Travel bites – Lanzarote as a family holiday destination
Baby friendly holiday in Lanzarote?
Until now, my holidays (other than trips to Italy for regular breaks such as Christmas and August) have been in pretty exotic locations, usually with a lot of scuba diving thrown in. But life has changed a lot in the last year, and this time, the holiday requirements were a little different.
Gone the super long haul flight, gone the high humidity, high heat temperatures, gone the fancy boutique hotel or basic barefoot dive resort. In comes a baby friendly location, with massive, huge hotel with a million rooms, hundreds of restaurants and tens of swimming pools.
After much deliberation (read = weeks), we agreed on Lanzarote. I had never been to the Canary islands (they honestly held no appeal to me, I confess). The flight is a relatively short one (around 4 hours) and at decent times (at least flying out with BA and flying back with Easyjet), and the weather is meant to be sunny and mild most of the year.
Meant to be. Mark my words.
We researched family friendly hotels for a while, and finally settled for one that seemed to be a good compromise between humongous, large resorts and some form of relaxing accommodation with comforts and facilities we thought we’d need with the little one.
We packed our (many) bags, we sent the dog on a holiday of her own and off we went, looking for some winter sun with our 1yr old toddler, hoping he would get some fun and some extra swimming for a week.
The hotel: Princesa Yaiza Luxury Hotel & Resort
Yes, the word luxury is part of the hotel’s name. I don’t mean to sound snob but there are so many hotels and resorts in the Canary islands, for all levels of affordability and I admit, I was a bit worried about the type of people we might encounter… thinking cheap booze and clubland.
In an effort to avoid those types (each to their own, but not my kind of holiday even when I was young and single), and as mentioned above, looking for a hotel which was very family oriented, we settled for the Pricesa Yaiza. It had a lot of positive reviews on travel sites and had great feedback on a couple of online magazines too, plus the hotel itself looked quite pretty (compared to some nearby monstrosities) and had a beach on site, which not all resorts benefit from.
As soon as we arrived, quite tired after the journey and way past little O’s bedtime, we knew we had made the right choice! The staff were incredibly friendly, already entertaining the little one as we were checking in with balloons and toys.
We in fact found all the staff always fantastic to O; all restaurants on site have high chairs, baby bibs and baby cutlery and everyone is always cheerful and attentive to babies.
The hotel has loads of other services, including entertainment (but I cannot comment as we never attended anything), a gym (full size, classes and open to the outside public), a spa (looked fancy and has the only indoor pool but not open to children), bars, shops and a hair salon (great prices here).
There are a lot of pools but the ones that are meant to be heated missed the mark. 25c is not warm even in the summer, so it was disappointing not to be able to use them when the sun was out. Shame.
Our room, or shall I say, our apartment (we had chosen a suite), was fabulous, and way bigger than the flat we’re currently living in in London. Over 60sqm, with a huge bedroom separate from the lounge, a balcony, an enormous bathroom with double sink and shower and bath, plus all the amenities you can think of including baby dedicated toiletries (including the cutest baby slippers ever).
A fridge, microwave and sink (plus kettle, coffee & tea) and lots of storage as well as TVs with international channels completed the offer.
I couldn’t fault the room itself, however given the size of the hotel, I can imagine some issues when the hotel is full. We could hear a lot of noises from the room above and next door (eg cleaning), and the corridors are wind turbines!
We were on the 2nd floor block C, which is convenient because has direct access to the pools and via those, the restaurants and the baby centre, as well as the nursery but our room had no views and again, if the hotel is full, I am sure the noise from the outdoor pool restaurant can become a problem.
Strangely, for a hotel this size, there was no way of warming the rooms up and, with the cold spell we had, it was pretty freezing, so much that we had to borrow a fan heather from the hotel and keep moving it from room to room to try and warm ourselves up.
Kikoland is what we were there for. The facilities for kids!
Their outdoor area would have been fantastic, had it actually been fully opened. We had a lot of rain which caused the dedicated baby pools to be shut (even though the centre was actually open). Shame, as the facility (open also to outside paying guests) is very well organised, with separate sections by age group, each with a hut for activities (and changing areas, cots etc) as well as trained staff that organise themed events.
There are slides and playgrounds and an adult pool too, in case you have time to laze around while your kids are playing. Small ones have to be supervised while older kids can be with the entertaining staff so I guess in this case you do have time to relax!
Sadly, as said, the weather was the worst January the island has seen in decades. Joy. Thankfully, the hotel also has a soft play centre indoor which we were able to use, a lot too. It’s open 8-1pm and then again 4-8pm and also divided by age group, with slides, soft plays and ball pits and supervising staff. Again, we were lucky as the hotel wasn’t particularly busy but I can imagine it would be quite messy when it’s full!
Finally, on the 2nd floor in block C there is a nursery for babies from 4m old to 35m which is a pay service. You get the first hour free, then the more hours you use it, the cheaper it gets but it’s around 20euros per hour. We used this service and could not be happier. The ladies there (Marta and Belen) were lovely and professional… the room is small but has plenty of toys and activities as well as an outdoor area and a sleep room; they can feed the babies too, and there is a video stream for worried parents to supervise their little one.
Definitely worth using, not only because you get a few hours of respite but also because it’s really good and baby O enjoyed himself there!
Sightseeing in Lanzarote
Have I mentioned the weather? I might have. It was pretty awful. Windy and rainy for most of the week, with some sunny spells. When the sun came out, it was actually warm, around 20c, but when it was not, then it was pretty cold. My single pair of jeans and two cotton jumpers barely did the trick and by mid week I had to buy a hoodie to keep a bit warmer. Needless to say, I did not use most of the stuff I had optimistically packed.
Still, we had hired a car as we did not feel like spending the entire week inside the resort, wanting to see the island itself as much as we could. I used my friend Mondomulia‘s blog post on Lanzarote quite a bit as a guide and, while we were unable to visit the north eastern part of the island due to baby schedule, we managed to visit quite a lot of interesting spots.
Lanzarote is a stark, barren land with some strong contrasting colours, between the blue foaming sea and the wide sky, the black of the land and the rare vegetation (mainly vines and aloe vera) and one storey, white washed stone buildings dotted around the landscape. It’s attractive, intriguing and a little mysterious and reminded us of Hawaii and Eolian Islands.
We drove to Timanfaya national park to see the volcanic rock formations, not actually entering the park, which needs to be visited via guided tours and organised buses. Nearby, poor camels stand in formation to take tourists on their backs through the park, a sad looking thing in my view but hey ho, loads of people were queuing up for those.
We then followed Giulia’s route and went to the little coastal town of El Golfo for lunch. Easy to imagine it busy and bustling with holidaymakers in high season, it was still full of charme on a windswept winter day, with the ocean roaring by the black sand beach, the waves crashing loudly and the vast open sea.
There are a few restaurants overlooking the beach and we picked a different one to the one Mondomulia recommended (it felt a little more modern and less tourist trap, sorry Giulia!). We had a decent but not mind blowing meal of classic Spanish seaside fare (fried cuttlefish, mussels and fish croquetas, all a little bit greasy and a little bit bland).
We drove back past the green lake (meh) and the salt plains (interesting) to the resort via the nearby village called Playa Blanca which is a relatively new town, sprung up here due to the tourist attraction of one of the nicest beaches on Lanzarote.
Playa Blanca itself is ok, it has a promenade which is a series of naff shops and restaurants, again very touristy and quite busy even off season. We had an ok meal here on our first day, but again, nothing really worth noting.
The main ‘high street’ one level up from the seafront is another collection of cheap fish foot spas, sports stores, made in china souvenirs meccas a number of wine bars and the very useful supermarkets, pharmacies and banks. To the side, the port with ferries to the other Canary islands.
During one of our rare babyless moments, we strolled through the village aiming for an aperitif, but not a single place seemed nice enough and we went back to the hotel for a drink there, says it all really. I realise I am sounding quite snob but I am used to our Italian seaside villages, where the food is authentic and genuine, where the produce is fresh and the shops are still not so full of plastic as they are in some other locations.
I did discover one interesting shop here however, hidden from the main fare, and it’s a health food / organic shop selling all sorts of food supplements and healthy things, such as protein bars, coconut oil and cereals. It’s called Naturally, la casa de las herbas and worth checking out if you’re looking for something specific.
We also followed Giulia’s footsteps one day when we treated ourselves to a baby free lunch break and drove to La Geria area, where the vineyards of Lanzarote are located.
Unique to this islands, the wine plants (mainly Malvasia grape) are planted individually in small craters, which are protected from the winds by a semi-circular crown of lava rocks, so jagged that they stick together without any grout. It’s an impressive sight, especially because they are dotted around the volcanic hills in various degrees of steepness, surrounding the bodegas where the wine is produced.
We went straight to Bodega Rubicon, which had seemed really nice in Giulia’s photos. And nice it was, except that they were not serving lunch for whatever reason (only coffee!)
We rushed to the bodega across the road under a downpour, perhaps the most famous brand on the island (La Geria), took one look at their restaurant and drove off (horrible, nasty looking). Heading back towards the coast and our hotel, we decided to check out the cute village of Femes and here, taking in the beautiful panoramic views of the sea below and the historic church; we randomly stopped at one of the local restaurants and had actually, finally a good meal.
At El balcon de Femés, we tried the famous Lanzarote potatoes with mojo sauces (roasted, salty potatoes with spicy sauces), some very nice crispy fried squid, the local queso fresco (delicate, white fresh cheese) and a delicious Lanzarote soup (with lentils and herbs).
Here we also had a glass of the best wine of the week (a local white, originally called Femes) which sadly we did not find anywhere to buy. The view from the terrace was fantastic, and we enjoyed the end of our meal basking in the sunshine for once.
We managed one final day trip, this time with the little one, and drove to the historic town of Teguise, about 45 minutes from Playa Blanca so a decent drive with a baby in tow. Teguise was indeed very pretty, slightly inland and off the coast, with a towering castillo overlooking the quiet (off season at least) town.
We spent some time walking around the winding pedestrianised streets, which reminded me a little bit of Trinidad in Cuba (minus the warm weather!). Lunchtime arrived and we had to pick a place. We tried a couple of nice looking bodegas but were turned away (either it was too early or the staff were too rude).
We spotted a friendly gentleman putting chairs and tables outdoor and asked if they were already open. They were, so we went in only to discover a really cool, creative and not touristy restaurant with very original cuisine and beautiful interior.
Not particularly to @bmcboy’s liking, but I loved the eclectic, bio cuisine, with local ingredients, asias spices and mediterranean flavours, as well as the really beautiful interiors and the very friendly service (we have a baby, it’s messy and loud!) in Restaurant Hesperides.
The menu had few choices, and we picked and mixed. We shared a portion of the Lanzarote potatoes, and I have a feeling these were the real one: small, smaller than new potatoes, red skinned and mooreish. I had a main of grilled octopus, very well cooked and a generous portion, while @bmcboy had a stewed goat’s taco and jamon iberico. Fresh, sourdough bread was served with black olives’ tapenade.
I had to try their goat’s yogurt with dates and honey as a pudding (light and delicious) and a coffee before leaving. I am so glad we found this place, because it did show that actually, it’s not all about touristy stuff and over fried croquetas in Lanzarote.
I was sad to leave and had holiday blues already on the day of departure. Despite the weather, despite the massive huge hotel and the slightly tacky places, I very much enjoyed our first family holiday (Italy doesn’t count for me!).
The hotel was everything that we expected, apart from a few nagging issues, and I can definitely recommend it for anyone looking for facilities for their little ones (with the disclaimer that I have yet no way of benchmarking).
Lanzarote is an interesting, striking island with some beautiful beaches and interesting landscape. Perhaps next time we’ll check out the other islands, avoiding the coldest months for sure… but I am glad we came over for O’s 1st year celebrations.