Simon Calder explores the delights of northern Tenerife, from echoes of Havana to the World’s End
The difference between TFN and TFS? The two airports serving the Canaries’ largest island are about 50 miles, an hour’s drive, apart. But the airports of Tenerife North and Tenerife South serve very different areas.
The Spanish airline, Iberia, has launched non-stop flights from Heathrow to the northern airport, Los Rodeos, opening up coastline, culture and countryside that many visitors to Tenerife currently miss.
1) Capital appeal Santa Cruz, the colourful and cosmopolitan capital of Tenerife, is as full of life as any Spanish city. Check into its grandest hotel, the recently refurbished Mencey (thegrandcollection.com). After a dip in the open-air pool, set off in search of the sights. Tenerife’s answer to the Sydney Opera House is Santiago Calatrava’s magnificent Auditorio – whose dramatic white waves transform the shoreline.
The life and times of the Canaries – from the eruption of the volcanoes that formed the islands, through Spain’s colonisation as stepping stones to the New World, to 21st-century tourism – are chronicled in the Museum of Nature and Man (museosdetenerife.org).
2) Beach life To reach one of Tenerife’s leading beaches, catch bus No 910 from Santa Cruz. It winds north-east for about 20 minutes until it reaches the village of San Andres and, at the end of the line, Las Teresitas beach. Unlike many of the beaches of the Canaries it has golden sand. Thousands of tons of the stuff were imported from the Sahara to create one of the most appealing sunbathing locations in the archipelago – with the added advantage of easy access back to the nightlife of Santa Cruz.
3) Retail heaven The tax regime in the Canary Islands is lighter than in the rest of Spain, and prices for many luxuries are lower. The best choice on the whole of Tenerife can be found is the vast Corte Inglés department store in Santa Cruz, with the added bonus of great views from the seventh-floor cafeteria.
4) Echoes of Havana La Laguna, at the end of tram line 1, is the town that proved to be the blueprint for Latin American colonialism – and has been recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. The cobbled streets and quiet courtyards of the town officially known as San Cristóbal de La Laguna are decorated with mansions dating from Spain’s golden age from the 16th to 18th centuries. It feels like a miniature Havana, without the need for a long-haul flight. Besides wandering through the atmospheric lanes, visit the Museum of History and Anthropology (museosdetenerife.org). And for tasty Canarian food, featuring seafood and hot sauces, visit Casa Maquila – which has been serving its speciality, stuffed squid, for more than a century.
5) A resort apart Tourism in Tenerife took shape in Puerto de la Cruz in the late 19th century. When charter holidaymakers began to arrive in the 1950s, this pretty town was the main resort for the island; the high-rise hotels of the south were much later developments. As the centre of tourism gravity has moved south, Puerto de la Cruz has remained tranquil and appealing – with Jardin Beach augmented by the magical Martiánez Pools, designed by the Canarian architect, César Manrique.
6) Sit comfortably Canarian food is best accompanied by the island’s wines. The best place to learn more about how they are cultivated in a challenging soil and climate is La Casa del Vino, high up by the village of El Sauzal. Explore the handsome winery then taste some of the produce, ideally early evening as the sun sinks into the Atlantic cabtfe.es/casa-vino
7) Mountain high The ideal prelude to an adventure on Spain’s highest mountain is to stay in the welcoming parador (parador.es) near its foot. After enjoying local produce, the 1920s ambience and a good night’s sleep, next morning explore the strange rock formations of the National Park. Then choose between two options to ascend 12,200ft (3,700m) Mount Teide: anyone reasonably fit can climb it in a day, but you can also take the Teleferico (cable car) to just below the summit (telefericoteide.com).
8) Walk tall If you prefer not to climb to the heavens, no problem: northern Tenerife has some of the finest hiking terrain in Europe. It has the added advantage of a wide range of temperatures and eco-systems, which you can calibrate relative to Teide. The richest source of great day-long hikes is the Orotava Valley, where pine forests drape some spectacular landscapes. Some excellent senderos can be found at bit.ly/TenTrail.
9) Gone fishing Some people like to talk about how all of Tenerife’s pretty fishing villages have been tainted by tourism. Drive far enough along the north-west coast from Tenerife North airport, though, and you can disprove the theory. Garachico is a gentle, windswept port whose structures built from old volcanic stones make you feel as though it has grown out of the raw earth.
10) World’s end El Hierro – easily accessible by air with frequent flights from Tenerife North airport – was once regarded as the place the known world ended, and for a time a prime meridian was established at its western edge. Even on the map, it looks dramatic: a three-pointed Napoleonic hat, with each side nibbled away. The three-dimensional reality is even more impressive. As you approach by air or sea, a corrugated cone rises from the ocean, softened by a green cloak that has casually been draped over much of the terrain. Since the New World was colonised, El Hierro has been a quiet backwater. Besides some of the most spectacular scenery in the whole of Spain, it has a low-key charm that makes for an ideal great escape.
Written by SIMON CALDER and first published in The Independent