The Canary Island of Fuerteventura is usually associated with beautiful beaches, breath-taking scenery and plenty of wind to indulge in some of those energetic water sports. The island is also particularly popular with German and British tourists, but very little is known or discussed about the darker side of Fuerteventura’s history, involving Nazi Germany.
Over the many years that I have visited and explored the island, I have had the opportunity to meet with and discuss the story with many local people who know the property and its history well. This is the intriguing story of Villa Winter…
Villa Winter is an impressive, mysterious and very large building situated close to the village of Cofete, on the Jandia peninsular. The villa was built in a remote spot, and is accessible only on a dust track by heavy duty 4-wheel drive vehicles. Villa Winter belonged to Gustav Winter, who was a German engineer born in Germany’s Black Forest in 1893. It is thought that the villa was built in 1937, although official records appear to have been modified to 1946, for reasons that will become apparent later in this story. The villa has two floors, with a tower in the north western part of the property, and a balcony at the front.
Since 1915, Gustav Winter worked for Spain on projects in Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura. In 1937, he signed a lease for the Jandia peninsular from the Conde de Santa Coloma, based in Lanzarote. That same year, Winter left the island for Germany, in order to seek funding. In 1939, local people were barred from the peninsular, which was declared a military zone, due to agreements between General Franco and Adolf Hitler.
The road to the villa, as well as the villa itself, were built by prisoners of war from the concentration camp at Tefia, which later became the island’s airport. The building has vast, dark cellars and caves stretching beneath it, and includes a large tower that looks out to sea. It is often suggested that it was built to act as a watch tower for sightings of possible aircraft landings at the nearby airfield of Jandia, as well as a beacon for submarines. Intriguingly, the tower still contains evidence of an enormous fuse box indicating that large and power hungry equipment was used in the tower.
There is well documented evidence of submarines sited around the Canary Islands during the Second World War, and between March and July 1941 submarines visited the harbour of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria a number of times.
There continues to be speculation that Fuerteventura was the home of a submarine base, and there are reports of two tunnels built under the mountains, dug into the lava tunnels of an extinct volcano that were used for U boats. Some say that there are still two complete submarines in it, which are claimed to have sunk. This suggestion was investigated by a team of experts from Austria and Spain in the 1970s, yet they lost their lives when their boat exploded during the investigation and their work remains unconfirmed.
There are many stories about Villa Winter, but one common theme is that its role was a safe house for the Nazis. At the end of the war, it is thought by many that a number of Nazi leaders, including Adolf Hitler, arrived on the island, where plastic surgery was undertaken to change their identities before they escaped to South America, and with Argentina being a favoured destination, since Peron was a friend and ally of Hitler.
We have been told for many years that Hitler and his wife, Eva Braun, committed suicide in an underground bunker in April 1945. According to accounts and propaganda at the time, their bodies were then taken outside and burned by loyal staff before being deposited in a shallow grave. Many experts now believe the story to be untrue and was concocted between the Allies at the end of the war. It is suggested that Hitler travelled from Germany to Fuerteventura where a U boat was waiting to take him to Argentina where he ended his days.
In 1971, Gustav Winter died on the neighbouring island of Gran Canaria. Both he and his widow denied the many stories surrounding the mysterious Villa Winter until their deaths. A distant relative of Gustav Winter attempted to turn the villa into a wellness centre some years ago, but the plans failed. The villa is currently owned by a Spanish building company and will probably be eventually converted into a hotel or restaurant.
Whatever the truth is behind this mysterious building, there remain many unsolved mysteries and speculation surrounding Villa Winter, and many inconsistencies and secrecy remain.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: www.barriemahoney.com and www.thecanaryislander.com or read his book, ‘Island in the Sun’ (ISBN: 9780992767181). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle.
© Barrie Mahoney