Everything you thought about Gran Canaria was mistaken. Lisa Oxenham discovers wellness retreats, thalassotherapy spa hotels, white sandy beaches and great value
Why go? There are so many advantages to the Canary Islands – they’re our closest winter sun destination (just a four-hour flight away), there’s no jet-lag, great value and pretty much guaranteed sunshine. I’ve always been put off by the ‘lads holiday’ labelling, but the Canary Islands now have a lot more to offer.
Gran Canaria, the third largest of the islands has a high-end wellness culture, delicious Spanish tapas along with local delicacies and most European cuisine, diverse scenery (the north of the island is characterised by extensive vegetation – Aloe Vera (considered by experts as the purest in the world), and cacti are the prominent local flora but surprisingly lots of the food is grown locally with vast expanses of tunnels protecting the produce from the fierce sunshine. The south with its beautiful beaches is mostly arid with ideal conditions for outdoor sport such as hiking and mountain biking.
[Photo credit: Seaside Palm Beach]
The high-end wellness culture combines the most natural volcanic environment and mountainous fresh air (almost half of the island has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO) with the most modern and well-equipped facilities and great specialists in health and beauty to top up vitality. However, sunbathing is the main pastime, and it’s no wonder with perfect conditions year round and an array of beautiful beaches. In the south, Maspalomas beach is a long strip of yellow sand with good surf, in spite of being largely touristy it has a cool Miami energy to it.
[Photo credit: Sheraton Beach Hotel]
When? The Canaries are a year-round destination but winter is the best time to escape the cold. You will enjoy spending days at the beach and hiking/cycling in the mountains. Plus, it’s the ideal climate for your little terrors but the summer is too hot for most especially for being active. Diehard tanners would be at home but not without some good sunscreen. The evenings are warm year round, reaching 20 degrees in winter and 26 in the summer so if you like a cool bed, air-con is a must (it is also standard in most places but worth checking). At the height of summer, daytime temperatures can reach a scorching 38C.
You really must…For seclusion, make for the stretch to the west of the island, where you’ll likely have the sand to yourself, or go for one of my favourite beaches, the sandy southern bay of Amordores which is a manmade beach (but don’t let this put you off). It is absolutely perfect for all holidaymakers to relax and enjoy the sun; there is a jetty protecting it from the harsh waves, making for perfect swimming conditions. Amordores is understandably quite busy with beautiful turquoise waters and everything you need within a stones throw – supermarkets, bars, restaurants and water-sports galore.
[Photo credit: Hotel Cordial Mogan Playa]
Many visitors refuse to budge from this beach but don’t make that mistake. For a start you’d miss Puerto de Mogan, an enchanting ancient marine town, and Tejeda – widely believed to be the most beautiful pre-Spanish village on the island – with a stunning, diverse and established variety of vegetation, beautiful mountain views and at the right time of year you will even be able to take part in a festival celebrating almond fruit. In terms of wellness the blissfully hushed Inaqua Spa at the Hotel Cordial Mogan Playa hotel is a thrill to walk into. Try the facial Sea Sensation or the exfoliation with volcanic ash. The therapists at Seaside Palm Beach offer smooth, firm and steady relaxation massages or zingingly tough deep tissue for a more lasting relief; they also offer heat-wrap peeling, lymphatic drainage and anti-cellulite massages and the local speciality – aloe vera treatments. Make use of the floatation and massage pools to melt away knots and spend the day chilling out in the mineral pools at spa at the Gloria Palace Amadores Thalasso and Hotel for de-stress sessions and skin healing. The spa at Palm Beach Hotel has outdoor brine pools, hydromassage jets and waterbeds, a sauna area, body wraps with seaweed or aloe vera and an open-air fitness centre, which free of charge. Aloe Spa at Sheraton Gran Canaria Salobre Golf Resort is very high-end with an outdoor swimming pool, breathtaking panoramic views and several saunas and hammams to top up your energy levels.
[Photo credit: Spa & Wellness Seaside Palm Beach]
We loved trekking through the mountains of Roque Nublo. It’s the landmark of Gran Canaria and the views are breathtaking. It would be impossible to experience everything on offer in just one trip, but that’s part of the beauty of it like any good holiday destination, you won’t get bored and you won’t want to leave.
[Photo credit: Gloria Palace Royal Hotel and Spa]
Stay at: Sheraton Gran Canaria Salobre Golf Resort (+34 928 943 000, doubles from £172/ per night, half-board)is a modern, swanky golfing haven, with large rooms, seven pools, three restaurants and an outstanding spa, this is a secluded resort which is large enough to get lost in but still very tranquil and quiet, a perfect place for families, golfers and anyone who wants to stay somewhere a bit more out of the way (very private) with the option of a free 20-minute shuttle bus into Maspalomas. A days golfing starts at 31€.
Or stay at the Seaside Palm Beach (+34 928 721 032, doubles from £180 / per night, half-board)a good ‘couples’ hotel it has been extravagantly refurbished in a very snazzy 70s style. Entering the hotel feels like walking into an Austin Powers film set. The five star spa includes a nudist sauna area, all pools are salt or mineral water.
Gloria Palace Royal Hotel and Spa (+34 928 128 640 ) is a family hotel offering a double room with half-board from £140pp, excluding flights. It has everything you need in the hotel but you are a short walk away from Amadores beach.
Hotel Cordial Mogan Playa (+34 928 724 100, doubles from £120 /per night , half-board) is the most beautiful, boutique-looking hotel but boasts 460 rooms. Built on a plantation the botanical gardens and wildlife are a welcome treat. It even has a mysterious archeological site – living presence of the native culture of the island.
Dine at: Overlooking the sea on Amadores are the rustic bars and restaurants. Sit under the vine trellis and sample papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes boiled and salted in their skins) served with mojo picon (spicy sauce) and local wine produced with grapes grown in lava mineral soil. Alternatively, there is a great selection of Spanish and European wine at rock bottom prices due to low tax rates. However, we loved the buffets at all of the hotels. Breakfast is a feast of meats, cheeses, cakes and eggs. Grilled tomatoes and the freshly squeezed orange juice were particular favourites.
Bring home: Liquid pure Aloe Vera – considered to be the purest in the world with highly curative and therapeutic properties. The different desserts from Tejeda – sugar, lemon and almond – is the perfect local dessert to take home to your office colleagues. An indisputable shopping attraction on the island is the low tax rate applied throughout the Canary Islands that makes it possible to get certain products 10% to 30% lower than the rest of Europe. Bonus!
Book now: Gran Canaria is just over four hours flight from the UK (with one hour time difference) and the transfer to any of the hotels are less than an hours drive. Ryanair flies to Gran Canaria from UK airports, from £145 return. Book through Gran Canaria Wellness