Three hours into the flight and the sun started to set in the west.

The cloud carpet below - all white and fluffy moments before, set against the flawless blue sky - morphed through the spectrum turning pink, orange, lilac and then purple, the blue sky now going through a similar metamorphosis, with a tangerine and lemon horizon beckoning the majestic sun to rest.

The final hour of the four-hour journey could have dragged, but the nature show outside entertained and inspired more than any in-flight movie could, with the evening sun eventually disappearing to coincide with the pilot's descent to land at Arrecife Airport, ahead of the short transfer to Puerto del Carmen on the east coast of the volcanic Canary island of Lanzarote.

Puerto del Carmen is only a stone's throw from the airport – the transfer time is only about 15 minutes. And the resort sprawls from Matagorda to the Old Town centre and marina.

The Playa Grande strand dominates the resort and, while not likely to make the world's most beautiful beach list – that brown volcanic sand is not so pretty – it serves its purpose, with the vast ocean rolling in offering plenty of space to sunbathe and swim.

Just beyond, the town centre looks out over the Atlantic, with several quaint streets and buildings maintaining the old world feeling, while a plethora of decent dining options bend around the coast, offering great panoramic views to its patrons. Open-air bars are plentiful, and a community feel abounds when compared to the strip, with locals playing pétanque in the square, oblivious to the throngs of tourists wandering through.

Certain parts of the old town, however, have been sanitised of authenticity, with trashy bars and fast food outlets catering for the masses. Irish bars are the chief culprits here, although some of the names can induce a smile – Father Ted's Bar, The Parochial House, just needed a Mrs Doyle-style rep outside saying 'Go on, go on, go on... you'll have a pint'.

Compared to the other islands of Gran Canaria, Tenerife or Fuerteventura, Lanzarote would appear to attract a more mature clientele – in age but not necessarily antics.

It does, however, remain a lively resort and is extremely family friendly, with endless non-drink-related entertainment options from crazy golf to the indoor bowling alley.

And a holiday to these parts will generally include an excursion or two, whether a boat trip to neighbouring Fuerteventura or a tour around the unique volcanic landscape that sprawls across the island.

Holiday reps will, no doubt, have a list of activities planned and it generally includes a tour of the island. Likewise, several outlets around the town also offer a range of excursions.

Cultural Lanzarote
However, the best way to see the island is at your own leisure, and hiring a car can be just as economical as it allows you to make your own itinerary. Lanzarote's top tourist attraction is the volcano site located at the National Park de Timanfaya. The volcano erupted in 1730 and continued for six years, completely changing the landscape of the island.

Once you turn off the road into the national park, the scenery gets ever more dramatic as you start to get closer to the viewing point. The rugged volcanic rock sits menacingly on either side of the freshly laid road. And the slopes of the adjacent mountain range remain a lifeless brown – the lava creating a smooth finish and taking everything with it as it moved out all over the country.

Once inside the park the road rises and twists and turns around the range and up to the car park complete with souvenir shop and restaurant. A coach takes you from here on a spin closer to the still-smouldering volcano. The guides will generally include a few fire and water tricks to show the power of the volcano that remains.

Leaving the national park and heading out the coast, the small town of El Golfo is home to another of the island's most visited sites. The volcanic eruptions created a natural amphitheatre along the coast, with a weird but wonderful green lagoon taking centre stage.

In fact, the entire island of Lanzarote has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and many other cultural sites are worth visiting throughout the island including the Cactus Garden, the Mirador del Rio and some amazing architectural exhibitions created by Cesar Manrique. www.centrosturisticos.com

Eating Out in Puerto del Carmen
Avenue de las Playas runs the length of Puerto del Carmen and is primarily populated with restaurants and bars, getting better in standard, it would appear, the closer you get to the town centre.

With so many dining options located along the strip, picking a decent restaurant can often be a lottery for the first night or two on a resort holiday. Pinocchio's was one such random pick on my first night, based on the fact that there was a large crowd already dining in what appeared a compact but cosy establishment. The menu was Italian and the friendly service proved a nice introduction to the resort, but the most impressive feature was the price – it was no wonder that the place was packed every night.

Cantina Don Rafael (main picture) is a quality Mexican restaurant, where a fun night out is guaranteed - Mariachi musicians, sombrero hats and quality food served amidst a kaleidoscope of colour as the walls are adorned with every shape and size of religious paraphernalia.

The Old Town boasts the finest eateries, with some excellent fish restaurants overlooking the bay. However, the best was kept for the final night as I followed a recommendation to pay a visit to Bodega, which serves both a tapas and a la carte menu. Deceptively small from the exterior, the restaurant was full of locals with a fair smattering of tourists with knowing and satisfied looks on their faces.

Nightlife
Descending the stairs expecting nothing, I was greeted at Mulligan's Bar by quality music and a packed basement lounge. Resident band The Usual Suspects were going through their set, from U2 to Radiohead, the Zutons to a flawless Bruce Springsteen classic, The River, while Eric Clapton's version of I Shot the Sheriff allowed the band to show off their talents, that were, to be honest, wasted down Lanzarote way. The Bodhrán Bar around the corner was small but packed every night with live music keeping the crowd entertained, while in the Old Town, the Rare Auld Times and the Irish Times are two of the better Irish bars to be enjoyed. Back on the strip, Ruta 66 is one of many disco bars keeping the resort lively until the early hours.

Golf in Lanzarote
The island boasts two excellent golf courses, Lanzarote Golf Resort, close to Puerto Del Carmen and Costa Teguise, located close to Arrecife. www.lanzarotegolfresort.com, www.lanzarote-golf.com.

Accommodation in Puerto del Carmen
I stayed at the very family friendly Cinco Plazas apartments, located less than a five-minute walk from the beach and very central to the evening entertainment areas. The complex could not be faulted with an on-site supermarket, three swimming pools and lots of organised activities and entertainment. With the beach on your doorstep and a costal promenade ideal for walking or cycling, which runs the length of the resort, the Cinco Plazas' location could not be better – although the walk back up the hill after a long day on the beach – or night on the tiles – can prove a little tiring.

Getting to Lanzarote
Falcon Holidays offers package holidays to Puerto Del Carmen. Seven nights at the Cinco Plazas are available from €440pp, while 14-night offers can be booked for approximately €610pp. Prices include flights, accommodation and airport transfers. www.falconholidays.ie.

For more information about Lanzarote, visit: www.turismolanzarote.com.

Ed Leahy


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