Holidays On The Island of Fire

The seven, Spanish owned Canary Islands are located around 100 miles off the coast of West Africa. Close to the Tropic of Cancer and on a similar line of latitude to the Bahamas and parts of Florida and Mexico. Creating a clement year round climate that has earned the archipelago the epithet of the European Caribbean.

As the continents only genuine winter holiday destination the Canaries have become very popular with sun starved Northern Europeans, who flock here in their millions. But despite the package tourism and weight of arrivals some of the islands – such as Lanzarote – remain largely unspoiled. Boasting great natural beaches without a hotel in sight and a strong agrarian identity.

This is all thanks to the work of a local artist, César Manrique. Who campaigned against the worst excesses of mass market tourist development during the 1970´s. Successfully securing an island wide ban on high rise construction and ad billboards. A fairly radical move in Franco´s Spain.

However Manrique had lived and worked in the US for many years – where the hippy movement helped to foster a greater awareness of environmental issues.

Lanzarote had been subjected to a violent series of volcanic eruptions during the 18th and 19th centuries. Which covered about a third of the island in a sea of black lava. Creating a raw and other worldly terrain which Manrique was determined to preserve. So as well as fighting against untrammelled development he also sought to unite this unique scenery with his own creativity in order to create alternative attractions to the golf courses and theme parks being built for tourists elsewhere in Spain.

The best known expressions of this philosophy are the Jameos del Agua – a huge, 6km long volcanic tube, formed by the eruption of nearby Monte Coroña. Which Manrique transformed into a breathtaking underground grotto and concert space with the help of fellow architect Jesus Soto. Along with the Cesar Manrique Foundation – where the artist constructed a house and studio out of five underground bubbles in the lava flow.

Manrique´s creations won plaudits in the worlds of design and architecture – bringing Lanzarote to the attention of film stars and VIP´s such as Rita Heyworth, Peter Sellers and Omar Sharif. Who all visited Lanzarote in the early 1970´s in order to explore this fashionable new holiday destination.

Today all of Manrique´s creations are still open to the public and are the most popular tourist attractions on the island. Whilst thanks to his efforts Lanzarote was declared a UNESCO protected biosphere in 1994 – the first island in the world to enjoy this status.
Creative Commons License photo credit: doug88888

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