Scaling new heights is thankfully back on travel agendas with Europe and further afield opening to excited travellers wanting to make up for lost time.
There are currently some great breaks to be bagged across land, sea, and air – whether it be embarking on new challenges, diving with sharks - or sailing into the sunset.
In our latest article, we transport you to the Winter sunshine of the Canary Islands to savour Vitamin Sea, volcanic backdrops, black beaches, and picture postcard villages.
Suffice it to say we had more of an explosive time than anticipated!
Winter Wellbeing Boost
Having been caught up in the Spanish Covid lockdown for part of the past two winters, the bitterly cold and bleak January climate in England was a shock to the system!
With howling winds and storms threatening to blow us into the North Sea, we braved it out until all of January 31 before grabbing a late Canaries cruise which packed in four volcanic islands across seven days and a stopover in Madeira.
Located close to Western Sahara and Morocco, the islands comprise Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro.
Although cloudy and chilly at night early in the year, they enjoy a Mediterranean, sub-tropical climate with mild temperatures between 18-24 °Celsius all year round.
Part of Spain since the 1400’s, they are also responsible for 13 volcanic eruptions since the 16th century.
The most recent was in La Palma, lasting 85 days from 19 September to 13 December last year– the longest known eruption on the island.
The devastation included the destruction of 1,000 buildings and the evacuation of 6,000 people. Harrowing scenes included swimming pools boiling as red-hot lava from the volcano streamed into gardens.
Dust was still in the sky during our trip – a stark reminder of nature’s menacing power.
Dramatic - and Dangerous
Our first port of call was Tenerife which is dominated by Mount Teide, the world’s third highest volcano after Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
It last erupted without warning in 1909, two centuries after a previous one devasted lives and villages.
As independent travellers we’re always reluctant to join group tours, but logistics and expensive taxi rates (one euro for every minute) dictated we embark on the ship’s coach to get closer to the snow-covered volcano’s one-million-year-old peak.
As we wound our way around hairpin bends in strong winds, it was apparent our cable car ride to 12,000 feet, rewarding sightseers with knockout Atlantic views, was out of the question.
Although disappointing, we could still appreciate Teide’s potential destructive force, enormity, and context.
The backstory included a quirky legend (doesn’t it always!) that the King of Evil who lived inside Teide captured the God of Light and Sun and took him into the bowels of the crater.
Outraged local people called on their supreme god who defeated the evil King and rescued the God of Light and Sun and plug up the crater. It is said that the whitish plug that their supreme god put in place is the last cone of the volcano which resembles a crown.
Lanzarote’s Lunar Landscape
The highlight of our trip was a fascinating and compelling visit to the Fire Mountains in Lanzarote, a compelling island with over 300 volcanos.
We were transfixed as we passed through endless miles of lava fields, craters, cones, and calderas - a large cauldron-like hollow that forms when a magna chamber empties after a volcanic eruption.
At the Timanfaya National Park we witnessed the phenomenal Fire Mountains, a vast area affected by a prolonged series of eruptions in the 18th Century and classed as among the most important and spectacular in the earth’s history.
The surreal landscape - where Lava and magma have created rock and land formations tinged with red, yellow, and orange - was redolent of a sci fi movie.
A wake-up call for tourists and cruise guests easing themselves gently into a Saturday morning came from local guides performing explosive volcanic show-stopping experiments such as turning brushwood into fire and cups of water into steaming geysers.
Although I knew the ‘big bang’ was imminent when water on bags planted in the subsoil was exposed to inordinately high temperatures, I still screamed with the mini fireworks show which delighted the crowds!
Our tour also took us along Lanzarote’s south coast with its stunning views and we returned to the ship buzzing with what we had learnt and seen. We also agreed that Lanzarote did not deserve to be much maligned and nicknamed ‘Lanzagrotty’.
The Magic of Madeira
Sailing into Madeira - one of five archipelagos of volcanic origin in the North Atlantic - was a perfect for us to explore independently and visit new sights.
We’d spent a rain-drenched New Year’s Eve in the colourful capital of Funchal a few years ago. Thankfully the weather this time was infinitely better as we headed for Funchal’s highest heights – the skywalk on the cliffs of Cabo Girão, a mere 580 meters above sea level.
Overhanging the side of some of the Europe’s highest cliffs, the glass walkway (don’t look down if you’re scared of heights!) delivers views of the Madeira coastline, Funchal, and the fishing village of Câmara de Lobos.
A visit to Câmara de Lobos, which inspired Winston Churchill to take up painting when on holiday in 1950, was not complete without sampling local seafood.
We didn’t frequent the formal-looking Reid’s Place Hotel where Winston Churchill was wined and dined during his stay, opting instead for a more rustic venue overlooking the sea.
The food, including luscious giant prawns, were unforgettable and time stood still as we idly watched local fishermen’s card games as lapping water banished the harsh English winter into oblivion.
We noticed during our Portuguese stopover - and on our motorhome travels in Portugal last summer – how the Portuguese have an affinity with the British, striking up a friendly rapport and welcome at every turn.
Churchill likewise commented famously over seven decades ago: “Never before, as in Madeira, have I been so enthusiastically welcomed by people that owe me nothing whatsoever”.
La Gomera: Isla Mágica
While subject to time restrictions when visiting ports, we’d always recommend disembarking from the ship to explore local towns and cultures.
It took less than half an hour to get a feel of San Sebastian, a sleepy port at La Gomera, the second smallest Canary Islands which measures less than 20 kilometres from North to South.
The island is a hiker’s paradise - Garajonay National Park is a prehistoric forest and UNESCO World Heritage designation - and ecological jewel.
Set in a rural landscape and peaceful mountain villages, its coast is peppered with small beaches set between cliffs. Unfortunately, the ship was only docked for a few hours, but we made the most and enjoyed our favourite Spanish coffee - a cortado made with espresso and warm milk.
So, after our week-long break, were we pleased we’d trawled through copious options to hunt down a bargain and see more of Spain - and Portugal - via life on the ocean waves?
Absolutely. After all, what’s not to like about sailing into different Mediterranean destinations daily, wearing shorts and T shirts in early February, having your bed made, all your meals and drinks on tap - and a lively entertainment programme to throw yourself into - or steer clear of!
The overall verdict? Fantastico!
Flights to the larger Canary Islands operate from regional airports including Leeds Bradford and Newcastle. Leave Work to Travel booked with Tui.