Travel review: Watersports and spa resorts in Gran Canaria

The Gloria Palace, San Agustin

The Gloria Palace, San Agustin - Credit: Archant

Relaxation and action on island offering it all – in practically guaranteed sunshine.

The sand dunes at Playa del Ingles

The sand dunes at Playa del Ingles - Credit: Archant

Falling into the sea looked to be inevitable as I was kitted up in preparation to try a spot of stand-up paddle surfing – the latest watersport craze to hit Gran Canaria.

Thalasso centre at the Gloria Palace, San Agustin

Thalasso centre at the Gloria Palace, San Agustin - Credit: Archant

Balancing precariously on a surf board with only a paddle to steer and negotiate strong currents didn’t seem like it was going to be an easy feat – although the group of children on summer camp trying the activity in the bay of the capital Las Palmas had made it look pretty effortless.

Dolphin watching

Dolphin watching - Credit: Archant

I’m a bit of wimp when it comes to swimming in deep seas so after a brief training session on dry land, I kneeled down on my board and paddled out into the bay with a little trepidation.

Paddle surfing

Paddle surfing - Credit: Archant

That was easy enough – but the instructor was soon encouraging me to get up onto my feet. There were a few wobbles and near tumbles into the water but after five minutes of not really doing anything other than concentrating on not falling into the cold Atlantic, I was soon gliding across the water – ­although mastering the art of steering with the paddle was a little trickier.

As it combines rowing and surfing, it was a real muscle work out for both the arms and legs so after half-an-hour I was certainly feeling it. The sport – which first started up in Hawaii back in 2005 – is also great for improving posture and balance and we were told that people even practise yoga on the boards out at sea.

It was just a shame that on the day we’d chosen to try out this sport the weather was too windy to venture to Playa del Las Canteras beach, the most popular place to paddle surf in the island’s north.

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In fact, throughout July and August, while the south of the island is basking in wall-to-wall sunshine, Las Palmas is normally under a layer of cloud and relatively cool.

But, had the weather been on our side, the instructor told us we would have found hidden coves to explore and reefs brimming with colourful sea life beneath the turquoise waters.

Alongside paddle-surfing, there’s also plenty of other more mainstream watersports offered on this Canary isle including parasailing, jet skiing and normal surfing, for which this windy ­island provides the ideal conditions and is often dubbed the Hawaii of Europe for this reason.

Dolphin watching is also a big hit for holidaymakers and we were not disappointed on our trip. Within about half-an-hour of leaving the harbour at Puerto Rico, dozens of these stunning creatures – including a mother and baby – were racing alongside the boat, leaping out of the water and giving everyone on board numerous photo opportunities. It was the third time I’ve been fortunate enough to see dolphins in the wild, but it was every bit as captivating as the first.

Our base for the week was the Gloria Palace in San Agustin, an imposing 450-room hotel perched at the top of a hill with sweeping views over the Atlantic Ocean from pretty much every room.

Our room was comfortable, modern and equipped with everything we needed – and a good few evenings were whiled away enjoying the vista over a glass of wine on our balcony.

The pool areas are vast and we always found a sunbed, but the star of the show was La Gorbea – the hotel’s chill out rooftop pool and dining area with uninterrupted views of the seascape. With sumptuous furnishings and luxury wicker loungers under white canvas canopies, you could have easily mistaken yourself for being in Miami or a swanky pool bar in Ibiza.

But the restaurant here is perhaps the hotel’s biggest selling point – and is where we enjoyed beautifully fresh seafood and sipped wine as we admired the stunning backdrop.

And it was lucky the hotel has this superb restaurant, as well as its delicious offering in the main buffet restaurant, as we didn’t find much in the surrounding area apart from a rather uninspiring shopping mall with the odd bar and restaurant.

It took a long but pleasant walk along the promenade with the waves crashing against the rocks to stumble upon another eaterie, a small, traditional restaurant on the seafront.

San Agustin has an inviting beach, but the long stretches of golden sands and dunes at the nearby Playa Del Ingles and Maspalomas were much more alluring – and the Gloria Palace hotel offers a regular shuttle service to and from them. Aside from its array of watersports and miles of golden sands on which to lap up the year-round sunshine, there are also a growing number of luxury spa hotels popping up in Gran Canaria so we were able to combine some adrenalin-pumping activities with some well earned relaxation during our trip.

The Gloria Palace itself boasts one of the largest thalasso centres in Europe with 7,000 metre squares of warm, healing thermal waters.

Swimming around the pool against a variety of different currents is said to relieve a whole range of ailments including rheumatoid arthritis, and the seawater which is heated between 33 and 37 degrees is brimming with minerals such as iodine and magnesium to help the skin, as well as stress and fatigue.

At the sister hotel of the same name in the resort of Amadores, where the thalasso centre boasts panoramic views over the ocean, we were also fortunate enough to be treated to a blissful detoxifying mud wrap treatment which left our skin glowing and us feeling thoroughly rejuvenated.

Another highlight of the trip was our afternoon at the Lopesan Villa del Conde Resort and Corallium Thalasso in Meloneras. After trying its thalasso circuit – which included a salt water floatation pool – we were given an ocean view treatment suite where we soaked ourselves in the warm bubbles of a whirlpool bath watching ships sail past in the distance. A relaxing aloe vera wrap in the suite also helped the sunburn we’d sustained during just a couple of hours at the beach a few of days earlier.

We also visited the Hotel Cordial Mogán Playa – a sprawling complex set back from a traditional seaside harbour town which is home to hundreds of tree and plant species. Just walking exploring the stunning gardens and little courtyards was a joy in itself, but we were also fortunate to try some delicious tapas in the hotel’s poolside restaurant before heading over its luxurious spa, which has a classy outdoor area as well as an indoor pool, to enjoy some more relaxation and a blissful massage each.

Feeling somewhat spoilt, we headed inland on our final day to the plush five star Sheraton Salobre Golf, Resort and Spa which is nestled in the volcanic mountain scenery and feels a million miles away from anywhere else. After enjoying a beautiful lunch overlooking the jaw-dropping scenery, we spent some time lounging beside one of the many stunning infinity pools around the hotel, wishing we could take the perfect weather back home with us.

But if spas, watersports and beaches aren’t your bag then Gran Canaria isn’t without its historic, cultural and architectural interest – we spent a good afternoon ambling around the quaint cobbled streets of Vegueta, the old quarter of Las Palmas which dates back more than 500 years. There’s the Columbus House Museum, Plaza de Santa Ana Square and a stunning cathedral – and this thriving town also offers plenty of options to sample some traditional tapas, which we took advantage of.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been to Gran Canaria, and I hope it won’t be the last. The island offers all the ingredients for an action-packed holiday or the ultimate ­relaxation break in near-guaranteed sunshine – and we found combining the best of both worlds made for the perfect trip.

Gran Canaria Wellness, a specialist tour operator focussing on health and wellbeing, organised the trip.