Why underrated Lanzarote was 50 years ahead of its time

César Lanzarote Hotel: a delight of traditional Lanzarote architecture
César Lanzarote Hotel: a delight of traditional Lanzarote architecture

Back in July 1974, when the tourism industry in Lanzarote was beginning to bloom, The Daily Telegraph Magazine ran an interview with the celebrated lanzaroteño artist and environmentalist César Manrique, headlined “Building paradise in the ruins of hell”. In it, while padding around his Tahíche home (now a museum, where the article has been displayed) barefoot, Manrique shared his vision for wanting “the tourist to find a beautiful, not a destroyed, island”.

Today, Lanzarote – the easternmost of Spain’s sunny Canary Islands, 60 miles off the southern Morocco coast – has mostly escaped the serious overtourism construction seen on the more heavily built-up Canaries. The windswept, volcano-sprinkled island has its own mellow, arty energy. Much of this is down to Manrique’s pioneering attitude to sustainability and the enormous legacy he left behind at a local level. Now, 50 years on from that interview, the island once labelled “Lanzagrotty” is putting itself on the map as a place for stylish escapes with a responsible-travel focus.

Historic Telegraph article on Lanzarote
An article in The Daily Telegraph Magazine July in 1974 highlighted sustainable tourism in Lanzarote

While there are certainly pockets of development across Lanzarote (mostly around the beach towns of Playa Blanca, Puerto del Carmen and Costa Teguise), buildings here are typically low-rise and whitewashed, with either sky-blue or grass-green trim depending on whether they’re by the Atlantic or further island. There is still only one skyscraper on the entire island. Last year saw concerns expressed over increasing tourism, with Lanzarote receiving a record almost 3.18 million visitors and hitting international headlines when former president María Dolores Corujo said it should aim to attract higher-spending tourists. But there are also many local businesses keeping Manrique’s vision of sustainable tourism alive.

Among these is a wave of creative, responsibly designed, small-scale hotels, which I’ve seen blossoming over many recent visits to this otherworldly island. Lanzarote’s loveliest places to stay now involve thoughtfully restored heritage buildings transformed into boutique-style havens with lashings of Manrique-influenced, Lanzarote-inspired flavour – from cacti-filled gardens to dramatic windows framing the volcano-strewn landscape.

Isabella Noble in Lanzarote
Writer Isabella Noble on her visit to Lanzarote - Isabella Noble

The latest arrival is dreamy César Lanzarote, created by Numa Signature, the popular team also behind hot 2023 opening Amagatay in Menorca. Trundling along a dusty track just 10 minutes away from Lanzarote airport, I spot row after row of low-lying vines hidden within circular lava-rock walls. Then a white-walled finca with bright-green doors and shutters looms into view. This solar-powered, 20-room finca is a delight of traditional Lanzarote architecture, combining bold volcanic stone with corridors rambling off a central plant-filled courtyard. It once belonged to Manrique’s father, Gumersindo, before becoming a school.

César Lanzarote Hotel, Lanzarote
'An instantly calming retreat in a world of lush greens': César Lanzarote Hotel - Ana Lui

Designer Virginia Nieto has infused Lanzarote’s wonderfully rich natural palette into an instantly calming retreat in a world of lush greens. Oversized plant pots, custom-made fabrics and palm-woven chairs mingle with original wood beams and stone arches in a seductive fusion of textures; some rooms have baths built into the wall, in local style. At the front, ocean-view rooms open onto a sprawling terrace overlooking a sand-coloured pool designed in Manrique’s signature lagoon style, surrounded by white-and-black-striped sunbeds within similar volcanic cocoons as all those eye-catching vines. Even the wavy ceramic crockery has been crafted locally by Tinajo-based Timijota Studio.

The hotel's pool is designed in Manrique’s signature lagoon style
The hotel's pool is designed in Manrique’s signature lagoon style - Ana Lui

Over a late terrace dinner at the in-house restaurant César – with creative Canarian menus devised by chef Juanjo López of Madrid sensation La Tasquita de Enfrente – I learn that most ingredients are organically grown right here on the property. Others are sourced from local producers, including prize-winning Finca de Uga cheeses and famously delicious prawns from La Santa. Creamy avocados arrived with coriander-laced mojo and fresh lime, while wonderful Tenerife and Lanzarote wines flowed with expert guidance from sommelier Cristina Pardo.

“Lanzarote is a destination we have always wanted to be in for its authenticity and the footprint of César Manrique in the essence of the island,” Álvaro Sasiambarrena of Numa Signature, tells me. “It is an island that has everything – climate, culture, tradition and gastronomy.”

And wherever you go, it is impossible to escape the unique way Manrique encouraged people to see, understand and protect the island’s lava-shaped landscapes. Just 20 minutes’ drive from César Lanzarote, the cone-shaped hills give way to a sea of solidified lava where the artist created his home, Taro de Tahíche, after returning from New York. He lived here for 20 years in the 1970s and 80s. It is an extraordinary place, with moody lounges and pool gardens built into naturally formed lava bubbles and an upper level inspired by Lanzarote’s rural architecture, all now transformed into the unmissable Fundación César Manrique gallery (0034 928 843 138; fcmanrique.org).

Fundación César Manrique is an unmissable attraction
Fundación César Manrique is an unmissable attraction - Adriel Perdomo Curbelo
A room built into a volcanic lava bubble at Fundación César Manrique
A room built into a volcanic lava bubble at Fundación César Manrique - Alamy

Half an hour west, at the heart of Timanfaya national park, the circular restaurant El Diablo (cactlanzarote.com), designed by Manrique in 1970, gazes out across 20 square miles of strictly protected lunar land born from 18th- and 19th-century eruptions. On the island’s wild north coast, the Jameos del Agua (cactlanzarote.com) is Manrique’s reimagination – what he called an “intervention” – of a lava tunnel, with its own bar, restaurant and lagoon pool.

Over in the northern village of Haría, I wander through the palm-shaded house that became the artist’s final home, from 1988 until he died in a car accident in 1992. These days protected as the Casa Museo César Manrique (0034 928 843 138; fcmanrique.org), the Casa del Palmeral (Palm Grove House) was built from a crumbling farmhouse. Manrique brought in bathrooms bursting with greenery and added a studio, where he is said to have painted every day. It is easy to see how Manrique (and many others) fell for this calming place known as the Valley of a Thousand Palms.

Fundacion Cesar Manrique Foundation Cesar Manrique
Discover the artist's work at Fundación César Manrique gallery - Alamy

So it is no surprise that another of the island’s serene new-gen boltholes sits just a few steps away, near Haría’s mural-filled market. La Casa de los Naranjos has brought new life to a 19th-century mansion that still retains original doorways, beams and more (0034 628 938 942; lacasadelosnaranjos.com). And in nearby Teguise – Lanzarote’s art-loving former capital – Gigi de Vidal and Óscar Cubillo spent four years restoring an 18th-century home into their five-room boutique hideaway Casa de las Flores (0034 615 688 590; hotelcasadelasflores.es).

Then there is heavenly Álava Suites (0034 681 248 631; alavasuites.com), a Costa Teguise retreat with just six rooms created by María Álava, who also co-founded made-in-Lanzarote slow-fashion label Álava Brand. Or you could escape into the rippling La Geria wine region at Buenavista Lanzarote (0034 606 935 753; buenavistalanzarote.es), where breakfast baskets are delivered to your door.

Lanzarote’s now-flourishing food scene has its own local-produce-driven edge, too. On weekends people pack into long-running spots such as Casa de la Playa (0034 928 173 339), a hugely popular beachfront restaurant in Arrieta serving papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes), grilled cherne fish and deep-fried Lanzarote goat’s cheese. Energetic new kitchens are also part of the picture, for instance Munsoo (0034 928 399 805, munsoo.es), near surf-washed Famara beach, where a stylish crowd gathers for slow-food brunches.

Back at César Lanzarote, a flaming pink evening sky emerges over the island’s southern peaks, neighbouring Fuerteventura and the shimmery Atlantic. With the pastel-tinged light and fluttering palm branches reflecting off the lagoon pool, it feels like I have this whole moon-like island to myself – and it is still unbelievably beautiful.

Essentials

Isabella Noble was a guest of César Lanzarote (0034 928 877 676; numasignature.com), which offers doubles from £338 including breakfast

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