OUR WRITER heads off the well-worn tourist trail to explore Tenerife’s abundant natural beauty.
Not far from the concrete jungles of Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos there is a very different Tenerife. One of soaring mountains, lunar landscapes and picturesque colonial towns.
My only other experience of the island had been as a 21 year old, when I’d come to one of these southern resorts with a group of friends for a booze-fuelled fortnight.
This time, a little wiser and a lot older, it was time to try something more authentic and a bit more sedate.
Which is how I find myself in a café in the plaza in Garachico (above), a pretty harbour town in the north east of the island. As I sip on a barraquito – hot coffee made with layers of condensed milk, cinnamon and Spanish liqueur – an old fashioned horse-drawn carriage clops by and people stroll around admiring the historic buildings, with not a lobster-faced reveller in sight.
Flanked by steep, forested slopes, Garachico was all but destroyed by a series of disasters: freak storms, floods, fires and a devastating volcanic eruption in 1706, but its whitewashed Spanish-style buildings and narrow cobbled streets have retained their charm.
There’s no beach, but the natural rock pools along the coastline make it a great place to swim. Formed from the boiling lava that once flattened the town’s thriving harbour, they are filled with seawater that gets warmed by the sun. It’s so clear that you can see shoals of tiny fish swimming beneath the surface.
Earlier that morning, my partner and I had been for a dip in the town’s municipal 25-metre swimming pool, also located on the seafront. The cost of an entrance ticket comes courtesy of our hotel, La Quinta Roja, one of a handful of smart boutique hotels in the town.
Built in the 1600s for the local marquis, it’s been lovingly restored and is now a collection of 20 rooms and suites, palm-filled inner courtyards and polished mahogany balconies. On the roof, there’s a sauna, massage room and hot tub, where you can sit and listen to the bells of the 16th-century Santa Ana church ring out on the hour.
Although it’s one of Tenerife’s major attractions and hard to miss at 12,198 feet, many visitors never get to see Mount Teide up close. Which is a shame as it’s astonishing. Located in Teide National Park, the volcano was designated a World Heritage Site in 2007 and last erupted in 1909, although it’s still classed as active.
On the afternoon of our arrival at the Parador de Cañadas del Teide, a mountain lodge with arguably one of the world’s best outlooks, it’s raining and misty and Teide (the name was given by the Guanches, Tenerife’s original inhabitants, and means “hell”) is veiled in clouds.
The next morning, however, as I draw back the curtains, there it is in all its magnificence, framed by a bright blue sky.
My knowledge of volcanoes begins and ends with boiling lava and fiery eruptions, but I’m about to learn much more, thanks to volcanologist David Calvo and Ignacio Garcia, co-director of GeoTenerife. The company gives educational tours to universities and will offer them to tourists from next month.
“There are six different ecosystems on Tenerife,” Ignacio tells us, pointing out the “catedral”, a massive piton or volcanic spire, in the Ucanca Valley. This volcanic landscape is so similar to that on Mars that NASA scientists tested out a robotic vision system before sending it into space. It’s also a favourite of sci-fi directors, who have used it as the backdrop for Hollywood movies such as Clash Of The Titans and
One Million Years BC. Rich in history and natural beauty, Tenerife makes an ideal active holiday, though, with its year-round balmy climate, many holidaymakers here are simply in search of sunshine.
And for those wishing for winter sun, there are good deals to be had at this time of year, with luxury hotels such as the swish Iberostar Grand Hotel Mencey, just over the road from the Parque García Sanabria, offering competitive rates.
At night, head for the grey stone tower of Iglesia de la Concepción to reach the old town, a lively Bohemian quarter called La Noria with a wide choice of quality restaurants and tapas bars. If you’re visiting in February, head to the Santa Cruz Carnival, said to be the most spectacular, and “Brazilian”, of all Spain’s carnivals.
We round off our trip with a three-hour boat excursion out on the North Atlantic, hoping to spot some of its resident marine wildlife (Tenerife is one of the best places in the world to see whales and dolphins). Ten minutes into our journey into the North Atlantic, they suddenly appear, around 15 dolphins, including a mother and her three-month-old calf.
This time, I think to myself, I’ll be returning home with memories made up of more than cheap cocktails and a killer hangover.
Way to go
Monarch Airlines flies to Tenerife South Airport from several UK airports from £91 return, including taxes (monarch.co.uk). A double room with breakfast at the Iberostar Grand Hotel Mencey in Santa Cruz starts from £78 (grandhotelmencey.com). A double room with breakfast at Hotel Rural La Quinta Roja in Garachico starts from £86 (quintaroja.com). A double room with breakfast at the Parador de Cañadas del Teide starts from £97 (parador.es). A day in Teide National Park with an expert from GeoTenerife costs £50pp from February and a three-hour whale and dolphin spotting tour costs £25 for adults, half price for children aged 5-12, and includes lunch and beers or soft drinks (maritimaacantilados.com).
Ten things you must do in Tenerife
- Stay up late for a group stargazing lesson with an astronomer at the Parador El Teide.
- Take the Teleférico del Teide cable car to the top of Mount Teide for spectacular views.
- Take a boat tour from Los Gigantes to see bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales.
- Visit historic San Cristóbal de La Laguna, a World Heritage Site considered to be Tenerife’s most beautiful town.
- Go hiking in the mountainous Anaga region, a spectacular nature reserve.
- Take a stroll around the old town of Santa Cruz, Tenerife’s capital.
- Sun yourself on Playa de Las Teresitas, Tenerife’s most photogenic beach, covered in sand from the Sahara.
- Spend a day in Los Silos, a lovely town in the lush green Isla Baja area at the foot of the Teno Mountains.
- Visit the mountain village of Masca, home to just 90 people.
- Swim in the natural rock pools in the little town of Garachico.