Tenerife and Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain
The Canary Islands lie approximately 100 kilometres from the south coast of Morocco. An archipelago of seven main islands, they may be part of Spain, but seem to have more in common with the Caribbean due to their laid-back vibe, island time and stunning beaches. Many of the Canary Islands have been awarded UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status because of their unique volcanic landscapes and national parks. Tenerife isn’t quite an island of two halves, but it is an island of two parts. There are the purpose built resorts, such as Playa de las Américas and Costa Adeje, then there’s the rest of the island. The much bigger part, where most Canarios have lived for five centuries. What Tenerife offers is diversity. It’s large enough to be home to cosmopolitan cities with historic centres, bustling towns, small villages, rural farmlands and huge expanses of National Park where you can walk and walk and never meet a soul. It also boasts the highest mountain in Spain, the towering Mount Teide, whose sheer bulk provides a spectacular introduction to visitors arriving by air. And of course, almost all over the island, beaches for all tastes. Gran Canaria suffers from the same image as Tenerife often dismissed as little more than a mass tourism destination. In reality, it’s exactly the same, with the most interesting parts to be found outside of the resorts. Ironically, the two islands are quite similar in personality despite the fierce rivalry between them. The people who like Tenerife should, in theory, like Gran Canaria although there are differences. Round as a ball, Gran Canaria appears to have been bounced from the coast of West Africa 130 miles to the east. The third-largest of the Canary Islands, after Tenerife and Fuerteventura, it’s roughly the same size as Greater London. It was “discovered” in 999AD, when the Granada-based navigator Ibn Farrukh landed and introduced the wonder plant aloe vera to its shores. However, before the Spanish arrived in the 15th century, the Canarii occupied the island. These Berber-descended people had no knowledge of shipbuilding, which has led historians to conclude they were exiled landlocked slaves. The capital is Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, in the north-east. It was established by Juan Rejón, an Aragonese captain in the Castilian navy, on 24 June 1478. It has grown into the ninth-biggest Spanish city and the largest in the Canaries, with a population of around 400,000. Following in Rejón’s wake was a rather better-known explorer. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, pulling into Las Palmas’s Puerto de la Luz for a pit stop. His time was mainly spent haranguing shipwrights to repair his fleet. He spent his days in Vegueta, the city’s oldest district, at Casa de Colón, the residence of the then Spanish Governor. Although not particularly noted for its architecture, Gran Canaria does flaunt some grand designs. Las Palmas cathedral, for example, took some 400 years to complete, and you can enjoy a pigeon’s-eye view from its tower. Maspalomas, at the far south of the island, has some impressive Sahara-style dunes which, some have speculated, might have been caused by a tsunami emanating from Lisbon back in 1755. Beaches make up more than a quarter of Gran Canaria’s 147-mile coastline. The north coast is largely rugged.