Eternal spring-like temperatures, 3000 hours of annual sunshine, pristine landscapes; purest air, protected skies, traditionalism and 21st century mod-cons; an easily accessible Macaronesian eco-world of sustainable bio-diversity. Utopia? Almost –the Islas Canarias.
Enveloped in an aura of mystery and legend, the Canary Islands were known in ancient times as the “Fortunate Islands”, and were associated with the remains of Atlantis.http://www.turismodecanarias.com
An autonomous community of Spain, at the outermost edge of the European Union, it is geographically more a part of the African continent. The Berber name for the archipelago is Taknara.
The musical sounding islands are (from largest to smallest): Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. Off the northwest coast of Africa, the juxtapositions, contrasts and curiosities are endlessly fascinating.
The Canaries emerged from the ocean depths due to magmatic activity from the Miocene Age, about 23 m. years ago. The oldest islands are La Gomera, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, while the youngest are El Hierro, La Palma and Tenerife. One of the most important volcanic regions comprised of different volcanic rock present in cones, lava fields, craters, cliffs, caves and underground galleries.
Mount Teide, the highest peak in Spain at 3,718 m., is the third largest volcano on earth, measured from its base.
The volcanic origins are also responsible for the greatest degree of biodiversity on Earth. varieties of landscapes: awe-inspiring, volcanic lava flows, primeval forests, long extents of untouched beaches, deep ravines, lush valleys, towering cliffs, azure waters and unique marine life, a plethora of species of flora and fauna. The Canaries have pledged to Sustainable development which is respectful of the environment of the islands.
The first settlers, the Phoenicians arrived in the 10th century B.C, followed by Berbers from North Africa. The 11th century brought European explorers and sailors. In 1496 the conquest of the islands resulted in integration under the Crown of Castile, which ended the aboriginal way of life.
Christopher Columbus landed in the Canaries on his journeys to America, bringing important products and new ideas to the islands. Gradually, Spanish, Portuguese, Genoese, Flemish, English and Irish commercial interests developed trade. Late 19th century ushered in a prosperous economy centered on the Canarian ports, an obligatory stopping-point for European ships on route to Africa, Asia and America.
From 1960 the development of tourism saw intense urbanization and simultaneous depopulation of rural areas.
The Canarians live and breathe tradition, taking an intense enjoyment in their local fiestas and celebrations. A rare combination of tradition with modernity, the islands demonstrate the perfect match between the two concepts.
Religious festivals coexist alongside pagan celebrations, reflecting the legacies of Spanish Conquest and aboriginal rites. Processions, street celebrations honoring the Virgin, celebrating saints, open-air dances marking significant days in the Catholic calendar, pagan rituals inherited from the ancient tribals…lively and interactive. The Canaries are home to unique Carnival celebrations, which rival those of Rio de Janeiro or Venice; the streets are full of partying, masked people in fancy dress costumes, and everything is bathed in music, light and color.
Tradition lives in the handicrafts, some produced by age-old techniques: ceramics, elaborate embroidery, stone-carvings, basketry, hand-crafted knives and fine carpentry.
A truly unique feature, traceable to aborigine times is the Whistling Language. A landscape covered with ravines and dense vegetation rendered communication a great challenge. An ingenious solution was found. Fingers in mouths they whistled, creating and expressing unlimited messages, producing the sound characteristics of a viable language. This is a variation of the Spanish spoken in the Canary Islands. To preserve it from extinction it has been declared a part of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
Gastronomically, the Canaries are influenced by the various cultures that inhabited this Atlantic archipelago. The main Spanish tradition is accompanied by American, African and others. Canarian cooking is more than food; it is also cultural, identity and tradition.
Fresh products from the land and sea constitute ingredients for simple, exquisite dishes: fresh fish, roast meat dishes; steaming bowls of vegetable potage, accompanied by excellent local cheeses and wines.
A typical dish is the versatile gofio: ground and toasted corn or wheat, originally aboriginal food, which is still consumed. Mixed with fish broth, vegetable soups or even with milk, it is the base for breakfast, main meals and dessert dishes.
The famous papas arrugadas or wrinkly potatoes, cooked in their skins, are eaten with the complementing mojo, or spicy sauce.
Nature, abundant and exotic is rife: a compact terrain harboring thousands of living species; many, centuries old and exclusive. Plant species that from millennia ago thrive here. The bio-geographical region called Macaronesia is an endless panorama of the diversity and survival of endemic botanical and zoological species, that disappeared elsewhere in the Tertiary Period.
Tenerife – Two World Heritage Sites, one National Park, and 42 natural protected spaces.http://www.webtenerifeuk.co.uk
Fuerteventura – a Biosphere Reserve, of surprising landscapes, extensive plains, produced by years of erosion and volcanic action.http://www.fuerteventuraturismo.com
Gran Canaria – A “miniature continent” with its incredible variety of landscapes and microclimates. http://www.grancanaria.com
Lanzarote – the universal model of sustainable development by the World Tourism Organization.http://www.turismolanzarote.com
La Palma – “La Isla Bonita” or the pretty island.http://www.lapalmaturismo.com
La Gomera – the National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site of La Garajonay, a dense forest of notable fauna and flora.http://www.gomera-island.com
El Hierro – a paradise for underwater diving.http://www.elhierro.com
Seven Islands, each unique, each magical, each a microcosm complete in itself, but together, one of the most desirable destinations in the world – The Canary Islands