Tuesday 6 February 2018
The Gran Canaria Travel Diaries: The northern tour of Cenobio de Valeron and Firgas
Our last day was spent driving to the north via the western circumnavigation route GC-200. It is a stunning drive, particularly the upper north west section which hugs the coastline. Vertical cliffs pounded by the big Atlantic storm waves. Breath taking.
The road between Mogan and La Aldea de San Nicholas is a Top Gear type of drive. The road loops and twists and clings to steep mountain sides. Astonishing views across great valleys and mountain ridges; occasional glimpses down ravines to the wild Atlantic. Small mountain communities of white washed houses with flat roofs. There is a point along this road where you transition from the dusty lava flows and barren landscape of the southern island to one of verdant green lush vegetation. Hillslopes are covered in a variety of shrubs. Moss grows on rocky outcrops and rocks glisten from moisture that seeps outwards from the soil layer. This island is definitely one of two climates. Nowhere is this more evident that around La Aldea. The hillsides and gently flattening or terraced spurs of land that extend down from the great mountain ranges are covered with banana plantations. No ordinary plantations are these for they are covered. Across hill slopes, hundreds of acres of white, semi translucent plastic sheeting spread forth as large squares or rectangles; the plastic sheeting supported on mesh netting strung across large steel frames and thin girders. The sides of these covered areas are vertical, the shapes square, straight, symmetrical. Through the odd tear, glimpses of nurseries and fully-grown bananas. It is an amazing area and well worth the hour drive from Mogan just to view this.
After such a twisty, inspiring but mentally draining drive, Playa de La Aldea was a welcome relief. Here a small L shaped stone breakwater protected a small fleet of open inshore fishing boats; a stony beach and a few cafes. On the beach were wooden platforms for sunbathing. A café was prettily decorated with painted fish and fishing nets. To one side a huge 12m square helicopter landing pad marked by a huge white H and a flagpole with a bright red and white stripped windsock. Behind it, a picnic area beneath dwarf palm trees, shady and protected from the strong northerly winds. Gran Canaria does municipal picnic sites really well. They are clean, well-cared for, landscaped. There are BBQ brick grills and ovens. They are popular and even in the winter season, there were several small camper vans and vans parked here overnight.
Shooting past Agaete on the GC-2, and old Galdar, we headed towards one of the principal archaeological sites on Gran Canaria, Cenobio de Valeron. In English it means Valeron’s Monastery. It is in fact a pre-hispanic collective granary built before Roman times and used until the conquest of the island by the Spanish in the 15th century. Over looking the San Felipe ravine with its huge GC2 motorway bridge, the caves are dug out of soft volcanic tuff and the steep sided slopes and location way back from the coast made it an easily defensible site. There are some 300 compartments on eight levels and it was, in its own way, quietly impressive. Each compartment was shut with a door made of wood and then sealed with an ash mortar to make the compartment weather proof. When they were excavated idols, paintings, ceramics, human bones and ash were found in some of the compartments. The views from the caves were impressive and it was a good little site to visit on the GC 291.
Firgas proved to be a delight. Winding up the GC-350, past hillside towns of brightly coloured houses, market garden terraces and banana plantations, the scenery was stunning. We love the local houses, especially those where owners had allowed many boulders to appear through the exterior paint. The older houses in the narrower streets had the traditional arched wooden framed windows opening onto ornate balconies with intricate iron work.
One of the really attractive features of Firgas is the one street called Paseo de Canarias. Here you find a 25m long waterfall cascade bordered by attractive flower beds. Alongside, running up the gradient are found beautiful porcelain tiled bench seats, one per district on Gran Canaria. Blues, yellows and whites, the seats incorporate wonderful tiled pictures of scenery from that particular district. Above each one is its associated heraldic shield.
Better still, is the street above with a similar cascade but with relief maps and hand painted tile pictures for each individual Canary island. It is simple, effective and very appealing. Throw in a lovely church, town square and small traditional corner bar and Firgas prove a lovely mid tour stopover, a really pleasant surprise.
The café con Leche was very tasty but nowhere near as tasty as the warm apple pie with thick caramel sauce and sweet vanilla ice cream; a small bar with its low ceiling, tiny windows, wooden ceiling beams and bar tables built on old wine barrels. We sat on wicker chairs out on the pedestrianised pavement area overlooking the waterfall cascade. Locals chatted away and through the open heavy oak wood door we studied the traditional bar interior. Across the road from us, the stylish Church of San Roque and its garden square. It was built in 1502 on the ruins of what was the first chapel. Within the square is a statute of one of the town’s saints, San Juan De Ortega. The views from the northern part of the square across the coastal cliffs and out to the Atlantic, are stunning. Behind us was the Casa de la Cultura, formerly a hotel and then a town hall, it now houses the library, an exhibition room and an events hall.
With a population of around 7000 and founded in 1488, the town with its views of the northern part of the island and its famed bottled water industry, was worth a detour.
And one last feature, an unusual statute of a stock man with a bull. Hidden in a garden between palms, shrubs and bamboo, the statute of Pedro Aleman Montesdeoca came as a surprise. Moreover, this livestock farmer is still alive, is a local legend and is in his 90’s. Somewhere in the town is a museum with a display of all his trophies. I think it’s a rather lovely story.