Going abroad and embracing the sun seems like the ideal holiday at this time of year, but what about when you are trying to have a month of no alcohol. Can the two be mixed? I ventured to Gran Canaria to see if the scenic landscapes, rich cuisine and lovely locals could make my holiday fun without a glass of vino. Surely an intensive wellness and meditation retreat isn’t the only way to enjoy yourself abroad whilst sober and healthy. There’s only one way to find out..
January is the time of resolutions, fad diets and trying (but mostly failing) to remain sober. As much as I love Jersey winter, with its bi-polar weather conditions making everyday a catwalk consisting of having a minimum of three dress changes daily due to its changes in forecast, I decided this winter I would venture to hotter regions. I’d jumped on the dry January bandwagon so needed a companion who could keep me on the straight and narrow. I took my Mum and despite Gran Canarias’s reputation as a notorious party island, this was the best place for an alcohol free holiday. Naively, I was convinced I could do it and enjoy myself all the while.
Amadores was the perfect location, 15 minutes from Puerto Rico, where the flight to Gatwick from Jersey nearly cost the same as the whole holiday. We then flew into Gran Canaria and jumped on to the coach to Gloria Palace Royal Hotel. With the beach idyllically visible from our infinity pool. Every night consisted of an all inclusive buffet and they even served Prosecco at breakfast! Happily we choose the full board option and it was a good thing I hadn’t set new year resolutions to lose any weight! The kitchen had a different theme each night, and my plate was never empty so neither was my stomach. Whilst my mum enjoyed her glass of rosé, grapefruit juice was my drink of choice. At first I felt I was missing out, but the mornings free of hangovers and full of swimming and yoga made it more than worthwhile. And, of course, you don’t need alcohol to enjoy the charms of our very welcoming Spanish waiters! The night entertainment consisted of Flamenco dancing and acrobatics, and, even without the aid of alcohol, I gladly joined in on more than one occasion.
Sunbathing was obviously the natural thing to do and the sun did not disappoint with the temperature topping 25 degrees. It was tempting to stay by the pool and sunbathe at our hotel but my search for flavoursome, non-alcoholic beverages and cuisine led me around the corner to the Volcanic Mountains and the exquisite fishing village of Puerto de Mogan, otherwise known as Little Venice! This name originates from all the bridges and canals running through the village. In the Puerto de Mogan fishing village, we dodged our way through the Market stalls, avoiding all the ‘Special Prices just for you señorita’ of clothes I’m sure were worth a third of their proposed selling price, until we reached the bridge guiding us towards the harbour. The sun appeared to shine brighter on the white buildings romantically dressed in bougainvillea flowers and down the lovely cobbled streets with flowers of purple, orange and pink. I felt entranced by the arches overhead, ornately decorated with highly contrasting black twisted metal railings, this village definitely resembled that of a fairy-tale. Rafael Neville’s glorious skill for architecture is vastly apparent here and it’s no surprise that this harbour has been labelled the ‘prettiest in the Canaries and possibly Spain.’ After Neville moved to Mogan in the mid 60s, his dream of creating this masterpiece bloomed into reality in the 1980s and took approximately 5 years to complete. The white walls, studded with cafes, glistened in the sun and I had to stop and breathe in the bliss that was radiating.
All this exploring meant we needed a quick café stop and we found the perfect one for the occasion, walking along the harbour front admiring the yachts and various cruisers. In true European style we sat just across the pavement from this impressive scenery where we could relax and enjoy a coffee at the same time as getting an even sun tan; a necessary skill when travelling abroad, I believe. Casito Mediterraneo ticked all the boxes and I highly recommend their crème brûlée, with its ‘secret ingredients’!
As appealing as it was to spend the entire holiday in the sunny south of the island, my mum booked us on a round-the-island tour where we could visit the North, having being informed by the locals it was ‘like a completely different continent to the South’, bearing in mind the Island is only 1,560 square km. Upon entering the Gothic church of San Juan Bautista, I could almost taste the paella as I felt transported to the north-east coast of Spain. The church was constructed in blue stone, imported from Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and construction took over 68 years! The church was completed and opened to the public in 1977 and is known as The Arucas Cathedral.
Embarking further into the trip and ascending higher past many sheer drops along the volcanic mountains, I felt safe in the hands of our comforting tour guide who assured us that ‘If you’re nervous of the height, just close your eyes – the same as the driver does!’ The climate started to change, and we were transported to the Arehucas Rum Distillery, much to the delight of my mother, and with Rum being my favourite liquor this was going to prove the main mission of the holiday. Mission accepted, I entered with an open mind and ready to just learn about how rum was produced, relish the aromas and leave empty handed.
To create rum in Gran Canaria the sugar cane farmers use no fertilisers on their fields, ensuring ecological farming. All the plant is used and none is sent to waste, as the leaves are fed to animals. The canes are hand cut, so as not to destroy the roots; a remarkable four harvests are gained per sugar cane!
The whole holiday had been dry heat, this was the first day it rained. The end of dry January. As we came to the end of the distillery tour I came to the end of my dry January too. Mission aborted, I sampled some of the finest honey rum I have ever tasted. I regret nothing. This was the last day of our holiday so, later in the evening, not wanting to overdo it, we took advantage of free Jägermeister shots from our lovely Spanish waitress at Agui Pizza parlour. Jägermeister is an alcoholic drink made of ginger, juniper berries, ginseng and citrus peel to name but a few of the ingredients. This surely makes it the healthier liquor choice? I ended the holiday feeling a little less sober but a little more salubrious. After all, it is indeed all about a healthy balance.
When I (with a bit of luck) return to Gran Canaria next year I will either stay in the same area, at playa Amadores, or in Mogan. The staff at Gloria Palace were very attentive to our every need. The unemployment rate in Gran Canaria is over 20% and hospitality is the number one line of work, with five million tourists visiting the Island last year alone. Their appreciation of their work really came through with their high quality customer service and it was hard not to want to tip every waiter I came across. With the vast selection of holiday accommodation in this area, next time I might choose one of the nearby apartments that you can rent for the length of your holiday. They don’t have the all inclusive options, but being located at the beach side and with a variety of restaurants close by, the independence of getting your own meals will be a highlight of the holiday. The ‘Holiday Club’ offers a wide variety of such apartments suitable for families, couples and solo travellers and visiting during the quieter winter month of January also came with the benefits of less crowded beaches and a guaranteed table at your favourite restaurant, making this, in my opinion, the best time to visit Gran Canaria!