Unless they move the Seychelles or the Caribbean closer, and that is not going to happen anytime soon, nothing can compete with the Canary Islands for a bit of winter sunshine.
The flight, at four hours and ten minutes, is just about the longest that anyone would handle for a week’s break in the sun. Most people don’t do two stops or two stops for such a short break. We have been going since the first direct flights took off in 1969 (eight days for 86 guineas) and in great numbers since the Aer Lingus Boeing 747 was first chartered by Ireland’s tour operators in 1972.
Some of the resorts have been given an Irish makeover, a Santa Ponza effect that has created individual Hibernophile with strips of Irish pubs on each of the four islands. People have been returning to this same group of resorts for three decades.
Last St Patrick’s Day in Playa des Ingles in Gran Canaria (it had an air of Playa des Irlandeses for the day) we were guests of Victor Auz, a gracious lawyer who serves as consul general of Ireland on the island, for St Patrick’s day.
The day was marked with a message from Michael D Higgins and one of the sweetest prize giving ceremonies I have ever attended, “for being nice people” to Rita and Jack Costigan, Connie Scanlan and Laly Lozano Martel, a Canarian with the most extraordinary Limerick accent acquired after years of dealing with Irish clients for Corona, Stein and Sunway.
It wasn’t the biggest Patrick’s day party I have ever attended, but it might be the most pleasant. As night fell a Thin Lizzy cover group gave it socks in a stage outside Mulligan’s Pub.
They should give more of those nice person awards.
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What brings them? Urs Rohrig hosts many of them at the Hotel Marina Suites in Puerto Rico. He knows what his Irish guests like.
The Irish spend more money on holiday than any other nation, he says. Get I right, get the crispy bacon in the right place at the breakfast buffet, the conviviality in the bar, the pace of life just at the right pitch, and they keep coming back. Marina Suites, and a few other local hotels is one of the reasons why Puerto Rico is our second most popular resort on Gran Canaria – I retell the story of a travel agent who once sent someone to the wrong Puerto Rico and he pretends he has not heard it.
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Activities and variety can do it as well. Some of these are water based, cruises along the shoreline and some exhilarating paragliding out of Mogán, described in the brochures as a fishing village but it is tourists that are baited and reeled in here nowadays. Mogán is the only town where tourists can get married on Gran Canaria.
A trek inland can be just as exciting and surprising. A drive up to the 16km wide crater that dominates Gran Canaria.
Travel a few kilometres away from the shore and you find yourself in little villages where mass tourism is far behind, At Fataga you can stop and sample the ancient atmosphere, at Guayadeque Ravine you can do a light hike, at Cueva Bermeja in the Tagoror Restaurant you can lunch in a real cave in, at the poetic picture postcard village of Aguimes you can, well, write poetry, or just take an expresso and sit in the street and try to imagine what Hemingway or Charlie Donnelly might say about it.
The most iconic feature is not faraway at all, it is just outside our hotel, the dunes at Maspalomas, a tidy slice of Sahara sand hills misplaced here by the ocean current system and the wind.
They are the island’s most accessible natural attraction, and like all of nature’s beauties in a mass tourism age, under threat.
An unexpected hazard is the nudist area on the way. Not glamorous at all, unless crinkly Germans are your taste.
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The capital Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, capital of the island of Gran Canaria, is situated on the north-eastern vertex of the island where a small peninsula sticks out into the sea.
It is a five euro, one hour daytrip into the country’s past. The centre of the city is divided by the old Guiniguada Gully where a little Seville colony was established after the five year battle for the island. Triana, the oldest neighbourhood, even looks like Seville.
This is where Francisco Franco planned his war, was transported by an English sympathiser Webb who took him to Morocco. The clock is even left stopped at 17 July 1936 in the 18 room boutique Hotel Madrid. In the San Juan district where the houses are painted, as fishermen do, in the colour of their boats.
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Hotel Palm Beach in Maspalomas was my home for five nights. It is a six floor hotel with the most amazing retro bar, a splendid path to a splashy beach double-dip beach. Two pools and a breakfast buffet designed for every nationality (you can always tell that Germans come in numbers when the buffet is stacked with jugs of tomato juice). I like to sleep with my balcony door open and the sound of the waves filtering through. There is nothing more conducive to a night’s sleep than the sound of the ocean outside.
They tell me one client once complained about the sound of the waves.
They said they would switch it off.
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Aer Lingus flies three times weekly to Gran Canaria throughout the year on Tueday,s Thursdaya dn Saturdays. EI 783 from Gran Canaria departs at tea-time leaving time for a last day at the resort or some shopping.
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