La Graciosa, the island to enjoy with bare feet
Kick off your flip flops. Sink your feet into the cool sand and enjoy the immediate effect: feel your shoulders relax, notice how your sense of smell is sharpened – sniff the saltpetre, seaweed and fresh fish scales. We wanted a different kind of Christmas and we’re in the perfect place. Do you want to come?
December. It’s snowing in the north of the Spanish Peninsula but on this small subtropical island, half an hour by ferry from Lanzarote, the sun is shining and the wind is rattling the dreamcatcher-like rigging of the boats anchored in the harbour.
We’ve rented a small apartment in Caleta del Sebo and a couple of bicycles to cycle around the island.
We’re not ruling out wearing a Santa Claus hat and singing Christmas carols along the way.
We’ve got our hands on a load of mantecados de canela at Molina de José María Gil and now we’re comparing truchas de batata, a Christmas sweet in the shape of a pasty, filled with a delicious mixture of sweet potato. One bite will bring you back to life.
The island is tiny, less than 30 km2, but it’s full of life everywhere.
In the afternoons, people come to the home of the La Graciosa residents, Pepín and Fina, to see their Nativity Scene, installed in one of the rooms of their house. It’s a very unique nativity scene, but it’s so beautiful and carefully made that it has become an event for the whole village, who go to visit it in the afternoons.
We are in a paradise of biodiversity, in a Marine Reserve that is teeming with life under the sea and on the surface.
Fishing is in the DNA of the islanders of La Graciosa. They are made of sea.
Their entertainment, their work, their dangers, their passions and their gastronomy all have their origin in the ocean. Here they still “jarear” (dry) the fish, hanging them on liñas (strings) like rags. They fish, dive, sail, dig for shellfish, always within the order and quantity established by the regulations, established to maintain the balance of the marine ecosystem.
On the recommendation of a good friend, our first Graciosera meal is a plate of limpets and a casserole of wreckfish with escaldón de goﬁo, all washed down with a bottle of wine with the Lanzarote Designation of Origin. The menu carries the cultural roots of the island: simplicity, good use, great flavours and a healthy, nutritional contribution. It tastes of the sea and the countryside. It’s like eating a little piece of the island.
We’re planning to stay for ten beautiful days, so we’re in no hurry. We linger over dinner while we cast an eye over the Christmas programme. We’d like to walk around the island as if we were the relatives of an islander. Actually, that’s how they make us feel. If a Graciosero detects the slightest hint of curiosity and respect for their territory, they will make you feel at home. They are incredible hosts.
Let’s get down to business: we’ve signed up for the Gaida Folklore Association’s performance (Saturday 18th), the charity flea market (Sunday 26th), the Three Kings’ parade and a workshop to learn how to make rosettes, a beautiful traditional craft that in the 1950s formed an entire industry. It is hypnotic to see how the needle and thread create geometries inspired by nature.
We have been warned never to leave the marked trails, because we might destroy nests of protected birds or trample some of the many endemic plants that only grow in this part of the world. Noted. We want to contemplate, not destroy. Preserving this heritage is the responsibility of all the people who come to enjoy it.
Today we went to Playa de las Conchas: a seven-kilometre bike ride, which was well worth the effort because it’s the most paradisiacal place we’ve ever set foot on. It’s easy to feel like you’re in another century and think that just around the corner of a volcano, you’ll spot the prow of one of those pirate ships that used to stop here to repair their ships and take on water.
With binoculars and time, you can see incredible birds here. Seven species of beautiful seabirds nest in La Graciosa: hawks, northern storm petrels, petrels, ospreys… Seeing them means understanding your place in the world.
We think about all this while booking a catamaran excursion that will allow us to see the island from the sea. We’re having a coffee, sitting facing the Risco de Famara, a 600-metre cliff on the opposite shore, in Lanzarote. It seems incredible to us that the women of La Graciosa used to climb up those tortuous paths, carrying baskets of fish on their heads to exchange them for other food.
Just like that, every day.
We’ve seen the photos in the exhibition La mirada artesana (The Artisan Gaze), in the Casa Amarilla (Arrecife), which brings together the incredible work of the photographer from Haría (Lanzarote), Javier Reyes.
It makes us laugh to think that there are people who say that La Graciosa can be seen in two days. We woke up thinking that a whole life wouldn’t be enough to enjoy all the stories, details and adventures that envelop this island, just to the north of another island, to the south of a pair of islets.
We’re off to locate a typical La Graciosa hat and do our Christmas shopping. We’ll be toasting this Christmas Eve with local broths and eating whatever they have on offer in the village.
Take care of yourselves and, if you have the opportunity, visit La Graciosa.
It’s a gift that you’ll carry with you all your life.