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There is another side to Lanzarote that is a world away from the beered-up, hen-partied Lanzagrotty image unfortunately welded to this stunning volcanic lump of rock.
Head north from the capital Arrecife, away from the Costas and you enter a world of sugarcube villages and arid moonscape farmlands chessboarded by black gritty fields, pockmarked by the cones of long-dead volcanoes.
This is the ‘real’ Lanzarote, a place of dry beauty that has become a winter playground for sports enthusiasts.
Paragliders and hang gliders, surfers and cyclists all make the pilgrimage south to indulge their sport and grab a bit of winter Vitamin D.
John Welch has been running paragliding trips to Lanzarote for the past two decades with his Dorset-based flying school Flight Culture.
As well as flying the island’s best sites, John and his team know the island intimately and offer the best alternative entertainment on non-flyable days, from go-karting to caving, swimming, cliff walking and visits to Lanzarote’s cultural sites.
The flying is suitable for those with a basic knowledge as well as more experienced pilots looking to push themselves and their gliders.
The island works on micro-climates that swirl and eddy over and around the cliffs, so when not flying you can expect to be driving fast along dusty desert tracks, chasing the breeze.
Thanks to our abysmal English summers I hadn’t flown for the best part of two years, but with the winds fair and the sun shining on Lanza there was no excuse.
Our first site was Mala, where the air is maritime and smooth and the take-off area affords spectacular views over the village of Arrieta to the Cerulean sea beyond.
The best flying came on my final day. It began hesitantly, the capricious wind initially either too weak, too strong or in the wrong direction at the sites we visited, so we ended up on a beach at Caleta, tucked under the looming shoulder of the imposing Famara Ridge, which is every pilot’s dream site.
As we sweated through glider handling on the sand in the baking sun under a cloudless blue sky, a text pinged through from home: “Lots of snow, school closed.”
Famara remained unflyable that day, so we headed inland to El Cuchilla, an imposing inland thermic cauldron that is wonderful for landing beneath but a bit of a trickster when it comes to landing back on top. It also contains a peak nicknamed Cape Canaveral for its tendancy to get you very high, very fast.
My first flight was a textbook ‘top to bottom’, but the second was the stuff of dreams. As I hugged the ridge, scooted alongside Cape Canaveral and, exhilarated, flew back over the take-off, hundreds of feet in the air, Johnny and our cars looked impossibly tiny.
The clouds were gathering as we came into land and it was dark and chilly by the time we packed up and headed back into Caletta for tapas and beers followed by industrial-sized gins at the Bar la Cueva in the village of Lagomar.
Sitting on a delayed flight the next morning, nursing an aching head, I looked back at the past week and what I’d learned: that with the correct teaching and conditions, paragliding is the most magical and liberating of activities and that Lanzarote really is an island for all seasons.