The seven volcanic Canary Islands that bask in the Atlantic off shore from the north-west African coast have long had legendary connotations. To the Greeks they were the Gardens of the Hesperides, blessed with a perennial spring-like climate, while the Carthaginians christened them the 'Purple Isles' on account of the rich dye material they obtained there. Inhabitants have ranged from the early Berber-descended Guanches, of whom cultural traces still remain, to the rich blend of European and Latin peoples that evolved after the Spanish conquest in the fifteenth-century. Famous visitors have included Columbus, Humboldt and General Franco, who famously flew from Gran Canaria in a (British-piloted) Dragon Rapide in 1936 to launch Spain's Civil War. In today's cosmopolitan capitals of Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife Spanish colonial-era buildings merge with modern centres equipped with sophisticated amenities. For holidaymakers tiny ecologically-oriented havens like Gomera vie with big brash tourist resorts like Playa del Ingles and Playa de las Americas, today's major money-makers after the brief trade boom of yesteryear. Peter Stone explores the fascinating history and culture of this archipelago, where nature and geology provide a spectacular setting for today's tourism industry. FANTASY LANDSCAPE Bone dry 'badlands', orange-grey dunes, giant craters, frozen lava flows, black-sanded coves, rich green bananas plantations and sylvan woodlands shrouded in perennial mists all form part of this multi-faceted paradise. NATIONAL PARKS AND WILD LIFE Four of Spain's fifteen great national parks are located on the islands; Tenerife's 3,700-metre Teide, the country's highest mountain, is the most visited. Island fauna vary from the desert-like lizards of Lanzarote to the rich bird life of La Palma. UNIQUE LOCAL CULTURE Local fiestas abound and traditional dance and music exhibitions are held in cultural centres like Gran Canaria's Pueblo Canario. Mould-breaking Lanzarote architect Cesar Manrique has left a supreme legacy of innovative buildings and monuments.
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PETER STONE is a travel writer based in Spain. He is the author of books on Barcelona and Madrid and has produced a wide variety of articles on all aspects of Spanish life - past and present.
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