Timanfaya National Park in Lanzarote – all you need to know for a visit with the kids

After a failed attempt to visit the National Park on our very first day on the island, we came back prepared. And we are glad we did! The views were great, showcasing the power of nature and changing through a variety of colours from yellows to deep black. The photos barely do it justice. This national park is truly unique in the world.

Most important is to come early and preferably in the beginning of the week. Avoid Sundays, particularly during peak season (Catholic Easter Week and July to August). The entrance to the park opens around 9 AM. You buy your ticket (children under 6 enter free) and continue driving for another 5 min till you reach a marked parking. We arrived shortly before 10 AM and everything worked smoothly. No queuing.

You will leave your car and board a special bus that takes you on a panoramic drive through the park. Buses leave when filled, there is no set timetable. Depending on the arrivals, you might have to wait 10 min or so before the bus is ready to leave.  Do get a seat at the window to enjoy the views and keep the little ones entertained. It is not possible to leave the bus during the drive that will last about 40-50 min. You can use the toilets at the restaurant before boarding the bus.

Take a warm pullover or jacket, especially if visiting first thing in the morning. The difference in temperature can be huge between the first hours of the morning and mid-day. Also, a small bottle of water might come in handy if you do not want to buy one at the restaurant.

After the bus tour ends, do not leave immediately. Just in front of the bus parking there is a semi-circular viewing area where you can take wonderful pictures of the lava fields and crater. Walk till the end of the viewing platform and you will see a grill that works with the underground heat.

In the middle of the viewing platform, park staff demonstrate every 15-20 min the power of the heat coming from underground. They put water in one of the heat evacuation pipes. The water comes back to the surface as steam, in an a motion that looks a bit like a geyser. Small kinds were greatly entertained by this phenomenon!

Finally, have a coffee (and get warmed up) in the circular lobby of the Restaurant designed by Cesar Manrique. You do not need a reservation to visit this part of the restaurant. It is opened in the morning, as early as the first scheduled bus departure. It is recommended to book if you would like to have lunch on the premises.

As a side trip from in the National Park you can take a camel ride. The Echadero de los Camellos in Parque Nacional de Timanfaya is easy to find by car, it’s on the main road from Yaiza LZ-67 as you approach the visitor attraction. Simply turn into the large car park when you arrive where you can see the camels lined up and waiting patiently for their next passengers. There’s no need to book, you can simply turn up at any time between 09:00 and 16:00 for a camel ride. It costs €12 per camel. The camel ride takes around 20 minutes. We skipped it but many (older) kids seemed thrilled after the experience.

The last bus departure in Spring is at 17h. The park closes at 17h45. We left the park at 11.30h and car queues were forming both before the park entrance and to get into the parking.

Enjoy your visit and let me know if you have more tips.

Happy travels!

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Live from Lanzarote – an island packed with outdoor adventures for the whole family

We landed in Lanzarote a few days ago and it has been a bit of a mixed experience in the beginning. We were looking for an ‘ outdoor ‘ destination where we can spend time in nature and shake off the European Winter blues. Instead, we were greeted by a flurry of tourist buses to all-inclusive resorts and a purpose-built ‘village ‘ where every other restaurant offers an all-day English breakfast.

When we reached our accomodation in Puerto del Carmen, we were determined to find something a bit more authentic than a street dotted with Irish pubs.  We designed the itinerary of the next days as we went and asked recommendations from the locals. The main objective was to spend time outdoors and enjoy the glorious weather. With an island as compact as Lanzarote, nothing is really too far away.

Our LO was thrilled with all he saw and experienced that day. For the adults, the walk around Montagna Colorada with its lunar landscapes plus the fresh fish restaurant were probably the highlights.

Here is the full day South island discovery itinerary:

Head towards the Timanfaya national park visitor’s center at Mancha Blanca. It is completely free and you can walk around to check out explanations about volcanic activity and the geologic formation of the Canary Islands. Preschool kids seem to find the explanations about the local flora and fauna more interesting.

Once per hour there is a projection of two short movies, one about volcanoes and volcanic activity and a second about the flora and fauna. They are in Spanish but you can use your headphones to listen to an English/french/German interpretation. Bring a pair of headphones if the children would like to watch this short documentary in English. Otherwise, they do sell them at the receptio of the visitor center. Eash movie is about 20 min long.

There are some good photo opportunities when you leave the building and follow the wooden path outside, above the lava fields. The landscape is like nothing you have seen before: rugged lava towers till the horizon.

Before leaving the Visitor center, stop at the info point just before the entrance and ask how is the traffic on the local road leading to the Bus volcano route. If the road is not too congested, head to the bus stop and continue with this tour around the crater. When we visited, the cars were waiting in line for 2 h to reach the departure point so we decided to leave this journey for another day and head for a walk on the lava fields in the Parque Los Volcanos.

If you are accompanied by kids or plan to be pushing a stroller, there are two walks that are recommended for their good accesibility. They are not well signposted but you will find the departure points on local road LZ-56. One is a circular walk around a red colored hill that in recognised locally as Montana Colorada. The other is a walk to a crater rim and back that should last about one hour.

We did the Montana Colorada with the baby mosly in the stroller and it was a bumpy but fun experience. The car park is a few meters after the Km 3 mark on road LZ-56, on the left side of the road in direction Geria. The road is mosly little volcanic rock and sand so make sure your stroller has large wheels. Our McLaren Quest struggled uphill and we took our LO on the shoulders for a few rough patches. It took us about one hour to do the tour, with frequent photo and ‘picking up stones and throwing them back’ opportunities. Bring water, a hat and a long-sleeve. In open spaces, the wind can be quite cold.

The walk completed, we were ready for some fresh fish. A small village on the Southern outskirts of the Timanfaya national park, El Golfo, was recommended by our accomodation. We headed there, at La Rafa del Mar. All waiters were very nice, even if a bit rushed as there were ever more customers waiting for tables. They had high chairs and even a changing mat in the bathroom. The grilled octopus was excellent!

El Golfo has some great views of the ocean waves crushing on the shores. If you continue walking the main street, bordered by all the restaurants, you will reach a modern and colourful playground. On the left of the playground, begins a coastal walk of a few kilometers. The terrain is rough and serious shoes and trekking gear are necessary.

Just before entering El Golfo, a large parking on the left side of the road leads to a high view point of the whole coast. From the same point, one can walk 3 minutes to the Green Lake (Lagoa Verde). The view of the striated rock formations on the background is impressive. El Golfo is actually a half-submerged cone of a volcano, which over time has been eroded by the sea, leaving behind only the striated wall of the crater displaying a myriad of red and russet colours.

Finally, the last stop before returning to our accomodation, was the Salinas del Janubio. Here, water is pumped from the ocean and, once evaporated, salt is extracted the old fashioned way for the local economy.

Next, we planed a full-day itinerary following the footsteps of Cesar Manrique, the architect behind many of the island’s attractions and lanscaped villages. Stay tuned.

Happy travels!

Driving the Transfagarasan, an epic Romanian roadrip

Transfagarasan, the name of the road that links the South part of Romania with Transilvania was made famous in Western Europe by the British TV show Top Gear where it received the title of “best road in the world”. But even before gaining this notoriety, it was considered one of the most spectacular roadrips in Eastern Europe for its hight and beautiful views. Tourists from all over the world are now going to Romania to drive this 90 km stretch of road that goes up to an altitude of 2000 km and crossing the Southern section of the Carpathians.

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A Sunday with wild animals and cava in Antwerp, Belgium

As we are based in Brussels, Antwerp is often our ‘go to’ short getaway. I like how compact and cosy the city center is. You can reach the Central Market in about 20 min walk from the train station. There are  nice restaurants and a great coffee culture. Even if the weather is less great (what we call the Belgian microclimate ) there are great places to spend a few hours indoors as well.

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Fun activities for kids and parents alike: a busy day in Berlin Charlottenburg

Charlottenburg neighbourhood houses several famous Berlin landmarks: the KuDamm shopping street, KaDeWe -Berlin’s fanciest department store, the Memorial Church and another cool store housing many local design brands: Bikini Berlin. That enough will put it on many people’s list when visiting Germany’s capital. But what about the kids you may ask…what is in it for the kids? As we all know, kids and hours long shopping sprees have very little in common. Unless it’s a toy shop.

Well, for one, the Berlin Zoo.

 

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New Year family skiing holiday that doesn’t break the bank – Rila Mountains, Bulgaria

Skiing over Christmas and or New Year can be an expensive endeavour. These are peak periods for taking to the slopes, as Europe and many other parts of the World are on holidays. If you add one/two children to the mix, a short week on the slopes can take you back a few thousand Euros if you count accomodation, meals, ski schools, equipment  and passes. Especially if you think at popular destinations like Switzerland or Austria.

Together with Mr, we have been skiing in Austria (Kitzbuhel) in our pre-kid days. I have also been with friends in France (La Plaine). Clearly they are both perfect winter sport destinations, with great infrastructure and plenty of slopes to keep you busy for days. Of course, on both instrances we stayed well clear of Christmas/NYE as well as the February week when European schools take their intersemester break and half of Europe travels to France or Austria. This year however, as we are planning longer holidays in March and May, we decided to book our ski break sooner, already after Cristmas and over New Year. By the time we decided, in late Summer, many popular places in Austria were already booked (especially families travelling from Germany book about one year in advance)  and the remaing spots as well as flights to Vienna were crazy expensive. Asking around in our friends’ circle, we got good feed-back on a destination that was not high on every skiier’s radar but had all the facilites for a snow filled family getaway: the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria.

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Five days in Chianti, Italy – medieval cities hopping with the baby in tow

Italy is always a sure bet with me. If you read my earlier posts, you already know that I have a love-love relationship with this country that started back in 2004, when I did my Erasmus studies there. Now, fast forward to July 2016, when our LO was 8 months and I was in search of a trip to celebrate my husband’s birthday. I looked in particular for a place outside the city, that has its own vineyard in the midst of green scenery. We had a great experience in Apulia with the masseria stays. (you can read about it here) so I was looking for a similar feel in the North of the country. After a few searches on Tripadvisor and local blogs, I found Salvadonica in San Casciano in Val di Pesa. I then booked our flights to Florence.

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Solo travel in Western Balkans – 24h in and around Tirana, Albania

I travelled to Tirana in December 2017 to participate in a work-related conference. The presentations finished already Friday mid -day and I was left with about 24 h to explore a bit of the city and surroundings before my flight back on Saturday PM.

Tirana itself is nothing too spectacular and similar in look with other former communist capitals from the European Eastern block. The architecture is mainly greyish appartment buildings with falling facades. The only notable exception are a few streets surrounding  Skanderbeg Square, now turned a pedestrian zone. In December, a small Christmas market and several carrousels were occupying the square.

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A roadtrip showcasing great wineries, medieval fortresses and the Caucasus

On our third day in Georgia, we had our Guide/driver ( see here how we found him) waiting for us at the hotel and started our tour of the Eastern part of the country.

First on the list was a visit to the David Gareji monastery. It is located in a semi-desert area in the South East of the country and close to the border with Azerbaijan 🇦🇿. The drive from Tiblisi will take about 2h30. We stopped in the way at Telliani Valley (an important exporter of Georgian wines) for a quick tour of their factory and some wine sampling.

We followed the concrete road for about 50 km East of Tiblisi and an unpaved road after that, all the way South. If you self drive, you should get a good map and clear indications as there are not many signs once you leave the main road. Do pack water and some snaks as this is going to be a long day hiking in the border area and other than a toilet, there is limited access to food or water once you get there. It was only us and a National Geographic vehicle when we arrived but in Summer it should be quite popular.

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If you enjoy nature and good wine, you will fall in love with Georgia – first impressions

In Summer 2017, we were looking for a destination that was not yet firmly on the travel radar of Western Europeans to satisfy our thirst for off-the-beaten-track adventure. It was a trip for me and Mr only, so we were ready to step up the physical activites, be less picky about hotel  accomodation as well as cover more ground in a shorter time. As we only had a week of holiday available, we focused the search on the Middle East and Central Asia. Georgia seemed to tick all the right boxes. So, even before we saw Lonely Planet’s list with the top countries to visit in 2018, we had bought plane tickets to Tbilisi.

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