Life is grand on Gran Canaria. GRAN CANARIA is not the biggest of the Canaries islands to spend canaries' holidays; it just feels that way when you try to negotiate some of the busiest streets of the capital, Las Palmas. The dinky capital, Las Palmas, with its half- Gothic, half Neo-Classical cathedral, its pretty Doramas park; Casa de Colon (house of Columbus - he got everywhere), colonial barrio - and a sprinkling of quaint fishing villages, all on an island you can drive around in three hours . . . or then again, maybe not. For despite the best efforts of the charmingly efficient, hard-working Canarians to rebrand their group of islands, culture and ancient ruins aren't really why most people come here. The reason that people still flock to Gran Canaria with the dedicated intention of familiarising themselves with the bar - albeit a five-star bar with posh, sea-salted crisps and tapas - rather than drinking in the local culture and antiquities, is because its canary islands hotels are so slick and accommodating. Most visitors find themselves in one of the purpose-built hotels in the south of the island and fortunately most stay there for the duration, apart from the odd trip into town. THE guide books to Gran Canaria are a bit on the skinny side: always a gratifying feature of any holidays destination when all you secretly want to do is crash out by the pool. While the island can be circumnavigated in a day, to make your canaries holidays enjoyable it's more fun to push north to explore some of the typical old settlements or into the mountainous centre to visit villages such as Artenara, perched at 1,200m, pausing for lunch on the terrace at the Meson de Silla restaurant to admire its stunning views.
You may arrive by chauffeured limo (courtesy of our hotel) at Maspalomas , the canary islands main hotel in the south, about 30 minutes from the airport, with every intention of exploring the valleys and mountains in the centre of the island. How marvellous that such variety could be contained within such a compact island. The secret to getting the most out of Gran canaries holidays, then, is to hire a car and get away from the maddening throng. Hire a car instantly. But even those who fail to make it that far from the sun-lounger usually manage a glimpse of Las Palmas's most distinctive stretch of sand, the amazing dessert-like dunes of Maspalomas. And no, that camel train crossing it is not a mirage; it's a tourist attraction. A day or so later, with your fearlessly intrepid explorer spirit only marginally dented, you drag youselves away from the hotel buffet and spa and finally summon the energy to step beyond the lush hotel grounds with the superhuman goal of crossing the narrow street to the sea, where you discover Maspalomas beach. The verb "discover" is used loosely, since technically speaking several hundred people has got there before. Not that anyone is squashed. Maspalomas beach is 6km (3.7 miles) long, and at some points, 1km wide. Then it runs into Playa des Ingles, which is of lesser, but still impressive, dimensions. But the sand is golden, clean and liberally studded with pristine sunbeds and parasols and edged with tiny pizza shacks, plus a warren of (well two, anyway) shady, restaurant-fringed lanes, which at night become host to street vendors selling hideous shell configurations and fake tattoo artists. Kids' heaven, in other words.
Better still, from the vaguely guilt-ridden point of view, Maspalomas offers all the aquatic adventures you could hope for. Right outside the Palm Beach Hotel. Which is one of the reasons people chose it, though any claims that you should be seeking an action-packed holiday are looking frankly fraudulent.
You may harbour the occasional fantasy about learning to dive, along with becoming a master paraglider but after five minutes of instructor's spiel and slipping him £3, you begin doing laps round the pool with an oxygen tank strapped to your back. If your family collectively fork out about £330, you sign up for a three-day course. This involves alarming amounts of theory about water pressure, heavy equipment, something very unhygienic called buddy breathing.
But it turns out that when you're 30m under the sea, with a faulty oxygen tank and a shark snapping at your flippers, no sane person would want to be with anyone other than the instructor.
Reinvigorated by the diving (there's nothing like overcoming claustrophobia and lost contact lenses for inspiring some heartwarming family bonding), you begin to take advantage of the hotel's outdoor gym - and er, the spa again.
You could have played golf, done sun salutations by the pool or some of that horse riding we'd promised ourselves - the hotel would gladly have organised it, but in seven days of your canaries holidays there honestly isn't the time.
You can go on a whale-watching trip, and it is a nice change being able to see the lunar coast from a boat, rather than a sun lounger. A visit to Aqua Sur water park at Maspalomas was an afternoon of almost completely unmitigated hell as far as most grown ups are concerned, but kids adore it. You could easily bring the kids here for a three-day unforgettable canaries holidays.
And they would go back to Cran canaries like a shot.