Old World Charm in a Modern Setting – Puerto De Mogan, Gran Canaria
Maybe I’m becoming set in my ways; but in recent years I have wondered why we subject ourselves to a mass exodus to foreign climes every June, July and August? The usual response from ‘Management’ is, “but you know when you get there, you’ll love it.” Having worked at a major airport for several years, the thought of a three hour check-in, then the queue to get through security with the ever-changing requirements of which item of clothing to remove prior to going through the X-ray portal, (maybe we ought to remove the lot, just to show we aren’t hiding anything harmful) fills me with dread. I was therefore pleasantly surprised that upon check-in at Birmingham Airport one day last June there was no queue, and all the security staff were fully compos mentis. Once these were successfully negotiated, I avoided the gauntlet that is the Duty Free area, preferring instead WH Smith, where I purchased my in-flight brain food of The Oldie and the latest Private Eye, to keep my mind occupied for the four and a half hour flight to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. The plane, a Boeing 757, operated by Thompsons is a narrow-bodied spherical tube with appendages, way too small for such a long flight.
Despite my reservations the flight passes comfortably enough and once clear of Spanish Immigration – again surprisingly quickly – we are met by the Thompson Rep who upon being informed of our destination, Hotel Cordial Mogan Playa, responds with an “ooh, that is one of the best hotels on the island, you’ll love it there.”
After a four and a bit hour flight plus a further ninety minute excursion to the resort of Puerto de Mogan, she’d better be right!
Puerto de Mogan itself is situated in the far south west corner of Gran Canaria, and was until the early eighties a small fishing village with a natural harbour and a marina, which would have been home to countless small fishing smacks plying their trade out in the Atlantic. Getting to it by road involves negotiating downhill around several steep hairpin bends; fortunately our coach driver had never seen the original version of The Italian Job. However, we did notice the tunnels being bored through the mountains as part of the highway being built from the east of the island, which should cut journey times from Las Palmas to about an hour when it opens fully in 2013/14. Since then, Mogan has developed into a thriving tourist resort with many restaurants to be found both along the beach front and at the marina, which nowadays plays host to yachts and pleasure cruisers. It is also the area where the locals go to play at weekends particularly on the golden sandy beach for which this area is well-known. While dining out one evening in a very pleasant eatery on the beachfront called il Bagatto, enjoying the freshly made Sangria, we watched the procession which forms part of the annual festival of San Juan which commemorates the area’s maritime heritage. A statue of San Juan is paraded around the town led by a local priest, before a celebration mass takes place followed after dark, by groups of young people who accompany the Sea Queen as she emerges from the water and performs a sacred-like ritual dance unchanged for generations.
The highlight of the evening is the torching of a boat, which is accompanied by several other bonfires on the beach which certainly puts Guy Fawkes Night to shame. Nowadays of course thanks to EU Health & Safety rules, there are almost as many Fire Marshalls and Stewards as there are spectators, but the whole thing goes of spectacularly, and families of locals along with tourists, then party on the beach until well after midnight. Another ancient tradition involves running into the sea and making a wish, which according to local folklore, comes true for all genuine believers. Such rituals were once common in maritime communities, where religion played a major role in the lives of the people who inhabited them. Somehow, I can’t quite see it catching on in Blackpool or Bridlington.
The hotel itself was everything the publicity brochures said it would be. Described as being built in a traditionally Canarian style of architecture, within subtropical gardens and archaeological parks the apartments were spacious and the communal areas well-appointed, with a footbridge internal to the main building, taking you in and out of the front entrance. The main restaurant situated downstairs was like all such resort hotels, laid out with several self-service areas containing a wide variety of both English and continental dishes for breakfast and dinner. Lunches were served in an external structure called The Blue Building, where the fresh Tuna was as the name implied. One particular feature at this hotel which I had not experienced before anywhere else, was that the main restaurant opened its doors from around 0400hrs to provide free cold buffet breakfast for those travellers booked on early morning return flights, or for those leaving early to go on the various excursion tours including to the island capital, Las Palmas.
The excursion to Las Palmas was one we did take, a day which involved the usual mix of sightseeing and shopping. Our Swiss guide, Christal, kept up a steady stream of information about what we would find and the best places to get a bargain if that was our thing. Certainly the view of the port from a hillside overlooking the city was impressive, as indeed was the one place I genuinely wanted to see, The Cathedral of Santa Ana. Construction of this magnificent edifice began in 1500, following the conquering of the islands by the Spanish Catholic Monarchs in 1478. As with all cathedrals, construction took place over succeeding centuries, leaving a mixture of styles from the gothic through to neo-classical style, when the cathedral was finally completed in the nineteenth century. If the cathedral showed of the best of Las Palmas, I am afraid the Parque de Cantalina which we were told had everything for the discerning shopper was a disappointing contrast. My partner, who normally leaps with gusto at an opportunity for some retail therapy was distinctly unimpressed. As for me, it looked like Margate with sunshine, so when the bus came to take us back to the hotel we weren’t too disappointed.
Overall, Puerto de Mogan has much to commend it if you prefer peace and quiet away from the usual hustle and bustle of the more developed resorts. The more livelier Puerto Rico is a half-hour water taxi ride down the coast, where we stayed last time we holidayed here in 2008. Most tourists seeking a more action-packed time tend to stay at Playa del Ingles, which contains the resort of Maspalomas.
Certainly the Hotel Cordial Mogan Playa lived up to – and surpassed – all our expectations. The airport rep was right; it is one of the best hotels on the island; we did love it there; and yes, we will visit it again in the future.