Lanzarote embraces the green within – perfectly

Lanzarote Retreats, Arrietta Photo: Catherine Mack

Tucked up in a ‘secret cinema’ in the middle of the ancient town of Teguise, Lanzarote on what feels like a secret rendez-vous with my loved one, the lights dim. Dramatic scenery from Lanzarote’s barren, volcanic magnificence, the location for Pedro Almodóvar’s film Broken Embraces, skite across the screen to cheers from the small, but bursting with pride Lanzarotian audience. And proud they might be, as they have managed to keep their stunning island a secret from many of us for years.

The best kept secret is, of course, that Lanzarote is a land of sensuous beauty. ‘You’re going to Lanzagrotty? Why on earth…?’ friends said, but I had been seduced by one particular company’s website for years, keeping an eye on its progress, and finally found the opportunity to visit it. Lanzarote Retreats is an eco-enclave located in the fishing village of Arrieta on the island’s remote northern coast. We had all been feeling cold to our bones after last year’s winter of discontent and, like so many, craved some real sun. So, with enough carbon credits under our belt to justify the flights, we went in search of the green, not the grotty.

Michelle and Tila Braddock, of UK origins, but living on the island for twenty years, created Lanzarote Retreats because they wanted to share some of their beloved island’s secrets, and do so in a sustainable way. They began by restoring an old farm or ‘finca’ , starting with a stone water housing unit or aljibe, now a luxury villa, and expanding organically into its own little universe,  with yurts dotted around the place like the stars and stone cottages like petite planets. All revolve around a central pool area with honesty bar, yoga sessions, paella evenings, or just chilling out on the giant daybed. It is an eco-design coup, the yurts mirroring the soft mounds of the island’s myriad volcanic cones, and the stone renovations a reminder of locals’ determination to survive in an otherwise arid, infertile environment over hundreds of years. But also because although there are many options of accommodation to choose from, they are positioned in such a way that you are never aware that there are quite a few people staying here, meeting a family here, or a honey moon couple there, some people happy to enjoy the privacy of their self-sufficient yurts and others enjoying the communal camping vibe by the solar heated pool.

The pool at Lanzarote Retreats Photo: Catherine Mack

You don’t even need a car to come here, as Tila will meet you at the airport in his eco Prius, with a bottle of bubbly to wash away any travel trauma, his equally bubbly personality infusing us all with Canarian cameraderie, as he whisks us down to the beach (just minutes’ walk from the yurts) just as soon as we have downed bags, to show us how to manage the surf (body boards provided outside every yurt, of course). The finca is about ten minutes’ walk along the beach from the village shops and a few excellent tapas bars too, one of which, the Bar el Pesquito is right by the water, tucked away in a  corner beside Lanzarote Retreats’  other accommodation, ‘The fisherman’s cottage’ which, although separate from the main site, still has the same sussed, sustainable and sassy vibe.  It is so close to the water, you could cast your line from bed in the morning and go back for a doze while waiting to catch your breakfast. It also overlooks the small pier which became part of our daily ritual, swimming out to it from the beach, joining the local kids who jump off it, and swimming back into the beach again. A few rounds of this and you have earned your tapas.

Tila and Michelle, as well as having excellent eco credentials, with wind and solar power, water sourced from a spring while recycling all the grey stuff, free range chickens with eggs for those who can get out of bed early enough, also promote local excursions  in an impressively low key way. We took a rib boat out to La Graciosa, another of Lanzarote’s secrets. Just a mile or so off shore, we went on a day trip to this small white sandy island which, along with four other islets make up one of the largest marine reserves in Europe. Totally unspoilt, it has sandy streets, a chapel dedicated to its fishing traditions, barren paths where you can hike between two volcanic peaks and crystal clear swimming and snorkelling.  This is also where we bought some of the best fish of our trip, straight out of the wheelbarrow of a local fisherman who had just arrived into the fish shop, providing us with eight enormous tuna steaks which we barbequed back at the finca, washed down with a bottle of Lanzarotian Malvasian white from our honesty bar.

Catherine descending into Arrietta after a hike to Haria Photo: Catherine Mack

Lanzarote is a walker’s dream, and despite it being August when we visited, I managed a few serious hikes. Starting early in the morning, and always bringing my ‘Camelpak’ of water, I had a couple of very special outings. With over one hundred volcanoes on this island, it is extraordinary to think that the peaks which add such character and undulation to the geography here, did not exist before the first eruptions in 1730. Before this time, the land was fertile and fecund and as my walking guide, Marcelo Espino of, explained, there are now just a few spots of lichen and a few fig trees which we enjoy harvesting to give us a bit of an energy boost as we walk, as signs of re-emerging life forms.

Marcelo is one of a handful of walking guides who leads hikers across the highly protected scenery of the volcanic Timanfaya National Park (for more information see  You need a permit to roam across the dramatic lava flows, tunnels, craters and ridges, and most people choose to do this on a bus trip or by camel, but I couldn’t recommend a morning with Marcelo more highly. An expert geologist, charming raconteur and full of local anecdotes, he led a group of six of us up one of the volcanic peaks, Pico Partido.  It was one of the highlights of visiting Lanzarote, and my only regret was not taking the kids, as they would have loved this guy and it sure did beat traipsing round the Park on a bus. You have to touch the lava for the geographical history to come to life, from the tiny volcanic ‘lapilli’ stones underfoot, which turn to larger, hollow coals the more we climb, or the rough jagged boulders which lie in random spots depending on where the violent eruption sent it, all of which contrast highly with the swathes of smooth, labyrinthine lava flows which had moved slowly, snake like almost, down the peaks all those years ago.

Enjoying the soft sands of La Graciosa island Photo: Catherine Mack

One of the most spectacular scenes in Almodóvar’s film is an overhead shot of the protagonists driving through the black, barren interior of Lanzarote. There are mini craters all around them, which are in fact mini oases, each one home to a well protected and carefully nurtured vine. Aesthetically beautiful in their defiance of nature’s harshness, they hold the secrets of Bacchus. Similarly, Lanzarote Retreats, tucked into its own natural hollow at the bottom of the Temisa Valley, holds the secret to sustainable and sumptuous tourism. All we’re hoping for now is that we get a chance to go back for a sequel (for a humble amateur film of our stay, however, you can click here)

This article was first published in Ireland’s Southern Star newspaper.






Lanzarote, green not grotty

Just one of Lanzarote Retreat's stylish yurts

I never expected to come back from Lanzarote with a yearning to create.  Indeed, I can’t think of any other occasion when my expectations of a place have been so totally reversed, thanks in the main, to the place we stayed. Lanzarote Retreats is an eco hideaway, almost concealed from view from the beach of nearby fishing village, Arrieta, just minutes’ walk away, on the remote north coast of the island. Just a few elegant palm trees mark the spot of the finca, or farm, where Michelle and Tila Braddock, of UK origins, but living on the island for the last twenty years, have not only mastered a collection of eco designs, but also created an exemplary flagship of what sustainable, rural tourism can and should be.

The finca boasts seven yurts and a handful of cleverly restored stone and wooden buildings, including a stunningly romantic, converted water tower, an about to be completed eco barn, all powered by forty solar panels and two wind turbines, with spring sourced water and a grey water recycling system. The small community revolves around a communal, solar heated pool area in the restored farm reservoir, with an honesty shop built over a disused well, now housing everything from locally sourced water melons and bread to local wine. They now have the only electric car on the island, a very cool lunar looking mobile which they power using their solar panels. Click here for a photo of Twizy getting solar sustenance.

What’s more the local wine is good – another thing you wouldn’t expect from a place which is notorious for being grotty not green. There are wineries, or bodegas, spread throughout the heart of this volcanic island, with La Geria valley covered in thousands of craters dug into black sand, each home to an individual vine surrounded by a stone wall  to protect it from the island’s almost constant, and welcome, wind, so that they can thrive in this harsh environment.

This harsh beauty, with its fertile oases, is what makes Lanzarote so unique, and Michelle and Tila’s finca is a

microcosm of this, with yurts mirroring the soft mounds of the island’s myriad volcanic cones, and the stone renovations a reminder of a local determination it to survive here following first eruptions in 1730.

The general air of living life to the full at the finca, where chickens roam around freely and the much loved donkey, Molly, always brays a welcome, infused our holiday from the start. Although we had the use of a hybrid Toyota Prius, which came as part of our Eco Luxury Yurt package, Tila met us off the plane in his Prius, with a bottle of chilled bubbly in the boot to wash away any travel stress within minutes. Within minutes of arriving at their divine homestead, Tila had whisked our boys down the dusty path to the beach, complimentary body boards in hand, to show them where to catch the best waves. We sipped more bubbly, rifled through our pre-ordered box of local fruit and veg, and took in our sumptuous surroundings.

Our yurt was bigger than our home, with polished wooden flooring, swathes of fabric separating our bed from the kids’, a private terrace with daybed and dining area, an outdoor  kitchen with a view of the sea, and a private bathroom with shower and wooden bath. All enclosed by the finca’s signature stone wall, with cleverly designed windows set into it, so you never lose sight of the sea and swaying palms.

Lanzarote Retreats is not a product of the latest ‘glamping’ fashion, however. There are plenty of less ‘luxurious’ yurts on offer, still stunning, but with the use of a communal kitchen and shower, but with all the same gorgeous views and vibes. They are not trying to impose a glamorous retreat onto this quiet, rural spot, but simply letting their finca something organically and sustainably.

The Braddocks have always been inspired by the Lanzarote’s visionary artist and architect, César Manrique, who worked closely with local authorities throughout the late 20th century to prevent his homeland from resort ruination, and whose many architectural masterpieces built into lava bubbles and caves we visited and adored. To visit Lanzarote without imbibing the creative juices of Manrique is like doing Barcelona without Gaudí.

The Eco Luxury Yurt at Lanzarote Retreats

Manrique’s statue ‘El Diablo’ is the symbol of Lanzarote’s National Park of Timanfaya, and his restaurant is still at its heart, with meals still cooked using the volcano’s heat. Most tourists opt to tour the Park by bus or camel, but I avoided the tourist trail by trekking up Pico Partido volcano with expert local walking guide Marcelo Espino of Canary Trekking, one of a handful to have a walking permit within the Park. With superb geological knowledge, English and charm, he led us along dramatic lava flows, tunnels, craters and ridges, and finally up to the one of the best viewpoints of the island, where the geological magnificence was closer to my landscape expectations of Iceland than resort land.

Like the wild figs which thrive in the volcanic desert, or the fecund vines which blossom out of their otherwise barren foothills, Lanzarote Retreats proffers colour and life. We jumped off the local pier with a bevy of screeching local kids. We took a boat out to the small nearby local island of La Graciosa, camped on one of its secluded beaches, barbecued freshly caught tuna from its tiny fish shop, and snorkelled along its reef. The boys surfed, we all swam and I saluted the sun in the finca’s yoga class. On the last day I went hiking with Michelle straight out of the finca, up through the Temisa Valley, onto a mountain path which led to the artisan craft market at Haria.

On the way back we strolled into Haria’s cemetery where, hidden away, we found Manrique’s grave. Just a plain, engraved stone set into the ground, with a palm at one end and a cactus at the other it was, “Just as Manrique had requested”, the gardener told us. “It’s simple, natural beauty is really quite touching,” Michelle said and, as we strolled back down the side of the volcano, in quiet contemplation of the good things in life, I caught sight of her simple, natural creation among the palms far below, and smiled, thinking that her hero must surely be looking down on it and smiling too.

This article was first published in The Irish Times . For more photos see my Flickr collection