This breathtakingly beautiful municipality of Lanzarote lies on the west coast, less than half an hour from most resorts, and is a wonderful place to venture for a day out and soak up the essence of this volcanic island´s culture, traditions, art and rural fiestas.
Mother nature and the people of Tinajo have a long-standing agreement: to live in harmony and mutual respect. Tinajo bore the brunt of the most recent volcanic eruptions in the 17th and 18th centuries, accounting for what is now 64% of officially protected territory, encompassing most of Timanfaya National Park, La Geria, Natural Volcanic Park, among other areas of natural beauty. This along with the challenging climate of strong winds and lack of water, has put the people of Lanzarote to the test for centuries, forcing them to innovate and make the most of the hand nature has dealt them.
Panoramic views surround you, though especially from the mountaintops where your eyes meet with the intricate patterns of the cultivated black fields and terraces, a colour owed to the use of picón or lapilli (volcanic gravel) which ingeniously retains the little moisture available from overnight dew or the Atlantic breeze. Almost half of the municipality´s borders consist of untouched Atlantic coastline, boasting some of the most spectacular horizons, the traditional fishing village of La Santa and some of Europe´s best surfing.
The Sunday farmers’ market at Mancha Blanca
Tinajo is living proof of how man can adapt to his environment, and is still the island’s main food-producing regions and many old farming techniques are still used today. The volcanic soil that was left behind provided local people with a fertile canvas for cultivation, livestock farming (mainly goats and sheep), providing them with a staple diet and goods for trade.
The Sunday Farmers’ Market at Mancha Blanca, now on its eleventh year, is a must if you enjoy locally-grown and home-made fayre, guaranteeing flavoursome and healthy produce with the minimum possible carbon footprint; fruit, vegetables, legumes, cheese, free-range eggs, wines and liqueurs, rustic bread, plants and flowers, honey, jam and Canarian “mojo” (green and red sauces).
Much of the produce on offer carries the official seal of Ecological Agriculture in the Canary Islands. One of the stalls I visit every Sunday belongs to Manolo and Juani, who now have six fincas (allotments) across Lanzarote producing a wide range of fruit, vegetables, legumes and fresh eggs: “All our products are 100% ecological, though this is nothing new and we are simply doing what the island´s ancestors have always done. We use only natural pesticides, fertilizer, traditional seeds – all of which is good for the soil and our health – and the food tastes so much better.”
Fresh local dairy produce
Pepe is a traditional farmer who doubles up as a local policeman and is a popular figure at the Sunday market. He looks after a herd of around a hundred sheep and goats, producing seven varieties of cheese, fresh yoghurt and milk. Pepe extracts about 120 litres of milk a day from his herd, which he uses for his own produce as well as supplying another local cheese producer. “We keep our own production fairly small, to maintain the highest quality. In my view, by producing large quantities, quality is always sacrificed. It´s enough to sustain a family comfortably and a pleasure to be able to live on the fruits of your own labour.”
The most authentic wine
Grape-growing methods in Lanzarote are unique: mini-craters are formed in the ground then vines are protected from the wind by hand-made stone semi-circles, making for fascinating landscape patterns. This also makes the use of machines impossible, so all the work is manual. At the Fernandez family´s market stall you will find a range of white, rosé and red local wines, liqueurs and jams, all home-made at the family´s properties.
By far the best and most popular Lanzarote wine is produced from the Malvasía white grape, which accounts for around 75% of the island´s wine production, though don´t miss the opportunity to taste the fruity liqueurs made from blackberries, figs, lemons, in fact, they´ll make liqueur out of any fruit they produce and they are all delicious!
La Ermita de Los Dolores (Los Dolores Church)
Just in front of the Sunday farmers´ market, the beautiful hermitage of Los Dolores is an iconic symbol, not only for the island (as the Virgen de Los Dolores it´s patron saint), but is of special significance to the people of Tinajo. The church was erected in honour of the Virgen, to fulfil a promise made by the villagers during the Timanfaya eruptions from 1730-1736. The villages pleaded with their saint to halt the flow of lava that advanced towards them from Timanfaya, thrusting a cross into the ground at which point the lava miraculously stopped, saving them from peril.
Pilgrims still visit to the church today, making a promise to the Virgen and lighting a candle, though the biggest festival of Lanzarote – La Romería de Los Dolores – takes place every September, when thousands of people walk from all over the island in traditional dress, culminating at the church square for a fantastic celebration of culture, art, music and tradition.
Caldera Blanca: Feel on top of the world
The beauty of Tinajo´s volcanic landscape is best appreciated from the top of a volcano, and none better than one of the area´s oldest peaks, Caldera Blanca. The volcano reaches an altitude of 458 m and its 1.2 km diameter crater is the widest on Lanzarote, defying most ordinary camera lenses to capture in one shot!
This awesome hiking route is only a short drive from the farmers´ market towards Timanfaya National Park, with a convenient parking area and excellent signposting and information. It´s a fairly easy route that takes between three to four hours, depending on how many stops you make, so a good pair of walking shoes, plenty of water, snacks and sunscreen are essential. A level lava path winds towards the foot of the volcano, where you climb up a more rustic track towards the rim of the crater.
The panorama that greets you on reaching the top truly defines the term “breathtaking”, as you soak up 360 degrees of surreal natural landscape with a feeling of indescribable awe; Timanfaya National Park, the Atlantic Ocean in its infinity, the towns of Tinajo, La Santa and Soo, the Famara cliffs and the islands of La Graciosa, Alegranza and Montaña Clara…a sight beyond comparison.
A green oasis lies at the bottom of the crater´s interior, due to the high concentration of humidity from run-off. You may spot some tiny white specs which are in fact goats and sheep, left there by farmers to graze and reproduce, only to be regrouped and taken back to their homesteads months later. Another ancient tradition that is still practiced today by some local farmers.
Authentic Canarian cuisine
Hunger will undoubtedly follow so much activity and why not attack it with some traditional local cuisine: fine examples of traditional gastronomy can be found in El Asadero in Tinguatón, just outside of the village of Mancha Blanca which has beautiful views over the volcanic park, as well as Restaurante Las Cadenas, on the main road through La Vegueta, around two kilometres from Dolores church. Both restaurants serve generous tapas incorporating local flavours and ingredients, as well as wholesome main courses. Booking is recommended for Sundays.
You can guarantee feeling refreshed and invigorated after a day out around Tinajo, and you´ll take home some amazing memories of Lanzarote´s authentic traditions, culture and natural beauty.