Lanzarote: Discovering César Manrique’s island
Lanzarote, one of the Spanish Canary Islands, is located 125 kilometres off the northern coast of Africa and covers 326 square miles. This firmly established tourism destination continues to attract an increasing number of independent travellers keen to explore its natural volcanic beauty, captured by César Manrique, the gifted abstract artist, sculptor and architect who was born in Arrecife, the island’s capital, in 1919.
At the age of 25 Manrique moved to Madrid, graduated from the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and then travelled extensively. His talents were duly recognised and his works were displayed in a host of international art exhibitions including New York’s Guggenheim Museum.
Manrique left New York in 1966 and returned to Lanzarote at a time when local authorities were developing its tourism industry. He was highly influential in the promotion of sustainability, dedicated to protecting Lanzarote’s natural heritage and culture and he designed a number of attractions merging nature and art. These unique sites are Lanzarote’s most popular spots for visitors.
Manrique’s first project, Jameos del Agua, located in Haría, is an exceptional cultural centre and was constructed in 1966. The partially collapsed volcanic lava tunnel, which was formed by the eruption of the Volcán de la Corona 4,000 years ago, covers a distance of six kilometres and leads out to the sea. Visitors to the site explore the caverns within the volcanic walls by following a spiral staircase, which leads down to a cafeteria and bar area and there is a small museum with exhibits including interactive features and a video with information on the world’s active volcanoes and striking images of lava flow.
Descending further, and a beautiful natural lake inhabited by a number of tiny albino crabs, a species unique to the island, comes into view. By following a meandering path, beside the lake and with the daylight flooding the area, the visitor is above the ground within a garden of lush palm trees bursting with colourful bougainvillea surrounding a stunning pool. Pausing for a breather and sitting on one of the white benches I contemplated on Manrique and his extraordinary talent.
To learn more, I visited Manqrique’s residence, which is located on Calle Jorge Luis Borges in Tahíche and is now a museum. This mesmerising home, built over five volcanic bubbles, reflects a captivating fusion of contemporary design and the natural environment. Built within a warren of underground spaces and tunnels, created by molten lava, the site includes an exquisite turquoise swimming pool, which was constructed in a buried space, and the relaxation areas create a feeling of absolute tranquillity. Manrique’s studio, at ground level, features fine examples of his works and the enormous windows saturate the interior with natural light affording breath taking views of the surroundings.
The César Manrique Foundation, established in 1982 and based at his home, continues to oppose the construction of high-rise properties, ensures that there are no unsightly billboards distracting the eye from natural surroundings and encourages the island’s residents to paint their properties in bright colours. There is little doubt that Manrique’s influence has been rewarded as Lanzarote was recognised as a Unesco biosphere reserve in 1993, only one year after he died.
Another popular attraction is the Parque Nacional de Timanfaya, named after the island’s only active volcano and one of the core areas of the biosphere reserve covering an area of 51 square miles. The last eruptions took place in the 18th and 19th centuries and the core temperature, caused by a constantly baking magma 4 kilometres below the surface, ranges from 100 to 600 centigrade at a depth of 43 feet.
I arrived at Timanfaya early in the morning and embarked on the coach tour to follow the volcano route, as visitors are not permitted to walk through the park, ensuring its protection. Throughout the journey, passengers are richly rewarded with astonishing sights of the solidified lava fields, vast areas covered with black and copper coloured sand, and the eerie shapes of volcanic rock formations. Islote de Hilario (the black volcano) soars 510 metres into the sky and bathed in the golden hues of the morning sun, I was enthralled by Mother Nature’s beauty.
At the end of my adventure, and with the smell of sulphur in my nostrils, I stopped off at El Diablo, the park’s restaurant, and after admiring the stunning views, I went inside to see the lava stove, which is a hole in the ground with a cast iron grill on the top and I viewed my fish luncheon cooking, immersed in the geothermal heat. Savouring the succulent flavours I glanced out of the window and noticed a member of staff demonstrating nature’s geothermal force by pouring a bucket of water into the ground, which instantly created a geyser of exploding steam. He was immediately greeted with hearty cheers and spontaneous applause from a captivated audience.
For brave souls keen to get up close and personal with a volcano, Parque De Los Volcanes, which surrounds the Parque Timanfaya, offers a 3 kilometre trail towards the interior of the volcano. The solidified lava features encrusted Olivine crystals; a green coloured stone, known as peridot, which has been discovered in meteorites and is used in local jewellery. Due to the harsh habitat there is a shortage of indigenous creatures in the area but beware of any lurking Death’s Head Hawkmoths, which have a human skull shaped pattern on the thorax, as it is said that they bring misfortune. Bird lovers will be enchanted by the opportunity to spot common kestrels, the Hoopoe, Berthelot’s pipit, Southern Grey Shrikes and the Little Egret.
Another popular spot for hikers is the 6.6 mile trail from El Golfo, a small fishing village, to Charco de los Clicos, also called the Green Lagoon, which lies within an inactive volcano. The vivid green colour is as a result of the Ruppia Maritima algae and the striking hues contrasting with the blue sky is unforgettable.
Following my arduous explorations I was more than ready to experience the highest levels of comfort and privacy and I stayed in a secluded villa, which features three spacious bedrooms, and the heated, south facing, outdoor pool measuring 8×5 metres, which is surrounded by comfortable sun loungers, provided the ideal spot for an afternoon snooze and with an enormous patio, a barbecue, and a sheltered dining area, it was just the ticket.
Featured on the HomeAway website, this old Canarian finca (a typical, traditional property), offers high ceilings with pine wood beams and varnished wooden flooring and is located in the Los Mojones area of Puerto del Carmen; only a ten minute walk to the sandy beach. Furnishings are contemporary; the lounge features plump, comfortable sofas and foot stools and a huge television with more than enough stations to keep fully informed of news overseas.
Every appliance and gadget is provided and the kitchen is ideal for those capable of rustling up some tempting home cooked meals. Alas, my skills are lacking in that area and I headed for the local supermarket, only a short stroll away. That evening as I munched on my meal of freshly baked bread with slivers of cold meats and goat’s cheese and accompanied by a tipple of Rubicon Moscatel I raised my glass in honour of César Manrique and reflected on his words; ‘I want to extract harmony from the earth to unify it with my feeling for art’. There is no doubt that Manrique achieved his objective and Lanzarote remains devoted to him.
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Images, excluding accommodation, courtesy of Turismo Lanzarote and the Fundación César Manrique.