Forget what you thought you knew about the Canaries and Atlantic Islands. From stargazing to trail running, this year each island is upping the ante, says Abra Dunsby
Whether clients want to go stargazing or trail running, in the Canaries and Atlantic Islands there's an island to suit in 2018
Once seen as prime “fly and flop” territory, perceptions of the Canaries and Atlantic Islands are changing.
Yes, the islands are bathed in sunshine year-round, making them ideal winter sun destinations, but thanks to an array of new product for this year, they also offer a wealth of unique experiences between them.
Whether clients want to trek through rainforests, dine in Michelin-starred restaurants or look out for whales, there’s an island to suit.
Best for walking and trail running: Madeira
Madeira is a volcanic island of toothed peaks, thick jungle and black-sand beaches, and recently its wild vistas have started drawing in a younger, more adventurous crowd.
That’s partly thanks to Madeira Ocean Trails, a campaign created at the end of last year to promote active tourism on the island.
Later this month, Madeira will host the Madeira Island Ultra Trail, a trail-running competition that traverses the island, taking in some of its most beautiful, mountainous points as well as its sun-kissed shores.
For those with a less competitivestreak, Madeira’s trails and levadas (open canal systems dating back to the 16th century) also make for excellent hikes, walks and mountain bike rides.
Book it: Inntravel offers a seven-night self-guided Classic Madeira holiday walking the classic levadas from £815pp based on two sharing, including B&B accommodation, some meals, luggage, transportation and routes notes and maps. Available March 1 to October 31.
Best for stargazing: La Palma
The untouched island of La Palma signed the Declaration in Defence of the Night Sky in 2007. Ever since, it has been working to protect and improve its night skies, justifying its title as a Unesco Starlight Reserve and drawing in astro-tourism fans.
The Observatory of El Roque de Los Muchachos, or the “Balcony to the Stars”, is perched at an altitude of 2,420 metres. It has been named one of the three best observatories on earth and boasts the world’s largest optical telescope.
“Being above cloud level for more than 300 days a year enables visitors to experience incomparable astronomy as well as mesmerising views of the surrounding landscapes,” says Alicia Vanoostende, councillor for tourism of the Cabildo Insular de La Palma.
Local stargazing companies offer various authentic stargazing activities, from astronomical dinners under the stars to guided “Moon and Wine” nights.
Book it: Prestige Holidays offers seven nights staying at adults-only Hacienda de Abajo for £829pp, based on two sharing, including flights from Gatwick and transfers, departing May 15.
Best for whale watching: the Azores
This remote archipelago is one of the world’s largest whale and dolphin sanctuaries – more than 20 types of cetacean can be spotted here, equating to a third of the existing species.
Whale-watching boat trips have a high success rate thanks to specialised whale spotters who guide the boats from strategic locations, where whale-spotting stations remain for the period.
Whale and dolphin watching is possible year-round: blue whales can be easily spotted at the end of the winter, while sperm whales, sei whales and bearded whales are frequent in the summer.
Clients departing for the Azores from Manchester can now fly directly into Ponta Delgada, the capital of Sao Miguel, thanks to a new Ryanair summer route that launches in June.
Book it: Exodus offers an eight-day Whale & Dolphin Watching in the Azores trip, including accommodation and flights from London from £1,849pp.
Best for cuisine: Tenerife
Haute cuisine is thriving in Tenerife, which has five Michelin-starred restaurants peppered across it.
The island, which is the largest in the Canaries and the only one to offer Michelin-starred dining, bagged a sixth star for Restaurante Nub in La Laguna last November, which fuses Italian, Chilean and traditional Canarian flavours.
Carlos Alonso, president of the island council of Tenerife, says: “Our cuisine had reached unimaginable levels only a few years ago. In recent times, the progress we have experienced has been enormous for the island, and the proof is the fact that our gastronomy has been awarded a sixth Michelin star.”
Clients staying at the upscale Ritz-Carlton Abama have a choice of 10 restaurants, including two Michelin- starred MB, the signature restaurant of Basque chef Martin Berasategui; and one Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant, Kabuki.
Book it: Carrier offers a seven-night holiday staying at the Ritz-Carlton Abama for £5,590 per family of four, including flights, transfers and B&B accommodation. Price is based on travel between August 25 and October 19.
Best for luxury: Lanzarote
Once known for its affordable package holidays, Lanzarote has started to draw in a discerning crowd. In 2015, along with Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria and Tenerife, the island created a restriction on constructing new hotels, prioritising those that are four-star and above.
“Hotels such as Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort, Hotel Volcan Lanzarote and Seaside Los Jameos Playa are good upscale options, all located on the south of the island,” says Gary Boyer, head of purchasing and product at Classic Collection.
The Princesa Yaiza is situated in Playa Blanca, and the mainly suite hotel is ideal for couples thanks to its adults-only areas, while families are also well catered for, with kids offered complimentary entry into Kikoland, the children’s entertainment programme.
Book it: Sovereign Luxury Travel has a seven-night holiday staying at the Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort on a B&B basis, from £4,129 per family of four. The holiday includes flights, transfers, security fast track and lounge passes. Price is based on departures in April and May.
Best for nature: La Gomera
La Gomera is the second smallest of the Canary Islands, but it packs a mighty punch when it comes to nature.
“La Gomera concentrates the highest biodiversity in Europe and is home to the last surviving laurel reserve in the world,” says Maria Isabel Mendez, minister of tourism of the Cabildo de La Gomera.
The jewel in the crown is Garajonay national park, a Unesco World Heritage Site teeming with wildlife, plant life and hiking trails.
Gomerans are so proud of their home – which is only accessible by ferry – that they limit the number of boat trips to protect sea life, which includes permanent whale and dolphin colonies.
“As for our skies, in La Gomera you get a front-row seat for nature’s best birdwatching, including unique birds such as the Laurel pigeon and the protected Bolle’s pigeon,” adds Mendez.
Book it: Saga Holidays offers a 14-day Canary Island Hopping trip, including five nights on La Gomera and a trip to Garajonay national park from £1,549pp, based on two sharing and including flights.
Best for beaches: Fuerteventura
With more than 150 beaches, Fuerteventura’s unspoilt sandy coves and bays aren’t just the best in the Canary Islands – some have been named the best in the world and awarded national park status.
The beaches offer something for everyone, from the Sahara Desert- like dunes at Corralejo Dunes Natural Park to Esmeralda’s white-sand haven.
If lazing on the sand sounds too laidback, the beaches offer ideal conditions for water sports. Joanne Walton, Tui destination manager for Fuerteventura, recommends timing a visit with the annual Windsurfing & Kiteboarding World Cup, taking place at the end of July.
Book it: Tui offers a seven-night holiday staying at the all-inclusive Hotel Club Jandia Princess from £711pp based on two sharing. Price includes flights and transfers, based on May 12 departure.