The Canary Islands are well known as one of the best winter sun options in Europe being that they fall on the same line of latitude as Southern Morocco, hovering around the Tropic of Cancer, which is exceptionally temperate year-round. But believe it or not, I (a Brit) had never ventured to the Canaries before – not even to escape the icky British winter. This in itself seemed curious as I spend at least 25% of my waking winter hours complaining about how much I bloody hate being cold.

You could be forgiven for mistakenly bunching the Canary Islands together and assuming they all have relatively the same things to offer – but you’d be wrong. With no less than six major islands plus a host of smaller “islets” – the Canaries have plenty to offer beyond cliche package holidays and out-of-season sunburn. I headed to Gran Canaria, one of the Canaries larger islands, this winter with my mum in tow to see if we could a) get along for a whole week just the two of us without killing each other and b) to see precisely why Gran Canaria might just be the best winter sun destination in Europe.

First things first – yes, it was sunny and warm! Gran Canaria – and particularly the south of the island – remains temperate and bright all year round meaning vacationing “off-season” is totally doable and you won’t be missing out on anything by opting to travel over the winter months. As the Canary Islands are so favoured for their winter sun options the wintertime is actually their peak period  as naturally within the summer months there are a lot more options within Europe to travel to. Although part of Spain, the Canary Islands lie off the West coast of Africa – although the vibe is entirely Spanish it has made the Canaries a hot spot for history-in-the-making as a stopping point on many a pivotal voyage.

With that said, Gran Canaria is by no means a convenient substitute for your quintessential summer holiday. As a volcanic island with rugged mountains, dreamy coastline, teeny porcelain-white villages plus the cosmopolitan capital of Las Palmas – Gran Canaria holds its own among the many facets of Europe and can be tailored to suit a range of tastes.

Some of the best things to try on the island include wine tasting, scenic walks, shovelling tapas into your face with reckless abandon, super-scenic drives, deserted beaches, buzzing beaches, star gazing, dune-clambering and plenty of good old fashioned sangria-guzzling. Time to dust off your two-piece and grab some of the last few rays of the season!

Where to Stay:

– Maspalomas:

Known for its great weather, massive rolling dunes made from displaced Sahara sand, a multitude of tourist resorts and a seemingly never-ending coastline – it’s a firm favourite amongst visitors to the island. While it can experience its fair share of windy days, the sun almost always shines! With an active gay community, chic rooftop bars, excellent dining options and just a short 30-minute ride from Gran Canaria’s International Airport, it’s easy to see why Maspalomas continues to draw in a crowd.

So staying at one of the area’s hippest hotels seemed like a no brainer. Bohemia Suites & Spa is a boutique hotel with just sixty-something rooms (which is very few compared to some of the hotels in the area that cater to thousands of guests every day) – this means the service from right from setting foot through the door is – in a word – seamless. With plenty of staff on hand, there never seemed to be more than a moment to wait for assistance of any kind. While I have experienced this previously at other 5 star resorts, I enjoyed Bohemia’s “hands-off” approach i.e. plenty of staff around to help but not constant forced interaction.

We stayed in a modern yet stylish junior suite which featured a king-size bed, rain shower, large balcony with day bed, walk-in wardrobe and all kinds of cute extras like gnome stools, Molton Brown cosmetics, an Illy coffee machine and an idyllic view of Maspalomas beach. Opting for the half board, we were able to enjoy a gourmet buffet breakfast every day plus several chic dinners – all served in the hotel’s impressive 360 restaurant which is a gorgeous glass-covered circular platform atop the hotel. And I have to admit, breakfast with free-flowing cava and a sweet view was not the worst way to start the day! Pair that with an impressive spread, stylish restaurant and bubbly staff to match.

One major draw for me as a millennial – and less so for my mum (who grew up when TV was still in black and white!) was the many techy wonders that Bohemia offers its guests. The lobby has tablets for guests to use, the pool area has “ring for service” devices, all guests are given a fully data-enabled tablet for the duration of their stay that allows them to message reception, room service, look through menus and book excursions. Neat, huh?

– Puerto de Mogán

Thankfully, when the wind is howelling in Maspalomas, there’s another place you can escape to where the weather is typically always sunny and calm. Puerto de Mogán is a super-cute port town that boasts a range of delightful colourful accommodations, housed around the main marina. Typical Canarian flowers adorn the street tops while the alleyways below are a flurry of activity; maids scurry across courtyards while tourists strut calmly along the marina’s edge. Puerto de Mogán is for sure a tourist town – there’s no doubt about that. But it’s an adorable one oozing with charm and perhaps an ideal location if you really want everything you need in a walkable area – I think especially for those with older relatives or young children. The marina front is host to an array of charming eateries, boutiques and the inevitable tourist tat. On Fridays from 9 am until 2 pm, a market can be found here. The Friday Market one of the largest markets in the south of the island you can find souvenirs, local food products, fake Chinese goods and basically a whole lot of what you can already find in the shops here – but potentially worth checking out just for the food options.

Also, very conveniently, Mogán is host to a pleasant sandy man-made beach, which although is perhaps not the most beautiful is hugely functional. Find sunbeds for hire, plentiful ice creams and drinks for the little ones and sheltered by a large rock face and protective sand bar meaning the water is super calm and safe for swimmers of all ages. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can take a short hike to the highest part of Mogán and enjoy the idyllic view of the beach and marina. Mogán is also home to salt-water canals with cute bridges perfect for that quintessential Insta-shot.

– Las Palmas

Of course, many visitors to the island opt to stay in Las Palmas, the island’s buzzing capital. If you are coming to Gran Canaria in the winter with the hopes of catching some rays, it’s advisable to stay in the south of the island which is home to warmer and less changeable weather. However, we found Las Palmas to be temperate – but I guess it depends on the day! Being that the island is relatively compact, it’s perfectly doable to stay in the south and visit Las Palmas for a day trip.

Las Palmas offers some of the best restaurants, top-rated boutique hotels and undoubtedly chicest stores in the Canaries. Divided into two distinct areas – the historic old town of Vegueta and the newer side of town which is set around Las Canteras beach – one of the most popular on the island. In the old town, you can find Spanish colonial charm by the bucketload, traditional food markets, cobbled streets, Plaza de Santa Ana which is home to Las Palmas’ cathedral and – perhaps the most intreating for any weary traveller – Casa de Colón – AKA the Christopher Columbus Museum. The museum looks impressive simpy from the outside with a facde made from the islands colourful rock, it’s definitely worth taking a peek inside to see the beautiful inner courtyard and to learn more about the history between Gran Canaria and one of the world’s most famous travellers.

One of the most impressive seasonal attractions is the annual sand nativity sculptures on Las Canteras beach which are recreated every year by artists who travel in from around the globe, and tailored year by year to acknowledge various struggles of the island. This year amongst the traditional biblical figures and wise men on camels there was also a grief-stricken shepherd with frightened lambs which is said to pay homage to the amount of livestock lost in the forest fires the island experience earlier in the year.

What to do?

– Maspalomas Dunes

The magical dunes of this southern beach town are not to be missed if only to see the impressive view where the dunes meet the ocean. This only requires a short trip to get your fill of wind-whipped and sand-blasted adventure. Afterwards, take a stroll along the seemingly never-ending coastline that stretches right the way around the dunes. If you have yet to visit the Sahara, then you’re a step closer as the dunes are made from displaced Saharan sand.

– Las Palmas Old Town

If you’re staying in the south you’ve gotta take at least one day to venture north and check out Las Palmas – or more specifically Vegueta – the old city. Put your walking shoes on and spend the day idling around the many lanes, popping in and out of cute little dusty old shops and enjoying the small collection of museums the area is host to.

– Shopping in Las Palmas

As seasoned professionals (as far as shopping is concerned) we were rightly impressed by Las Palma’s long pedestrianised street of chic stores known as Calle Triana – because you can never have too many bikinis, right? While you’re there check out Las Canteras beach which is guaranteed to be a hive of activity no matter what time of day.

– Hire a car and tour the island

Undoubtedly the best way to see the island is from its incredibly smooth roadways (well, in some areas!) Gran Canaria is like a handful of countries squished into one; in less than a 3-hour drive, you can see magnificent dunes, twisting mountain paths, colossal colourful rock formations and the lush western coastline. Undoubtably one of the island’s most impressive coastline is Dragon’s Back – a formation of rocks that look like a dragon rising from the sea.

– Wine and dine

You may, or may not know, that the Canary Islands actually produce their own wine – and a lot of it! Personally, I had never tried any before – and as it turns out, there’s probably a reason why – simply, the cost to export it is so high that it is not sold outside of the islands themselves (and I guess maybe mainland Spain.) So trying some of Gran Canaria’s vines has to be top of any gal’s to-do list. We visited one of the highest vineyards for a scenic sunset wine tasting at Bodegas Bentayga – home of  Agala wine. This is perfectly paired with a stopover at the nearby Parador de Cruz de Tejeda lays host to some serious views! Sadly you can’t see much in the dark, but it is an ideal area for star gazing. Arrive earlier in the day to take in the view and maybe have a dip in the spa pool that overlooks the valley – magic!

– Relax with cocktails

There’s just something about sipping on a cocktail that encapsulates the holiday vibe for me – extra points if it’s in a luxurious setting where home feels a world away. Bohemia’s rooftop cocktail lounge Atelier is perfect for making some sweet, sugary holiday memories. With an experimental theme, the menu hosts a multitude of unique flavour combinations; many of which are twists on traditional flavours – plus each cocktail comes with an accompanying treat alongside! For example, my Indian Colada (a chai-esque Pina colada style drink) came with a cute little spicy ice cream cone, and the show-stopping Cirque du Soliel cocktail (something rich, blue, creamy and dreamy) came in an impressive levitating glass apple with a little chocolate frog for company. Considering most of the cocktails come in at a very reasonable 10-15 euros it’s pretty great value for such special drinks. And the icing on the cake? The buzzing outdoor roof terrace which is fitted with comfy couches, hosts live music several nights a week and has to be the best view in Maspalomas.

– Check out cute mountain towns

Gran Canaria is home to several exceedingly lovely little hill-topped towns that are a photographer’s dream. Perhaps one of the most quaint being the village of Fataga where the modern world is easily forgotten amongst the eggshell-coloured building and twisting alleyways. Here you can find all kinds of traditional building styles – many using rock from the nearby mountainside and roof tiles that were made by plastering the villager’s shins! While this is a local area, there are homestays available in the village if you want to kick back and forget its 2020 for a few days.

– Enjoy the fruits of nature at a hidden finca

Tucked away along the west coast, just past Los Berrazales village – lies Finca de la Laja a traditional Canarian finca that produces coffee, seasonal fruits and – most importantly – wine! With that said, I think the locals that frequent the finca actually come much less for the vino and more so for the finca’s star produce – big, juicy Canarian oranges; super-sweet and well-known as some of the best on the island. You can take a short tour to see the various fruits, coffee and wine production, alongside a cute little onsite chapel that occasionally hosts weddings. Finish off the tour with a wine tasting in the onsite cafe – taste 5 of their wines complete with local cheese, cake, chorizo and another product they are known for – coffee jam! I must admit I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the idea of it, but it was actually pretty darned delicious spread on crusty bread topped with the local cheese.

– Health & wellness

Sometimes there’s nothing better than just kicking back and taking it easy. This was particularly simple for us as Bohemia has so many ways to lay around and do nothing! Their onsite spa (Siam Spa) is open to visitors from outside the hotel and offers a host of traditional massage treatments, as well as Thai speciality and what can only be described as the most powerful jacuzzi sprays I’ve ever experienced! We opted for a cleansing foot scrub followed by an aroma massage. The treatment rooms themselves are beautifully decorated and reminded me a lot of Thailand with gorgeous dark teak wood. We finished off the experience with a dip in the insanely powerful spa baths – beware – these things could leave bruises! Great for blasting the health back into you though, or perhaps the hangover out of you – and there’s  also steam and sauna rooms to enjoy. Bohemia also offers wellness classes such a yoga which is held outside on a pretty sun deck which can also be enjoyed by spa guests. Out in the hotel gardens, you can find no less than three pools – check out the “Dead Sea” salt pool for a relaxing float, or perhaps get some strokes in at the main pool. But personally, I like to opt for secret option number three – the lazing about in a pool-side cabana option. Complete with push-button wait service, fancy!

– Volcanic adventures

You just can’t help but notice the eccentric rock formations in Gran Canaria. And while you can simply stare from your car window, it’s certainly worth delving a bit deeper into the history of Gran Canaria’s geological make up. Check out Los Azulejos de Veneguera, known for its rainbow-coloured cliffs which are formed by centuries-old mineral deposits during the island’s time of volcanic activity. Additionally every layer of the mountains seen, including the coloured ones, are courtesy of a different volcanic eruption – so you imagine just how ancient these rocks are. For those with further interest in geology and Canarian history, it’s worth venturing up to visit Centro de Interpretacion del Roque Bentayga. This is an old volcanic crater that was home to early inhabitants of the island that lived inside the many small caves peppering its walls. Many of the caves feature paintings and carvings that give insight into their lives – symbols of fertility were common, as well as the use of sun markers.

– Get gastronomical

Bohemia is also home to one of the island’s chicest new dining experiences – LaBoh – an experimental culinary experience designed by chef Juan Bertolín. Perhaps best suited to adventurous foodie types, the monthly-changing menu is, well, pretty darn adventurous! Guests can enjoy no less than eleven courses served in a romantic setting at a long wooden table that overlooks the kitchen/lab area where you can watch the chefs hard at work. An eleven-course wine pairing is also offered, and I found this to be a great way to sample a variety of the island’s wine. But this is more than just dinner, folks – set over two hours it is as much a social experience as a food one. Meet new friends around the table and take in plenty of information about the dishes served from your resident host who will explain each course in detail. We also had the opportunity to get up from our seats and head into the kitchen/lab to watch some of the more magical dishes being made (read: foie gras cooked by warm water and salt!)

– Gaze at the heavens

We had hoped to schedule some of this in but our days were so active we were pooped by nightfall! But for those committed enough, there are several tour agencies on the island that take tourists up to the mountains to watch the stars and visit the Temisas Astronomic Observatory and Roque Saucillo Astronomy Centre. While you could attempt to go stargazing on your own, for the best experience you want the knowledge of local guides to view via the “Donkey’s Belly” – a layer of clouds that protects the clean night sky from light pollution below.

– Get fat

My ever-favourite past time – I like to schedule time in all of my trips for such endeavours and Gran Canaria was no exception! Luxury breakfasts at the hotel, yummy tapas lunches in cute, casual eateries around the island. Notable yums include a honey/almond jam-type mixture called Bienmasabe which is particularly good with ice cream. Cactus jam, filled croquettes and a really yummy fish called “Cherne” (also known as wreckfish) which is doused in a delightful orange sauce that seems to come with everything savoury on this island – “Mojo” – a garlicky, peppery, creamy and slightly spicy sauce that you will no doubt come into contact with just about anywhere in Gran Canaria. One of our favourite meals was the six-course Tasting Menu at Bohemia – their restaurant is open to the public, not only hotel guests. This consisted of several classic Spanish small plates, all presented to a very high standard with plentiful local ingredients such as fresh fish, a rabbit paella type dish, a dessert that was set on fire and, of course, yet another a delicious local wine pairing.

Getting Around:

Depending on your holiday goals, you might not want to venture much further than your sun lounger, but for those that do a whole host of activities and microclimates await them.

– Hiring a car is probably the best way to tour the island at your own pace for a reasonable price point. Take your time, stop as much as you want and enjoy the islands great roadways.

But fear not – for those on a budget or who aren’t wanting to drive there are still options on this bubbly little island. A reliable bus service operates both within Las Palmas, and coach-style buses that serve between major towns. On top of that, there are slightly less reliable services that service the more remote areas. The buses between the southern coast and Las Palmas are a great option to try at only an hour commute time and just six Euros!

Tours / private tours are also available through most hotels or tourist information hubs. Private tours can be perfect for small groups with limited time and those with small children. A host of reputable private tour guides are available for hire via Gran Canaria Tourism board. Alternatively, a more economical option for singles or couples is to take an organised tour.

 

Gran Canaria Highlights:

– Unexpected yummy wines.

– Impressive scenic drives – great for motorbikes.

– A more relaxed vibe to mainland Spain.

– Multiple options for all budgets in terms of accommodation, tours and transport.

– Very affordable local cuisine. Canarian food is very modest, so no need to worry about dropping a ton of money on expensive food. Small tapas plates are super affordable wherever you go.

– An amalgamation of holiday types. Desert – check, beach – check, windsurfing school – check, chic shopping and dining and rock climbing – also check.

– Rich in history and culture.

– Year-round beautiful sunny weather!

– Just a 3 – 4-hour flight from most of Europe and generally cheap to fly.

– Water sports – surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing – it’s all here!

 

 

**Please note: I was sponsored on this trip by Visit Gran Canaria and Bohemia Suites and Spa, however, all opinions stated are, of course, my own.**