Holidays are about indulging in what you wish you could do at home but daren’t. That’s my excuse for enjoying a second glass of wine by noon, soon to be followed by a third.
And, despite only taking small sips — this is a wine-tasting tour, and pacing oneself is imperative — I’m a little tipsy.
My light-headedness might be as much about the view as the vino. This is the Canary island of Lanzarote, and while all of the Canaries are volcanic, this one is different.
Pictured is Lanzarote’s Papagayo beach, which is a short drive from the vineyards of La Geria
Three centuries ago a six-year-long eruption smothered everything in its wake with thick black ash, creating an otherworldly, desolate landscape, like a charcoal Sahara. But out of the ash grew a miracle: the grape. And these grapes make wines so unique that they’re creating a buzz.
‘The ash is the magic,’ explains tour guide Ollie. ‘Without it there would be no grapes or viticulture. It gives the wine a distinctive flavour you won’t find anywhere else in the world.’
The vineyards in Lanzarote’s wine-making region, La Geria, are unlike anywhere else in the world. Each vine is grown in a sunken pit protected by a low, crescent-shaped wall. And in the distance are the towering volcano cones of the Montanas del Fuego (Fire Mountains) whose eruptions created that ash.
So far, I’ve tried rosé and a red —both light-bodied, chilled and perfectly suited to the warm, dry climate. But Lanzarote is best known for white wine made from the Malvasia grape. Ollie hands me a glass.
‘You can taste the island’s salty breeze and the soil’s minerals in it,’ he says. I sip and reflect. Taste the breeze or not, the wine is dry, crisp and delicious. More please.
Lanzarote is 37 miles long from top to bottom and is the fourth largest and most easterly of the Canaries.
Refreshing: Jo on her wine tour. ‘The vineyards in Lanzarote’s wine-making region, La Geria, are unlike anywhere else in the world,’ she says
Pictured is a La Geria vineyard built on Lanzaote’s black volcanic soil. Jo says of the wine-making region: ‘Out of the ash grew a miracle: the grape’
It has a population of 150,000, of whom nearly 2,000 are registered viticulturists who make around three million bottles of wine a year.
The island is Spanish, of course, but as it’s dominated by volcanic scenery it feels nothing like Spain.
My base is the south-eastern seaside resort of Puerto del Carmen, in the Hotel Fariones, which reopened last September after a £25 million refurbishment.
The result is an aesthetic triumph, from its sumptuous hammock-chairs and palm-fringed infinity pool (which has become an Instagram sensation) to its botanical gardens, which lead to what is a surprisingly golden beach for a volcanic island.
All rooms have a sea view, and later I stand on my balcony and watch the sun flash a fiery red as it sinks towards the Atlantic. Green parrots sing from the treetops and it feels more like the tropics than Europe. It’s balmy enough for dinner on the hotel restaurant’s outdoor terrace year-round. The hotel company has its own farm, and the artisanship can be tasted in every bite.
Lanzarote is white-washed and residents take pride in their homes and gardens. It’s also conspicuously low-rise and, on a tour of the island the next day, guide Eva tells me that this is thanks to famed local artist Cesar Manrique.
Jo’s base in Lanzarote was in the south-eastern seaside resort of Puerto del Carmen, pictured above
Timanfaya National Park, pictured, is home to the volcanic Fire Mountains and is a geothermal hotspot
‘He wanted to preserve his homeland’s beauty so much that he spearheaded a decree which prohibits the construction of high-rises.’ Manrique has made Lanzarote a mecca for culture vultures as well as beach and wine lovers. His speciality was turning landscapes into works of art, and Eva takes me to some of his masterpieces.
First stop, his cactus garden. Manrique terraced a disused quarry like an amphitheatre and planted it with cacti of every shape, shade and size. The result is nature’s answer to the Tate Modern.
A similar tour de force is his mystical Jameos del Agua water grotto, created from the collapsed section of a four-mile-long volcanic lava tube. This is the only place in the world (other than the ocean floor) inhabited by a species of tiny blind white crabs.
Famed local artist Cesar Manrique’s cactus garden is planted with cacti of every shape, shade and size
Pictured is the Jameos del Agua water grotto, which was created from the collapsed section of a four-mile-long volcanic lava tube
But the island’s hottest attraction is the immersive visitor experience Manrique helped design in the island’s Timanfaya National Park.
The park is home to the volcanic Fire Mountains and is a geothermal hotspot where temperatures of up to 610c have been recorded.
Thunderous geysers send water and steam up through the earth’s surface and, if you’re brave enough, the park warden will scoop soil from the ground onto your bare palm. The soil is on the cusp of being too hot to handle and I hop about like a crazed cartoon character before finally shaking it off.
Far safer is the park restaurant’s signature dish: chicken barbecued over geothermal heat, its skin crisped to perfection.
Back at the hotel £5 buys me one last, large, delicious glass of Malvasia. And then, in the spirit of ending the way I began, I order another.