Now home to high-end hotels, fine dining options and bespoke activities, the Canaries have reinvented themselves.
The Canaries are a popular holiday destination for tourists seeking the year-round sun. Closer to the African mainland than the Iberian peninsula, northern Europeans head to this Spanish island group to escape the bleak midwinter.
The islands could market themselves as Macaronesia. After all, they belong to it, along with the Azores, Cape Verde, and Madeira archipelagos. Instead, the Canary Islands have reinvented themselves and are now home to high-end hotels, fine dining options, and boutique activities. Move over, Basque Country. Watch your back, Catalonia. The Canary Islands have a new emerging culinary reputation and are garnering some serious interest from Michelin restaurant inspectors. That’s in addition to the idyllic white sand beaches, banana plantations, and quaint towns with cobbled streets.
The four most popular isles are Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, and Tenerife. While they once targeted the bucket and spade brigade, now the Canaries focus on quality over quantity, and you will find some of the best Spanish luxury experiences here.
There are more goats than people in Fuerteventura, making it a true escape from hectic city life. The closest resort town to the airport is Caleta de Fuste. Here, you’ll find the Sheraton Fuerteventura Beach, Golf & Spa Resort. The sunburnt orange exterior makes this five-star hotel stand out. All of the rooms and suites here have private terraces with views of the beach and the sub-tropical gardens. Nearby, the four-star Barceló Fuerteventura Castillo repurposes an 18th-century castle and lighthouse, with an excellent location on the beach next to the marina and a huge variety of water sports.
Head north for the famous white dunes of Corralejo. The Hotel Corralejo was the resort’s original premier hotel, and opened in 1969. It underwent a makeover in 2013 and reopened as the Avanti Hotel Boutique in 2018. Now, there is Egyptian cotton and a pillow menu in every room. Make sure to also walk into the five-star Grand Luxe Secrets Bahía Real Resort and Spa. You’ll feel like you’re in Game of Thrones, with Dornish courtyards galore.
Down south, enjoy the calm coast of Costa Calma. The gargantuan R2 Rio Calma Hotel & Spa & Conference is an oasis set in 16,000 sqm of palmy gardens. Enjoy sweeping sea views at Robinson Club Jandia Playa, showing off the town of Morro Jable at its most stylish.
With a hop, skip, and jump from the Caleta de Fuste resort, you’ll reach Salinas del Carmen. The salt museum chronicles the history of salt extraction on the island. It was once a luxury commodity, but today you can take home a salty souvenir for a much more reasonable sum.
Grand Gran Canaria
Christopher Columbus stopped off in Las Palmas on his way to sail the ocean blue in 1492, and there have been many more visitors to the capital since. This was the original resort destination, though its cloudy days have seen islanders jokingly nickname the city Mordor.
Gran Canaria is in fact an island of microclimates. The north is colder, the east cloudier, the south warmer, and the west clearer. Radisson Blu Resort in the southwest enjoys the sweetest spot, with typically balmy cloudless days. Access the hotel via the clifftop reception and savour the Atlantic vista as you whoosh down the transparent lift.
At the southern tip, Meloneras has more five-star hotels than anywhere else in Gran Canaria. An idyllic palm grove houses Seaside Grand Hotel Residencia, which counts Bruce Springsteen and Mary Berry among its famous former guests. Meanwhile the Hotel Riu Palace Meloneras dazzles from the brilliant white exterior to a shiny reception. The breakfast charcuterie here wouldn’t look out of place in Selfridges Food Hall.
Staying on the south coast, the once-tacky Playa del Inglés has even been gentrified. At Bohemia Suites & Spa, check in to the Sky Suites for a truly upmarket stay. These have a large freestanding bath and an illy espresso machine. There’s also a complimentary Audi A1 sports car rental service. Further inland, you’ll hit the Salobre Hotel Resort & Serenity, where you can take your pick from two 18-hole golf courses.
There are four Michelin one-star restaurants in Gran Canaria. The southwest’s Patalavaca houses La Aquarela. Here, chef Germán Ortega riffs on classic Canarian cuisine that centres on grilled fish, soups, and stews. Ortega upgrades his dishes with Scandinavian flourishes that he picked up working in Stockholm. In the nearby Cordial Mogán Playa hotel, chef Alexis Álvarez raids Davy Jones’ Locker for dazzling dishes starring red tuna, seaweed, and wreckfish at his Los Guayres establishment.
The opposite side of the island is where you will find the other two stars. One is in the capital, at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria’s historic Santa Catalina hotel. El Hierro chef Icíar Pérez runs the kitchen at Poemas by Hermanos Padrón. He is a protégé of the celebrated Padrón brothers who earned their first Michelin stars in their native Tenerife. Closer to Las Canteras beach, Abraham Ortega celebrates his Canarian roots at Tabaiba, a restaurant named after the Canary Island’s endemic plant.
For a touch of Parisian flair, head to the capital’s port market – the tourist attraction was designed by Gustave Eiffel. The beautiful cast iron building might not be as tall as the iconic French structure, but it does feature a range of traditional stalls along with pop-up eateries that make for a lovely leisurely afternoon.
Lanzarote is Europe’s answer to Hawaii, thanks to its epic waves. Vibrant bougainvillea provide a colourful contrast to the traditional whitewashed architecture throughout its towns and villages.
They’ve also spruced up Puerto del Carmen, Lanzarote’s version of Playa del Inglés. Lani’s Suites De Luxe adheres to the low-impact and low-level vision of celebrated local architect César Manrique. Nearby, La Isla y El Mar is another stylish retreat, hewn from volcanic stone.
Heading further southwest, Playa Blanca is a classy town to explore. Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort has a restaurant for every day of the week – and every palate. Tuck into tapas at the Bodega with fresh new vegan and vegetarian options. There’s also an extensive spa to maximise your downtime. Meanwhile, the thematic Hotel LIVVO Volcán Lanzarote mimics a historic Canarian pueblo for a touch of tradition.
On the other side of the airport lies the capital Arrecife. Beyond this, you’ll reach Lanzarote’s other major resort, Costa Teguise. This is where Spain’s finest film director Pedro Almodóvar likes to kick back. His hotel of choice is the charming Meliá Salinas (now Paradisus Salinas), an adults-only oasis that blends luxury with nature. For a more personal stay, check into the six-bedroom Álava Suites, where owner María González Álava loves to share insider tips.
Lanzarote’s volcanic terrain offers distinctive sightseeing opportunities. The centre of the island is where the main wine producers operate, in La Geria. Look out for the circular stone zocos made from volcanic rock that protect the vines from the strong winds, or take a tour through the island’s dramatic lava tubes.
There’s a north-south divide in Tenerife, with the understated north home to Garachico. This port was devastated by an 18th century volcanic eruption, but has managed to preserve much of its architecture. The Boutique Hotel San Roque, for example, is the one-time home of the town’s founding father Cristóbal de Ponte. Another property unscathed by the natural disaster was the house of the Marqués de la Quinta Roja. This is now the Hotel La Quinta Roja The Senses Collection, which features ceilings panelled with Canarian pine.
Down south, Costa Adeje epitomises the luxury Canary Islands. The Bahía del Duque has its very own helipad for the international jet set. Elsewhere, The Hard Rock Hotel is a stylish spot, with cool pool parties, luxury spa treatments and numerous dining venues. For more low-key luxury, book one of the 28 private villas at Royal Garden Villas, which come with your own private pool.
In the less built-up La Caleta, there’s the Royal Hideaway Corales Beach, which offers butler service in its Presidential Penthouse Suite. Pretty in pink, The Ritz Carlton, Abama stands out in Guía de Isora, attracting celebrity clientele such as Bill Clinton and Gary Lineker (read our review here). A funicular will take you down to the secluded beach.
Tenerife’s Michelin-recognised restaurants are all in the south. You can sample traditional Japanese robatayaki at The Ritz Carlton’s one-star Abama Kabuki. The same hotel is home to the two-star M.B., and Martín Berasategui’s excellent Basque cooking.
The southwest town of Adeje boasts the two-star El Rincón de Juan Carlos. Here, the Hermanos Padrón teases the palates of Royal Hideaway Corales Beach clients. San-Hô, in the same complex, fuses Canarian and Japanese influences, with dishes such as goat gyoza. Husband and wife team Andrea and Fernanda run the Bahía del Duque’s one-star Nub, where they marry flavours of Italy and Peru.
If you’re interested in checking out a different kind of star, the night skies are clear in the Canary Islands thanks to low light pollution. The Teide National Park, home to Spain’s tallest mountain, is a great stargazing spot.
The Canary Islands prove that you don’t need to take a long-haul flight to reach paradise isles. The island group has become a celebrity hotspot, with exclusive openings replacing all-inclusive packages. Enjoy luxury hotels, fine dining options and special occasion activities galore.
Words: Matthew Hirtes