It’s that time of year again – long dark nights, wet chilly days, everyone coughing and sneezing. Don’t you just want to escape …
There is a theory (and it makes sense to me) that the best time to go on holiday is in the winter. In the summer, you get the best of British weather at home and, when you get there, those enticing, far-flung hot spots are often a bit too hot in August. In the winter, though, a stroll along the beach under a warm sun is surely the best tonic.
The Canary Islands, parallel with the Sahara but surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, have a winter temperature that hovers between 60-75°F (15-24°C), a Goldilocks climate that is neither too hot nor too cold. And on the island of Fuerteventura, there is always a breeze, so it feels like permanent spring. It’s an ideal climate for being active (walking, cycling, water sports or simply sight-seeing) and, from breakfast to a late night glass of wine, it’s always pleasant to sit out of doors.
All that breeziness is, no doubt, one of the reasons the air is so clean, together with the fact there is so little local pollution as there aren’t really that many cars. The population is tiny (around 100,000), far fewer than most of the neighbouring islands, even though this is the second biggest of the Canaries. The island has for the last 10 years been a UNESCO biosphere reserve thanks to its renewable energies, water management and responsible fishing practices (only small local boats are permitted). It means, too, that skies are very clear, ideal for star-watchers. So, if you’re looking for a healthy spot to spend the winter, this could be it.
If you’re planning to include swimming on that healthy winter programme, stay somewhere with a pool. The Atlantic is not just chilly, it’s rough – hence its popularity with surfers. Many people who want to stay long term rent an apartment – I’d recommend you look around Corralejo. At the northern tip of the island, there are wonderful views of Lanzarote and, just offshore, the Isla de Lobos. The beach has lovely, white coral sand, as the name implies, with a scattering of what the locals call “popcorn” (in actuality, eroded pieces of coral).
I stayed here at the lovely Gran Hotel Atlantis Bahia Real. Right on the shoreline, the views are fantastic and there’s a great choice of restaurants. I loved the Coco Bahia which sits on stilts over the beach and specialises in seafood, as well as the Japanese Yamatori Sushi Bar and the fine-dining at La Cupula, overseen by Michelin-starred chef Carles Gaig. The resort has two outdoor pools (one heated, one refreshing!) with a third in the extensive spa, which also has extensive pampering facilities including facials, massages, “beauty rituals” and some special treatments all of their own, such as wellness massages with the local hot volcanic stone.
And you’ll see a lot of evidence of volcanoes here. Unlike in other Canary Islands, there hasn’t been an actual eruption for around 5000 years (in Tenerife it was just over a century ago). Some are still perfect cones, while elsewhere the wind and sun have eroded them into smoother shapes. It’s a stunning bare landscape that has proved very popular with film-makers, including bits of Star Wars, Wonderwoman and, currently, Angelina Jolie is there shooting The Eternals.
There are great drives up through the mountains (roads in Fuerteventura are surprisingly good) and as well as an awful lots of goats (80,000 on the island, goat cheese the local speciality), you’ll see a number of quite enchanting old villages, their houses built of the local volcanic stone. Betancuria, deep in the interior, is one to visit. Rather unexpectedly, it used to be the capital of the Canary Islands and was founded in 1404 by the Norman French conqueror, Jean de Bethencourt. Betancuria has the island’s oldest church (it was briefly a cathedral, consecrated in 1424) with lovely decorated ceilings. Much of it was destroyed by the Berber pirate Xaban Arraez in 1593 but restored immediately afterwards over the course of a century. Pajara is another town worth a visit. There is a leafy, picturesque town square, a fine church (with some Mexican-style ornaments), and an old water wheel that would have been drawn by a donkey or camel. Camels are still, rather surprisingly, on the island – and camel trekking in the hills is available.
The most obvious place to go camel trekking would really be in the Corralejo dunes but, as they are a protected natural reserve, this isn’t possible. You can walk there, though, and there is a road that drives next to the dunes, alongside the beautiful beach which is a favourite with wind and kite surfers. There are 10km of coastline in the reserve, though, so you can find quieter spots, as well as beach bars. The dunes themselves are home to many birds (bustard, egrets and plovers) and they form an extraordinary landscape, as they shift in the wind.
Fuerteventura is a beautiful, laid-back island and, if you’re looking for a winter wellness escape with sunshine guaranteed, this is definitely one for the bucket list.
EasyJet flies from London Gatwick to Fuerteventura up to five times a week with fares from £32.99 per person, one way including taxes and based on two people travelling on the same booking.
Gran Hotel Atlantis Bahia Real: www.atlantisbahiareal.com/en/