The Canary Islands form part of Spain, although probably not as you think. For starters, the Canary Islands are closer to the African continent (the eastern island of Fuerteventura is only 100 kilometres from the Moroccan coast) than to the Spanish mainland (its neighbouring island of Lanzarote is over 1,000 kilometres from Andalusia, the southernmost region of the mainland). In fact, its ancestors were also African.

Before the Spaniards conquered the Canaries in the 15th century, the islands were inhabited by the Berber tribes. They included the Guanches, who lived on the island of Tenerife, and the Canarii, who lived on the island of Gran Canaria. That is why the festivals on the islands are considered to be both North African and Spanish.

Traditional Canarian culture, food and music

During the Fiesta de la Rama (Branch Festival) in Agaete in northern Gran Canaria, hundreds of islanders descend through the Tamadaba mountain massif in early August. During the route, they carry palm branches with which they hit the Atlantic Ocean when they reach Puerto de las Nieves. It is a similar ritual to that carried out by the aboriginal Canarii asking the gods for rain so that the crops would survive and prosper.

One of those crops was barley. The barley was crushed and roasted to create a type of flour called gofio which, after thousands of years, is still used to thicken soups and sprinkle over milk. It is thought that gofio has fortifying properties, which is why the locals believe that the fact that parents include it in their children’s diet at an early age explains why they are usually taller than their mainland compatriots. Its most popular dish is papas arrugadas con mojo picón (wrinkled potatoes with spicy pepper sauce), whose spiciness depends on the chef’s preferences, and the ingredients usually include garlic, olive oil, salt, cumin, picona pepper, paprika and vinegar.

Folklore is the traditional Canarian music On the Day of the Canary Islands on 1 May, you can enjoy a concert where dancers are as part of the performance as the musicians. Above all, it provides a wonderful opportunity to listen to the timple, a pygmy guitar very similar to the ukulele, which they play with enormous enthusiasm both on and off the stage.

Spanish architecture, sports and paradise

An architectural legacy from the pre-Hispanic settlers are the cave houses which are still inhabited at present: they are perfect for the winter since they maintain the heat when the temperatures drop and for the summer since they provide protection from the sun. Nevertheless, the climate in the archipelago is warm and pleasant. There are no major climate differences among the year’s seasons on the islands. The islanders are considered to live in the land of eternal spring; and that is why the Canary Islands are also known as the Fortunate Islands.

There are Alpine-style wooden balconies such as those in La Orotava on the island of Tenerife. Elsewhere, the traditional Canarian houses tend to be small stone constructions covered with distinctive marks. The exceptions are the cathedral in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, characterised by the combination of the Baroque, Gothic and Neoclassical styles, and the modern Tenerife Auditorium in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, practically an exact replica of the Sydney Opera House.

In all the islands, the locals are big fans of Canarian wrestling. That sport shares similarities with sumo wrestling since the aim is also to knock down the opponent by grabbing his kit, although the Canarian wrestlers have some more clothes on than their Japanese counterparts. Nevertheless, football is the top sport; some of the leading footballers are from the Canary Islands and they have won major prizes such as the Champions League and the World Cup. Manchester City’s incredible midfielder David Silva is from Arguineguín, a town in southern Gran Canaria, and one of his rivals in the Premier League, the Chelsea forward Pedro, is from Tenerife. That sport is one of the reasons why there is competition between the two islands at all levels.

The island of Lanzarote is known as the Hawaii of Europe thanks to the quality of its waves and it is the surfers’ favourite. Pozo Izquierdo beach, in the south-east of Gran Canaria, hosts the windsurfing world championships while at the Corralejo beaches, in the north of Fuerteventura, you will see kitesurfers enjoying the sea. It is just as easy to stargaze in the most western areas of La Palma and Tenerife, whose observatories provide magnificent sky views with the world’s lowest light pollution levels.