It’s hard to tell if my legs are shaky because I was back on land for the first time in four days or because I just made a steep climb. I go on a cruise and hiking vacation with hikers in the Canary Islands and, both as an active traveler and as a cruise virgin, I am curious to see if five days of hiking between consecutive days at sea are enough to keep me from feeling abstinent.
When we set sail from Southampton on board the Balmoral, a Fred Olsen cruise ship, I assume that the first four days at sea will be more endured than enjoyed – but I’m wrong. I hadn’t included the program of activities until dusk with activities, lectures, concerts, and quizzes, nor the gym, the swimming pools on the upper deck, the card tables, and the library. All more than enough to keep your mind and body busy.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the art – not the paintings that were made in the daily watercolor class, but the canvases that hung almost casually around the lounges and corridors.
Hiking paradise: The Mail on Sunday Lizzie Enfield was on a cruise and hiking vacation in the Canary Islands. Pictured is Lizzie’s hiking group in Teide Park on Tenerife
Visiting a handful of restaurants and bars, or the spa or observation lounge, is like strolling through an Oslo art gallery.
Fred Olsen was founded in 1848 by three brothers in Hvitsten, a small town on the banks of the Oslofjord. From there they sent their first loads – made of ice and wood – around the world.
Her homeland’s works of art, amassed by four subsequent generations of Olsen’s, include turneresque visions of ships at sea, landscapes by Norwegian artist Per Rom from the early 20th century, and colorful woodcuts by Paul Gauguin’s grandson, also known as Paul.
I begin to enjoy the routine of life on board when Madeira, our first port of call, comes in sight and our group is taken by minibus to the pass of Boca do Cerro with its spectacular view of the huge volcanic caldera at the center of the island .
From here we meander along dizzying cliffs over razor-sharp ridges to the many layers of lava on Pico Grande. At 5,400 feet, Pico Grande is not Madeira’s highest mountain, as the name suggests, but it stands in the center and offers unparalleled views over the island.
The descent leaves part of our group with a slight ankle injury, which makes the next four days of “Canary Island Hopping” a bit literal for them.
She stopped in La Palma and hiked from the hot springs in Fuencaliente to the volcanoes of San Antonio (above).
We drive to La Palma, where we hike from the hot springs in Fuencaliente (which are supposed to cure leprosy) to the volcanoes of San Antonio and the volcanic cone Teneguia ‘Newbie’, which erupted for the first time in 1971. Rows of vines, protected by lava stone walls, create a green green from the dark volcanic soil.
Back when the pirates lurked in search of galleons from the New World, the wine from La Palma had the reputation of being really very good. Shakespeare’s Henry IV challenged it, Casanova quaffled and Robert Louis Stevenson cited it as “bringing softness to your heart”.
Maybe it’s the wine that makes me grow lyrically across the sky at night – darker than ever, the moon reflects the water and the gentle sway of the ship on its way to our next port of call.
Back when the pirates lurked in search of galleons (pictured) returning from the New World, the wine from La Palma had a reputation for being really very good
Or maybe I’m just seduced by the concept of the cruise, which – if we continue sailing to Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote – makes perfect sense.
It would be impossible to cover all the islands in time with any other means of transport. It would take so much individual planning to wander the desert landscape of Teide Park in Tenerife – a majestic waste used as landscape in Star Wars films – to witness the scorched earth and charred tree trunks that Leaving forest fires in Gran Canaria, or strolling on a barren promontory between two windswept sandy beaches in Lanzarote, before returning to the ship for dinner, followed by an evening of Motown classics!
Why shouldn’t you let the cruise operators charge?
She also sailed to Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote (pictured) before heading north towards Spain and Portugal
And to move by ship between this archipelago of the Atlantic islands, as Christopher Columbus did on the way to America, corresponds more to the ethos of a hiking vacation than to flying.
After the ship heads north towards Spain and Portugal and docks for sightseeing tours through Cadiz and Lisbon, I enjoy the less hectic pace that the next two days will bring at sea.
Meet for one of the formal dinners – a prospect that caused dismay while packing. How do you find enough space for hiking gear when you need to get dressed for dinner? – I’m talking to a historian who has a wealth of Canarian knowledge.
He tells how the Olsen brothers switched from ice and wood to transporting bananas and unloading their cargo in London’s Canary Wharf – and about the Catalan and Mallorcan missionaries who converted the Canaries to Catholicism in the 14th century.
I tell him that I myself experienced a conversion on the way to the Canary Islands: from landlubber to cruise enthusiast.