CANARIAN CLASS

Saharan heat, barren beauty and five-star luxury - Fuerteventura has it all. Yet to visit? Jessica Laing tells you why you should...
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I’ve had a love affair with Fuerteventura my whole life. To me, it is paradise. It is perfect. You could tempt me with Turks and Caicos, seduce me with Santorini, or indeed force me to Fiji, but a part of me would still long for my beloved little island.

In fact, I have such an affection for the place, that going back feels a lot like going home. I know the palm tree-fringed streets like the back of my hand. I know what the weather’s going to be like just by looking at the waves. I know which places serve the freshest seafood and the best tapas. I know which beaches get the most sun and have the whitest sand.

I’ve been visiting for over twenty years – and I can say, with great certainty, that I don’t ever see myself growing tired of it. It is so familiar – so god damn blissful – that it still astounds me when people tell me they’ve never been – or worse – never heard of it. ‘Oh yeah, isn’t that one of the Canary Islands?’ Well, yes, it is. But it’s by far the best one, I tell them.

My parents first discovered the island in the early nineties, back when it was nothing more than a rubbly, virtually unknown, surfing destination. An unspoilt, volcanic dot just off the coast of Africa.

Swooned by its rugged charm, crystal-clear waters and tranquil desert beaches, my father, a self-proclaimed surfer bum, and my mother, a flip-flop-wearing sun worshipper, were hooked – and spent years touring around in search of the best places to ride waves, soak up the Saharan sun and rest their bronzed legs.

A few stood out – El Cotillo for its whitewash buildings and turquoise lagoons and Betancuria for its rustic beauty and mountainous terrain – but it was Corralejo, a charming fishing village-turned laid-back surfer town right on the Northern tip of the island, that captured their hearts. And it’s there that we as a family call home-away-from-home – and have done now for over two decades.

Coco Beach sunbeds

I could go on all day about why the resort appeals so much to us, but I won’t (we only have so many pages in this magazine). Let me just say this, though: if a week full of tropical beaches, harbour sunsets and small town spirit sounds like your idea of holiday heaven, then it’s the place to be.

Go there if you like long, lazy days spent sipping homemade sangria (the real stuff) and people watching from traditional, but oh-so-chic, tapas bars.

Go there if you long for warm, azure waters and miles upon miles of the snow-white sand, as soft as fine-spun silk (they don’t call its North shore ‘Europe’s answer to Hawaii’ for nothing).

Go there if you like watersports, snorkelling, or if you want to learn how to master a surfboard (the resort’s Quiksilver surf school is legendary).

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Go there if you don’t like to wear a watch or answer emails on holiday. Leave technology behind and lap up the town’s mellow vibe – for which it is famed – instead. This is a place to release your inner beach bum and live like the carefree locals.

After all, Fuerteventura may be the second largest of the Canary Islands, but it gets only a fraction of the tourists seen by its neighbours, Tenerife and Gran Canaria. And Corralejo is the most chilled-out, least crowded town you’re likely to come across.

Accommodation-wise, the resort offers something for everyone, from quiet, family-friendly hotels with pools a-plenty, to beach-front Spanish villas for couples and escapists and a handful of luxury hotels for bountiful breaks. I’ve stayed at so many of them over the years – some with my other half, others with my family – and there are a couple that I will always, very happily, return to.

But there is one that tops them all. A hotel so stunning, so unpretentiously splendid, that even a week or so after my visit, I find myself daydreaming about its beauty. And that is the Gran Atlantis Bahia Real. A hotel so impressive, I’ve told just about everyone I know about it. And now I am telling you.

Yoga at Coco Beach

Situated just outside of the town centre – around 15 minutes on foot – it’s one of only three five-star hotels on the island and the only one to be found in Corralejo.

Its unique, deliciously tranquil, location means it is blessed with unrivalled views of nearby Lanzarote, Los Lobos (a deserted, but very beautiful, volcanic island) and beyond, along with its own private stretch of beach – a small, sun drenched bay – for guests to enjoy.

With 170 rooms and 72 suites, all with either pool/garden or sea views, it’s one of the largest hotels Corralejo has to offer and, yet, it never feels too packed – or too empty.

Those with kids are spoilt with junior deluxe suites and spacious family rooms – both pristine – while the lavish Atlantic and Bahia Suites are fit for royalty. Think glistening cream marble, glossy, open-plan living rooms, spa-like bathrooms with separate jacuzzis, plus large double terraces overlooking the beach.

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My partner and I took a double deluxe suite with a sea view. With beautiful Spanish tiled floorings, immaculate bathrooms with his-n-her sinks and rainforest showers, and roomy balconies, these elegant boudoirs go above and beyond your standard room.

Be sure to get a sea view if you can – you won’t regret it. There was something quite special about being woken up by the gentle lull of the waves and opening our balcony doors each morning to Lobos island (it really is a breathtaking sight) and the sparkling shore.

A view we’ll not forget in a hurry – and a one you can also catch from the hotel’s stylish piano bar, El Mirador, on the first floor. Begin or end your day here; savour your morning coffee out on the terrace in the warm sunlight, or sip cocktails and listen to jazz under the stars come nightfall. Fuerteventura’s skies are some of the clearest in the world, so you’re always guaranteed a twinkling night.

Our first morning was spent at the hotel’s award winning spa – Spa Bahia Vital – where we enjoyed full body massages and oodles of calm.

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Here, the dedicated, well-kept team of therapists can tend to all your pampering needs, from holiday-ready mani/pedis to top-of-the-range body treatments and hairdressing, but if you’d prefer to keep yourself to yourself, simply floating about in the heated spa pool, overlooking the sea, is a very nice thing indeed. There’s yoga and pilates, too, which you can do early morning out on the beach just after the sun comes up. The perfect way to loosen up any post-flight knots and work up an appetite.

Breakfast is served in and outdoors. Go with what you fancy, but a little alfresco dining in the morning sunshine did us good. Nestled in tropical gardens, La Alacena Real is essentially a patio-style restaurant – a great little sun trap and an undeniably pretty place to enjoy your finds from the continental buffet.

Our days were spent either by the pool or in the sea. The Bahia’s pool area is faultless; spotlessly clean, surrounded by lush greenery and palm trees, and always peaceful. Kicking-back on the sumptuous white sun loungers feel like lying in bed and being waited on hand and foot by the team of friendly (and impeccably dressed) pool butlers made us feel like a couple of A-listers.

The hotel’s private beach is a little slice of heaven, made all the more inviting thanks to the brand new Coco Beach beach club – the only of its kind on the island.

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Opened just last year, it’s split into two venues on either side of the beach – one for chilling out, the other for dining. Each are found at the end over-sea boardwalks and provide direct access to the Atlantic if you fancy a dip, making for a truly memorable oceanfront experience.

They’re glass-fronted and filled with chic, crisp-white interiors – very glam – for that VIP feeling. Sip on chilled champagne from the Balinese beds and let the relaxing music – and views – soothe you. Lunch was had here on a number of occasions; the setting could hardly have been better and we couldn’t seem to keep ourselves away.

We treated ourselves to mango mojitos and ice-cold beer and tucked into just-caught seafood – many of which we’d never heard of – and traditional tapas. Lots of garlicky king prawns, Spanish sardines, bruschetta with fresh anchovies and Canarian potatoes and ‘mojo’ sauce. They’re a speciality here; crinkly, wrinkly potatoes in their skins, sprinkled with sea salt and served with orange and green dips, loaded with garlic, spices and paprika smokiness. An addiction of ours.

For those times when we felt strong enough to drag ourselves away, we headed either for the roaring waves of Grandes Playas Corralejo (known as ‘Flag Beach’ by the locals and regular visitors), or the shops and bars on Corralejo front street, with which we are now so familiar.

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Head to ‘the square’ (ask anyone and they’ll point you in the right direction) for intimate lunches under twinkling lights and live music, and the harbour, or near the marina, for something a little more formal as the day draws to a close. The place comes alive – and looks even more beautiful – around dusk.

On another day, we caught a boat and headed over to Lobos Island – one of the only things I hadn’t done during my twenty years of visiting Fuerteventura. Fifteen euros each got us there and back and it takes no more than 15 minutes to reach the island’s shores.

Once on land, you’re free to roam about and admire its scarred, deformed beauty for as long, or as little, as you want. Stay there an hour, stay there two, stay there all day, but remember that there’s very little shade; you’re basically walking around a long-dead, deserted volcano.

Dinners at the Gran Atlantis Bahia Real are a grand – and fun – affair. It boasts three main restaurants, serving up gourmet cuisine from around the globe of the highest quality. Fine dining at its best, we think.

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La Cúpula is an opulent space, ran by Michelin star chef, Carles Gaig. Wine and dine (it offers a range of local Canarian dishes you won’t find elsewhere in town) under sparkling chandeliers. Just be sure to don your posh frocks and sharp suits.

There’s the light and airy Las Columnas, too, for a true taste of Spain and other corners of the Mediterranean (and great wine from the impressive wine cellar) and Yamatori for fresh Japanese grub done properly.

We had dinner here one evening – and to say we were impressed would be an understatement. Not a bad at all, considering we would never venture into a Japanese restaurant at home (we might be the only people on earth to dislike sushi).

It’s a slick eatery; lots of mahogany, Asian-style wood and sleek teppanyaki table grills. We watched, glassy-eyed, as our personal chef transformed thick slabs of beef tenderloin and steak into delicate, juicy pieces of meat, in minutes – right in front of our eyes.

His expert showmanship made for an exciting dining experience – lots of sauce splashing, knife and spatula juggling and flames. And knowing just how fresh our food was a bonus. It might have been one of the best meals we’ve ever had – the perfect last supper.

For me, discovering – and falling in love – with a new hotel in Fuerteventura is rare. It hasn’t happened in years. I know what I like, and know what level of luxury to expect here, but with its high class good looks, VIP service and stellar position, the Gran Atlantis Bahia Real has really surprised me – and, if possible, only reignited the spark between myself and my beloved little island. If ever in the future anyone looks for me in Fuerteventura, there is a very good chance they’ll find me here.


atlantisbahiareal.com

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