Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, two of Spain’s seven Canary Islands, combine sun and sand with a chance to climb into the crater of an extinct volcano — or eat lunch barbecued over a live one — and dive in some of Europe’s richest waters. Oh yes, and pick up gemstones from a cliff-backed beach, ride a camel and watch the sunset over the vineyards before settling in to a fine dinner in surroundings designed by one of Spain’s foremost modern artists.

With all this diversity within day-trip reach, why are these sunny islands, 90 miles off the Moroccan coast, not a household word? They are to Europeans, who escape the winter winds of Germany, Scandinavia and the U.K. in their yearround- spring climate. But you can travel here for weeks without meeting another American.

Unlike the lush tropical foliage of neighboring islands, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura are almost forbidding in their stark volcanic landscapes. Relieved by only occasional touches of green, vistas of reddish-brown and black sand are broken by outcrops of jagged rock, extending to a horizon of volcanic cones pointing to an intensely blue sky.

Lanzarote’s tortured fields of black lava and smooth cones of volcanic ash are most often described as lunar, while Fuerteventura’s russet and ochre landscape is compared to desert. Both are right, but neither paints the whole picture, nor do they explain why visitors are captivated by these two islands. The quick answer is because they are like no place else on Earth.

First, a little history: Fuerteventura’s barren landscapes were formed by ancient volcanoes, dormant for millennia. But Lanzarote, only a half-hour ferry ride away, was once covered in lush gardens, rich farmland, fruitful orchards and vineyards watered by clear springs. Shakespeare was fond of its wines, as were the royal courts of Europe.

Then came the world’s longest recorded volcanic eruption, lasting from 1730 until 1736, when mountains rose and collapsed, lava flowed in fiery cataracts, vapors condensed into boiling rain, fish cooked in the sea and dozens of new craters appeared.

By 1736 a third of the island was a smoldering mass of cooling lava up to 33 feet thick. More than 20 towns disappeared, crops burned and people and cattle died in the fields from deadly gasses and ash. Much of the fabric of Lanzarote life and culture is still rooted in this cataclysm.

It was the British who discovered the tourism potential of the Canary Islands, and the two most populous — Tenerife and Gran Canaria — became magnets for package tours. But just as tourism touched Lanzarote, destiny intervened in the form of island-born artist César Manrique. He spent much of his early life in the wild and spectacular north around Caleta de Fuste before moving to the mainland to study art. There he worked with the major 20th-century artists, including Matisse, Miró and Picasso. After spending the mid- 1960s in New York, he returned to Lanzarote just in time to voice his conviction that tourism could only lead to long-term prosperity if it were firmly based in the island’s natural beauty, history and traditions.

Manrique’s vision, and insistence on avoiding the mass-market tourism that had invaded the Mediterranean and other coastal areas, shaped today’s island. All of the major attractions on Lanzarote bear his imprint, and every island in the Canaries has been touched with his work.

Built into the caves and sinkholes of the lava fields are his seven manmade attractions that rival nature’s: gardens, restaurants, an auditorium and his own stunning home. Manrique created brilliant spaces by restoring unused places — a fort, a granary, a quarry — as restaurants, museums and art galleries. His wind toys, giant mobile sculptures, decorate traffic circles.

Manrique’s panoramic restaurant, El Diablo, sits atop a volcanic cone with sweeping views of one of Spain’s most popular parks, Timanfaya National Park. Its 20 square miles of malpais — volcanic badlands — are capped by the Montañas del Fuego (Mountains of Fire). At the summit of one, Islote de Hilario, visitors discover that although no molten rivers of lava flow down to join the swirled solidified lava below, these volcanoes are far from dead.

Tiny stones shoveled from only a few inches below the surface are too hot to hold. Visitors watch as El Diablo chefs grill chicken over a pit that looks more like a well than a barbeque. Nearby, guides demonstrate how brush thrown into a pit bursts into flame and water poured into a pipe erupts within seconds into a 20-foot geyser.

Beyond volcanoes and art, the two islands have more traditional entertainments — surfing, diving, beaches, vineyards, historic sites and amusements for children. Surfing off Fuerteventura’s northern coast is among the best in the world, making Corralejo and adjacent Cotillo havens for the surf set.

The clear waters of a marine reserve at the meeting point of the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and directly opposite tropical Caribbean currents off northern Lanzarote, offer some of Europe’s best diving. Hikers can climb to the sharp rims and into the craters of extinct volcanoes or follow trails along Fuerteventura’s mountain spine, with sea views to both sides.

Kids can ride camels, meet exotic tropical birds and walk castle ramparts in Arrecife and Teguise. Nature lovers can follow dolphin pods and watch whales. Food enthusiasts will find an exceptional local cheese maker on Fuerteventura, and yachtsmen can sail the Trade Winds to put in at Puerto Calero’s new marina for shore time amid its art galleries, restaurants and upscale pleasures.

For history buffs, the islands offer glimpses into their past, from Fuerteventura’s once-inhabited caves to beautifully restored noble homes on both islands. Forts and stone defensive towers recall days when pirates roamed the seas, and restored farm villages show traditional skills and crafts. Fueteventura’s landscape is dotted with picturesque windmills, some still working.

The two islands, twinned by geography and history but not by personality, offer very different opportunities for kicking back. For a world-class, but little-known art destination coupled with spectacular scenery and one-of-a-kind volcanic experiences, choose Lanzarote. For challenging surf, remote hiking trails and beaches with endless elbow room, choose Fuerteventura. Each is compact enough for a long weekend yet diverse enough to keep visitors busy for a week. Best yet, they are close enough to sample both on a single trip.


LODGING

GRAN MELIÁ SALINAS

Designed by César Manrique to fit in with the rugged coastal landscapes and allow each room to have an unobstructed balcony view, the Gran Melia’s rooms lie between the soaring, tropical lobby atrium and a series of stair-stepped garden terraces. The atrium is draped in tropical plants; a stream flows across its base, crossed by a garden path. Along with private terraces, rooms offer satellite TV, telephone, mini-bars, safes and 24-hour room service. The lagoon-style swimming pools overlooking the sea are semi-shaded by palms. $$$$
GRAN MELIÁ SALINAS
Avenida Islas Canarias, Costa Teguise, Lanzarote
tel 34 928 590 040
http://www.solmelia.com

HESPERIA LANZAROTE

Sleek, modern rooms and public areas, a full-service spa and wireless Internet throughout the property set this stylish hotel apart from the rest. The Hesperia is a good fit at Lanzarote’s most upscale resort town, where the yachting set congregates around the sparkling marina and promenade. Large windows bring sea views into contemporary-styled rooms and suites. Several restaurants, a fully-equipped business center and some of the island’s best conference facilities make it a good choice for those who need to tend to a bit of business while there.$$$$
HESPERIA LANZAROTE
Puerto Calero, Lanzarote
tel 34 928 080 800
http://www.hesperia.com

HOTEL ELBA PALACE GOLF
Fuerteventura’s only 5-star hotel, the Elba Palace Golf is part of the Clubhouse at Fuerteventura Golf Club. Designed in classic Canarian style, with a large inner courtyard and wooden balconies, the hotel has 51 deluxe rooms and 10 suites, each with direct-dial telephone, TV, safe, DVD and CD player, mini-bar and bathrobes. Elba Palace also offers heated pools for both adults and children, a fitness room, a sauna, a Jacuzzi, a steam bath, a business center and Internet access.$$$$
HOTEL ELBA PALACE GOLF
Jandia, Fuerteventura
tel 34 928 163 922
http://www.hoteleselba.com


DINING

CASTILO DE SAN JOSÉ RESTAURANT

A dramatic spiral staircase leads from the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo in the upper part of the old stone castle to the spacious fine-dining restaurant. Windows overlooking the harbor fill an entire wall, and the smart contemporary furniture and décor set off the building’s rough stones and antique hardware. César Manrique designed both the museum and the restaurant, restoring the derelict castle. It’s a class act, from the contemporary classical music to the black napkins.$$$
CASTILO DE SAN JOSÉ RESTAURANT
Avenida de Naos, Arrecife, Lanzarote
tel 34 928 812 321

RESTAURANT DON ANTONIO

Don Antonio is in a surprising location, in a tiny town in the central mountains. But enough people are willing to travel to this sleepy little town known for its pilgrimage church and its palm trees that a reservation is almost essential. Surroundings are upscale, in a beautifully restored 17th-century home built around a patio. Roasted lamb and kid are among the specialties; most ingredients come from island farms. The restaurant is not open in the evening, only from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.$$$
RESTAURANT DON ANTONIO
Vega Rio Palmas, Fuerteventura
tel 34 928 878 757
http://www.lanzarote-fuerte.com/donantonio

RESTAURANTE LAGOMAR

The big surprise about Lagomar — apart from the menu, which is not the expected Canarian fare — is that it was not designed by César Manrique. One look around the stylish and innovative adaptation of an abandoned quarry into a beautiful open-air restaurant and lounge and the artist’s name comes to mind. He did, in fact, originate the concept, but it was a pair of German architects who created this oasis as part of a villa for film star Omar Sharif. The menu features contemporary European cuisine with a Basque accent; the duck magret with caramelized apple is legendary. A jazz combo plays on Sunday afternoons.$$$
RESTAURANTE LAGOMAR
Los Loros 6, Nazaret, Lanzarote
tel 34 928 845 665


DIVERSIONS

Everything on Lanzarote seems connected to its geologic past. A crater that collapsed into the sea left a deep cove, Charco de los Clicos, surrounded by a steep bowl of eroded walls. On the beach are peridots, semi-precious green stones that locals drill and string in necklaces. Search the tide lines to collect a handful.

About 4,500 years ago, a volcano in the north created a six-mile underground tube when its lava flow cooled on the surface, leaving molten lava underneath to empty into the sea. Its walls solidified as Cueva de los Verdes, a network of tunnels and grottos with swirling patterns and fantastic stone shapes. Where the tube enters the sea, César Manrique built Jameos del Agua, a complex of restaurant, lounge, bar, auditorium and swimming pool entered through two jameos, holes where the tube’s fragile roof collapsed.

Manrique built his home, Taro de Tahiche (http://www.cesarmanrique.com), inside clusters of small jameos, where natural volcanic tubes form hallways connecting sunken rooms, their undulating walls coated with smooth stucco in pure white and intense primary colors, contrasting vividly with the rough black rock.

Other Manrique attractions to look for on Lanzarote are Monumento al Campesino, with crafts studios and a huge sculpture; Mirador del Rio, on a cliff overlooking the island’s northeast tip; Museo International del Arte Contemporáneo in Castillo San José in Arrecife and Jardin de Cactus, a garden of 1,400 species of cactus that transform an abandoned quarry.

Explore the strange landscapes of the La Geria wine district, stopping at the wine museum El Grifo Museo, and for tapas while watching the sunset from El Chupadero Finca & Bodega (http://www.el-chupadero.com). At El Grifo you’ll see camel saddles and learn how camels worked in the wineries. Their descendants give rides along the slopes of Timanfaya National Park, at Echadero de Camellos. Beyond, at Islote de Hilario, buses take visitors along the spectacular Route of Volcanoes.

Arricife is Lanzarote’s commercial center, with tile-covered buildings lining its seaside promenade past little Castillo San Gabriel. The fishing village of Puerto del Carmen maintains its charms despite resort bustle. Its sand beaches at Playa Grande are backed by cliffs and well-kept gardens.

Playa Blanca, on the southern end, has the island’s most beautiful beaches, sheltered by wind-carved headlands.

Best are those at Papagayo, in Los Ajaches natural park; water taxis take you there and back.

Ferries shuttle from Playa Blanca to Fuerteventura, surrounded by miles of golden sand for sunbathers, windsurfers, surfers and — only on protected beaches — swimmers. Although best known for water sports, Fuerteventura has charms that appeal to the less aquatic-minded. Its historic sites delve farther back than any on Lanzarote. At Cueva de Llano, where tours stress geology and natural history, visitors also see evidence of the earliest inhabitants, who lived in the cave. In the south, Poblado de la Atalyita preserves stone remains of a town built in the first millennium B.C. Colonial history is beautifully maintained in Betancuria, where some houses have stood for five centuries.

Casa de los Coroneles, a mansion built in La Olivia by island rulers in the 1700s, has been restored, with fine carved wooden balconies and windows. The work of contemporary Canarian artists is showcased in the gallery and shop at nearby Centro de Arte Canario.

One of the many windmills has been restored as centerpiece of Molino de Antigua; inside see the wooden cogs that make it work. A round stone granary was recast as a restaurant by César Manrique, and the archaeology museum shows artifacts from third-century cave-dwellers. La Alcondida is a settlement of seven farms restored as a museum, a chance to see how islanders once lived.

Boat excursions of all kinds depart coastal resorts on both islands, and it’s easy to charter a boat of your own at marinas or yacht clubs. Oceano sails daily from Morro Jable, Fuerteventura, or you can charter the whole boat for whale and dolphin excursions. The 38-foot ketch Sea Breeze (tel 34 619 734 215) can be chartered from Puerto Calero on Lanzarote. Mizu I and Mizu II sail from Puerto Calero Marina (tel 34 636 474 000) for top deep-sea fishing experiences. PADI-certified Calipso Diving in Costa Tequise (http://www.calipso-diving.com) provides guided excursions, equipment and instruction.

While golf is still scarce, the few courses are well-kept. Fuerteventura Golf Club (tel 34 928 160 034, http://www.fuerteventuragolfclub.com) at Caleta de Fuste is an 18-hole par 71 course in a hotel complex; on Lanzarote, Club de Golf de Costa Teguise(http://www.golf-lanzarote.com) is an 18-hole course.


INFO TO GO

Most flights from continental Europe to the Canary Islands go through Gran Canaria Airport (LPA) or Tenerife South (TFS), connecting via short flights to Lanzarote’s Arrecife Airport (ACE) or Fuerteventura Airport (FUE). Binter Airlines flies frequently among the islands, but the 30-minute ferry from Playa Blanca to Corralejo is quick and easy — and you can take a rental car between islands. Taxis are abundant at airports, where all major rental car agencies have representatives. For more information, visit http://www.turismodecanarias.com .