MANDY APPLEYARD discoveries an unspoilt hideaway in northern Lanzarote

IT’S not long since they were the jewel in Spain’s tourist crown – a perfectly-placed archipelago of islands close to the coast of Africa, drawing the privileged few to their sunny shores.

The Canary Islands were, as late as the 1970s, a fashionable destination visited by wealthy travellers on early cruise ships, and by the few who in those days could afford to fly the world.

Today, these same islands have been described as ‘the most toxic brand in travel’ - hell holes of blighted beaches, karaoke bars and English breakfasts.

But travel north on the island of Lanzarote (protected from the wilder excesses of commercialisation and development by its most famous son, the artist and environmentalist Cesar Manrique) and you will find wild windswept beaches, quaint fishing villages and deserted dunes to rival any in Europe.

You can travel far and see no one on this part of the island, where volcanoes abound and the landscape has a stark and unusual beauty.

From the tiny northern port of Orzola, we caught the ferry (it’s a 15-minute crossing) to the neighbouring island of La Graciosa, home to unspoiled beaches and fishing villages. The island boasts the most spectacular beach in the Canaries – Playas de las Conchas. After a two-hour hike along the shore, we settled into a quayside restaurant in Caleta del Sebo for a fish platter lunch overlooking the harbour.

Lanzarote Active Club ( organised our excursions and provide informed and entertaining guides.

Another don’t-miss is the Sunday morning market in Haria, where you can buy clothes, handmade crafts and the famous local goat’s cheese.

Local artist and architect César Manrique dedicated his life to preserving Lanzarote’s natural charm, and his fingerprints are all over the island. His influence on planning regulations from the late Sixties onwards has kept Lanzarote’s resorts low rise, and the architecture close to traditional styles.

Manrique designed a spectacular cactus garden in Guatiza (the shady café there makes a lovely lunch stop), as well as the Jameos del Agua, about a 20-minute drive north of the garden.

Referred to by Rita Heyworth, the Hollywood movie star, as 'the eighth wonder of the world', the Jameos del Agua are part of a four-mile long lava tube formed 4,000 years ago when the Montaña La Corona erupted. Inside this tube is a lake which is home to a species of blind albino crabs found only in Lanzarote. Beyond the lake is Manrique’s Jameo Grande, a huge open-air cave with a magical swimming-pool, though it’s said that the only person allowed to swim here is the King of Spain.

Our accommodation was well-placed, just a ten-minute drive from the Jameos. Lanzarote Retreats is a family-run, fully sustainable eco holiday resort comprising villas, stone cottages, apartments and Mongolian yurts.

Finca De Arrieta stands in the foothills behind Arrieta beach, chosen because northern Lanzarote’s stunning landscapes have not suffered the commercial tourist development prevalent in the south of the island.

The finca was once a ramshackle farm which grew with its owners, Michelle and Tila Braddock. They renovated the farmhouse and barns, letting out the properties they'd outgrown.

This family-friendly resort now comprises several self-catering properties, all off-grid, with a communal veranda and two large splash pools.

Our yurt surprised us. Inside there were two 6ft beds, two single beds, several pieces of exotic wooden furniture – and there was still enough room to throw a dance party.

Outside there was a fully-equipped kitchen and bathroom, a treehouse for dining, pretty gardens and another 6ft bed under a wooden canopy for dozing, reading or staring into the wide blue yonder.

The finca is home to Molly the Donkey and a clutch of chickens and ducks (guests are welcome to collect their eggs), and there’s a giant trampoline and children’s playground.

The resort is an easy five-minute walk to a pretty beach and a bunch of good restaurants with dining terraces virtually on the sand.

Exploring the north kept us busy, though we did take an exhilarating catamaran trip from Puerto Calero Marina (food, drink and jet ski ride included – to the famous Papagayo beaches in southern Lanzarote, and a drive through the other-worldly Timanfaya National Park, where volcanoes abound and the land for miles is covered in lava.

My travelling companion was wary of Lanzarote when we first arrived, troubled by the hordes of tourists and the barren landscape. At the end of our week in the quiet north, I asked her how she felt about it.

‘Beautiful,’ she said. ‘Absolutely unique. Can we come again?’

Fact file

Mandy Appleyard flew from Leeds Bradford Airport to Lanzarote with and stayed at Finca de Arrieta (, where yurts cost from 665 Euro (about £484) per week. has flights to Lanzarote from Belfast, East Midlands, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle airports, from £80 one way including taxes ( or call 0800 408 5599).