Around the World – Lanzarote (part 3)

Many of the must-see attractions on Lanzarote are connected to a local artist, César Manrique.

This year is the 100th anniversary of César Manrique’s birthday, which is celebrated on the island with many (additional) exhibits and events. He was a local sculptor, architect, and activist, and his influences can be found all over Lanzarote and the other Canary Islands. One of his last works – he died in a car accident in 1992 – was the design of the Canarian Pavilion of the World Expo that was held in Sevilla that year.

His influence is apparent in various buildings, logos, sculptures, and various “wind toys” he designed.

But also in the overall landscape of the island as Manrique lobbied fiercely for planning regulations that encourage the sustainable development of the tourism industry in Lanzarote. The César Manrique foundation continues his work, and the lack of high rise concrete hotels on the island is indeed refreshing. Those that are there are generally sticking to the use of traditional white and green colors in their exterior decoration to still blend in.

Blending into the landscape is definitely a key feature throughout the works of Manrique, resulting in several CACTs: Centres for Art, Culture, and Tourism. We visited several of them.

  • The Jardín de Cactus near Guatiza (the region with extensive plantations of prickly pear cactus) in the north-east of Lanzarote is a garden with over 1,100 different varieties of cactuses (and pseudo cactuses I learned) from all over the world. Built as a multi-tiered amphitheater, it is an impressive and peaceful site to visit.
  • The Los Jameos del Agua and Cueva de Los Verdes attractions can be found about 10 kilometers further north on the LZ-1, close to the town of Arrieta. Caused by eruptions of the Corona volcano, both are part of a 6-kilometer /4-mile structure of underground/underwater volcanic tunnels that lead into the sea. The tunnels are the longest in the world, and along the way, there are at least 16 lava caves (jameos). Los Jameos del Agua is located closest to the coast and has an interior lake which is fed by the sea and hosts a unique species of crustacean. The site is also used as a concert hall.
  • Mirador del Rio is a viewpoint on the northwestern coast of Lanzarote – a couple of kilometers north from the village Yé. It was constructed – almost concealed – on the Risco de Famara plateau at approx. 475m / 1.550ft altitude. Therefore, with clear skies, the viewing decks and a restaurant/bar have a pretty amazing panoramic vista of the Chinijo Archipelago National Park, mainly the neighboring island of Graciosa and the salt mining at sea level. Visibility can change dramatically and very quickly, as clouds will be blown “up” the mountain; my pictures were taken in just 1 minute. If the weather isn’t that good, a reduced entrance fee applies, though.
  • The César Manrique Foundation is based at his former home in Teguise and also operates the museum in Manrique’s townhouse in Haría. The Foundation provides access to both the ingeniously constructed home and the gallery featuring art by Manrique himself as well as his personal collection that includes originals by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. 

Manrique’s home was built in a huge lava field in 1966. fullsizeoutput_51c8The rooms on the first floor, including his studios, were created with the intention of respect with Lanzarote traditions, yet making them more modern with open spaces and large windows. The “blending in with the landscape” has been taken to the extreme here 😉

The literal “ground floor” is very interesting as it contains areas created by boring through the basalt and connecting 5 volcanic bubbles. Besides another studio, it houses several recreational areas, including a swimming pool, a barbecue pit, and a small dance floor.

  • LagOmar is another project incorporating natural lava caves was a villa in Nazaret (we stayed pretty much next door). Built in the face of a volcanic quarry, it results in a natural labyrinth of pathways and lava caves that are used for rooms or entertainment areas. Originally the house was conceived by César Manrique and designed by the local artist Jesús Soto for the British developer Sam Benady who was involved in the construction. In 1989 two architects from Germany and Uruguay bought the house and initiated the last phase of development of the lower sections of the complex, also relying on local artists. It now functions as a museum, restaurant, bar, and art gallery. As always, the grounds and garden are stunning too. 

The name of the complex LagOmar stems from the fact that the legendary Omar Sharif bought the villa in 1973 when he was shooting the movie Mysterious Island. After his hits from the 60s like Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago, this was definitely one of his lesser efforts.

“I lost money on gambling, buying horses, things like that,” he later said. “So I made those movies which I knew were rubbish… I’d call my agent and tell him to accept any part, just to bail myself out.” – Omar Sharif

Legend has it that Omar Sharif only owned the house for a couple of days as he lost it Sam Benady in a very high-stakes game of bridge. The latter knew about Sharif’s gambling reputation, but the fact that Benady was a European Bridge champion was unknown to Sharif… I don’t know if the story is actually true, but you can easily imagine that he fell in love with the house.

  • The final place we visited was the Museo Internacional de Arte Contemporáneo (MIAC) in Arrecife, which is located in Castillo de San José, an ancient military fortress. The contemporary art museum opened in 1975, and Marique was responsible for the design of the restaurant enclosed under the fort.

The museum was a lot smaller than expected but had some nice works on display. However, the restaurant is stunning with its panoramic view of the local harbor, opulent use of varnished wood, the long mirrored bar, and whitewashed walls. Some of the reviews I read likened it to the lair of a 1970s James Bond villain, and that does have a ring to it. We were in luck for being able to enjoy a great lunch there as the majority of the area was reserved for a wedding reception. Fun to observe, but the downside was that I wasn’t really able to shoot some more pics of the beautiful restaurant.

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