Lanzarote is the most northeastern of the Canary Islands. A dream paradise for surfers and a hidden treasure of unique and exotic landscapes and flavours. A place that some say doesn’t belong to this planet… Welcome to the moon!
Expect desert-like landscapes painted with black sand and volcanic fields… a dark colour palette only interrupted by the bright green dots from the vineyards and the occasional white pueblos. Expect neverending beaches and a whistling wind that breaks the imposing calm when gatecrashing the houses. Expect the salty aftertaste of the ‘sancocho’ or the sticky texture of the ‘bienmesabe’. These are all images of an intimate territory, a beloved island, a yearned life.
Lanzarote is – and it will always be – the place where I’d love to wake up the day after.
I still remember my first time in Lanzarote. My parents decided to celebrate Christmas away from home and they took us here on a family trip. Back then, I wasn’t particularly excited about that trip, although I soon realized that this was indeed a very special place.
Lanzarote is an island of contrasts. And like the rest of the Canarian archipelago, it’s also a natural meeting point… the crossroads between Europe, America and Africa. A place with a strong singular character forged by the combination of geography, climatology and the many cultures arriving here over the centuries.
It’s not unusual for places with an intense cultural blending to be attached to an interesting local gastronomy. Indeed, Lanzarote has a cuisine of its own, different to any other Spanish region but equally as wonderful. Not only does it offer unique local dishes but also ingredients that can’t be found anywhere else in the country. Cactus, black potatoes, gofio or honey-rum are only a few examples of the many ingredients that we’ll be discovering today whilst we explore one of the most fascinating landscapes that my eyes have ever witnessed.
Manrique and the Geria wine
We begin our journey at the ‘Monumento al Campesino’, aka the ‘Peasant’s monument’. Designed by the famous local architect César Manrique, it pays homage to all the men and women who work extremely hard to farm this impossible land of rock and volcanic lava. All the main roads in the island depart from here. This alone would be a good enough reason to make this place the starting point of our itinerary. But what really attracts us here is the restaurant, where the visitor can enjoy the best local specialities at a very reasonable price. Order some wrinkly potatoes – ‘papas arrugás’, see the recipe here – with either red or green mojo, and a glass of Geria wine… two of the local delicacies that everyone visiting the island should enjoy at some point.
It was precisely this wine from the nearby region of Geria that inspired César Manrique to create his ‘Peasant’s monument’. Not that he drank too much of it trying to find his creative muses. It has more to do with how challenging and unique the winemaking process in this part of the world is.
Growing wine in such an arid, volcanic and apparently lifeless piece of land is a mission of epic proportions. Here, the vines are planted in holes up to 6m/20ft deep so that they can reach the ground layer underneath the dry volcanic lava. The hole is then covered with ‘picona’ ground which retains the little humidity from the very occasional rain drops. Finally the vine is surrounded by a half-moon-shaped little wall made of volcanic rock, protecting it from the strong local winds. Of course this means that all the harvesting has to be done by hand.
This wine, mostly made with Malvasía grapes, has become a very special gem amongst Spanish wines, due to the complexity of its elaboration and the unique volcanic flavours and aromas that it holds.
You can visit several vineyard areas in Lanzarote. The most spectacular though is the one that spreads both sides of the road going from the ‘Monumento al Campesino’ to the village of Uga. The colour contrast between the vines’ green and the dark earth invites you to get out of the car and get lost in the fields. Something that you can do in the ‘El Grifo’ winery, where not only you can walk through their vineyards but also taste their beautiful wines, the most veteran ones in the island.
Smoked salmon from Lanzarote
If you still don’t believe me when I said that Lanzarote is an island of contrasts, then let’s continue to the nearby village of Uga. It might sound awkward but here you can taste one of the best smoked salmons in the world. No, there aren’t any rivers in Lanzarote. Nor there are salmons amongst the volcanos. But smoked salmon seemed to be the only thing that a German couple really missed when they settled down here back in the 70s. So they decided to combine the sun with the salmon business and since then they’ve been importing the highest quality Norwegian salmon to smoke it here in Uga and then distribute it all around Europe. Very interesting because Lanzarote doesn’t have salmon but it does have an unbeatable offer of other local fresh fish!
Fish lovers’ paradise
For mainland Spaniards, the names of Canarian fish are unusual and even a bit amusing. Vieja, bocinegro, cherne are all frequent fish in local restaurants. Our favourite place to taste them is just 20 km away, in the tiny seaside village of El Golfo. Although the journey from Uga is not long, the dramatism of the landscape and the intense dark colours always make me feel that I’m heading towards the end of the world.
El Golfo is a foodies’ paradise. With plenty of seaside restaurants competing to offer the freshest of the products, the choice here is excellent and abundant. The fish menu is so long that if in doubt, you can always visit places like Casa Plácido and go for their fish mix grill, prepared with the best selection of catches of the day.
The natural ovens from the mountains of fire
If in order to find the best fresh fish we had to drive all the way to the coast, it’s easy to figure out that the most carnivorous palates will need to travel inland, towards the Timanfaya National Park, where they will be able to taste some meat cooked in a very special oven.
Located amongst the most impressive volcanoes in the island, the El Diablo restaurant uses the heat coming from inside the earth to cook its food. Thanks to a gigantic roasting oven designed by César Manrique, all the meat and fish are cooked in front of the customers. You might hold some prejudices about my next recommendation, but if you dare to beat them you should probably go for the most popular meat here which is baby goat, either cooked in a roast or in a locally popular stew called ‘Cabrito Conejero’ which is made of garlic, tomato and white wine.
A sweet end to our journey
We are reaching the end of our journey. Although after such a gastronomic feast, you’re probably craving a sweet dessert that can match the rest of the wonderful food. No problem. Lanzarote has the dessert with the best name ever… the ‘bienmesabe’, literally the ‘it-tastes-good-to-me’. This highly calorific bomb made of egg, caramel and almonds is served in various different versions all around the island: with chocolate, with ice-cream, with pudding… you name it. So many versions that I haven’t had time yet to try them all… which is great because this is the perfect excuse to keep coming back to the moon!
Where to eat in Lanzarote
Casa-Museo del Campesino
+34 928 52 01 36
El Cortijo de Haria
Calle el Palmeral
+928 83 56 86
Avenida Olof Palme S/N C.C. Marina
+34 928 52 49 78
Calle Las Perdices, 8.
+34 689 45 11 08
Ctra. Tías – Yaiza, 60
+34 928 52 45 24
Parque Nacional de Timanfaya
+34 928 84 00 56