If God had a cat and one day accidentally hoofed over its litter tray, his clumsiness could explain the creation of Lanzarote. Volcanoes have spilt an extraordinary charcoal-black gravel across great swaths of the island, painting its landscape from a palette not quite of this planet.
Cat litter is not usually something you would fly for hours to scrunch around in, but it is for an entirely different reason that for years Lanzarote has been twinned with a word beginning in "gr" and ending in "otty." This old cliche ignores the ancient vineyards, caves and the pretty white houses that sparkle against this Canary Island's black beauty. It sees only the package holiday industry, which herds tourists in and out of this fantasy island where the sun shines all year and the booze and smokes are come-again cheap.
In Britain, at least, we tend to ignorantly assume that this small island only 130km from the African coast has been as drastically shaped by mass tourism as by the volcanoes that erupted over the island in the 18th and early 19th centuries. We are completely wrong.
One local man has done far more to create modern Lanzarote than millions of British tourists. Cesar Manrique was born on the island in 1919 and raised on its untouched beaches. An acclaimed modern artist, and later architect, Manrique mixed with the likes of Picasso and Andy Warhol in Spain and New York before returning home to great acclaim in the late 1960s.
Just as package tourism was taking off, Manrique devoted himself to a prescient passion for genuinely sustainable development. He died in a car accident in 1992, but many islanders fight on to preserve his legacy. Thanks to Manrique's influence, there are no roadside advertising hoardings in Lanzarote, just one high-rise building on the entire island and the attractive historic towns, such as Haria in the north and Yaiza in the south, remain painted in their traditional colors - white walls and dark green doors and window frames.
For more information check out Finca Malvasia (fincamalvasia.com), El Charcon, Arrieta (elcharcon.com) or La Cueva/LagOmar, Nazaret, Teguise (lag-o- mar.com).
As soon as I drove 15 minutes from the airport into the island's volcanic wine-growing region it was obvious that mass tourism has been almost completely contained in the low-rise resorts such as Puerto del Carmen and Playa Blanca on the island's south coast. Both are fairly sleepily inoffensive, and if you are really against Brit-Irish bars you can easily steer clear of them; the only time I saw package tourists was when their pink faces were pressed against the window of their tour bus as it sweated through Famara village where I was tucking into some post-surf lunch.
At the bottom of a dusty black track is an oasis of cacti, palms and pink bougainvillea set around a pool built in the style of Manrique. The four boutique apartments of Finca Malvasia, set in an old working vineyard, have been transformed by a young British couple, Tarnya and Richard Norse-Evans, who fell in love with the island and its surf a decade ago and finally permanently relocated there earlier this year.
They offer a nicely personal take on chic self-catering apartments, which they have refitted with appropriately mid-century modernist furnishings. Guests can order platters of local produce for breakfast, get surf lessons or guided trips with Richard or indulge in spa, massage and yoga treatments in a pleasing round stone hut on the edge of the vineyard.