Did you know that Sir Walter Raleigh was hung after some of his men were involved in a street fight in Lanzarote? Or that Canarian wine was the only one that William Shakespeare ever named in his works? Or even that Horacio Nelson lost his arm during an attack on the coast of Tenerife?
Neither did I. These were just some of the fascinating facts I learnt during the new Volcano and Wine tour with www.eco-insider.com
A tour with a difference
This enlightening trip is much more than volcanoes and wine: you’ll be taken back in time through the history of Lanzarote; you’ll also learn that the British involvement in the Canary Islands began a very long time before the age of tourism.
Carmen, our guide at Eco-Insider, has to be one of the most passionate advocates of Lanzarote I have ever met. She’s a mine of information on anything from old aboriginal writings to protecting the island’s rare bird species, or from geological rock formations or the subtleties of local wines.
Why is Lanzarote a unique volcanic masterpiece?
Our first stop was the Timanfaya Visitor Centre. A colourful range of interactive displays and models reveal how the world has changed over millions of years, and how Lanzarote was formed as a result.
The island has hundreds of volcanoes, (a term only applied to those over a minimum height of 80m from base to top), which were formed by movements in the earth’s tectonic plates.
There are different types of eruptions and lava flow, and similar to Hawaii, Lanzarote’s eruptions have mostly been effusive; they start with fissures in the earth from which the lava steadily oozes, as opposed to an abrupt explosion.
This would explain why few people were ever killed during the Lanzarote eruptions, as they were given plenty of time to escape to safer ground.
You can even experience what this kind of eruption might have felt like, in one the regular simulations that the centre runs in several languages.
Who were the original islanders?
The Visitor Centre also exhibits some examples of ancient writings and artefacts. They also had quite good taste in footwear!
Very little is known about the Guanches, ancient inhabitants of the Canary Islands. This is largely due to the fact that they didn’t have a system of writing and therefore no historical records exist. They used symbols and inscriptions that are thought to come from the Berber language. You can see some examples on display at the Centre.
The Guanches’ origin is a mystery, and we learn of several intriguing theories. Were these tall, blonde, blue-eyed natives descendants of Atlantis? Or did they originate from the Berbers in North Africa?
Independent of their origin, we discover that there are several sites on Lanzarote that prove that the Guanches used nature, the moon and the stars as a guide, like many other ancient races such as the Incas and Egyptians.
Out into the volcanoes
Armed with our newly-acquired knowledge, we enjoy a jeep ride through the rustic tracks of the Natural Park, to see some of these amazing features for ourselves.
Our first stop is at the 100m-high Montaña Colorada. Its name (Coloured Mountain) comes from the rich rusty tones from the lava’s iron content. This volcano is most well-known for its geocaches, large ‘bombs’ or molten lava boulders which were ejected from the crater during its eruption.
This is also a great place for a short hike, as you can walk around the base of the volcano in less than and hour. It’s fairly flat and easily accessible, so suitable for all levels.
We then head off to Montaña Cuervo. The backdrop is spectacular and this particular volcano was responsible for much of the ash that covered the La Geria region.
The car park and footpath have now been redesigned, with an organised route and interesting information boards in place. It’s so important to stick to the paths in order to protect this sensitive environment.
A hole in the wall means you can walk into the crater, and that’s something you don’t get to do every day! Intriguingly, around 100 metres away, there is a huge volcanic boulder which was apparently part of the missing crater wall, and which was catapulted there during the eruption!
Our guide provides us with non-stop information – a walking encyclopaedia! She explains about he recently discovered water deposits that lie under the La Geria region, which support the theory that this was once a fertile crop-growing area. Then there of the surrounding villages that were destroyed during the eruptions, and how the islanders would spread themselves out amongst them in times of pirate attacks, to avoid capture and death.
The people of Lanzarote suffered greatly during times of discovery and colonization. Due to the Canary Islands’ geographical position, it was an important stop-off for foreign ships. This was a double-edged sword: on one hand the islanders were able to trade goods like cochineal, wine, flour and even silk; on the other, many were captured as slaves or killed, their villages burned down by less well-intentioned visitors.
The British were no exception, and whilst Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake (known as El Draque – the Dragon) were heralded as maritime heroes in their homeland, they were seen as enemy pirates to the Spanish. All with the approval of Queen Elizabeth I, who funded their voyages in return for riches.
Lanzarote’s oldest winery
A visit to a winery is the perfect happy ending to a fascinating day out. Even better when the winery is steeped in history and stays true to the island’s origins. Established in 1775, El Grifo is Lanzarote’s oldest winery. The palm tree that stands alongside it dates back to that time and is also the oldest on the island.
We take a quick look around the grounds before going in, and at some of the 200-year-old Muscat vines.
The original wine-making facilities have been turned into a museum, which also includes a shop and bar, a beautiful café courtyard and a tasting room.
EL Grifo oenologist showed us around the winery which combines state-of-the-art technology with traditional fermenting methods. The winery itself has 62 hectares of vines, accounting for only 10% of its production, and which is supplemented by 300 smaller local vineyards.
As wine is one of my favourite subjects, I was captivated by the different processes used to produce white, rosé, sparkling and red.
We were even allowed to taste an exclusive new wine that El Grifo is currently working on, and whose name shall remain a secret! Very few people have had the privilege of trying it, and I can only say that it was deliciously golden in colour with citric tones and…rather strong!
Once in the tasting room, we had the chance to taste three more El Grifo specialities. The first was Malvasía Brut Nature, their version of champagne, and I was intrigued to learn about natural fermentation and its importance in the size and movement of the bubbles.
Next was the smooth Ariana red, made from 50% Black Listán and 50 Syrah grapes, and which spends it final stages of fermentation in French oak casks, giving it more volume and a fruit/wood balance.
Then last but not least, was the special edition Canari wine, which was so good I bought some to take home with me! Canari wine passes through several fermentation processes using grapes harvested from 200-year-old Muscat vines and harvests from three different years, from as early as 1956.
Canari is produced using ancient wine-making methods, and only natural fermentation. El Grifo has tried to emulate the original Canarian wine that was consumed during Shakespearean times. At 17% volume, this wonderful fortified wine is to be appreciated in small doses, but has a rich, honey flavour and a very smooth texture.
The winery also produces another traditional variety called George Glas, named after a Scottish merchant trader in the 17th century and who settled on the island for decades. Glas wrote the book ‘The History of the Discovery and Conquest of the Canary Islands,” the original of which is stored in the winery’s private library.
This is the perfect tour for those who love to discover new things while on holiday. It really does provide a fantastic insight into the history of Lanzarote, how the British have influenced its development and savour some of the best wine the island has to offer!