A week away in the sun seemed the perfect antidote to the stresses of work and so last week we headed off for sunnier climes in Lanzarote. We’d hired a villa with a private pool in the small resort of Playa Blanca, on the south coast of Lanzarote overlooking the neighbouring island of Fuerteventura.
I’d thought that not only would it be a break from work but also from my cycling training, but a quick search on Google revealed that there was indeed a bike hire place in Playa Blanca. Not only that, they seemed to hire out high-end carbon fibre road bikes. Perhaps things were looking up.
It was only once I arrived that I realised Lanzarote is something of a mecca for cyclists. It has year-round sunshine, excellent roads and a variety of coastal and hillier landscapes. There are lots of cyclists who go there specifically for cycling, particularly for winter training during the cooler months between September to April. There’s also a famous Ironman course involving a 3.7km swim, 180km bike ride followed by a marathon.
Some more research revealed lots of suitable training routes from Playa Blanca. So while the rest of the family were having lazy lie-ins I could hire a bike and go out for early morning rides: my plan was hatched. I hired a Bianchi road bike first of all; quite different from my touring bike since it was much lighter and had STI gears rather than bar-end shifters.
An easy ride from Playa Blanca takes you north to the tiny coastal village of El Golfo, a 34km return ride. Once you turn off the main road to take the coastal road, the scenery is just stunning (apparently this is where Mercedes film promotional videos for new cars). In common with the other Canary Islands Lanzarote is volcanic, having had eruptions for six years from 1730-36 and then with a smaller eruption in 1824. As a result, much of the fertile land in the south and centre of the island is covered with black lava deposits, giving a harsh, moon-like appearance. The coast near El Golfo is really spectacular, with ‘fingers’ of lava having crept into the sea. I was rewarded after my first outing with coffee and cake at a cafe overlooking the sea – with the tourists all shepherded by their coaches to a restaurant at the other end of the village.
A longer ride the next day took me north from Yaiza into the volcano national park where there is the densest concentration of craters. There’s really very little vegetation here – just the odd low bush or grasses in sheltered spots. However, there is small-scale agriculture of sorts in the form of individual vines grown at the bottom of small hollows, each sheltered by a low wall. This is extremely labour-intensive work; no machinery in such a fragile environment. It’s a wonder enough grapes are grown to support a wine industry but it does exist (although a bit sweet for my taste).
The dominant industry on Lanzarote ia of course tourism. It didn’t seem bizarre in the slightest to the swarms of holiday makers trudging off their air-conditioned coaches that they would spend the next hour or so riding on camels to view the dormant craters up close. At least they could look forward to a cool drink and a toilet stop in the nearby bodega (wine cellar / restaurant) and a chance to queue up to buy the photo of them riding camel-back.
I had a fast downhill to look forward to – 30 km/h with the wind in my back all the way down to Yaiza.
Nothing much seemed to happen in Yaiza. I was there several times. There’s a popular bar where the locals can sit outside and watch the world go by, a nice square where occasional tourists can take photos and a supermarket where sun-beaten cyclists can buy sun tan lotion and sweet, fizzy drinks.
I swapped my Bianchi bike after a couple of days for a Dolan, full carbon fibre bike. I was enjoying the training rides and it seemed a good opportunity to try out a couple of different bikes in case I ever got the taste for a lighter road bike. The guy at the bike shop was short on specifics but keen to take my money. “Yeah, it’s a smoother ride, soaks up the bumps. You’ll like it“. I was kind of hoping he’s be able to give me a leaflet with recommended routes and local cafes to visit but I think he was oblivious to this missed opportunity.
The Dolan was a nicer ride and a better fit for me: nice and light. But I really didn’t take to the gears on either bike. I’m no technical expert but I don’t think noisy chains and slipping gears are expected on a £2000 bike. On this evidence at least I’m perfectly happy to keep my money and enjoy my smooth, quiet Dawes Galaxy.
On another couple of rides I climbed from Yaiza up several hairpins to the small village of Femes. It sits up high in a col between two peaks and has a fantastic view over Playa Blanca and Fuerteventura. There’s little to stop here for but it gives the legs a good workout and there are some good photo opportunities.
I’d recommend cycling on Lanzarote if you’re looking for something more active to do than lying beside the pool. I managed to clock up over 140 miles when the rest of the family had barely surfaced; a great way to start the day.