Tourism started in the 1960's, when local artist Cesar Manrique campaigned to prevent the mass tourism developments that blighted the larger islands and the mainland of Spain. Lanzarote has many quaint villages with white painted low rise buildings. The Gran Hotel in Arrecife is the only exception to the rule, with 17 floors. This is the tallest building on the island and offers fabulous views of the capital from the bar & restaurant situated on the top floor.
The island has an interesting history, originally inhabited by descendents from the Berbers who were known as the Majos. The Canaries were discovered by the Spanish in 1402, and Maciot de Bethencourt married Princess Teguise of Lanzarote and became the govenor of the island five years later. La Villa de Teguise is one of the oldest towns in the Canary Islands and was the capital of Lanzarote until 1852, when the political and economic centre moved to Arrecife.
Lanzarote was plagued by pirates from the 15th to 17th century, hence the construction of the castles found in Teguise and Arrecife. Sir Walter Raleigh is listed as one of the English pirates who ransacked the island!
Disaster struck in 1730 with a volcanic eruption that lasted six years, Father Andres Lorenzo Curbelo from Yaiza recorded the details in his diary, explaining that the earth suddenly opened near Timanfaya on the 1st of September. No-one was killed directly by the eruptions, but it brought hardship and hunger as the ash covered fertile pastures. Over one hundred volcanoes were created during this time and the Fire Mountains remain one of the newest places on earth, and are a biosphere reserve.
The islanders discovered that this thick layer of ash was actually a blessing in disguise, one that solved the age-long issue of having no natural water source in Lanzarote. The local Bishop needed wine for the church so he employed labourers to dig down through the metres of deep ash to find the soil below. These vines flourished and it was discovered that these deep pits sheltered the plants from the prevailing wind and the tiny black particles known as picon were porous, absorbing moisture from the humidity and overnight dew, nourishing the roots of the vine. The wine growing area of Lanzarote is known as La Geria andit has since developed into a thriving business for the island, with wines regularly winning international awards for their quality.
Despite Lanzarote's volcanic history, the island has over 100 beaches waiting to be discovered. All of the holiday resorts have golden sandy beaches. The island offers some of the best scuba diving to be found and the ocean surrounding the island is benign, with very few dangerous species. Popular with water sport enthusiasts, Famara is known as the Hawaii of Europe offering year-round surfing and Playa Las Cucharas in Costa Teguise is famous for windsurfing. The marinas in Puerto Calero and Playa Blanca attract an array of fabulous yachts as Lanzarote is an ideal “last stop” before crossing the Atlantic to the Americas.