Canary Islands – Our Fave!

Waiting in a long line for our Ryan Air flight to Lanzarote, we wore three layers of clothing in an attempt to make the carry-on size limits.  I was sweating bullets and cursing the never-ending check-in line, non-existent air conditioning and Kate’s “must have” hair dryer bulging out the corners of her luggage. Our turn to check in finally came and the Ryan Air attendees glanced towards our bags.  It appeared to me that they glanced at each other, confident they would collect the $150 oversized bag check fee before we boarded as they motioned towards the “ok for overhead” wire frame.  Like a lumberjack swinging an axe, I raised Kate’s bag up with two hand and slammed it down into the frame.  I really hoped I was doing some permanent damage to the hair dryer as the metal frame of the luggage checker shuddered and the bag stopped a third of the way down the frame.  I smiled assurances at the Ryan Air attendees and pushed with both hands.  Sweat streamed from my face and Kate pretended she didn’t know me as a hundred passengers looked on.  The metal wires bent—or the hair dryer broke—and…

DSC00651Guess how many f*cks this wild goat gave about the size of our luggage

…the bag fit slide into the frame and the attendee frowned and hurried me onto the plane.  With three heavy jerks on the handle I pulled the bag free and we boarded the plane to the volcanic desert island off the coast of Africa.

We didn’t know what to expect on the Spanish Island but were excited by the chance to surf and visit their lava-fed wineries.  Lanzarote, our home base, is the 4th largest of the 12 Canary Islands but relatively underdeveloped.  We rented a modest and inexpensive apartment 20 minutes from the airport but only 100 yards from a great family oriented beach (Costa Tequise).  Most of the tourists seemed to be from the UK because Irish pubs lined the picturesque beachfront.  Hopping from pub to pub one night, the locals kept insisting that their red wine was awful but we knew better.

After a couple of days relaxing on the beach, we rented a couple surf boards and ventured out to some nearby breaks.  The water was warm and clear and the breaks were surprisingly uncrowded, most likely because there wasn’t much swell.  Jameos del Agua, near a state park, was a point break with a strong left and rocky bottom.  It was a bit scary because it was tough to judge how deep the large rocks were underneath our boards.  Nearby, Arrieta, one of the few beach breaks in the Canaries, was nice but reminded me of an uncrowded Linda Mar = lots of close outs but a good place to catch a quick wave.

At night we cooked dinner in our apartment as the local pub food was crappy.  The only real grocery store on the entire island was Congeledos Roper and, since almost everything is imported, food was expensive.  They had some nice, reasonably priced local fish and eggs that sustained us very well for the entire week we were there.  Kate convinced me to go spelunking in some natural caves formed by salt water and lava flows, called Cueva de los Verdes.  I thought it was lame, as you had to buy a ticket and wait for a tour that takes 2 hours but could have been done in 15 minutes, but Kate liked it.

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Wine tasting on the other hand was quite an adventure. Most of the wineries on Lanzarote are located on the wine road otherwise known as La Geria that cuts through the middle of the island.  Surrounded by nothing but hot black volcanic rock, we couldn’t fathom how grapes not only grew but flourished under these conditions.  On an interesting aside, most of the vines are ancient Pre-Phylloxera varietals as the island was unaffected by this European blight.

The first place we visited was El Grifos, the oldest wine cellar on Lanzarote. El Grifos boasts that it is among the 10 oldest wineries in Spain and is still family run and was founded in 1775.  All labor is done manually on the 61.5 Hectares and they produce 400,000 to 600,000 bottles per year.

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This was mid-August and, because of the heat and dry weather, they were almost completely done with their harvest, almost 2 months earlier than most other wine growing regions.  The vines are sheltered from the wind by planting them in a ditch and surrounding them with volcanic rock so they look like little forts you build as a kid.  Sheltering from the wind minimizes water loss and reduces the ash build up.

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El Grifos had a really nice self-guided wine museum.  They had an actual pig skin that was once used as a wine holder and we were able to walk through the vineyard and taste some grapes.   The tour included a tasting of 6 of their wines with an emphasis on their whites in varying sweetness.  Yum!

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Very good variety of wine with some flavorful local cheese and the worst breadsticks I’ve ever eaten.

Next up was Stratus (http://www.stratuswines.com), a producer of innovative wines from winemaker, J-L (Jean-Laurent) Groux.  From their website: “He is a native of France’s Loire Valley who learned his craft in the vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux. And while he venerates the traditions of winemaking, he won’t be bound by them.”  Wow.  Anyway, they have a great tasting room that does a nice job explaining his innovative wine making techniques but that didn’t justify their high prices.  We were impressed that they are the first fully LEED-certified winery in the world in 2005.

Across the street was La Geria Bodega, which is a synonym for wine in Spanish.  This quiet place had a beautiful tasting room and a good Malvasa Seco. Screenshot 2015-01-06 17.05.24

It felt a little bit like wine tasting on the moon!

We also went to a random roadside winery where the owner claimed he made his wine without chemicals.  When we bought a bottle the owner put an empty bottle up to a cask, filled it and corked it.  Not wishing to test the sterility of this unsulfured bottle, we drank it that night with our dinner.

We saved the best for our last day: Bermejos.  All of the wines here impressed us and had great freshness.  For good reason, this winery is considered one of the best on the Canary Islands. The reds were an interesting marriage of strawberry with a smokiness endowed from the volcanic terroir.  The Diego Seco (2012) that we bought for the wine club is only grown on the Canary Islands and does not usually make it off the island. It had notes of jasmine, aniseed and herbs, nice freshness and minerality with some pepper as well.  The oak was well integrated at a great value.  We were crushed coming back when our bag was overweight (screw you Ryan Air) and we had to unload two bottles of this delicious wine from the case.  I pushed in the cork on one and drank half of it in the airport.  The other bottle I left unopened in the food court, hoping someone else would get thirsty.  For more info on the CI wines, this article is fantastic.

The center of the islands had a caldera, Blanca, which could be circled in a half day hike.  It was supposedly an active volcano but we didn’t see any lava flows, just mountain with some nice views.

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Not to limit ourselves to just Lanzarote, we decided to take an impromptu trip to another famous winemaking region, Tenerife.  Kate was a huge fan of the wobbly propeller plane that took us back and forth between the islands. Evan was promptly lulled to sleep by the turbulence.  The airport was really nice – our only complaint was the extended walk from the terminal to the parking lot.

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Our first stop was to La Baranda wine museum, a location nearly impossible to find using our GPS.  Fortunately, our frustrations were eased as we slaked our thirst in their cute, completely empty tasting room adjacent to the museum.  We had a great sampling of red and white wines from all over the island.

Many of the wineries we had hoped to visit were closed on Saturdays in August but luckily our favorite winery, Tajinaste, was open!  The tasting room was nice, modern but tiny.  They had a limited but tasty selection of local favorites.DSC00640Wrapping our tasting at Tajinaste, we went to a recommended lunch place right down the street.DSC00645 The paella was seriously good!  Evan couldn’t be distracted from shoveling it in his face to smile for the camera.  Also, beard + moustache?  Paella flavor saver.DSC00643Liquid lunch

As we weren’t too successful on the wine tasting front, we decided to explore Tenerife further.  Tenerife was infinitely more developed than Lanzarote, and more touristy and not to our liking.  The wineries were also closed (did we mention that?).  We did, however, manage to have some fun with candy.DSC00653 DSC00654 Back on Lanzarote, we decided to explore a third island that Evan read was supposed to have good surf – La Graciosa. The smallest and northernmost island in the Canary archipelago, La Graciosa is reached via a 30 minute ferry. It’s a mostly car-free island.  We rented a couple of bikes and, true to our mission, brought our surfboards over with us as well.

DSC00685Kate is smiling on the ferry ride to the island because she doesn’tyet realize that the temperature will climb to almost 100 degrees, that drinking water isn’tavailable anywhere outside the docking port, and that this island doesn’t have a scrap of shade to its name. Nope, nothing graciosa about this little trip to Hades, ladies and gentlemen. You don’t want to see the picture of Kate on the return trip back.  But we get ahead of ourselves.

First, we biked about 5 miles to the first “surf spot,” Evan courteously carrying both our longboards under one arm with Kate trailing behind.     island 2 - squareupclose 2Kate really needs to catch up because Evan is not waiting.  Biking is fun with two longboards on dirt roads in desert heat.

El Pollon surf spot was supposed to be “epic,” but there were no waves to be found.  Flat as glass.

Trudging through rocks with flip flops and surf boards, Kate managed to cut her toe wide open rendering her left foot a bloody mess.  Sand and small pebbles turned out to be a poor coagulant. We drank the last drops of our only liter of water, confident we’d come across a vendor selling more at the next beach.

Lugging surfboards across the ferry and 8 miles of biking trails, Evan was determined to surf no matter what.  After El Pollon, we headed to a little beach at the end of the island.  The waves turned out to be big, with a reef bottom, and it was scary because we were in the middle of nowhere, miles away from the only town on the island.

island 1 - square upclose 1Not a lick of shade anywhere.  Evan says “I see waves!” On our extended traverse across the island, this was often Kate’s image of Evan as she bled profusely from a near fatal big toe injury.

So…only Evan got his surf fix and then we headed to the other “town” only to realize that it had 12 houses, a beach and no stores from which we could buy water.  We started to get concerned about our ability to make it back.  Kate, beleaguered and bloody, got off her bike and started to walk.  Would they ever make it??

After scaling a mountain-sized hill, Kate and Evan, and their surfboards, finally found their way back to the port and to sweet cold water.  They drank two liters immediately and caught the next ferry out of there.  Never again!

La Graciosa notwithstanding, we had a terrific time in Lanzarote and would highly recommend it to anyone.  It was one of our favorite stops on our honeymoon and a magical place to visit.

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