Arrecife: a 4-kilometre seaside walk past islets and two castles
It was a port long before it was a city – in the 15th century it was already famous for being the safest in the Canary Islands, because the bay of Arrecife is a beautiful set of islets and reefs that make a safe anchorage. Capital of the island since 1847, more than 520,000 cruise passengers visited this city of water and rock last year.
The route begins at Playa del Reducto, an urban beach with Blue Flag status that is best visited at high tide or at half tide if you want to avoid finding a sea of stones, many of them basalt, remains of the eruption of the Maneje volcano. The clarity of its depths surprises. Seen from the top floor of the Arrecife Gran Hotel & Spa, the view is a turquoise, light blue and marine watercolour. Arrecife’s marina is a breeding ground for life.
Through a diving mask you will see salemas, white seabream, and grey mullet very near the shore, which a quick glance to the Red Promar species guide will help you identify. Another option for checking out the water is to practice paddle boarding for a while along the coast.
Continue walking by the sea until you arrive at the former Parador de Turismo de Lanzarote, today the headquarters of the UNED, a building of Neo-Canarian style dating to 1951. This is where the ‘Rabo del Ciclón’ Radio-controlled Boat Model Club gets its small boats ready to use. You have to enter the building to contemplate the murals that Manrique painted for the first travellers who arrived on the island: Allegory of the Island, The Wind, Fishing and the Grape Harvest. They say a lot about the character of Lanzarote and its climate.
From here, you can already see the Castillo de San Gabriel, a squat, stone fortress with several cannons, built to deter pirate attacks. The bridge of Las Bolas connects the mainland with the islet of San Gabriel. This is one of the most oxygenating walks in the city and a magnificent spot for sighting coastal water birds. A few metres ahead, a bridge ends in the Charco de San Ginés, a marine lagoon dotted with fishing boats.
This is Arrecife’s seafaring heart and where the first fishermen’s huts were established, giving rise to the city. This is also where César Manrique was born, the artist who changed the landscape and the self-esteem of the island forever. Today this is an area where you can sample some of the best food the city has to offer. It is essential to locate the Callejón del Aguaresío, the jewel of the historical centre: three low whitewashed houses, tucked into the shade which care for a beautiful tropical garden of succulent plants.
A visit to the Lanzarote Marina is worthwhile just to see the boats at anchor. Last year it hosted the start of the Panerai Transat Classique, the only classic boat race in the world. There are also various gastronomic options, a gymnasium with sea views and nightlife venues.
Here the Escuela de Pesca (Fishing School) will not escape the notice of lovers of architecture. It was designed by Laorga and Zanón, architects who were also responsible for the nautical schools in Cádiz, Bilbao and Alicante. It was inaugurated in 1966. Built of reinforced concrete, it looks like a defensive bunker but is a modern and functional delight. If you continue through Puerto Naos, you can visit El Camarote de Nao, a local craft brewery and the monument to the seven Lanzarote sailors of the Cruz del Mar who died in 1978 when their ship was attacked.
After walking through the area of the old fish canneries, where today the Fishermen’s Guild and the tuna fleet of Puerto Naos still operate, you will arrive at the MIAC – Castillo de San José, built in the 18th century as a lookout for enemy ships and as a defensive location. In 1976, Manrique suggested turning it into a museum. It was inaugurated with pieces by Picasso, Chagall, Bacon, Giacometti and Moore. Almost nothing. Today its permanent collection includes works by Manrique’s contemporaries, such as Tapies, Chillida and Canogar, and by the most important Canarian artists of the 20th century.
The CIC Almacén is the epicentre of Arrecife’s cultural life and its founding marked a before and after moment in the cultural life of the island. Inaugurated in the 1970s, in an old 19th century mansion, it was a self-managed cultural laboratory through which Rafael Albertí and Brian Eno passed, among others. Today it is a public cultural centre with an art gallery, cinema and restaurant.
The Casa Agustín de la Hoz, formerly a casino, houses the first murals that Manrique painted in his career, while he was still a student at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando. The Casa Amarilla, in Calle Real – Arrecife’s main commercial street – is also a must-see place to learn more about the history of the island.
When should you visit the city? Every season has its charm. In September and October, the Festival Arrecife en Vivo turns its streets into a live music circuit, which has been chosen as the Best Medium Sized Festival in Spain at the Iberian Festival Awards. The Festival Internacional de Cine de Lanzarote, the Muestra de Cine de Lanzarote and the Encuentro de Artes Visuales Veintinueve Trece are also based in this port city.