We all think of Gran Canaria as a holiday island, somewhere warm to go for winter sun, but it used to be at the centre of the Spanish empire’s exploration of the world.
The Canary Islands were used as a stopping off point for ships setting off on voyages, most famously by Christopher Columbus, rather than the present-day cruise ships.
You can learn a lot more about it at the Casa de Colon museum in the Vegueta old town (it seems a weird name to us, but Colon is the Spanish version of Columbus!).
It’s a beautiful old house in the capital city, Las Palmas, and there are some cute, chatty parrots in the grounds. For more information, go to www.casadecolon.com
If museums aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of great shopping in the wonderfully atmospheric old town. And of course, you’re never far away from a beach.
I explored Vegueta while the rest of my group had been on a tour of the city on electric bikes hired from a company called Trip (http://www.tripgrancanaria.com), who do guided tours and excursions.
We met up at Playa de las Canteras, which is right next to the city centre, and has lots of bars and cafes nearby.
We were lucky enough to stay at the amazing Costa Meloneras Resort and Spa in Lopesan.
It’s so big that they give you a map when you arrive!
The grounds of the hotel are extensive and give a choice of several bars, cafes and pool areas.
The most spectacular looks like a mini lagoon with its own beach.
There are also two buffet restaurants and two a la carte restaurants, plus a gourmet one. We tried the Alameda buffet restaurant and the standard and choice were excellent.
The hotel runs a kids’ club and there’s lots of evening entertainment outside.
It’s certainly a lovely place to relax but it would be a shame not to explore the island a bit, especially with the natural wonder right on the doorstep of the hotel.
The Maspalomas sand dunes stretch for several miles and are constantly forming into different shapes as the wind blows the sand in one direction in the morning and back the other way in the evening.
It’s well worth getting the bus to the hotels at the other side of the dunes and walking back over the sands.
But be warned, it’s hot, thirsty work!
We had another fascinating guided walk through the mountains with Andu Turismo Aventura (www.anduturismoaventura.com).Little hill villages like Firgas are criss-crossed with stone irrigation canals where the women still also do their washing. Our route started by walking along the narrow edge of the canals and then down a lush, steep-sided valley.
We certainly earned a lovely paella lunch in a traditional fish restaurant in the little coastal village, Agaete.
Another way to see round the island is on the boats that run from resorts like Mogan-Anfi, with its lovely harbour, and Anfe del Mar. We used Linea Salmon.
There’s also plenty of watersports to try, like sea canoeing, parascending and surfing. Or just hop on a banana boat.
We were treated to lunch at the lovely Radisson Blu hotel in Argeneguin, which is in the Jet2holidays Indulgent Escapes brochure.
Of course, if a sun-seeking holiday is more your style, Gran Canaria is a great place to go, but it’s also well worth getting off your sun lounger and taking a look around too.
I was certainly pleasantly surprised.
Holiday: Seven nights bed and breakfast at the four-star Lopesan Costa Meloneras Resort & Spa with Jet2Holidays, departing from Leeds Bradford Airport this month, would cost from £539 per person. That is based on two adults sharing and including transfers and baggage allowance. Jet2holidays offers two-star to five-star accommodation from self-catering to all-inclusive. The company splits its holiday offering into four groups – Family Favourites, Adults Choice, Late ‘n’ Lively and the Luxe Collection. While Julia was in Gran Canaria, she visited several other Jet2holidays hotels including the H10 Playa Meloneras Palace in Meloneras.
flights: Jet2.com flies to Gran Canaria from £60 per person one way including taxes from Leeds Bradford, East Midlands, Manchester, Glasgow and Newcastle airports. Passengers on their flights have a 22kg hold baggage and 10kg hand baggage allowance. For information and bookings, go to Jet2.com.
Three things to do:
1. The stunning Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno (www.caam.net) is just around the corner from the Casa de Colon in Las Palmas, in Calle de Los Balcones. It has an outstanding collection of contemporary art.
2. Much of Gran Canaria’s scenery was formed by volcanic eruptions and one of its most famous landmarks is the Roque Nublo. This 80-metre-tall monolith rock formation is a few miles outside the town of Tejeda and you can reach it in a 30-minute walk. It’s possible to get a bus from Las Palmas to Tejeda.
3. The seas around the island attract many pods of dolphins and whales. There are lots of boat trips on offer, usually lasting two hours, from all the main tourist resorts to view these amazing mammals. Bottlenose dolphins sometimes put on a spectacular show for the boats.