Good and Gran times in Canaries
THE THOUGHTS of a package holiday in the Canaries have always filled me with dread.
By Eoin English
Spending a week in a resort where high-rise hotels cast long shadows over beaches, where you have to rise at dawn to fight Germans for a sun-lounger, where Irish bars spew guff about their fry-ups — all played out in the midst of sun-burned county-jersey wearing holiday-makers — was never my idea of a fun time.
Give me a small self-catering place off the beaten track, and a hire car to explore at my own pace, and I’m in heaven.
It’s why after almost a decade of resistance, I had to think twice about spending a week in a resort hotel on the southern coast of Gran Canaria — the second most populous of the seven Canary Islands — including Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Tenerife and La Gomera — which sits in cool blue Atlantic waters about 150kms off the northwestern coast of Africa.
But I decided to set aside my preconceptions and prejudice. Maybe, the 2.2m visitors this volcanic island gets every year go for good reason. And you know what? Much to my surprise, I found several good reasons — enough to want to go again, and explore. I’m now an official Canaries convert.
With my wife, and our boys, Daragh, 5, and Adam, 7, in tow, I departed Cork airport on a dull Saturday afternoon with Sunway on a direct flight to Las Palmas airport. Within a few hours, I was sitting on the balcony of our room at the Gloria Palace Thalasso Amadores hotel, just outside Puerto Rico, as a gentle balmy breeze wafted in the room.
The spectacular four-star hotel was built in 2003 into a steep hillside between two beaches — it’s a 300-metre walk east along a lovely cliffside walkway, accessed directly from the hotel’s panoramic lift, to Puerto Rico’s beach. Our room, one of 364 with sea views, was spacious and spotlessly clean, with air conditioning as standard. The balcony was completely private — a great place to watch the stunning sunsets.
Sunway rep, Mandy Cawley, met us the next morning, and offered advice on sun and skin care, shopping, sight-seeing and personnel safety. But the boys had their sights set on the hotel’s pools. They paddled happily in the 45cm deep kids’ pool while I sat in the shade, the temperature edging towards 27C.
Thanks to Mandy’s discounted Salmon Line tickets, we opted for a coast-hugging, 40-minute ferry ride from Puerto Rico pier to Puerto de Mogan — a gorgeous little fishing village just a few miles west.
Known as ‘little Venice’ because of its canals and alleys, its cobbled promenade and marina are lined with impeccably maintained two-storey houses in typical local style. None of which mattered to the kids so we headed around the marina to the Yellow Submarine to embark on “a voyage to the bottom of the sea”. After forking over €87 for the family, we boarded the 18-metre 44-person sub. With dramatic sound effects and even more dramatic commentary, which heightened the experience for the younger submariners, we reached depths of 25-metres during the 45-minute trip — making dramatic passes of two ship wrecks, as shoals of tropical fish flashed by. It was one of the holiday highlights — despite the kids’ disappointment that it didn’t include a trip to Titanic, a brush with a shark, or a sighting of Davey Jones’s locker.
We enjoyed a lunch of fresh prawns and salad (€29 for four) at Restaurante Puerto Escala, a simple eatery near the submarine’s docking area, where we watched the next sub trip sail past before diving about 500-metres offshore.
I dropped in to the Marina bar on the way back to the ferry to meet Corkman, Billy Dennehy, who has been running his quayside bar and restaurant for almost two decades — you must try his Bailey’s cheesecake. May and June are off-peak and Mogan and Puerto Rico were quiet — we had several restaurants to ourselves, even by 7.30pm. But Billy said things will pick up from September, and run right through to April, as sun-starved Irish and Scandinavians in particular, fly south for winter sun.
We enjoyed Puerto Rico’s lovely crescent-shaped beach where a selection of little restaurants offer ice-creams, drinks and snacks. There’s a pharmacy nearby, if needed, and a Spar shop across the road where we stocked up on drinking water and fruit.
Following a family vote, we decided to tackle ‘the hike’ to Amadores beach. Larger and more developed than Puerto Rico, it costs €10 to rent two sun loungers and an umbrella, it has a spotlessly clean and staffed toilet, shower and locker complex — 50c a visit.
The beach is lined with souvenir and beach-wear shops, and about half a dozen eateries built right on the sand — not my idea of a great beach — but the kids loved paddling in the warm water.
The temperature hit 30C that afternoon making the last leg of the long walk back to the hotel a struggle for the kids. But it made my soak in the hotel’s heated sea-water thalasso pool that evening all the more welcome.
Intrigued by a sign promising we’d see ‘dolphins or wales’, we boarded the 11.30am sailing of the Dolphins’ Cat Boat (€50 for the family) from Puerto Rico the next morning. But a few minutes in to the two-and-a-half hour trip, as the boat churned its way through a relatively heavy swell, I was beginning to wish we were back on the beach as one of the kids turned pale. Finally, an hour in and about four miles off the coast, our skipper found what he’d been looking for. He cut the engines and within seconds, the boat was surrounded by at least 30 frolicking dolphins. He applied some power which prompted a truly unforgettable display — a pair of dolphins broke the waves at the bow, six swirled around and underneath the vessel, three jumped clear of the water and somersaulted, while others surfed the waves in our wake. Their engagement with us, which lasted about 20 minutes, more than made up for the lack of a whale sighting. It’s a trip well worth doing, but only if you can stomach an at times choppy ride.
We ate out in Puerto Rico most evenings, overlooking the marina. The service and slick tricks by Egyptian waiter, Adel, made our tasty meal in Gran Italia, one of the funniest nights out I’ve had in years. Back at the hotel, the staff and service were outstanding. A minor blip on check-in, and a slight delay in room service later in the week were sorted quickly. The selection and quality of food in the buffet was impressive. Guests on the all-inclusive deal said they were more than happy to remain in the hotel for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The hotel offers an extensive kids’ programme, a fitness programme, and cabaret style night-time entertainment which was very popular with older guests, and not all that bad after a few San Miguels and Mojitos.
There are dozens of day trips available to book through the Sunway rep at the hotel and there is a host of beauty treatments and massages available at extra cost in the hotel’s luxurious spa. If sun holidays with two young kids are about getting there stress free, then doing nothing but relaxing by the pool or nearby beach, recharging your batteries, throwing in some sightseeing and a trip or two, and creating memories that will last a lifetime, then Gran Canaria ticks all the boxes.
Eoin English and his wife travelled to the four-star Gloria Palace Amadores Thalasso Hotel in Gran Canaria courtesy of Sunway Holidays. Check out www.sunway.ie or phone Sunway 01-2886828. Flights
Sunway operates a weekly charter flight to Gran Canaria from Cork and Dublin until the end of October 2012. The flight from Cork is 3hrs 40mins. Hotel transfer takes about 40 mins. Accommodation
Seven nights B&B in the Gloria Palace Amadores, near Puerto Rico, costs from €679 per person including flights, transfers, accommodation, free baggage allowance, resort representative service and all taxes. What to see
Puerto de Mogán: Known as little Venice, this beautiful fishing village is a great day trip, and home to the Yellow Submarine Adventure.
Arguineguin: Despite relatively few tourist facilities, this little fishing village west of Puerto Rico is worth a visit. It also marks the start of an impressive stretch of steep rocky coastline dotted with sheltered bays with dark sand.
Maspalomas: One of the island’s busiest resorts, but worth a visit just to see its impressive sand dunes complex. The attractive Pasito Blanco marina 2km from Maspalomas is a haven for sea sports.
Galdar: A local blanket company offers free trips from the Gloria Palace Amadores hotel to this town on the very northern tip of the island. If you can endure a 40-minute sales pitch, with no pressure to buy, you will also get to visit some of the 300 caves of the ancient Guanche rulers. The shopping
The capital, Las Palmas De Gran Canaria offers, the best shopping. But in Puerto Rico, you’ll find good variety in its two shopping centres Centro Commercial (CC) Puerto Rico, (a €3 taxi ride from the hotel), or at CC Europa, near Monte Paraiso, at the top of a steep hill known as Cardiac Hill. But be wary of deals on cheap electronic products and cameras. The food
There is a selection of cheap and cheerful restaurants offering good quality Greek, Chinese and Italian cuisine upstairs in a commercial centre complex overlooking the marina in Puerto Rico. Ask for Adel, the Egyptian waiter in Gran Italia. You’re in for a memorable dinner, if you’re game for a laugh. But for a real treat, try San Miguel’s in the CC Puerto Rico for outstanding seafood, steak and tapas. It’s on the top floor of the shopping centre. Don’t be fooled by the Taverna San Miguel on the second floor. It’s good too. You must try their Canarian potatoes: baby potatoes smothered in mojo sauce — a spicy, bright orange sauce made with red peppers, tomatoes, garlic and chilli. Home