Thursday, 19 June 2014

Off-The-Beaten-Path in Gran Canaria: Top Five Things to See & Do

Being a warm and sunny year-round holiday destination, it is little wonder that Gran Canaria has afforded itself such a beach holiday reputation. However there is so much more to this tiny island and its mountains and ravines than sun, sea and sand. When I visited this year I barely had time for any beach encounters at all... 

Gran Canaria: Artenara Cave Dwellings

This fascinating set of ancient cave dwellings has been adorned with furniture and pottery/craft workshops to demonstrate how they were lived in and worked in, during the 1800s. The views across to the other mountains are breathtaking and you can even spy some prehistoric cave dwellings on the other side which were used by the ancient Guanche people - the natives of the Canary Islands who were non-Spanish. 

To find these cave dwellings head into the town of Artenara and follow the brown tourist signs. Buses from Las Palmas should stop in Artenara, and hiring a car is cheap. Entry is free to the caves, but donations are appreciated. 

Cave dwellings are still used as homes and restaurants to this day, and there are a number of them in the town of Artenara itself. 

Gran Canaria Artenara Cave Dwellings

Gran Canaria: Teror

The quaint and picturesque town of Teror is colourful and traditionally Gran Canarian with its ornate wooden balconies, coloured buildings, and late 1700s Basilica; which for many Gran Canarians, is the most important place of worship on the island. The quaint little gift shops and cafes make a visit to Teror all the more enjoyable, as well as the views of the lush green valleys and hills from the edge of town near the bus terminal, which are in sharp contrast to the island's dry and rocky South. 

Teror is very easily reached as it is located just under an hour away from Las Palmas by bus. Buses are very frequent and on Sundays they are usually every hour. 

Gran Canaria Teror

Gran Canaria: Las Palmas

Gran Canaria's main city is a joy to walk around, and is packed with a range of atmospheric places to eat and drink. The old historic centre is just full of beautiful buildings and great photo opportunities, and the main shopping street Calle Triana is great for some urban retail therapy. 

There is a good beach just North of the city, and there are great bus connections to most other places on the island from the city, so Las Palmas does make a great (and more genuine) alternative to the tacky purpose-built resorts that litter the South coast. 

Japanese restaurant Sakura VI Wok on Calle Muelle is a restaurant with great service and incredibly delicious food. The restaurant is buffet-style. Customers just order as many dishes as they like from the menu and re-order if the first dish is finished. 

Gran Canaria Whitewashed Church in the Sun - Las Palmas

Gran Canaria: Aguimes

With its coloured pastel-painted stone buildings and classical Basilica taking centre stage in the square with a handful of lovely cafes and shops around it, Aguimes makes a great place for a relaxing afternoon away from the beach. It is located close to the airport and just a few minutes' drive into the hills from the motorway. The town is easily reached by bus from Las Palmas, or of course by car. 

Aguimes - Gran Canaria - sunlit dome of basilica

Gran Canaria: Mountain Driving

Gran Canaria's mountainous landscape is dramatic and extremely varied. The winding roads all over the island open up to stunning panoramic views in hundreds of places and views vary greatly with the weather and time of year. As the main tourism focus is on the beaches, the stunning interior of the island remains surprisingly unspoilt and extremely quiet. Just a few miles inland from the beaches, locals can be seen gathering their goats up in the mountains, and windswept vistas into the valleys below remain as natural as can be with not another person in sight. 

Gran Canaria Mountain Views

The mountain roads on the Southern half of the island around Mogan and Soria climb steeply amongst the volcanic cliffs and ravines, with dramatic and impressive views. In spring, various wild flowers are out in bloom and compliment the dry rocky landscape. 

Gran Canaria Mountain ViewsDriving on Gran Canaria's mountain roads can be tricky with very narrow passes up high, but traffic is rarely congested, and local drivers are generally relaxed and courteous. Along these minor roads there are also some lovely little cafes and restaurants hidden away off the beaten path. 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Medina Madness in Marrakech & The Treasures in The Souks

"I'm not buying anything - I'm just going to look" I announced to Jess as we sat Googling pictures of Marrakech's endless souks and planning our impending trip with a frenzy of excitement. "I've got nowhere to put anything anyway - my house is full..." I added, as my friend turned her attention back to the description of the traditional labyrinthine markets we were so intent on visiting.

"I'm taking an empty suitcase. I'm serious! I'm stocking up - I won't be happy unless I've got to buy at least one more house to put all my lucky finds in..."

Accompanied by my mum and my shopping-hating husband, Jess and I made our way across the Djemma El Fna, let loose in the hubbub. After a delicious fresh orange juice for 50p at a stand in the square, we headed into the narrow and bustling alleys beyond.

In our first shop, we were immediately pounced upon, with all the 'ah, suits you lady' and 'we have other size, come, look...' As we delved deeper still, nearly every shop keeper seemed to want to offer us all some miracle cure for baldness, or a polaroid camera, and of course, some old rusty taps as well as the more typical items such as Moroccan argan oil for hair and beauty.

"Here we are" said a jolly little man in descending tones as he stepped in my path and blocked my way, gesturing to his shop as if I'd finally reached the destination I'd been coveting after months of searching. I smiled and stepped around him, passing by a different man brandishing a small wooden box in my face, who called out as I dodged past; 'but wait, I have herbs for stop snoring!'

We passed rows of colourful slippers, stacks of beautifully painted tagines, and folds of exquisite scarves, and Jess sniffed out the items on her list one by one, along with various other items besides. What's more, a great many treasures had caught my interest too. Our heads were turning in every direction and even Richard appeared to be appreciating the richness and variety of these endlessly colourful souks.

As Jess picked out glass tea-sets and lanterns, one after another, the eager shop-keepers left no time for her scrutiny and hesitant, pondering nature. With every 'here, see other one lady' or 'give me your best price, best price' she lost more interest in specific items and gained more criteria to search for them by! As time went on, Richard and I stepped in to haggle too, and after a lot of 'walking away' and painstaking bartering, prices that were 'impossible' before, suddenly became possible. We started to realise 'last price' and 'final offer' meant nothing of the sort and became fascinated with the endless dance that is haggling.

Once Jess, my mum and I had bought our first items, a flood-gate had been opened and a whole host of exciting items found their way into our paws. I just had to have one of the many colourful and soft pashminas, and then a bowl here, a plate there, and of course some argan oil and Moroccan rosebuds. It really wouldn't be a genuine marrakechi experience if I returned home without these items.

Wandering around from sun-soaked courtyard to wicker-shaded souk, we actually started to get the hang of haggling, and sensed an addictive quality to it - even if it did mean Richard coming home with a bracelet that turned his wrist green!