Have you ever dreamed about escaping it all and moving to a beautiful remote Island? Matthew Hirtes did just that 8 years ago, he moved to Gran Canaria, one of the gorgeous Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and Europe. Matthew has written a book about the island , and has been generous enough to share his insider knowledge on the best that the island his to offer.
1. What makes you an expert on Gran Canaria?
I’ve contributed articles about the Canaries for the likes of Condé Nast Traveller and The Independent for the eight years I’ve lived here. I'm also the author of the forthcoming Going Local in Gran Canaria, a guide book with a difference as it targets future natives as well as tourists. All the places I’ve mentioned in my writing I’ve personally visited, so I really am a resident expert.
2. What makes Gran Canaria unique?
It offers a surreal blend of holiday destination and agricultural island. You’ll find everything from small coves to long sandy beaches, British breakfasts to banana plantations, and five-star hotels to fincas and lemon trees in miniature grand canyons.
3. Where are the best places to eat? What should visitors order?
The southern resorts pander to the tourists’ home comforts with a selection of eateries featuring cuisine from the three biggest tourist markets: British, German, and Scandinavian. For a more authentic dining experience, hit the north. Hermanos Rogelio organize regular culinary events and co-operate with the likes of Hecansa to promote Gran Canaria as a gourmet location. Visit their Valleseco flagship restaurant, Arcos de la Laguna, where they source local ingredients and combine them to stylish and substantial effect. Heading further into the centre of the island, El Madroñal’s Restaurante Martell offers a menu-less culinary experience you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry. As the eccentric owner will no doubt tell you, the kitchen only use vegetables grown in the restaurant’s own organic garden. Instead of patatas bravas, you’ll find papas arrugadas, baby wrinkled potatoes which were traditionally boiled in sea water. They’re accompanied by mojo – a sauce which varies in consistency and spice from establishment to establishment, but typically comprises a combination of olive oil, vinegar, paprika, thyme, oregano and coriander. Another quintessentially Canarian foodstuff is gofio, a flour created by grinding roasted grains (typically barley, corn, or wheat). The base of a mousse or ice-cream, it’s also used to make gofio escaldado, with the flour mixed in with boiling fish stock to create a dip-cum-scoop you eat/shovel accompanied by slices of red onions. Then there’s ropa vieja, old clothes, actually much more appetizing than it sounds, a dish of shredded chicken and beef combined with garlic, onion, potatoes, chickpeas, pepper, tomato and white wine.
4. What are some must see/do activities in Gran Canaria?
Boasting the most pedestrian-friendly centre in the whole of Gran Canaria, the beautifully-preserved heart of Arucas is the perfect place for a paseo – the stroll beloved of Canarians and arguably the finest Spanish import. Take in the Gaudiesque church, Iglesia de San Juan Bautista - an excellent example of its classic architecture. Work up an appetite by continuing your saunter up to the town of Arucas’ mountain where you’ll be greeted by the Michelin-listed Meson de la Montaña (Montaña de Arucas S/N; 928 60 08 44; www.mesonarucas.es ). For those of a more active persuasion, learn to leap like an, erm, shepherd with the good people at Mojo Picon Aventura, http://www.mojopiconaventura.com/english.html . Before Gran Canaria became a tourist hotspot, residents relied on agriculture to earn a living. Canarian goatherds/shepherds came up with a novel way to cross the ravines which dominate the landscape. And so the salto de pastor (shepherd’s leap) was born. Take a long wooden pole known as a lanza/garrote and then add metal tips (regatóns) to the end for extra grip. If you’ve ever pole-vaulted, the technique involved’s not dissimilar.
5. Where are the best places for nightlife in Gran Canaria?
To generalize, the clubs in the south are a mecca for the tourists staying there whilst the northern clubbing scene attracts the locals. Yet there are Canarians who live in the south and ex-pats like myself based in the north. So it’s not as clear-cut as all that. The two main clubbing areas in the south are the Yumbo (Avenída de EEUU 54; 928 76 41 96; www.cc-yumbo.com ) and the Kasbah (Calle de Málaga S/N; 928 77 63 99). By day, the Yumbo is a run-of-the-mill shopping centre catering for the needs of families holidaying nearby; by night, it’s transformed into a Sodom and Gomorrah of writhing gay men, wriggling their bits to the hits in a panoply of bars. By day, the Kasbah looks like a mini-Springfield; by night, it’s much the same. The more discerning clubber should head for Las Palmas and HoocK (Calle Mas de Gaminde 39). Whereas other possibly more jumping joints play any old shit (with the emphasis on the latter), the DJs at HoocK like to share their record collection to like-minded purveyors of cutting-edge dance music.
6. Name three/five of your favorite places to stay: High end Hotels? Budget friendly places?
There are more hidden extras than on a DVD boxset but you’re still guaranteed a reassuringly luxurious stay at the four-star Roca Negra in the north-west port of Agaete(Avenida Alfredo Kraus 42; 928 89 80 09; www.hotelrocanegragrancanaria.com ). Elsewhere, self-catering’s the name of the game in Artenara. Live like Barney, Wilma and co with a stay at one of Artenara’s cave houses (686 795 849; www.artenatur.com ). Yet with 21st-century home comforts including heating, it’s not a total regression to the Stone Age. Alternatively, pamper yourselves doolally at the Spa Corallium in the four-star Lopesan Costa Meloneras Resort (Mar Mediterraneo 1; 928 12 81 00). The spa’s circuit starts at the Womb Room aka Zodiac Relax Room which is a more sensual experience than you imagine. Before taking you on a global tour, featuring an African Sauna, Hamam (Turkish Bath), Ice World and Igloo, replete with snow showers, and Himalayan Salt Cave.
7. What is Gran Canaria’s best kept secret?
The isolated beach of Güigüi, also known as Go-Guy - a place so out of the way it’s accessible only by boat, or by foot. If you travel from Tasartico’s Cañada de Aguasabinas, the trek will take you from 90 minutes to two and a half hours; whereas from La Aldea’s El Tarahalillo it’s a more time-consuming journey, between four and six hours. Güigüi is actually two beaches rather than one. Güi Güi Grande is rocky and rubbish-strewn. Its neighbour, Güi Güi Chico, looks like something out of a Lilt commercial. You can only safely cross over between the two when the tide is low but make like the locals - lifting your rucksack high above your head to wade on through.
8. What souvenir should everyone leave with after visiting Gran Canaria?
In Arehucas aka The Pearl of Gran Canaria, head to Destilerías Arehucas, the rum distillery (Lugar Era de San Pedro 2, 928 62 49 00; www.arehucas.es ) which opens it doors to the public from 10:00am to 2:00pm Monday to Friday. Enjoy a free guided tour and choice of sa mples at the bar. Then try, yet ultimately fail, to leave without buying a souvenir bottle.
Matthew Hirtes is a British Journelist and 'expat local' currently living in Gran Canaria with his wife and children. Matthew is the Author of Going Local in Gran Canaria: How to Turn a Holiday Destination into a Home . You can also follow Matthew on Twitter @MatthewHirtes .
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