Basking in winter sunshine off the coast of Morocco are the Canary Islands, favoured destination of thousands who flock there every winter to avoid the cold of northern Europe. Around 4 hours flying time will transport you from a cold UK to Arrecife the capitol of Lanzarote, most northerly of the islands, where a balmy warm breeze tells you the mercury is hovering in the low 20c’s.
Luggage collected, I am now heading for my final destination, Playa Blanca in the south of the island. My journey takes me past volcanic mountains, arid plains, isolated farm houses, vineyards and views of the crystal clear blue Atlantic Ocean. Lanzarote is not only home to expensive villas and luxury hotels but also home to a unique complex, Sun Park Living. Why is it unique, simply because there is nothing else like it on the island or indeed anywhere else in the Canaries thanks to the dream of Gil Summers and his partner Patricia.
Back in 2011 Gil had the vision of a complex in the sun, for a community of active retired people allowing them to have a life changing experience. In December 2011, they purchased the Sun Park Apart-Hotel in Playa Blanca, Lanzarote and Sun Park Living was born along with what Gil terms the ‘Sun Rocker Community’. The concept was simple, a community of retired people, who for a realistic rate could rent an apartment in the sun for a minimum of one month but also for as long as they wanted, become a community and make a new life. The community would in turn run and maintain the complex, all profits made by the community through the activities would be ploughed back into the community. In 2014 I visited the complex and was impressed with the way the ethos had come to fruition and was delighted with a return visit to see the further developments.
On arrival, it was reassuring to be welcomed by people I had met there 3 years previously proving that people were enjoying the community experience by returning year after year. I spoke with others who have given up their homes in the UK and moved there permanently such is the appeal and spirit of Sun Park.
A section of the apartments has been upgraded since my last visit with new kitchens, ceramic hobs, full oven, breakfast bar, flat screen TV and other features making them very comfortable. The bath in these has been removed and replaced with a large walk in shower which for anyone with any disability is an absolute joy. The bedrooms are of two single beds with lots of hanging and shelf space behind sliding mirrored doors. Mine also had a terrace with table and chairs which were in the sunshine for most of the day.
The whole complex is now run and organised by the community. A community notice board situated in the large reception is full of events and activities organised by the residents. A coffee bar has been established in this area and has become the focal meeting point, comfortable chairs and settees adorn the area where residents can relax and make use of the free wi-fi. The tables are used for regular Bridge tournaments whilst it’s also the meeting point for groups embarking on walking trips to the Marina and excursions.
Strolling through the grounds you cannot help but notice the small areas of garden outside the apartments that residents tend and make their own with flowers, small shrubs and flowering cacti growing through the rich dark volcanic soil creating a contrast of colours. Two of the swimming pools are now fully operational and look inviting, their water sparkling in the sunlight whilst sun loungers with umbrellas adorn the sun bathing areas. The main garden areas are well tended by the community with mature trees and shrubs. The complex now has a radio station, Mix Radio, that operates twice a week and broadcasts on FM across the island. A well stocked supermarket has been opened in the lower level of the premises keeping everything very much ‘in house’.
This visit was also an opportunity to join the various groups on their trips out. A walk to the beautiful Marina of Playa Blanca where boutiques selling designer labels mix with restaurants, tapas bars and music bars. If you like jazz a visit to the Marina is not complete without having a drink at the ‘Blue Note’ but beware the drinks, the measures are large, not that I am complaining. For those that enjoy Pasta try Afrodite Little Italy an Italian Restaurant as the name implies where the food is excellent.
If your taste is for fresh fish, then a visit to El Golfo on the islands west coast is a must. Here the black sand, littered with large rocks has the Atlantic crashing onto its shores turning the water to spray and white foam, contrasting against the black sand. Visit the Restaurante Bogavante, sit at one of their beachside tables, look out to sea and try to comprehend that if you could see 3,000 miles you would be looking on the shoreline of Florida whilst enjoying local fish dishes washed down with Sangria. Whilst in El Golfo view the Green Lagoon from a vantage point on the hill.
For sheer beauty, visit Papagayo. Reached by a toll road that is unmade you eventually arrive at a parking area on the headland where the views are nothing less than spectacular. This is where the cliffs meet golden sand beaches that disappear into the blue Atlantic. Reaching the secluded beaches requires walking down narrow paths built into the cliff face so care must be the consideration. 3 café restaurants share the cliff top peninsular affording a 360 degree vista of a mountainous backdrop, beautiful beaches and then across the sea to the island of Fuerteventura. This a place to sit and dream away the day whilst sipping a glass of chilled Rosé wine and soaking up the rays.
Travel north from Playa Blanca to the outskirts of Teguise and the village of Nazaret. Here is the former holiday home of the famous actor Omar Sharif. Views look out over the countryside to Arrecife in the distance. The local legend is that he fell in love with the villa and bought it in 1973 whilst filming on the island. He then lost it in a game of Bridge to a Sam Benady whom he did not realise was the European Bridge champion.
After my 8 day visit it’s apparent the community spirit is working, the complex is indeed being run by the ‘Community” and Gil’s dream is coming true. The in-house activities are many and varied. Classes for ballroom, jive and Latin American dancing. Lessons for painting, drawing, pottery, learning Spanish, computer, guitar lessons and many more. They even have their own choir. The bar area has been refurbished and new seating installed, there is a laundry room with washing machines and an ironing room. Only one section is no longer run by the ‘Community’ and that is the Yoga, Pilates and Gym activities that are now operated by a professional instructor with qualifications to match, probably not such a bad idea in these days of health and safety.
Memories, yes, I have many, especially Tai Chi on the beach just after sunrise with the waves gently lapping on the shore, my visits to the various locations, the warmth and friendship of the residents. If you are looking for a 5 star resort with waiter service then Sun Park is not for you but if you are looking for a 5 star community spirit, activities and new friends then look no further.
Alan Fairfax -
is a travel writer for
YOUR HOLIDAY TV
Alan also writes for the
Ashford Advertiser Media Group with regional papers across Kent with regular holiday & travel sections in all editions
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