Corralejo is a tourist resort like no other. As I sip a cortado for little more than €1 in a café where I’m the only non-Spaniard, a sharp-suited man arrives en route to work on his skateboard and orders a small beer. Seconds later, a woman in heels sweeps in on a mountain bike to join a guy in a wet suit clutching a surfboard. Welcome to the Canarian resort for people who hate resorts.
The negativity – sometimes verging on hostility – I often hear when I hail the Canary Isles borders on the surreal. I’ll often talk instead about Macaronesia, an idyll of palm-fringed beaches, hulking volcanoes, sublime seafood and unspoilt towns, before revealing the two largest islands are Tenerife and Fuerteventura. Often this still elicits a look of disappointment.
Leave behind the anachronisms in the busy southern resorts of Tenerife and Gran Canaria (even those are much improved of late), though, and this is one seriously spectacular, eight- island archipelago. I’ve been lucky enough to have seen most of them, and all resort roads for me eventually lead to Corralejo, my pick of the Canarian resorts, on the wild fringes of northern Fuerteventura.
“We’re a real place, people live here,” smiles Corralejo resident Ivan. “That is why tourists love it so much. Everyone is welcome to join in the life of our town.”
I certainly feel welcome, staying in the apartment Ivan rents out, as we share a drink overlooking a square where my daughters are running around with the Canarian pals they’ve just met.
No one nationality has claimed Corralejo as their holiday resort of choice: the sand-swept streets, big skies and constant roar of the Atlantic are shared by everyone. Maybe it’s partly because we all feel small here. Mother Nature puts on such a show, with huge swells breaking on the outer reefs, those volcanoes scarcely hiding that they’re only dormant and a lot of arid nothing lurking beyond the resort fringes.
I watch fishermen haul in their catch next to the tour boats. Some still live in the hunkered down whitewashed houses in the old town that feels more North African than Spanish – not surprising given we’re almost 2,000km from Madrid, while Morocco lingers just 100km away across the Atlantic.
The modern part of Corralejo grew around the old town in the 70s, when international flights began arriving on Fuerteventura. Here, people from all over the world coexist in chic cocktail bars and tapas joints. Yes, there are a lot of British holidaymakers in Corralejo, but plenty of Italian and French. I also meet Swiss, Irish and Estonian tourists.
And then there are the surfers – kite boarders, stand up paddle boarders, e-foil riders and windsurfers as well – who flock to the island’s north coast for the world-class breaks. The ferries help too, crossing to Lanzarote in just over half-an-hour, injecting a transient port vibe and a steady stream of day-trippers.
I split my time between Ivan’s flat and the swish Barcelo Sands, an all-inclusive family-friendly resort that treats children like real people, even letting them into the spa to use the thermal circuit. Receptionist Lorenzo, another lifelong Fuerteventura resident, has his own theory on Corralejo’s appeal: “We’re like the greatest hits of the Canaries. You’ve got the sunsets and sunrises, the beaches, the different types of bars, the shops and restaurants of The Strip and hiking.”
Corralejo swirls in many parts of other Canarian resorts, but there is something more, not least the sheer variety in such a compact, walkable space. Don’t want to lose your inhibitions rocking out on “Music Square” with free live music, then retire to Bar Restaurante Iberic Ham Factory for proper jamon Iberico, or hit Aisushi for superb sushi.
Another evening I chat to a family from Glasgow, three French teens on a night, out a couple from Cardiff and Pablo from Tenerife. Pablo tells me: “The beaches are much better on Fuerteventura and it’s just so chilled. It’s like my home from home.”
I’ve visited Corralejo more than a dozen times and one thing drawing me back is what a fantastic fulcrum it is for exploring northern Fuerteventura. Slip south and the shifting sands of the Parque National de Corralejo are more like the Sahara over the water – a strip of more than 10km of dunes that are lapped by clear, turquoise water. Break west and the surf community has injected the cafés of the village of Lajares with fine Mitteleuropean coffee and Sachertorte that would pass muster in Vienna. Just 10 minutes away by fast RIB, the Isla de Lobos is a real-life uninhabited Treasure Island.
Back to Lorenzo and that hiking. This rugged, elemental corner of Fuerteventura begs exploration. With a decent pair of trainers or boots, you can yomp up the impressively-preserved Calderón Hondo, which plunges down 70m, in an hour.
From the top – 278m – you can see the circular crater and over to Lanzarote. A 10km trail links a trio of volcanoes above the low-slung village of Lajares, but my favourite hikes are along the 20km of totally wild north coast that separates Corralejo on the east coast from Cotillo on the west. You feel like the only person on the planet, rather than one of the million-plus tourists that descend on Fuerteventura each year.
Cotillo is a fishing village just starting its resort journey. “Cotillo is Corralejo 10 years ago,” explains Domingo, who runs one of the best seafood restaurants in town, El Ancla. “But in the north of Fuerteventura you don’t really get resorts, just towns and villages. You don’t really get tourists and locals, just people.”
How to get there
EasyJet, Ryanair, Tui and Jet2 fly to Fuerteventura from multiple UK airports.
Where to stay
Ivan’s apartment is the Casa Nieves Corralejo and costs from £64 per night.
Barcelo Sands has doubles from £117, barcelo.com.