Well, it’s almost time to leave this beautiful island (we fly out on Wednesday) and move on to Belize. For those of you who aren’t familiar with our move to Gran Canaria, and why we’re leaving, you can find those posts here and here.
There are always going to be pros and cons wherever we go – even in the most beautiful of paradises – and Gran Canaria was no exception. Here’s a run down of things we liked, and didn’t like, during our 3 months here.
We were always aware that the Canary Islands relies mainly on tourists to fuel their economy, and so we knew that most coastal restaurants would cater to the tastes of those tourists, but we never expected it to dominate it so much. Of course, if you travel away from the coast to the towns where Canarians live and work, you’ll find more authentic dishes, but along the coast, where we lived, we were hard-pressed to find breakfast that wasn’t a full English breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, growing up in a British-type household, I love a good old fashioned English breakfast, but I honestly expected more restaurants to offer authentic Canarian food as well. I mean, isn’t that why you travel to a foreign country? To immerse yourself in the culture and experience the food?
I’m told that a typical Canarian breakfast consists of cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and something sweet – Churros, torrias (a bread pudding topped with sugar and honey and, sometimes, cinnamon), toast and jam. I’ve had churros in Canada and was so looking forward to having them here in Spain, but most of the Canarian restaurants offered them only on weekends and only between certain times. Needless to say, we never seemed to get the timing right.
The Canarians love their ham – and it’s delicious – but that’s all you can find in the deli section of the supermarket. If you’re looking for any other kind of cold cuts, you’re out of luck. If you buy a ham sandwich, or a ham and cheese sandwich, that’s all you’re going to get. No butter or margarine, no mayo, no mustard – no sauce of any kind, just ham and cheese between two slices of bread or a bun.
Eventually, we were able to find, and sample, typical Canarian food. Traditional Canarian food can be described in two words: simple and delicious. With the emphasis on freshness, everyday Canarian dishes comprise grilled meats or fish (tuna, parrot fish, vieja, swordfish, sea bass), soups, stews and vegetables – many of which are surprisingly hearty. The best way to discover an authentic culinary experience is to eat like – and eat with – the locals. Head to downtown tavernas, family-run restaurants in villages off the tourist track, and sample street food and café fare when you’re out sightseeing to taste the delicacies and traditional dishes they love the most.
We fell in love with their traditional mojo sauce. The Canarians are best known for their famous potatoes – papas – with their mojo sauces, red or green, and they are served with almost every meal.
The tapas here are also delicious and we ordered them as much as we could.
The restaurants made beautiful, fresh salads that they called a starter, but were, in fact, for me anyway, a full meal.
There’s no one-stop shopping in South Gran Canaria. If you live in the North, there are several big stores where you can buy furniture, small appliances, clothes, household items and groceries all in close proximity to each other, including Ikea, but in the south there are no such stores. This means that if you need any of these items, you have to travel approximately forty-five minutes to an hour to acquire them. Of course, there are many clothing stores and the like, but once again, they’re geared up for the tourist industry and sold at a higher price.
The Narrow Roads and Lack of Parking
For most part, the roads in Gran Canaria are beautiful. The main freeway that goes from one end to the other is wide and well-maintained and the roads in the major cities/towns are the same. However, in the smaller villages – not so much. The mountain road that we took from Maspalomas to San Bartolome de Tirjana and then on up to Pico De Las Nieves and back down to the Farmers Market in Vega de San Mateo is narrow with many switchbacks and is not or the faint-hearted.
The same goes for the streets in the smaller, lesser-known villages. Read more about our small accident here.
The road up to our apartment complex is just one such example. From the village of Playa Del Cura, the road narrows coming up to our turn off
And then we climb up to the top where there’s parking spaces and a short walk to our apartment.
There is only room for one vehicle at a time with many blind corners along the way where you honk your horn to let anyone coming from the opposite direction know you’re there. If you do encounter another vehicle, there are a few pull-out points along the way where one or the other of you pull over to let the other pass. The problem arises when you’re nowhere near one of these pullouts and have to reverse, often around a very sharp corner, to get to it.
Parking everywhere in Gran Canaria is a huge problem. In our area, there are so many places that the city could turn into parking that is under-utilized. Drivers squeeze themselves into the tiniest of spots, often denting the front or back of their vehicles in the process. I see many many vehicles that have dents or scrapes along their sides due to tiny or narrow parking spaces and roads. This parking lot across the road from the Italian coffee shop that we frequent, is just one example.
I hope that motorhome is not going anywhere any time soon. This is the covered parking at the top of my apartment complex
It takes a very skilled driver, and several attempts to get out of any of these parking spaces. I park further down the road where the parking spaces are larger and I can turn around in relative safety. The short walk up the hill has been great exercise!
The people are very friendly – both local and expats – and always willing to help at any time. We made friends with one of the local shop keepers who sells clothes and beach stuff to the tourists. He speaks Spanish to us so we can learn it quicker and he’s a world of information when we ask about where to buy the things we need.
There were a couple of occasions where we had to attend the Town Hall to establish residency for our visa. To my surprise, I found the staff there to be amazing. They went the extra mile to get us what we needed in the time frame required and would wave to us when they saw us again. These are people employed by the City. Where I come from, government and municipal staff are not so willing to help out.
Everywhere we went, we were met with nothing but friendliness and excellent service. If you make an attempt at speaking Spanish, even if it’s horrible, they love you even more.
The Beautiful Landscape and Villages
Also known as the ‘miniature continent’, Gran Canaria is renowned for its marked contrasts. On a single day, you can enjoy beautiful beaches surrounded by dunes and climb peaks covered in Canary Island pine forests.
Without a doubt, the beaches are first on the list of attractions Gran Canaria has to offer. There are enough to suit every taste: large, lively, quiet, coves, with golden or dark sand, or volcanic rock. The island is home to one of the best urban beaches in Europe.
The ocean is the most beautiful blue I’ve ever seen and, on certain days, it’s hard to distinguish between the colour of the sky and the ocean.
But Gran Canaria is more than sun and beaches. It’s also nature and beautiful agricultural landscapes. Natural and rural spaces, that can be visited thanks to the extensive network of trails crossing the pine forests and ravines alongside large freshwater reservoirs or lava flow. You can also find charming villages and hamlets where you can stop and recover your strength with some of the local cuisine or simply have a chat with friendly, hospitable locals.
One of these places with that special charm is Tejeda, the Gran Canaria municipality that is one of the prettiest towns in Spain.
Other places you have to see are the gorgeous historic quarters of Santa Lucia de Tirajana, Aguimes or Fataga with it’s lush palm grove and whitewashed houses that have preserved the rural architecture of Gran Canaria.
And don’t forget and Arucas, whose centre has been declared a site of artistic and historic interest and which houses a magnificent architectural work, the Parish Church of San Juan Bautista, with stonework and wonderful stained-glass windows.
In Canada, if you ask for a glass of wine, they pour you a 6 oz or 9 oz and charge you accordingly. Here, they hand you a glass (the size varies according to the establishment) and pour out the wine until the glass is full. The cost is the same no matter the size of the glass.
Spirits, like vodka etc., don’t seem to be measured. The server simply sloshes a good amount into your glass and makes a guess as to whether it’s a tot measure or not. In actual fact, it’s usually 2 or 3 shots instead of one.
Almost everything is half the cost of what it is in Canada.
The beaches are beautiful and clean and the ocean is warm. We try to spend as much time as we can here and make a point to walk on the beach after dinner every evening. It’s a very pleasant way of getting fit.
To end off, this has been the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. I was born and raised in Africa and have visited many beautiful places on that continent. I’ve spent time in Holland and lived in Canada for 25 years. Gran Canaria is certainly in the top ten for being very close to paradise.