You don’t have to go all the way back to the Stone Age to find people living in caves and scrambling up mountains. In fact, you just have to take a flight to Gran Canaria.
Setting up home in the bowels of a cliff is as common on Gran Canaria today as it was when the Canarii, the island’s original inhabitants, first ventured into a cave and thought, “This feels cozy”. Artenara, one of the oldest villages on the island, is the place to go to find modern-day Flintstones in their rockface homes. Perched on a ridge above a series of
sheer cliff faces, the village is Gran Canaria’s highest. It might also be the sportiest spot on the entire island, home to hundreds of hilltop hikes and spectacular summits.
Artenara is perched 1,270m above sea level on the lip of the Tejeda ravine. Wind your way through the sleepy streets following signs to Mirador de la Cilla and walk through the rock tunnel to its eponymous restaurant. It’s like stepping into another dimension as you emerge to find yourself on the edge of a rocky abyss above the Nublo nature park. If you’ve got the head for it, climb above the restaurant to stand by the gigantic statue of Christ the Redeemer.
There are around 600 cave dwellings in the village, and much of the population still live inside the rocks. At first glance, you might not realize you’re looking at a cave house, because the whitewashed exteriors look like any other village home, but closer inspection reveals the buildings are actually inside the cliff face. Modern-day cave living has all the comforts of conventional housing, with added benefits, such as not using up precious agricultural land, and natural temperature control keeping the interior at a constant 18–20°C year round, making them warm in winter and cool in summer.
Head to the Museo de las Casas Cuevas (Museum of the Cave Houses) to see first hand what living in a cave is like. There are seven caves set around a pretty courtyard, each one authentically equipped and furnished. If you want an experience that will earn you Instagram points, there are several cave cottages to rent (artenatur.com) and while TV, electric lighting, cave-chic décor, and swimming pools aren’t exactly authentic additions to the primitive lives of the ancient Canarii, staying in one is still pretty memorable.
Don’t miss the little Ermita de la Virgen de la Cuevita, just 400m outside the village. A tiny chapel in a cave, everything here is hewn from the rock – altar, pulpit, confessional. It’s home to the Virgin of the Rocks, a wood carving of the Madonna. Every year, on the last Sunday in August, there’s a frenzy of activity as the Virgin is taken from her troglodyte home and carried by worshippers to the village church of San Matías amid fireworks, torches and much merriment.
It’s difficult to oversell the beauty and drama of Artenara’s position and, given that the Virgin of the Rocks is the patron saint of cyclists, it should come as no surprise to discover that this is a popular biking destination. The white-knuckle 28km ride along the Ruta de las Presas, from La Aldea de San Nicolás to Artenara, is not for the faint-hearted, but it rewards with some of the most dramatic landscapes on the island.
For those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, the hiking route from the island’s Parador at Cruz de Tejeda skirts the deep Tejeda ravine and meanders through scented pine forests, providing endless stop-and-stare moments when it’s difficult to pull yourself away from the dramatic views that surround you.