In the hinterland of Maspalomas on Gran Canaria, the wheel of life turns rather slowly. In endless hairpin bends, the road spirals through furrowed, dust-dry gorges, past bare rock, man-high cacti and endemic Canarian spruces, whose branches are reminiscent of oversized bottle brushes.
Sleepy villages with whitewashed houses sit photogenic on exposed mountain ridges. Artfully laid out terraces tell of people’s efforts to wrest something nutritious from the dark volcanic earth.
The Roque Nublo watches over everything, a nearly 90-meter-high monolith that was already sacred to the murdered indigenous people of the Guanches. It is the symbol of the Canary Island. A monk and a frog crouch at his feet, although it takes some imagination to recognize the two creatures in the rock formations.
It is only a good dozen kilometers from the golden-yellow shimmering dune mountains of Maspalomas to the almost 1500 meter high Cruz de Tejeda.
Away from industry and big hotels
But there are worlds between the two parts of the popular Spanish holiday island. Up here, where in the distance Mount Teide greets you from Tenerife, you will find the unadulterated heart of the almost circular island, the third largest of the Canary Islands after Tenerife and Fuerteventura.
The air is fresh and clear, the countless reservoirs that are used to irrigate the fields are well filled, the dreamy mountain villages are as picturesque as people longing for a piece of the perfect world could wish for.
What a difference to the south of the island. Anyone who drives from the airport to Meloneras, via a wide motorway that was worth several millions to the EU, gets the horror. Faceless industrial areas line the left and right. They alternate with huge outlet centers and crooked hotel complexes that stretch over the slopes like octopus arms.
The first impression of the island of Gran Canaria, which owns one of the most beautiful cities in the Canary Islands, Las Palmas, is disturbing. In Playa del Inglés, the “Beach of the English”, where legions of Teutons are happy about a complete German infrastructure with doctors, bakers and Bavarian brewery bliss, the architectural mistakes of the 1970s and 1980s have been cast in concrete – and they let them are neither covered with color nor with lush greenery.
In Meloneras, just behind the Maspalomas lighthouse, investors opted for opulence and had posh four- and five-star resorts built in the style of Canarian or African villages. But some luxury accommodations remind the viewer of Disneyland: for example, when the replica of one of the oldest churches on the island, the Iglesia de San Sebastian, has to serve as the lobby of a hotel.
And in Puerto de Mogán, baptized “Venice of the Canary Islands” by advertising strategists, it is difficult to see the small streams and the pretty bridges amidst all the apartment complexes clinging to the rock like honeycombs.
In addition, half-finished building ruins can be discovered everywhere and nobody knows whether they will ever be completed. As early as 1979, the publisher Gerd Bucerius recognized that the island is “a nightmare from a structural point of view”. But despite the thoughtless construction mania, Gran Canaria has its fans who magnanimously overlook the consequences of mass tourism.
300 days of sunshine a year, a mostly calm sea and the dunes of Maspalomas, which are constantly being reshaped by the trade winds, make up for the many peculiarities. Some vacationers even enjoy it when German beer and Austrian pastries are served at Western Sahara.
Hibiscus and Almond Cake
If you want to get to know the other side of the miniature continent with its miles of sandy beaches and the always spring-like temperatures, you have to get out of the tourist centers in the dry south of the island and emulate the capital cities.
On weekends, they flock to Tejeda, which is rightly considered one of the most beautiful villages in Spain. Where the air is fresher and life is more leisurely, enjoy the breathtaking view of the labyrinth of steep gorges and chalk-white houses, whose rust-red shingle roofs bend under the weight of time.
In the well-known pastry shop, they stock up on high-calorie almond cake. Finally, a sumptuous meal with papas arrugadas, wrinkled boiled potatoes with a hot sauce and a good piece of canejo – rabbit – with an outrageous amount of garlic – and the successful Sunday excursion in the Canarian style is complete.
It is probably the search for originality, for the world of the ancestors, that brings locals and holidaymakers to Artenara. The highest village on the island is a pretty little speck amidst a lush sea of flowers of purple bougainvillea, white daisies and pink hibiscus.
Coveted living in the cave
What is special only becomes apparent when you take a closer look, because Artenara’s subsoil is full of holes like Swiss cheese. Housing construction is carried out here as in the old days. “In the past, if you needed an extra room, our ancestors would grab a hammer and chisel and simply dig another room in the rock,” says Ines, who lives in a cave dwelling herself.
As archaic as the cave dwellings may appear at first glance, “The houses are extremely popular because of their special microclimate. In the summer they keep the heat out, in the winter it stays pleasantly warm,” says Ines, who also looks after the small cave museum from time to time.
The owners do not have to do without modern comforts such as electricity and water, and those who can afford it can also accommodate the private swimming pool in the airy extension in front of the cave dwelling.
Tips and information:
Getting there: Gran Canaria is served directly by a number of airlines, such as Condor and Tuifly. Flights are available from as little as 70 euros one way. www.condor.com, www.tuifly.de
Best travel time: Gran Canaria is a year-round destination. In the summer months, the island – thanks to great competition – is significantly cheaper than in autumn or winter.
Offerer: Almost all German tour operators have Gran Canaria in their program. In addition, the capital Las Palmas is frequently visited by cruise ships. A one-week stay in a three-star apartment in San Agustin, for example, is available from 300 euros per person without meals.
Price examples: Island hopping in the Canary Islands is offered by Eberhardt-Travel (Telephone 0800 2221575, www.eberhardt-travel.de) on a two-week round trip for small groups. It goes to Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lanzarote, La Graciosa and La Gomera. Transportation is by plane and ferries. The tour with half board can be booked from 2458 euros per person.
“Natural paradises on the edge of Europe” is a 15-day trip entitled Studiosus. Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma and La Gomera are on the program. Here, too, ferries are primarily used for transport from island to island. Costs: from 3295 euros per person (phone 0800/24022402, www.studiosus.com).
Information: Spanish Tourist Office, Lietzenburger Straße 99, 10707 Berlin, Tel. 030/8826543. www.spain.info, www.grancanaria.com