February 2018: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – Winter Break

Auditorio Alfredo Kraus

Las Palmas Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria is the almost completely circular island in the Canaries, between Tenerife and Lanzarote. The bit that sticks out to the north east of the island [see map below] is the location for Las Palmas - the island’s capital and alternative administrative centre of the Canarian archipelago.

Main features and roads of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

1: Edificio Woermann, 2: AC Hotel, 3: Cruise ship terminal, 4: El Corte Inglés department store, 5: Casa Mozart, 6: Yacht Marina, 7: The British Club, 8: Club Natación Metropole, 9: Piscinas Julio Navarro y Roque Díaz, 10: Parque Triana, 11: Cathedral and Plaza Santa Ana.

The vast majority of visitors head for the southern sun spots of Mesapalomas, others tour round the island - we opted to explore the city on our first visit to Gran Canaria.

We’ve just had a week in Las Palmas - it’s a big noisy city of nearly 400,000 residents, plus tourists too. It took a bit of getting acquainted with - the geography is not immediately obvious but tenacity, a one-touch bus pass and recommendations from Manuela our host helped enormously.

The gaunt exterior of the Cathedral Santa Ana in the Plaza Mayor Santa Ana.

Chapel in a quiet plaza in Vegueta

Aristocratic palacio repurposed as an Art Foundation Guanarteme sponsored by Mapfre SA, the Spanish insurance company.

Visitors are drawn to the northern part of the city on the eastern side of the isthmus for the port area - a base for enormous cruise ships, container ships and bulk carriers, plus a marina for yachts of all sizes. A little further down this coast is the original colonial city centre - Vegueta, established in the 16th century and one of the locations visited by Christopher Columbus on his journeys across the Atlantic.

The western shore is a big curve of sand and rocks - the Playa de Caleta, backed by an extremely popular three mile long promenade lined with apartments, bars and restaurants although surprisingly few hotels. To the north is the more rugged Paseo y Playa de El Confital - a protected area comprising raised walkways and a rocky foreshore. The southern end is terminated visually by the Auditorio Alfredo Kraus - a fortress like structure designed by architect Oscar Tusquets. The southern end has big waves rolling in from the Atlantic and is very popular with surfers. 

Parque Santa Catalina. City buses stop to the left of the gardens.

Between these two shores is a tight grid of streets populated by a constant commotion of traffic - buses, cars, taxis and delivery vehicles all jostling for space and all in a great hurry to be - somewhere! There is some respite from all the hubbub in public spaces including the Parque Santa Catalina at the port and further south the Parque Doramas adjacent to the Hotel Santa Catalina. Both have cafes and we visited them quite a few times during our stay. The Antigua Estadio Insular - a repurposed football stadium is located near to our accommodation - the Casa Mozart - with a cafe adjacent to a children’s play area that was very popular with families in the late afternoon and at the weekend.

Accommodation

The Casa Mozart is on the edge of the Cuidad Jardins area - detached or semi detached properties built for British residents during the 1920’s and 1940’s in an eclectic style featuring balconies and roof terraces to compliment the very small surrounding gardens. Our base for the week has been tastefully repurposed to accommodate visitors with five rooms and a lounge and breakfast area. There is also a roof terrace furnished with good quality sun loungers and chunky patio seating. Manuela, the manager serves an ample breakfast and offers suggestions for local dining.

The drawback is vehicle noise emanating from the one way street at night and early mornings on weekdays, considerably less at weekends; plus a background hum from vehicles in the nearby tunnel to connecting the GC 1 to the GC 2 north/south motorways. Although the location is in a suburb away from the tourist facilities, there are bars, restaurants and shops geared to local demand on the far side of the Estadio Insula that proved very good. We made extensive use of the buses on nearby routes and occasionally taxis to travel to the beach, city centre and parks. 

Getting around

Walking

Within easy walking distance of the Casa Mozart, the promenade of the Playa de Caleta has throngs of pedestrians traversing up and down all day, weather permitting, or sitting in the many cafes and restaurants, or watching the surfers in the bay. The more energetic are jogging or running. The rest of the city does not really lend itself to perambulations as the streets are narrow and often clogged with traffic. As mentioned, the parks offer pleasant spaces and most have cafes offering drinks and snacks at reasonable prices.

Buses

We can’t praise the city bus system enough - we used it extensively during our week - only occasionally resorting to taxis for late evening trips. ‘Guaguas Municipales’ buses rattle round the city streets at sometimes frightening speeds, but do have an excellent one-touch card fare system and a fixed charge of €1.40. The friendly staff in the booth in Parque Santa Catalina booth were happy to explain the system to us. Catching a bus here - and having a drink at the adjacent park cafe was a very pleasant experience.

For trips further afield, the Intercambiador Santa Catalina is hidden in an oval concrete bunker, towards the port from the park. It’s very discreet - for a bus station!

Taxis

White taxis buzz about all over the city day and night and are very reasonably priced.

Eating out

Local restaurants 

We had some good meals at the local restaurants near the Casa Mozart that offer simple cooking and generous portions and are very popular with local residents - especially at weekends when reservations are advisable. Particularly good was Hermanos Diaz who offered a great double layered goats cheese starter - plenty for two sharing and main courses of beautiful roast cod, excellent pork loin in mustard and honey sauce, chick peas with chorizo and pork and prawns ajillo (mild chilli sauce). We were also introduced to the house speciality: boiled eggs with mayonnaise and chips! Incredibly popular with locals and exclusive to Hermanos Diaz. We also had an unexpectedly good meal at La Piccola Italian - an unpreposessing pizza restaurant that had just a few tables and a big pizza oven at street level, but a good sized upper dining room with a big open window to the street. The Pizza Marinara was very generous with seafood as was the Seafood Risotto and a bottle of Italian red wine that mysteriously never made it to the bill! 

Main entrance to Mercado del Porto

The stalls offering tapas or pinxtos style small plates at Mercado del Porto

Markets

Las Palmas has three municipal markets: Mercado del Porto, Mercado Central - within walking distance of Casa Mozart - and Mercado Vegueta on the edge of the historic old town. Like many markets in Spain and Portugal the Mercado del Porto had a considerable gastronomic offer in addition to fresh produce with many small venues offering tapas and pinxtos type small bites and small plates of albodingas (meatballs in tomato sauce) paella, tortilla and beautiful roast pork sliced off the bone to order. On Saturday night there was free musical entertainment in the pedestrian street outside the market and all the venues were doing a roaring trade - great fun!

Drinks were reasonably priced and service generally was good and often very friendly at all the bars and restaurants we visited throughout our week in Las Palmas.

Highlights 

Vegueta

The old town has a museum like quality and has a number of museums in old mansions. In addition to the ‘Casa Colon’ - Columbus’s lodgings, there is a Museum of Contemporary Art and Museum of the Canaries. Streets are extremely well kept with many buildings having been restored, some with contemporary ‘interventions’. The bars and restaurants seemed to cater for visitors - although seemingly well patronised by a local clientele. The colonial part of the city is separated from later development by a copious dual carriageway with an attractive planted central reservation.

The Gabinete Literario originally the Cairasco Theater. The main façade is by architects Fernando Navarro and Rafael Massanet. 

Interior atrium of the Gabinete Literario, leading to members dining rooms and library.

'Modernista' or Art Nouveau details in the Gabinete Literario

Gabinete Literario

The building that we found most appealing was originally a theatre: dating from 1844, the Gabinete Literario is an elegant building located on Plaza de Cairasco. It was the city’s first theatre - the main façade is a spun sugar confection of cream and white beaux art detailing on the exterior and an eclectic mix of art nouveau and other styles in the interior. It still possesses a theatrical quality to the main atrium, restaurant and private dining rooms. It is now home to a number of cultural bodies but the cafe and restaurant are open to the public with an attractive terrace with additional tables shaded by parasols in the square beyond.

The Barcelo Hotel Santa Catalina, commenced 1882 to designs by Scottish architect James McLaren. Financed by the Gran Canaria Island Company and opened in 1890.

Hotel Santa Catalina 

This is the ‘grand dame’ of accommodation on Gran Canaria. Located in the Cuidad Jardins area, its a big pink edifice with Canarian style dark wood balconies on some facades and a grand entrance fronted by a sweeping drive through formal gardens overlooking the yacht marina and commercial port - and the north/south oceanside motorway that separates them! The restaurant and banqueting facilities are very grand but the pool and adjacent bar/cafe lacked charisma with plastic sun loungers with no mattresses. The pool bar/cafe was also poorly furnished with cheap tables and sponsored chairs.

Parque Doramas

Accessible from the grounds of the Hotel Santa Catalina is the Parque Doramas with a children’s playground, water features and a terrace cafe (where drinks are much more reasonably priced than the hotel) and the Piscinas Julio Navarro y Roque Díaz a public swimming pool with a conveniently located bus stop just outside. This pool is administered by Club Natación Las Palma and it’s members only at weekends. 

Club Natacion Metropole 

Another grander aquatic facility is also nearby - adjacent to the Parque Romano, a long thin strip of grass trees and gravel parallel to the coast and main roads - the Club Natacion Metropole , a private members club comprising three outdoor swimming pools and a separate diving pool plus gymnastic facilities to cater for all manner of water and land based sports. 

The British Club

Almost next door is the highlight of our visit to Las Palmas, our discovery of the British Club, a red  painted Georgian style building replete with flag pole and Union Jack flag hanging beside the front door. It has restaurant and bar facilities open to visitors and offer a programme of events to suit the members. A big emphasis on the web site is the parking facilities available  to members, Our visit was a little early to sample the delights of the establishment when we would have loved to mingle with the great and good.

Entrance plaza of the Auditorio Alfredo Kraus, Playa de Caleta

Auditorio Alfredo Kraus

The significant southern visual terminal of the Playa de Caleta is this fortress of a building finished in a rough stone with smooth concrete edges, surmounted by a  rather quirky cupola and some rather outre sculptures at the entrance. It seems that it’s only open to the public during performances or for guided tours and there’s no catering facilities open to public at other times.

Architectural Tours

For those visitors who are really keen archtiectural buffs, the Las Palmas City Tourism website [http://lpavisit.com/en/activities/urban-routes/1984-arquitectura-racionalista] offers a leaflet with routes to visit buildings in the 'bauhaus' style in English, German and Spanish — next time! Other leaflets are available and the site is well worth investigating.

Shopping

The Avenida José Mesa y Lopez is the location for all the main Spanish fashion shops and a large El Corte Inglés department store - with buildings on both sides of the avenue. Triana in Vegueta is a pedestrianised street with numerous shops too.

The upper storeys look almost derelict, but the AC Hotel is open and a major landmark in Las Palmas.

Conclusion 

It was our first visit to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria so our impressions are fleeting- but we felt it has a different vibe to Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the other capital of the Canaries - it’s quite a bit bigger (Santa Cruz population around 200,000) and having two centres and two coastlines can be disconcerting - sea in both directions on city streets! The city beach of La Caleta is a great asset and the cruise ship terminal is within metres of Parque Santa Catalina.

Edificio Woermann, completed in 2005 to designs by Ábalos and Herreros in collaboration with Joaquín Casariego and Elsa Guerra. 

We did not tour round the island as we have done on Tenerife although we have heard good reports of the interior of Gran Canaria and maybe this is a future option. But for urban tourists like us, Santa Cruz is the preferred option and we’ll hopefully be heading there for the Carnival next spring.