Explore the Canary Islands
The Canary Islands are to Europeans what Puerto Rico (and Vieques and Culebra) is to Americans, but the Spanish Archipelago is more than a German conga line thanks to the reinvención that is turning Lanzarote, the easternmost island, into an adventure destination. The 326-square-mile volcanic jewel, which bursts out of the Atlantic just 78 miles shy of Morocco and three hours from London, is suddenly attracting surf-chasing roadtrippers and road-racing surf swimmers.
Beyond the resorts surrounding the capital city of Arrecife, Lanzarote's modo de vida stick-shifts from package holiday to exotic retreat as the island's barren hills and bounteous farmland (think: aloe vera plantations) fold out. Winding upwards along the LZ-10 route, postcard white-washed hamlets like Teguise and Tabayesco are reached by dizzying drives winding up mountains and around hairpin turns. On the other side of the Ajache range, lies the island's lesser-known northern coast, where surfers tip-toe over jagged lava fields to catch the impressive reef breaks off Orzola and Famara beaches.
Timanfaya National Park is the island's main attraction volcano wise and its craters are filled with both native gallotia lizards and tour buses. Give it a miss and head to the Las Vegas de Tegoyo, a white-walled waystation in the middle of fields of flowers. A shortcut to the charming, church-centric town of Mancha Blanca on the blink-and-you'll-miss-it LZ-56 runs past several extinct volcanoes, all hemmed with spiralling balcony tracks, that absolutely beg to be hiked.
Surfing and hiking aside, tiny Lanzarote is also serious triathlon territory. Europe's most infamous ironman takes place on the island in May, so motorists can expect to mingle with pelotons thick with would-be contenders during the several-week build up. Join them if you can and then recover with some Canarian cuisine. The island’s bodegas and tapas bars proudly dish out papas arrugadas. These "wrinkly potatoes" are boiled in local sea salt and are best demolished with dollops of the traditional and picante mojo sauce. ¿Cómo se dice "carbo-loading?"
Whether in the saddle or the driver's seat, visitors to Lanzarote can't help but notice the abundance of curious sculpture installations by the side of the road. These are tribute to César Manrique, a local artist-cum-activist who also championed Lanzarote's strict development limits. He's the reason volcanos still outnumber high rises and the locals will never stop thanking him for saving their island. You won't either.
More information: There are lengthy and expensive ferry services to the Canaries from mainland Spain, but Lanzarote is perhaps best reached from mainland Europe via Arrecife airport. Low-fares airline Ryanair flies from London, Paris, and Madrid to the island from $70 return.