Stunning volcanoes and luxury hotels: A half-term treat in full-on Tenerife where tourists may be in holiday mode but the dramatic landscape certainly isn’t
As Izzie ushers us down into a dark, volcanic tunnel, confidently reeling off her tour guide patter about the dangers of the needlesharp lava around us, a sudden anguished cry goes up from the back of the cave: ‘A little boy in a green hoodie has just fallen down a hole!’ A young mother in the group reaches down for a tiny six-year-old hand that, to her horror, isn’t there. ‘Oh my God!’ screams Izzie. Is a tour guide’s worst nightmare about to unfold?
We are high in the badlands of Tenerife, an austere moonscape a few hours’ drive from the luxury resorts that make up the semi-tropical coastal belt of this Atlantic island. Up here in Mount Teide National Park, the vegetation thins, temperatures dip alarmingly towards zero, heavy mist blots out the sun and the terrain is stark and tricky. And, as we now realise, life-threatening.
Thankfully, the crisis passes as Little Green Hoodie manages to crawl out to safety unharmed. But for the rest of us, what has just taken place is a timely reminder that, although we may be in holiday mode, nature isn’t.
Back at the Palacio de Isora hotel, it’s action stations.
This 600-room Thomson Sensatori resort is styled like a Moroccan palace, with caramel-coloured walls, turrets and domes and a vast plaza that bustles like a bazaar, given that it’s half-term and the place is full almost to overflowing.
By the pools, sunbeds are crammed together like rush-hour commuters. Children are in full cry, in and out of the water. There is an A-Z timetable of family pastimes on offer, from archery to zumba.
My wife heads off to Pilates. Harry, 12, is drawn to the teen club for giant chess, video games and much-needed ‘banter’ with boys his own age.
We overprotective parents can turn off the anxiety switch and relax under the palms in gardens or gaze across at the neighbouring island of La Gomera. It’s a chance to contemplate.
Here we are on a tiny dot in the Atlantic Ocean formed by tectonic plates shifting violently 50million years ago. That number of noughts strung together puts our selfie-centred culture into perspective.
As does the finale of our trip to Teide — staring up at the heavens in one of the world’s best spots for star-gazing because it’s remote from too much man-made light. A bright moon spoils the total blackout on this particular night but the constellations still shine, their shapes picked out and identified for us by Izzie’s laser torch. She points to the Seven Sisters, not just a road in North London but a cluster named after the Pleiades of Greek myth. And Orion, Andromeda, the two Ursas and so on ad infinitum.
It’s the infinitum bit that gets to me as her laser beam directs us to the faint glow of a star that is more than 500 light years away. In miles, that’s three followed by a mind-blowing 15 noughts. What this vast distance means is that the light we are seeing started out from that star in 1492 — about the same time that brave explorers from Europe were first setting out across the Atlantic and stumbling on specks in the ocean like Tenerife.
Which in turn means that what we are gazing at in wonder may not even be there any more.
Where is Stephen Hawking when you need him? But, like Captain Kirk on the starship Enterprise (or that little boy who fell down a different sort of black hole in the cave), I suddenly feel I have boldly gone where no man has gone before. And, as a holiday experience, that takes some beating.