Away from the beaches of Lanzarote


Sun, sand, sea, Sangria. Lanzarote has them all in spades. There are also ubiquitous bars and cafes serving English fry-ups and advertising live TV coverage of British football.

But the island has much more to offer the inquisitive visitor- and it is a decent bet that you will come away pleasantly surprised by the cultural and sight-seeing possibilities and enchanted by a rugged landscape forged by a period of powerful volcanic eruptions in the 1700s.

Indeed, a massive wager is the backdrop to one its most compelling attractions, LagOmar, a distinctive and unusual property formed around a volcanic quarry with natural labyrinths and caves. In the early 1970s, Hollywood star Omar Sharif was in Lanzarote to film an adventure movie, The Mysterious Island. Visiting the house, he was captivated and purchased it on the spot from a British developer, Sam Benady.

However, the seller immediately regretted his decision and, aware of Sharif's reputation as a gambler, challenged him to a game of bridge. Benady neglected to mention that he was the European bridge champion and Sharif lost the house.

He never returned, but it has since carried his name - the full title is La Casa de Omar Sharif - as a monument to his folly. New owners have completed the excavation of the site, with local artefacts and flora incorporated into the design, and it now also has art exhibits and a fine dining restaurant.

Getting there

Flights: Monarch flies to Lanzarote from Luton, Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham. Fares from £61.50 one way
Where to stay: The Hesperia Lanzarote has a Weekend Extender offer, including breakfast, late check out and free minibar for one day, based on Friday or Saturday check-in and a minimum two-night stay. Prices start from 128 euros per double room. 34 828080800

When eating out, the local wine is well worth sampling. A virtue of the island's volcanic history is that plants such as the vine flourish in areas covered by volcanic sand and there are four major wineries. If not the optimum time for product sampling, an early morning visit to the Bodegas Stratvs at least affords the quietude to fully appreciate the unspoilt beauty of the surrounding La Geria area.

Opened in 2007, the enterprise seamlessly mixes tradition and innovation. The lavishly appointed buildings blend with the landscape and, taking the genuinely instructive bodega tour, we see how the cutting edge equipment and craftsmanship combine to produce wines that bring the best out of the grape. The post-tour tasting also features some very moreish cheese selections.

Stratvs is a short drive from the Timanfaya National Park, which proved a decidedly mixed experience.

Between 1730 and 1736 more than 100 volcanoes caused devastation in this part of the island and sporadic eruptions continued until 1824. Low rainfall means lack of erosion and the area appears largely unchanged. Thus the views are spectacular but have to be appreciated through the windows of a coach laid on by the park.

The tour, complete with basic commentary (at one stage erroneously repeated) and some amateurishly "atmospheric" musical effects, is included in the entrance price. But the disappointment among passengers on the realisation that there would be no stop-off points was palpable.

In contrast, the tour navigating the network of underground grottoes at La Cueva de los Verdes (The Cave of the Greens) is well worth the admission price. Incidentally green is notably absent from the colour scheme - the title refers to a family - and the guide implores guests not to reveal the surprise nature of the ending, so I will keep shtum.

Some other local attractions lack appeal - camel rides anyone?

Yet navigating the often twisting and narrow highways can be a liberating experience.

Outside of the main tourist drag, you are unlikely to encounter much traffic, save for some lycra-clad cyclists or tour buses, as you take in the mountainous vistas. But the tour buses can pose a test of reversing skills if encountered on a steep bend on one of the roads where two-way traffic is merely a basis for negotiation.

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