If you want sun, good food and culture then head to Gran Canaria

Las Canteras beach. (Credit: Tourist Board of Gran Canaria).
Las Canteras beach. (Credit: Tourist Board of Gran Canaria).
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We wanted guaranteed late May sun, but didn’t want to be based in a large, busy resort. Long days of buckets and spades are no longer on the agenda.

Empty-nesters though we are, we were still after a handy and gorgeous beach - but with museums, galleries, atmospheric streets and a wide variety of different cuisines close by.

bodyboarding is popular in the Canary Islands. (Credit: Tourist Board of Gran Canaria).

bodyboarding is popular in the Canary Islands. (Credit: Tourist Board of Gran Canaria).

And all this would preferably be on an island with interesting hinterland for days out by car. Cosmopolitan Las Palmas certainly ticked all the boxes.

The Panama hat was discarded soon after touch down, having realised pretty quickly that one of the things the guide books don’t mention is the strong and persistent Atlantic breezes that swirl around west-facing parts of the city.

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They’re more than welcome, though, especially if you’re doing lots of walking in daytime temperatures of a steady 27C to 30C.

Gran Canaria feature Sheena Hastings  Arucas - Casco Hist�rico (The Old Quarter of Arucas). (Credit: Grand Canaria Tourist Board).

Gran Canaria feature Sheena Hastings Arucas - Casco Hist�rico (The Old Quarter of Arucas). (Credit: Grand Canaria Tourist Board).

And walk we did, striking out from our base beside the pristine three kilometres-long Las Canteras beach.

Firstly we went in search of Christopher Columbus, fittingly hugging the sea wall and passing the harbour as we went.

Back in 1492, Genoese Columbus appealed to the great seafaring nation of Portugal to bankroll a voyage of exploration looking for a short-cut western route to India.

No luck there - they questioned his maths, apparently - but the Spanish Crown did give him the funds.

Setting out from Palos de la Frontera near Cádiz, his first stop for provisions before facing the vastness of the perilous high seas was Las Palmas, where he’s thought to have been entertained by the Governor in his mansion in the old quarter of the city.

That beautiful building now houses the Casa de Colón, a fascinating museum dedicated to Columbus, the island’s role in many voyages of discovery, and Spain’s crucial involvement in colonising the New World.

It charts how Columbus ‘bumped into’ the West Indies and the Americas thinking he was in India, because no-one on this side of the Pond actually realised that the massive land mass of America was there.

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Columbus died thinking he had discovered an outlying island of Japan.

Moving on through the atmospheric cobbled lanes of the historic hub, they were surprisingly light on visible tourist ‘tat’ and heaving crowds.

But they offered rich pickings in terms of historical buildings, museums and galleries, including the austere Cathedral of Santa Ana, the Museo Canario, numerous art galleries and the Science and Technology Museum.

The Museo Canario is worth at least a couple of hours, housing as it does thousands of artefacts and complete skeletons and mummies of the island’s pre-Hispanic Guanche people.

On a slightly grey day, we hired a car and took a winding road up into the mountains, rising quickly out of the coastal cloud and breeze to stillness, cicadas and beating sun in the beautiful village of Teror, famous for an apparition of the Virgin Mary in a pine tree.

The streets are pretty and the typical Canaria architecture including overhanging dark wood balconies - festooned in flowers is everywhere.

Our voyage of discovery took us further into the hills to the larger village of Gáldar, which was busily putting on its festive best for Día de Canarias celebrations.

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If you only have time to explore one of Gran Canaria’s Guanche sites, then the Cueva Pintada (Painted Cave) at Gáldar should be the one.

The cave dwellings seen here along with the mysterious red and brown painted triangular and square patterns etched into a wall, were discovered by an astonished farmer in the late 19th century and took 24 years to excavate before the immaculately curated site was opened to the public.

The Guanches were North African, probably Berber, tribes people who colonised the Canaries before the Spanish conquered the islands, possibly moving due to the desertification of the Sahara.

Back in Las Palmas, the locals enjoy two city beaches, one closer to the centre, and the three-kilometre Las Canteras beach, where we were based for the week. At one end were the surfers, joyfully riding waves into the sunset. At the other end, the sheltered city area where local families clustered by the smaller, gentle waves.

In between were most of the restaurants and hotels.

Getting There

Sheena Hastings flew from Leeds Bradford Airport to Gran Canaria with Jet2 Holidays and stayed at the Reina Isabel hotel on Playa de las Canteras.

Car rental is available from around £53 per day.

Favourite restaurants: Oliva for giant portions of tapas and speedy service; Pantalan for a fabulous seafood Sunday lunch with marina view; La Quilla for ace paella and Gran Terraza Lolita Pluma in Parque Catalina for incredibly tasty and good value set menu lunch, especially on the days when they rustle up an incomparable empanada de atún.