Thanks to the pandemic, we will plan our itineraries in a whole new way. Sun-blessed resorts draw a crowd. So, to avoid the hordes, we need to find under-the-radar destinations and embrace slow travel.
Spreading ourselves more thinly across a destination appeals. As a result, we will get to see more of a place. Above all, as travel becomes possible again, we must draw a line in the sand and avoid the mass tourism of the past.
If you’ve queued at the airport, you don’t want to stand in line at your hotel. Slow travel is about the small. Forget chains and book boutique lodgings instead.
What is Slow Travel?
Slow travel is a 21st-century reality. Pauline Kenny, the founder of the now-defunct slowtrav.com, coined the term in 2000. Inspired by the slow food philosophy, travellers take a more holistic approach to their holidays. Renowned travel writer Tom Chesshyre was so moved by the concept, that he wrote a book about it. Slow Trains Around Spain: A 3,000-Mile Adventure on 52 Rides is a love letter to the journey itself rather than the destination.
In May 2022, the Spanish Tourist Board unveiled their #SlowTravelSpain campaign. Despite the reputation of the Canary Islands as a haven for the bucket-and-spade brigade, they selected Lanzarote’s La Geria as a cover star. This volcanic wine region is sustainability in action.
Gran Canaria is one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. Above all, for many visitors, its big draw is the climate. You can sun yourself on beaches and beside hotel swimming pools, even in winter. Many tourists don’t escape the comforting bubble of resorts such as Playa del Inglés. However, turning off the main GC-1 before reaching the likes of Maspalomas, home to Sahara-aping dunes, leads to some interesting finds. Within 10 minutes of leaving the airport, for example, you’ll reach Ingenio.
5 Reasons Why Ingenio Is a Slow Travel Hotspot
1. Boutique Villa Néstor
A big growth industry in the Canary Islands has been new accommodation targeting the slow travel enthusiast. Before Villa Néstor opened, you would visit Ingenio on a day trip rather than a sleepover. Then along came a Dutch couple who stumbled upon the potential of a base in the island’s interior.
Alienka Joustra and Arold Pietersma converted one of the most iconic properties in Ingenio, the family home, grocery shop, and casino owned by one Juanito Marcial aka Juan Rufino Rodríguez Sánchez. The building had fallen into some disrepair. Moreover, the purchase was problematic, seeing as the sale had to be divided into 32 ways to compensate Juan’s descendants. “I found myself writing cheques for the first time in years,” Alienka tells me.
Alienka was a banker in the Netherlands and her client-facing skills make for excellent service. Arold was a restaurant chef. And his vegan breakfasts are legendary, utilizing local avocados and spicing things up with curried tofu. They have an Exceptional 9.7/10 rating on Booking.com too and I would love to return to stay in their simply stylish garden suite, complete with a siesta-inducing hammock and inviting hot tub.
2. A Strollable Old Town
A mere 9km from the airport, the lean streets of downtown Ingenio offer a low-impact intro to olde-worlde Gran Canaria. I was lucky enough to go through the keyhole of one of the charming period properties with Diamante Tours’ Gianni Bartolozzi, himself an Ingenio resident, and Best Time 2 Travel’s Micha Herber-Bleich.
The property/properties (as they are in reality three buildings rolled into one) in question belong to Christophe Gollut, a celebrated Swiss interior designer. Unsurprisingly, these near neighbours to Villa Néstor offer a masterclass in how to decorate your house. Christophe even has a living room with official House of Lords wallpaper. This gives you an indication of his client base.
Ingenio, as in sugar mill, was a sugar cane mecca with the white gold exported to Flanders by way of the nearby Bay of Gando. A mural depicts this 16th-century practice. Elsewhere, the Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria is an early-20th-century parish church famous for its black Madonna.
3. Slow Lunch at Los Cazadores
There are many eating options in Ingenio but one of the best lunch places is Calle Isla Filipinas’ Restaurante Los Cazadores. A recommended starter here is gofio escaldado. This is the cornmeal the canarii, the Berber-descending natives of the island, pioneered. They combine it with a fish stock which you scoop up with chunks of sweet red onion.
The KM0 approach to sourcing local ingredients continues with mains such as calamares, squid caught in the Atlantic ocean which surrounds Gran Canaria. Ingenio is famous for its succulent black pigs and they end up on a plate at Los Cazadores. This is no great surprise as the English translation of the restaurant is The Hunters. However, the kitchen can also prepare off-menu plant-based dishes.
Desserts include polvito uruguayo. This is a Canarian take on a South American favourite popularized by Susana Elisa Lanús Berrutt who moved to the island from Uruguay. It’s a magical mix of biscuits, meringue, cream, butter, and caramel.
4. Small-Scale Tours
Gianni Bartolozzi walked and talked just me and Micha Herba-Bleich around Ingenio. A highlight was a visit to a craft dairy, Quesería El Sequero, which produce cured goat’s and sheep’s cheese. We also dropped by Panaderia Artesanal Amaro, Gran Canaria’s oldest bakery, whose famous pan de puño is bread made by bakers kneading the dough with their fists.
Diamante Tours also provide a picnic in the park upon request. The park in question is Parque Néstor Álamo. Here, there’s a natural skyscraper in palmera paquesito, the 43-metre-high palm that is the tallest on all of the Canary Islands.
This is a great idea for families with the kids able to roam the park while the adults feast on local delicacies. A more romantic proposition is the sunset picnic available to couples. Here, you are whisked off to a secret coastal location to watch the sun go down.
5. Waste-Free Dinner at Conesa
Jesús Conesa Pérez is a former furniture restorer and present deli owner/restaurateur. His no-menu Conesa, the very antithesis of the all-inclusive buffet, is the perfect nighttime haunt to savour some exquisite cuisine. Jesús is the apron-wearing barman, chef, and waiter with an open-door kitchen for you to see and hear him prepare his sugerencias.
Sugerencias are what the kitchen recommends. In my case as a vegan, Jesús suggests a starter of a salad. Then, he proposes blistered peppers to follow, and, space permitting, setas (wild mushrooms). After pouring me a glass of Canarian lager, Dorada, Jesús retreats to the kitchen where he prepares plant-based dishes in utensils that haven’t been touched by meat or dairy.
The salad combines avocado, tomates aliñados (sliced tomatoes spiked with slivers of raw garlic), and white asparagus adorned with oregano and olive oil. After that, a pan de puño arrives and I duly use it as a mop before turning my attention to the pair of long, thin green peppers whose skin is covered with burnt-toast-like patches both sweet and succulent. I find room for the setas whose tongue-like texture puts off some people. But I appreciate why that texture would be a turn-on, given the aphrodisiac connotations.
A good tip for a Gran Canaria holiday is to wear lots of layers and Ingenio is no exception. In fact, as I dine at Conesa, the wind rattles about outside and Jesús has two heaters turned on. It provides a cosy end to yet another memorable trip to somewhere it’s well worth turning off the GC-1 to explore.
Enjoying the Benefits of Slow Travel
Ingenio has long been accessible to British, German, and Scandinavian tourists who rank Gran Canaria as one of their favourite destinations. But it’s about to become easier to get to for American visitors too, as new flights are operating between July and September 2022. For those in the United States of America planning a more thoughtful vacation, this is your passport to a new world of slow travel.