The Princess of Lanzarote

There is a plush and verdant resort nestling amid a stark volcanic landscape


There is a flutter of excitement by the pain au chocolat as a little blonde girl tugs her mother’s arm, “Look!” A giant duck has wandered into the breakfast room. Kiko, the mascot of the Princesa Yaiza hotel in Lanzarote, has started his morning tour, a yellow pied-piper rounding up recruits for the children’s club.

Yaiza, which opened in 2003 in Playa Blanca, on the southern tip of the most easterly of the Canary Islands, is a five-star resort geared for families.

Inside the white-walled complex with its Moorish domes and arches, the palm-fringed pools present a contrast to the barren landscape. The primordial scenery of this volcanic island is startling, the legacy of a catastrophic chain of eruptions in the 18th century.

Plains of grey boulders, the grapes of nature’s wrath, stretch below rocky hills, dotted with clusters of whitewashed houses like deposits of snow. Everywhere, you'll see distinctive gardens of cactus planted on black cinder beds. Resourceful farmers discovered that the ashy layers were good for retaining moisture. One of the most striking sights are vineyards planted on hillsides black as coal, little horseshoe-shaped walls protecting the young vines.

Temperatures during our early July stay averaged around the mid-20s, but trade winds blowing in from the Atlantic could sometimes make it feel cooler. On some days you could be happily sunning by the pool, sheltered by the hotel walls, while outside a wind howling around the empty shrubland was roughing up the palms.

Yaiza has eight swimming pools, seven restaurants including Japanese, Italian and gourmet Mediterranean, snack bars, a (child-free) jazz and cocktail bar, disco, spa, theatre, ice-cream parlour and shops. Its neo-colonial style has the ambience of a grand villa; airy, sunlit corridors lead to the bedrooms; volcanic stone and water features combine attractively in an indoor tropical garden downstairs.

Kikoland club, for children three and above, which is situated by the tennis courts and beach volleyball, has its own pool. When daytime fun is done, staff continue to minister to their young charges with evening entertainment. You could watch a magic show or flamenco in the theatre and there is a choice of music in different locations.

In the piazza outside the pizzeria and tapas bar, you might find some middle-of-the-road romance from Pablo, the amiable violinist, competing with a raucous chorus of invisible birds in the trees.

Beyond the piazza, the promenade by the clean public beach leads east to the shops and restaurants of the new marina — where a turbaned illusionist sat at the entrance hovering in mid-air; and, west, to the centre of Playa Blanca, a warmer and whiter version of an English seaside town.

Our suite in the family block, reached from the main hotel building via an underground walkway lit with aquariums, was a comfortable space in wood and stone, the size of a small apartment: it had two bathrooms and a kitchenette, with enough room in the mini-bar to stock plenty of cheaper water from the supermarket.Although seafood was ubiquitous and lurked dangerously in sauces, we ate well, finding a plentiful selection of tuna, hake and bass.

One advantage of a small island is easy sightseeing. A trip to the Timanfaya volcanic park, the epicentre of previous eruptions, is a must: as the coach snakes through the fields of craters and jagged rock, you feel transported back to a prehistoric time. Not surprising that they shot an episode of the new series of Doctor Who around here. Clumps of lichen or thornbushes sprout miraculously from the bare slopes.

But while the lava no longer flows, the earth is still simmering beneath. A guide picks up some pebbles and places them, hot, in your hands. Some dry spurge is cast into a hole in the ground and instantly catches alight, a burning bush. At a mountain-top restaurant, a rack of potatoes placed over a bottomless pit bakes from the earth’s natural heat.

Other places call for the camera, too. At El Golfo, on the west coast, you gaze down at a black beach beside what looks initially like olive-green grassland but turns out to be an algae-coloured lake. Travelling north, you pass through the Valley of 1,000 Palms, where new trees line the hills like feathery wind-turbines. Trees are protected under the island’s conservation policy and I was told that there was even a man whose job was to count the palms every year.

In the north, you can visit the cactus gardens and the Jameos del Agua, an enchanting underground garden in a lava tunnel created by the artist Cesar Manrique, where tiny shell-less albino crabs, like snow crystals, live in a seawater lake.

On the way back you pass through a place called Macher – thankfully not, I am assured, a retirement village for Anglo-Jewish leaders.

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