the rooms of Manrique’s house with photos of Manrique using those rooms. This detracts slightly from a purist attempt to appreciate the mid century interior design, but certainly gives a strong flavour of the life once lived here.
A big feature of his art was kinetic sculptures that either move in the wind or use the wind to change shape when you’re not looking; and each of his major installations had a huge sculpture announcing it.
Monumento al Campesino (all my photos)
The next sculpture along was a Monument to Fertility overlooking an installacíon praising Lanzarote’s farmers for all they did to bring forth abundance from lava fields. As you can clearly see, the sculpture is a representation of a farmer with with a beast of burden (probably a camel) tilling the fields. It is painted a brilliant white and made from abandoned water tanks from ships.
The monument gives great views over the complex underneath: a row of workshops and salesrooms for artisans, a restaurant, and dug into the ground, a really massive dining hall. Really massive dining halls turned out to be a feature of many of Manrique’s sites.
Fabulous idea but in application… well several of the shops were empty. The leatherworker had a nice leather worked sign saying back later. There was a cochineal beetle dyeing workshop and a tempting soap maker but the tiny bars were €7 each.
The place was whitewashed and treated with the traditional green Manrique wanted to be the only colour on buildings on the island.
Casa Muséo César Manrique (all my photos)
On a drive slightly off the beaten park to small town in the mountains. The Fundacíon CM was in his house up until the late 80s and the House/Museum was the luxury pad Manrique developed from 1988 to his sudden death in a car accident in 1992. As such the interior design was beginning to have a different feel. Still an outdoor pool and a house looking in on itself. A millionaire artist on an island choosing a house with no views was a definite decision. The house was laid out, apparently, exactly as he had left it on his death.
Cueva de los Verdes (all my photos)
Technically I think this site was not César Manrique, but the work of another 60s artist who developed a path through lava tubes and a series of rooms within. The bilingual tour lasted 50 mins, and had a truly excellent joke they asked us not to spoil à la Mousetrap. There was even a concert hall halfway around.
Mirador del Rio (all my photos)
I knew the word “mirador” as “viewpoint” from Madeira holidays. This viewpoint is built high into a mountain with a view over to one of the tiniest Canary islands. Again the interior design is spectacular, built around the views. There’s a beautiful bar with modestly priced snacks and drinks.
Jameos del Agua (all my photos)
We’d tried to visit this first thing in the morning only to find it absolutely heaving – carpark very full, several coaches there – so we pulled a Uey in the carpark and went over to the caves instead, which was also very full but extremely efficient at moving groups through the site.
I’d heard a few of these sites described as Bond villain lairs, and this one was perhaps the Bondiest of lairs. It’s the same huge lava tunnels through the rock as the caves above, but this is set out as a huge underground dining hall, access to a huge freshwater pond filled with white crabs that live here and nowhere else on the planet. (I don’t understand how bright white tiny crabs living on jet black rocks haven’t been fished out of existence by birds… but actually there weren’t all that many birds in evidence anywhere on the island). Beyond the nature pool is a swimming pool like a larger version of Manrique’s own home, and beyond that is a massive auditorium with banquettes carved into the rock.
I didn’t quite get how this was supposed to work as a resort because there wasn’t any accommodation. It would be a great place to see a show, have a meal, get a drink… then what? A bus back to Costa Teguise?
Castillo de San José (all my photos)
This is an ancient fort in the capital town of Arecife, given the full César Manrique treatment. Upstairs is a small modern art museum MIAC with a few interesting pieces and downstairs is… what by this point was becoming familiar as the Manrique dining hall / bar vernacular. The bar was laid out the same as the Mirador and the Jameos del Agua – and later too, the Jardin de Cactus. Same mirrored alcoves (from a different material). Same cupboards and fridges, same hinges on perhaps a different wood. The same vast fine dining scale as the Monumento and Jameos. The staff in all of the places wore the same uniform (and almost appeared to look alike!)
Jardin de Cactus (all my spikey photos)
It was a jardin. With Cactus in it. Meh. Well I wanted to be meh at the start, and it was a little samey, as much horticultural variety as could be provided from just cactus laid out in a terraced basin. But there were some waves of Manrique magic overlaid.
We even ate cactus themed tapas there!
Parque Nacíonal Timanfaya (my full eruption of photos)
We were completely in two minds about visiting this place. On the one hand – chicken cooked over volcanic fumes, another amazing lookout spot, twisted volcanic rock, volcanic demonstrations. On the other, horrendous online reviews about two hour queues, food poisoning from inadequately cooked volcanic chicken and T’s recollection that it had been awful 15 years previously.
In the end we decided to go and took the precaution of arriving not too long before it closed for the day. A brief queue before we were allocated a parking spot. A slightly strange twist that the main attraction was a bus ride for which a face mask was compulsory – the only covid shadow over the whole week really. No mention of this at any other point than immediately before you got on the bus; happily the gift shop sold masks for under a euro, so hurdle easily crossed. The bus tour was good – some really other-wordly views of lava formed rocks that looked like they had only barely cooled, and an English / German / Spanish narration that covered the bases and had some lovely colourful German idiom (“unterirdisches Grollen”)
The volcanic demonstrations were simple but effective – if we put a bush in this cave it bursts into flames in about 3 minutes, if we pour water down this tube, BOOOM, insta geyser.
The restaurant had a lot in common with all the other large viewpoint dining rooms – there was an à la carte menu but we ate a perfectly respectable volcano-grilled chicken panini from the snack bar at the self-service tables.
Over the week we mostly cooked and ate in the evenings in the self catering digs, but we also lunched at very reasonable prices at the Mirador del Rio, the Jardin de Cactus, Timanfaya and the Monumento al Campesino. We had great evening tapas at La Tabla and a good Italianish mean Restaurante Sausolito, both in Costa Teguise.
Separate post to follow about the beaches and sea swimming.