Tenerife – Beyond the Beaches.jpg

Tenerife – Beyond the Beaches

By Nigel Wright [email protected]

Nigel Wright and his wife Sue moved to Portugal five years ago and live in the countryside near Paderne with their three dogs. They lived and worked in the Far and Middle East during the 1980s and 90s and although now retired, still continue to travel as much possible and enjoy new cultural experiences. His other interests include tennis, gardening, photography and petanque.

Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands is like two places in one. The lush green, almost tropical landscape of the north is very Spanish with beautiful, colonial style working towns and villages

Seaside lava rocks at Garachico.
Seaside lava rocks at Garachico.

The south is an arid, virtually rain-free holiday land of entertainment, resorts and hotels, all devoted to giving visitors a good time. The near perfect climate means that it is a year round sunshine and beach destination and very popular in winter with northern Europeans.

The biggest and busiest southern resort, Playa das Américas, is often criticised for its tacky, package tour style, but remains enormously popular with its black volcanic sand beaches, water parks, camel rides, karaoke bars and all day English breakfasts.

It is definitely not the place to stay if you want an ethnic experience! Happily, those who would like to take home some unforgettable memories of Tenerife can easily venture beyond the tourist hotspots. Regimented bus tours are available, but the best way is to hire a car and explore the scenic mountain roads to discover the heart and soul of this lovely island.

El Teide

Steep road descending to Masca.
Steep road descending to Masca.

El Teide, named by the native Guanche people, is Spain’s highest mountain at 3,700m and a giant sleeping volcano that last erupted about 100 years ago. It soars majestically above the island’s landscape and is snow-capped in winter.

We enjoyed the varied scenery during the easy drive up through the pine forests to the massive caldera that surrounds the main peak, and were surprised to see just how much snow had recently fallen in the area. Every visitor is thrilled by the surreal moonscape of twisted rock, black lava flows and towering cliffs. The whole region is now protected as a National Park. There is an information centre and many superb hiking trails. In good weather, visitors can take a cable car ride to an area just below El Teide’s shapely summit.

Magical Masca

Los Gigantes and its cliffs.
Los Gigantes and its cliffs.

The jewel in the crown of the ancient basalt mountains of NW Tenerife is the tiny and once virtually inaccessible village of Masca. Clinging to the side of a deep gorge, it can only be reached by a road that drops almost vertically into the valley through a never-ending series of tight hairpin bends. We loved this exhilarating driving challenge but finding a parking place in the village was difficult.

However, just beyond the centre, the ‘La Pimentera’ restaurant has its own car park. Here high above the gorge, we sat on a peaceful shady terrace, and enjoyed a perfect lunch, prepared and served by the eccentric Italian chef and owner. We had a magical bird’s eye view of the precipitous ridges plunging down through the verdant valley as far as the sea.

On the north coast of this picturesque corner of the island lies once prosperous Garachico. For 200 years, vessels laden with wine, sugar and also emigrants for the Americas sailed from here and it was Tenerife’s busiest port.

But in May 1706, nearby Volcano Negro erupted and poured lava through the town, choking its streets and harbour. Although the town was reconstructed, the once superb natural harbour was destroyed and never recovered. Today, visitors stroll around the attractive town and gaze at the weird and wonderful shapes created when the molten lava hit the sea. 

The Anaga Mountains

The wild unspoiled Anaga mountain region in the far NE is a hiker’s paradise and has many way-marked trails. Although only rising to 1,000m, the mountains are steep with jagged peaks that are often cloaked in mist. The area has a wealth of flora endemic to the archipelago, a display of which can be seen at an informative visitor centre.

A superb road snakes along the crest of the main ridge and we stopped at some of the many viewpoints to enjoy the dramatic landscape. Finally, we descended steeply to the village of Taganana and a tasty lunch of freshly grilled parrotfish served with the Canarian speciality papas arragadas (delicious local new potatoes cooked in their skins with plenty of salt). Few tourists venture into this sparsely populated region and parts are designated as protected areas. However, it is well worth the effort.

Colonial Tenerife

La Oratava is a beautifully preserved colonial town set on a fertile sloping plateau in the north of the island. It is our favourite Tenerife town and has ornate carved wooden balconies, steep cobbled streets, gardens, museums and preserved historic buildings, which are best explored on foot.

One of the visitor highlights is the Casa de los Balcones, a magnificent colonial building with superb original balconies overlooking an inner courtyard, full of exotic greenery. Traditionally dressed lady embroiderers show off their skills in the ground floor craft shop and a wide range of quality souvenirs can be purchased. 

Another lovely building lies next door, and to escape the crowds, we ventured inside to discover a delightful museum that described the history of La Oratava’s extraordinary annual Corpus Christi celebrations. Enormous carpets of flowers and coloured sand are created in the squares and streets of the town centre. They are astonishing works of religious art, different every year, only to be destroyed when the solemn Corpus Christi processions walk over them.

Los Gigantes

We visited Tenerife this February and rented an apartment in Los Gigantes, in the west of island. Massive 600m high sea cliffs (the giants) dominate this pleasant resort, which has all the necessary holiday amenities, two nice outdoor public swimming pools and steep streets leading down to a popular marina area. There is excellent road access into the mountains allowing the adventurous tourist to explore the wonderful scenery, culture and towns of this fascinating island.

To reach Tenerife, we chose to fly from Seville using Vueling, the low cost Spanish Airline. We were unable to find any scheduled flights from Portugal although charter flights do operate as part of package deals.