What Is Slow Travel? And How to Do it in Ingenio, Gran Canaria

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 a great rating online with hotel booking websites. We recommend a 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.

 

Gran Canaria’s Dry Valley Cider: A Way of Life

“Higher, Mateo,” urges Ángel. “Raise the bottle in your right hand, tilt the glass with your left, and pour.” Mateo is yours truly, as I’ve found Canarians have a problem with pronouncing Matthew, mangling it in a Cockney-style way as Mafu. I’ve learned, therefore, to introduce myself as the Spanish equivalent. Ángel is Angel Rodríguez, a taxi driver by profession and cider producer when not behind the wheel. 

You’ll find Spain’s cider industry in the Iberian peninsula’s north. As acclaimed author Jason Wilson, the scribe behind Cider Revival: Dispatches from the Orchard, reveals: “In Asturias and the Basque Country, sidra culture dates back hundreds of years. As long ago as the 15th century, Basque fishermen set out to sea with hulls full of cider barrels. Many historians believe the wild apples in North America that the first settlers discovered originated from Basque seafarers.” 

Ángel wearing protective gear

Cider, A Way of Life

As a Brit who grew up with the potent scrumpy, I consider cider a summer beverage. Indeed, I fondly recall my brother and I bribing fellow Glastonbury Festival goers to help us put up our tent by sharing our supply of the amber libation. It’s the reverse in northern Spain as Wilson discloses: “During a Basque wintertime, the cider house (sagardotegi) becomes a way of life.” 

Unsurprisingly, a good deal of my sidra ends up outside the glass and that’s not because we’re in an Asturian cider house where spillage is so expected that sawdust sprinkles the floor to soak up the fluid. We’re in a different time zone altogether, over 2,000km south west of this mainland province’s Villaviciosa in deepest cider country. Our location is north-central Gran Canaria, Valleseco (Dry Valley) to be precise. I’m a novice pourer thrown into further ineptitude by the distraction of Ángel’s bizarre get-up of surgical cap, gown, wellies, and, well, not much else. 

Later, listening to Ángel describe the cider-making process though, I realize that he reminds me more of an accoucheur than a sawbones. Why? He’s helping to give birth. 

Barrels of cider

Cider Manor

Ángel’s babies are his ciders, which he produces in both still and sparkling varieties, along with sibling cider vinegar. Prompted to describe what sets his cider apart from others, Ángel replies: “Love. They’re prepared with my personal care and attention which isn’t possible for other, bigger producers to provide. I’m in this for the long term too, and short-term commercial gain doesn’t interest me.”           

El Lagar de Valleseco, Ángel’s family firm, sits proudly in the Doramas Rural Park. This area is named after a championed canarii warrior. The canarii were the Berber-descending people who occupied Gran Canaria or, more accurately, what they knew as Tamaran before the 15th-century Castilian conquest. 

This was Doramas’ manor. He used to roam the rainforest-like green interior before losing his life at 1481’s Battle of Arucas. Governor Pedro de Vera and his army spiked Doramas’ severed head for display purposes. They left it as a putrefying warning in the island’s three-year-old capital, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. 

A way to pack bottles of cider.

The Celebrations

Most of Gran Canaria’s twenty-one municipalities have a fiesta tied to food and drink. In adjoining Firgas, it’s dedicated to watercress, the key ingredient of the island’s signature stew, potaje de berros, and in Santa María de Guía, the Fiesta del Queso celebrates the flower cheese made by utilizing an artichoke thistle’s head to form a vegetarian-friendly rennet. In Valleseco, they party hard about apples with October’s Fiesta de Carmen, the patron saint of the municipality, held during the manzana-harvest season.  

Ángel’s previously strange brew (he was the first to produce cider on Gran Canaria back in 2010) has been garnering positive publicity because of its organic roots. There’s a real commitment to KM0 here, with apples sourced from the family’s 700 trees, and at the nearby EcoValles market. Ángel’s still cider is essentially boozy juice, as it doesn’t contain water or chemical additives. He’s keen to stress that you can’t over-press the apples as you risk damaging quality. 

The average Canarian will tell you they don’t get drunk like the Brits who holiday on Gran Canaria (although carnival season seems to be the exception, which proves the rule). They certainly produce enough in the way of alcohol to create a stinking hangover. The dark and white rum in north-coast Arucas and east-coast Telde, vodka (the purest in the world) in the south-east’s Ingenio, and wine, primarily in the north east’s Bandama are all well-known. Then there’s the coffee of the north-west Agaete Valley (the only one to be made in the Northern Hemisphere) to help with that morning after the night before. 

Bottles ready for cider

Ángel’s Cider

Despite his outfit, Ángel is very much a showman. He talks about his cider as if delivering a Ted Talk. But then, when seemingly in full flow, Ángel interrupts his presentation to show me his mobile. 

There’s a new botellín (20cl bottle) in production and Ángel enthuses about the logo. It’s half apple, half wolf. I can’t help but agree it’s very striking. 

Then he becomes more animated. “Lobo,” he almost spits, speeding up. “Two syllables are perfect. Easier to order. Think a-gua, vi-no.” 

Ángel returns to the cellar from the everybar his bubbling brook of enthusiasm has conjured up. “Look at these barrels,” he gushes like a proud parent. “Oak. Many use American, but French roble is superior.” 

The apples have a Gallic connection too. They’re of the highly-prized Reinette (French for little queen) variety planted in the mid-1800s to replenish Dry Valley land gone to waste. The tree takes pride of place on Vallesco’s coat of arms.

This is green Gran Canaria, a world away from the Sahara-like Maspalomas dunes. The local Tourist Information Office’s Carmen Angulo accentuates the appeal of breaking out of the all-inclusive bubble with a trip to the island’s interior: “Valleseco’s home to Gran Canaria’s only completely ecological market with local, organic fruit and vegetables sold alongside bread made from various cereals.” 

A bottle of cider with the labelA Cure-All?

I chew on this both literally and figuratively with a late lunch at the nearby Mesón Los Chorros. Where the bread’s matalauva (peppered with punchy aniseed) style and the traditionally salted wrinkled potatoes (papas arrugadas) come paired, as always, with mojo, which is almost as fluorescent as Indian restaurant curry sauce but not quite as spicy. I wash it down with a bottle of Gran Valle cider which, whilst drinkable especially due to the current heatwave, tastes more artificial than Ángel’s product.

Ángel swears by his cider. And by his cider vinegar too. “It’s part of my morning ritual, Mateo, to drink hot water with lemon and vinegar as it cleanses the colon and (many believe) prevents cancer.” 

This is news to me. Before my visit with Ángel, I consumed cider vinegar on a regular basis, allied to an intense fitness routine, all to prevent middle-age spread. Many believe it suppresses appetite and lowers blood sugar levels. 

We’re back to more sane than manic street preacher Ángel, as he steps up onto his soapbox to proselytize: “It’s all about controlling the pH. The perfect balance between acid and alkaline should be around pH 7.4, as in slightly more alkaline. Acidic cider vinegar becomes alkaline once consumed. Diseases such as cancer, and some have also suggested COVID-19, are no fans of alkaline.” 

The Cider Prophet

Ángel has been in full flow since bumping elbows. Which explains my later-than-normal lunch (my UK-reared stomach’s still timed to remind me to eat around midday no matter how much cider vinegar I’ve spoon fed into my system). He’s in tour-guide mode from the off, pointing out the feed he grows for goats one minute, the confusingly-named cidra, which has nothing to do with apples but is in fact a pumpkin whose angel-hair exterior, when combined with sugar, lemon peel, and cinnamon makes for a popular not-quite-sickly-sweet jam and pastry stuffing, the next.

Bottles

The Ángel gabbier is an incredibly open individual who loves showing people around. There are the certificates on the wall, a testament to the courses Ángel’s completed on the mainland. He returned to his island with Asturian glasses. Nonetheless, he says he’s more interested in producing a stronger Basque-style cider than the more well-known classic from Asturias. 

“Look at this, Mateo,” exclaims Ángel as he admires the clarity of his product. “In Asturias, they prefer a cloudier consistency. But I like the simplicity of a Basque sidra which is as clear as chicken soup.”

A bottle

Cider Pairings

A Q-and-A session follows Ángel’s presentation. What effect does organic production have on the cider-making process, taste, and price, I ask. “It slows it down with the still cider taking around two months and the carbonated variety between nine and twelve months,” he answers. “Ecological apples are punier and uglier than ones grown with chemicals, but they’ve got far more flavour. In terms of price, not much. I sell as cheaply as possible because, as I’ve already told you, I’m not motivated by profit.” 

Ángel turns sommelier when I quiz him about the optimum temperature to drink and what food to pair it with. As he generously pours me yet another generous glass. He adjusts his glasses, which only serves to make him seem more authoritative. “It’s best served cold but without ice. You should treat it like a white wine. For that reason, it goes well with fish.”

Indeed, the Basques marry cider with a renowned cod omelette comprising the expected egg and fish with the less familiar purple garlic and red onion. Ángel offers me olives by way of sustenance, not noted for their soaking-us-booze properties. I make my excuses and leave, not before receiving an invitation to the Rodriguez family’s Fiesta de Carmen celebrations.

Read about another experience studying abroad on the Canary Islands!