TRAVEL: Canaria, a Gran plan
For a relaxed child-friendly holiday, Nigel Williams heads to one of the most famous Canary Islands.
The blue water of the lake was inviting, but as I hobbled barefoot over stones at the edge, I braced myself for the icy shock that was surely in store.
It never came. Instead, I launched myself into cool, refreshing waters and admired the view of a cloudless sky, rocky hills and the pines that shaded the lake shore.
Forget infinity and wave pools, this was the real thing - and the best way to cool down after the heat and dust of a 4x4 safari, even if I couldn’t persuade my 14-year-old son Tom to join in.
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All too soon it was over. “We leave in five minutes,” boomed Stephen, our tour leader.
A jovial, shaven-headed Englishman, he had swapped life as a lorry driver grappling with the M25 for an island in the sun. “It’s another day in paradise,” was his mantra.
Tom and I were on a week break in Gran Canaria, with me looking for a laid-back lounging in the sun while sensing this wouldn’t be enough for a teenager.
Gran Canaria is the most heavily populated of the Canaries, a cluster of islands in the Atlantic, but an autonomous region of Spain. It’s shaped like a volcanic cone, the highest point is at nearly 2,000 metres in the middle, and has been called a miniature continent with the sand dunes of Maspalomas on the coast to the mountains and ravines in the centre.
We had left behind the often ugly, overdeveloped coastal strip with its busy road, concrete hotels and apartment blocks, for the natural beauty to be found in the island’s interior.
Our ‘safari’ had begun at Puerto Rico on the coast where we had assembled for the obligatory group photo and split into parties of eight.
It was a squash in the back of the Landcruisers and there was no roof to shield us from the sun. At first we headed up a metalled road through one of the ravines towards the centre of the island.
Then the road started to twist through white-washed villages, past pines, almond and banana trees, lime and orange groves, and candelabra-shaped cacti. We stopped for a refreshing papaya juice in a mountain cafe, and to admire the view with the Roque Nublo (rock in the clouds) pointing skywards like a spiky finger in the distance.
We decided to pass on the camel ‘safari’ though. Ten euros for 20 minutes seemed a bit steep and one poor beast groaned with indignation when a large traveller tried to climb into the third seat.
Instead, we rattled off-road onto a sharply twisting, stony track and bounced though dust clouds, too busy hanging on to take photos. After half an hour, we were ready for a water stop and Stephen’s impromptu lesson on how to prepare and eat a prickly pear (carefully).
We finally got rid of the dust by taking a shower back at the Hotel Orquidea in Bahia Feliz (happy bay), a small resort among the many that sprawl along the south east coast.
The Orquidea is right on the beach. In high season, it’s aimed at families and has a creche, kids’ club, organised games and playground, so if you just wanted to chill out you could happily stay there for the entire holiday, knowing there’s plenty to keep the little ones entertained.
Its three pools are set in attractively landscaped gardens, but with so many people settling down at the poolside for much of the day (the hotel has 255 rooms), it does get crowded.
With our poolside berth secured, I would have been happy to lie back with a book, taking the occasional cooling swim and strolling to the bar for a cold beer. Our safari was surely enough action for the week.
But my son had other ideas. “Dad, I’m bored,” he said, as we finished yet another game of pool, which was about as much exercise as I felt like taking.
Thrills and spills, noise and action were his idea of a good time. So we found ourselves boarding a bus outside our hotel for the Aqualand water park.
The place is huge, with an array of twisting, plunging slides towering over the pools. By the time we arrived (teenagers are not known for getting up early) it was already packed.
A burger and chips later, I was eyeing the VIP area, a quiet sanctuary and serious chilling space. That idea was quickly sunk by my son with the oldest challenge in the book: “You’re not scared, are you?”
“Of course not,” I retorted. But when I surveyed rides with names like Adrenalina, Aquamania and Kamikaze, I could feel the doubts grow.
Soon, I was speeding down a tunnel in complete darkness, or being shaken and stirred in a giant rubber ring before being dumped over what felt like a precipice. Every time there was a sense of relief when I was finally plunged into the water. But eventually, even I started to enjoy some of them - although Kamikaze was strictly a one-off.
Back at the hotel, Tom was (finally) ready to unwind, taking over the jacuzzi that came with the master bedroom of our eighth floor penthouse suite. It boasted stunning sea views, two balconies and other teenage must-haves, a fridge to be stocked with goodies and huge satellite TV.
He also liked being able to ‘graze’ for most of the day - from 7.30am until 9pm there’s always somewhere serving hot food, or cold snacks in the afternoon. Meals in the main restaurant are buffet style, with local beer, and red and white wine offered on tap.
Like an increasing number of holidays, this is on an all-inclusive basis, so all the basics are already paid for and I was glad not to have to carry cash around.
I insisted we try the tapas at the El Sultan restaurant, where one meal is covered by the all-inclusive tariff. But Tom didn’t share my taste for the delicious sizzling chorizo cooked in Asturian cider, or the prawns in garlic and chilli. No, it was pasta from the buffet for him.
But we did agree that we preferred the pools to the beach, where the sand was a disappointing grey colour, though the sea was pleasant.
At my prompting, we tried a quieter, more cultural excursion and an hour’s bus ride took us to the island’s capital Las Palmas.
But the Santa Anna cathedral, built over four centuries, and the bronze statues of the now-extinct dogs that originally inhabited the Canary Islands and gave them their name from the Latin, canis, left him unimpressed. And the mansion where Christopher Columbus is said to have stayed in 1492, which includes maps and charts of his voyages, also drew a blank. It was time to admit defeat and with the prospect of a cooling swim ahead, I didn’t mind a bit.
Key facts - Gran Canaria
:: Best for: A relaxed child-friendly holiday.
:: Time to go: Outside peak holiday time is best if you can.
:: Don’t miss: The stunning scenery inland.
:: Need to know: Plan your meal times to beat the rush.
:: Don’t forget: A hat for the 4x4 ride in the midday sun.
Nigel Williams was a guest of Thomson Holidays, which offer seven-night all-inclusive holidays to Gran Canaria staying at the Hotel Orquidea in Bahia Feliz from £680 per adult, £214 for first child and £254 (second) this summer. Prices include return flights ex-Gatwick in early May, in-resort transfers, taxes & charges. Regional departures include Manchester (from £30) and Glasgow (from £40).
Reservations: 0871 231 4691 or visit www.thomson.co.uk