WHY GO NOW Lanzarote's other-worldly volcanic landscape is one of the most dramatic on the planet and is in danger of being consumed by package-deal tourism. While vast expanses of Lanzarote are protected by a national park and several preserves and Unesco designated it a Reserve of the Biosphere in 1994, there is still the quiet creep of development.
The easternmost of the Canary Islands, part of Spain about 100 miles off the coast of Africa, Lanzarote is nearly 40 miles long, culturally rich and blessed with an average temperature of 72 degrees, which may be why its expatriate community ranges from surfers to the Portuguese Nobel Prize-winner Josй Saramago.
For visitors, the island's mix of natural beauty, white-sand beaches and quirky lava-rock-studded architecture are usually enough to necessitate the purchase of an extra photo card during a weeklong visit. Much of that architecture is the work of Cйsar Manrique (1912-1992), a local artist and architect who set out to save the island from the destructive forces of mass tourism storming the Spanish coast in the 1960's.
But there are other diversions. The postcard-perfect town of Teguise has art galleries, wine bars, historic churches and 18th-century palaces. Farther south, the towns of Yaiza and Uga mark the entrance to the wine-growing region, where camels are still used to harvest grapes. And everywhere, the wide-open landscape beckons, especially to those with an athletic disposition.
Lanzarote and the tiny neighboring island of La Graciosa have become training sites for cyclists and triathletes. Fuerteventura, the big island to the south that has played host to the world's windsurfing championships over the last several years, is a short ferry ride away. And Lanzarote's newly created port of Puerto Calero is the embarkation point for fishing and scuba expeditions.
WHERE TO STAY There are a growing number of trendy casas rurales, as small Spanish hotels are known, drawing an in-the-know mix of ages from across Europe. In the village of Mozaga, for example, the new Casa Tomaren, Calle Tomaren 33, (34-928) 520-818, www.lanzaroteinland.com, has six villas, from 60 euros ($74, at $1.23 to the euro), with Balinese-accented furnishings and full kitchens set around an 18th-century farmhouse, swimming pool and yoga pavilion.
Minus the yoga and just across town, Caserio de Mozaga, Mozaga 8, San Bartolomй, (34-928) 520-060, www.caseriodemozaga.com, offers the same offbeat charm in its eight crisply maintained rooms, which have the benefit of being attached to one of the best restaurants on the island. Doubles in winter from 112 euros.
Accommodations are split between these small hotels and the jumbo resorts clustered on the coast. Among the smartest resorts is the Hesperia-Lanzarote, Urbanizaciуn Cortijo Viejo, Puerto Calero (34-828) 080-800, www.hoteles-hesperia.es, which, while offering 335 rooms with water views, has adopted the island's indigenous low-slung, whitewashed architecture. There are several restaurants, a disco, live music in the lobby most evenings and a menu of spa treatments. Doubles start at 230 euros.
WHERE TO EAT Across the island, Spanish, German, French or Swedish chefs are combining Lanzarote's varied seafood, abundant fruit and subtle cheeses with their own fusion enthusiasm. Casa Tegoyo, Carretera Conнl-Asomada 3, (34-928) 834-385, is among the more elegant locales owing to its location in a grand seсorial home (now a small hotel with a gorgeous pool set in its tranquil garden). The menu is international but with an emphasis on local seafood and some inspired vegetarian dishes like a salad of chili-marinated tofu with avocado. Dinner for two with wine, about 80 euros.
Highly recommended among the locals is Caserio de Mozaga, Mozaga 8, San Bartolomй, (34-928) 520-060, where straightforward but perfectly done dishes like grilled vegetables or filet mignon glow in the warm light of antique candelabra. Dinner for two with wine, about 70 euros.
There are only about a dozen tables at Taberna Strelizia, Avenida Guanarteme 55, Tiagua, (34-928) 529 841, where French-accented dishes like scallops en papillote or asparagus in herbed cream and puff pastry stand out and the service is warm and attentive. Dinner for two, about 70 euros.
WHAT TO DO DURING THE DAY A visit to Timanfaya National Park and the Mountains of Fire, (34-928) 840-057, a 20-square-mile sea of lava and exploded craters, allows one to easily imagine the onslaught of molten rock that formed the landscape 300 years ago. The park's restaurant even harnesses the volcanic heat to grill chicken and sausages (the temperature just four inches below the earth's surface averages 285 degrees). The 8 euro admission includes a bus tour of the lava fields, though the park can also be visited by camel (20 minute tours at 10 euros per camel), or on foot.