Christmas doesn’t have to be white (or even grey). In 2015, I swapped the turkey for another, sunnier breed of bird: a Canary Island called Fuerteventura. If it is winter warmth you seek, on the Canary Islands you shall find it. Tucked off the coast of Morocco, Fuerteventura doesn’t really do winter. Even in deepest December, temperatures flirt with the low-to-mid twenties, and the sky stays stays a blissed-out shade of blue. This attracts, unsurprisingly, no few holiday makers: escapees from the numbing gloom and desperate damp of the UK. What, after all, makes Brits feel merrier: Christmas and chilblains, or flip-flops and factor 40?
Flying in the week before Christmas, I visited Corralejo – a resort perched on Fuerteventura’s north-eastern shoulder. In its past life, Corralejo was an unassuming fishing village, before the tourists – lured by wandering sand dunes and golden, foam-lapped beaches – came calling in the 1970s. In their wake sprouted bars and bodegas, hotels and apartment blocks, restaurants and cafés, souvenir shops and bike hire outlets. All of which can be spotted along the rather tired-looking main strip, but go wandering and there’s plenty a characterful corner to be discovered – a drowsy town square here, a romantic marina there. The old tourist information centre is lonely and boarded up, and there’s the odd ghost hotel along the front – abandoned developments doomed for the wrecking ball – but for the most part Corralejo has a quiet air of purpose and activity. It hums.
It howls too. Fuerteventura translates roughly as ‘strong winds,’ and in Corralejo they blow uncommonly hard. Hard enough, anyway, to tousle your hair and imperil your beach towel, and in the midday sun it can even feel a little chilly. You won’t need to hole yourself up in the nearest storm cellar, but come dusk it’s a good idea to bundle up against the wind’s bitter bite. As for the daytime, that’s where the sand dunes come in. Nature in her wisdom has placed scores of them to Corralejo’s south, and in a pinch they’ll do you very well as shelters from the gale. Assuming, of course, you haven’t donned your board shorts and met the wind head on: Corralejo’s crashing, foam-crested waves make it a surfer’s mecca, even if, admittedly, the December sea gets chillier than a whale’s backside. Only enthusiast-grade swimmers should consider wading in without a wetsuit.
Not being surfing sorts, it wasn’t long before my girlfriend and I looked for amusements elsewhere. An excursion maybe, a boat trip perhaps? The worm of wanderlust stirring in our breasts, we visited the (non-boarded-up) tourist information centre to sift the options. As it turned out, there were no lack of available excursions, and those seeking boat trips weren’t unprovided for either. But in truth, we were after something a little more off-piste. To escape the throngs, to step off the map, to venture where the air was pure and the sky stretched huge overheard. ‘I’ve just the thing for you,’ enthused the attendant. ‘Volcano walking.’ We became enthused too. Seeking and receiving assurances that the volcano in question was long dormant, we duly signed up.
Volcano walking, curiously, isn’t the most popular tourist pastime in Fuerteventura. On the wind-worried Monday morning of our trip, other than my girlfriend and me, there was no one in attendance. But no matter: weren’t we here to get away from the crowds? And anyway, we weren’t completely alone. Accompanying us on our upward climb was Fred, a Sherpa-style guide, who, when he wasn’t bounding like a mountain goat over the rocky outcrops and treacherous scree, was delivering botanical and geological asides with effortless erudition of a university don. In a couple of senses, we couldn’t keep up with him.
Armed with an aluminium walking pole (the volcano walker’s best friend), and being eyed warily by the resident goats, we pursued Fred to the top. Several times we stopped for selfies. More than once I fell over. But the payoff when we finally crested the summit made the bruises – and all the unflattering snaps – worth it. Spread like a carpet at our feet, Fuerteventura looked magnificent, all looming volcanoes, ancient dry-stone walls and undulating sand dunes lit golden by the December sun. Wiping our toiling brows, we couldn’t help but exclaim at the strange, jagged beauty of it all. (At least I think we did; obviously, nothing that was said could be heard above the wind.)
Thankfully, the wind didn’t blow all the time. It took some very welcome time off during our second excursion, a meal-and-stargazing evening some few days later. And for once, we weren’t the only attendees. A convoy of people carriers was needed to ferry everyone around: first to a restaurant for the meal (very nice, thank you), and then, for the stargazing, to an undisclosed location down a bumpy, dusty track in the Fuerteventura outback. Light pollution is low in the Canaries at the best of times, and in a setting this secluded, the darkness was rich and velvety. All the better to gaze into the inky vacuum of the cosmos, which we did through a telescope while listening to our astronomer-cum-guide drop nuggets of wisdom on quasars, dying suns and black holes. Very educational, but I must say it’s difficult to stay interested in heavenly bodies when your very own is so perishingly cold. The organisers had given us blankets in which to snug ourselves, but they weren’t nearly thermal enough to ward off the considerable late-night chill.
But of course it was chilly: Christmas was coming. And on the final full day of our week away, it arrived. Not that you’d have noticed in Corralejo, where nothing resembling lights, tinsel or Noddy Holder could be seen or heard, and everything was open for business. So, rather than spending Christmas afternoon gastronomically paralysed before the TV watching the Queen’s speech, I spent it in an Italian café sipping a chillaxed hot chocolate, lackadaisically watching locals criss-cross a sunny town square. It was, it seemed to me, Christmas as it should be spent: all relaxation, no hoopla. Which serves as a pretty accurate description of Fuerteventura itself. If you want to put the holiday in season, a Christmas in Corralejo has much to recommend it.