Having a ‘Gran’ time in the Canaries

One of the pools at Hotel Orqueida

As the days darken and temperatures turn savage, by far the best way to give yourself a lift is to start planning your next escape.

Whether seeking winter sunshine, or a summer break, a trip to Gran Canaria might just be the ticket as the island boasts eternal sunshine, a clutch of sights, vast Sahara-style dunes, beautiful beaches and an exciting amalgam of ancient and modern.

The Hotel Orqueida at night

For one blissful week earlier this year our family of four enjoyed fun in the sun on the gloriously quirky island, third largest of the Canary Islands after Tenerife and Fuerteventura, and roughly the same size as Greater London.

We were staying on an all-inclusive basis at the four-star Hotel Orqueida in the compact resort of Bahia Feliz, having booked a package through Thomson (recently rebranded Tui).

If a package holiday conjures up images of tacky chips-with-everything resorts and hardcore sun-seekers determinedly topping up their Peter Stringfellow type-tans, think again.

The Hotel Orqueida is part of Tui’s Family Life portfolio - a concept geared towards bringing every generation together. These hotels offer something for all the family - from Thea’s coffee for grown-ups, to BabyClubs for tots, kids’ clubs for three to 11s, and The Hangout for teens, as well as a plethora of activities and entertainment.

From what I experienced (and this is my second time staying in a Family Life resort), it’s a winning formula.

The flight from Belfast International Airport took around four and a half hours - Gran Canaria is, after all, only 130 miles from the coast of West Africa.

During the 20-minute drive from Gran Canaria airport to Bahia Felize, we were able to take in Gran Canaria’s idiosyncratic landscape: it is a brooding, dramatic desert-like place of crumbly, rain-starved brown fields, punctuated here and there with large wind turbines and flamboyant cacti.

First impressions of the Hotel Orqueida were excellent. Surrounded by large showy cacti and palm trees, the hotel is a salmon-pink edifice, with a vaguely Mexican feel, surrounded by toothpaste-white buildings which house shops, supermarkets, restaurants and bars.

The location is great, right beside a pebbly beach with black sand and warm ice-blue waves, with everything you need on your doorstep - whether that be a doctor, hairdresser, or an inflatable dolphin!

After our long journey, a welcoming glass of lovely bubbly and juice for our two children, was like manna from heaven.

Check-in was swift and friendly and we were soon whizzing up the lift to our room.

The Hotel Orqueida is a vast hotel. We were staying on the fifth floor. Our family room with views of the pools and tennis courts was spotlessly clean and well equipped, with plenty of space.

With a little fridge, clever storage, a safe and a balcony it was a perfect retreat from the scorching July heat. Each day we were amazed at how fastidiously it had been tidied by the chambermaids. Indeed throughout our stay the staff were on the ball and friendly - not always the case in a hotel of this size.

We arrived quite late on the first evening, but luckily still in time for dinner. The restaurant and adjoining terrace were buzzing with happy diners.

Indeed, the sheer bounteousness of the all-you-can eat buffet seemed to have sent some of our fellow residents doolally. Either that or they were having a competition to see who could come up with the most outlandish combination of meats, seafood, cheeses and desserts you can pile onto one plate.

But, of course, there was plenty to go around and oodles of choice for our children. In fact, there’s even a little children’s buffet area where they can be grown-up and make their own selections.

The choice and quality of food on offer was, without exaggeration, amazing. The starters, pastas, salads, meats, were fresh and tasty, the mains, imaginative, (every night had a different theme - Caribbean, Canarian, Asian, etc) and the deserts, decadent.

In the morning after a glutinous three-course breakfast, it was time to check out the amenities. The hotel boasts three swimming pools, including a shaded pool for little water babies, a play park, beach bar, sun loungers galore, baby lounge, snack bar, spa, on-site shops and pool tables dotted here and there.

We headed straight for the swimming pool and threw ourselves onto a sun lounger alongside all the other sun-starved holidaymakers who had flocked here from less clement climes.

As the warmth of the rays penetrated my bones I felt as though I was quite literally thawing out.

We quickly settled into a happy routine of breakfast, then lounging or swimming followed by a spot of sightseeing and dinner. The hotel also offers nightly entertainment, which our children loved.

As much as we enjoyed lazing around the hotel we decided to see a bit more of this intriguing island. There are plenty of car hire places near, and in, the hotel and we got a great deal of £100 for four days,

Away from the touristy hot-spots, Gran Canaria flaunts some beautiful villages like Puerto de Mogan, which claims to have the best climate in the world, and is dubbed Little Venice because of the sea-filled channels beneath the houses between the port and the beach.

A 30-minute drive along the winding (and often hair-raising) GC-60 from Playa del Inglés is Fataga - one of the island’s most perfectly preserved villages, with a cluster of restaurants on the main road and a bodega which sells the only wine produced in the south.

My favourite stop, though, was Teror, with its exquisite Canarian architecture, lovely little square and it’s peaceful main street lined with buildings boasting traditional balconies and red-tiled roofs..

Of course, no visit to Gran Canaria would be complete without a visit to the resort of Maspalomas, with its famous rolling hills of sand. It also has a reputation as a popular nude sunbathing spot - so with two young children in tow, we decided not to risk the sight of bronzed bottoms by delving too far into the dunes!

Gran Canaria feels exotic and strange. I had always thought of it as a beach destination: bland chain hotels squatting on black sand. Clubs and bars. How wrong I was.

*How to get there

Flights to Gran Canaria depart from Belfast international Airport every Monday all year round. And for Summer 18, flights every Monday 
and Saturday from May 14 to October 16.

Lead in price: June 9, 18, Belfast to Gran Canaria, 4* TUI FAMILY LIFE Bahia Feliz Orquidea, All inclusive, £919pp (based on 2 sharing) £1879 (2+1)*, £2259 (2+2)* *Prices include a free Child place.

More info: http://www.thomson.co.uk/destinations/europe/spain/gran-canaria/bahia-feliz/hotels/tui-family-life-bahia-feliz-orquidea.html

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