Gran Canaria: Matthew Hirtes, a resident expert writes
The GC-1 is not the best introduction to the totally (sub-) tropical island I’ve called home since 2004. For, if you arrive by plane rather than cruise ship, this will be what you’ll see first. Yet. as the island’s major motorway, it does the job of connecting airport arrivals with the golden-brown resorts of the south and the most intriguing capital of the Canary Islands (one part Welwyn Garden City to one part old Castile with the island’s major city also doing a minor impression of Cuba’s Havana) situated in Gran Canaria’s north-east tip.
Welwyn Garden City, you might well ask? Well, that would be the Ciudad Jardín which houses the British Club and the best-kept lawns in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Las Palmas is the name of the province incorporating Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, and Lanzarote). Nevertheless, the city was born from the cobbled streets of Vegueta in 1478 following a Castilian conquest which would later see Christopher Columbus stop off for essential repairs on his way to sailing the ocean blue in 1492.
Take a paseo along the Avenída Marítima and you could be forgiven for mistaking this maritime avenue as the Cuban capital’s Malecón. My first year on the island was spent looking after my then-youngest son, Alex. He had contracted childhood leukaemia at just eight months old and been an in-patient at Great Ormond Street for half a year. The only time I headed south along the GC-1 was to ferry Alex to his regular Hospital Materno check-ups.
Instead, we preferred to go west along the GC-2 as I saved on swimming-pool membership by teaching my boy how to paddle in one of the various natural pools in the likes of Bañaderos and San Felipe. Now there’s a road. With the Global buses hugging the Atlantic-side lanes as the drivers utilize their windscreen wipers to swoosh away ocean spray.
When Alex was given the all-clear to start nursery, I started to venture inland. Where the Global drivers’ natural hazards switch from an excitable Atlantic to overhanging leaves from the banana plantations located on the winding roads taking you to such destinations as Arucas (hit the rum distillery here for a tour) and Moya (admire the precariously-placed church on your approach).
Residing in northerly Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, I’m one of the exceptions which proves the rule of expats preferring to roost in the south of the island whose denizens cheekingly refer to the capital as Mordor in part for its panza del burro (a donkey’s belly of a cloud which descends during summer months). I felt quite alone and without direction, which inspired me to write Going Local in Gran Canaria: How to Turn a Holiday Destination into a Home, a guidebook for the more discerning traveller or the immigrant who elects to go native. Unsurprisingly, at the launch at the aforementioned British Club more Spanish people came along than Brits.
A sports journalist by trade in the UK, I’ve reinvented myself as a travel writer on Gran Canaria. This includes reviewing hotels for Telegraph Travel. Sure I sip on the odd cocktail but purely for (hic) research purposes.
Working for Telegraph Travel (amongst many other publications) has led me to reappraise the south of the island. Although I prefer small-scale tourism of the César Manrique variety, the big and brash Meloneras eventually won me over. Which might have something to do with the resort having the highest concentration of five-star hotels on Gran Canaria.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think any journalist has written about the island in English as much as me. To the extent, I’d select Gran Canaria as a specialist subject on Mastermind. You can check out a portfolio featuring articles about the island and beyond on my Gandy-Draper site.