There’s an island in Europe many think of only as swimming pools, booze and endless nights in crowded clubs.
But I found an island where stunning landscapes welcomed and embraced me, a gentle breeze cooled my stay, green forests enchanted my eyes and even a minke whale emerged from the sea, calling me like a mermaid.
Welcome to Tenerife, the largest Canary Island, a sub-tropical paradise which is just four hours by plane from London. Coming from the Americas is also quite easy, given the connections from Madrid and Lisbon, sometimes with direct charter flights.
I have to be honest – leaving the comfort of London to hike Canarian volcanoes, to walk for miles in lush green forests on an island in the middle of the ocean, I was worried. I thought it would be too tiring and exhausting.
But, at the recommendation of Turismo de Tenerife, the local tourist board, I decided to hike. And what a liberating experience it was. After four days, I almost forgot about the grim pollution in London, the chaos of the Underground during rush hour.
‘The island of hidden volcanoes’ – that’s how the locals refer to Tenerife. When landing in the ultra-modern Tenerife South Airport, the first thing you notice is the gorgeous Pico de Teide, a dormant volcano 3,718 meters (or 12,198 feet) high. Driving around the island you notice several more; their strong eruptions in years past have sculpted this jagged landscape.
Sometimes in Tenerife you’ll even experience small and feeble earthquakes. Don’t worry: it just means you are on a lively archipelago, and that in some millions of years everything here will be different, very different.
The Pico the Teide, first of all. The Teide National Park, which has an area of 18,900 hectares (47,000 acres), was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007. It is one of the most visited national parks in the world, with around 3 million visitors per year, and it hosts some genuine natural wonders. Considered to be a sacred mountain by the Guanches, the aboriginal population of the Canary Islands, the Teide is still an active volcano and it is under strict surveillance. Desert landscapes, some of the strangest vegetation in Europe and the stunning cable car make this spot an unmissable attraction on the island.
With a population of almost 900,000, Tenerife is an island of charming colonial cities, enriched with flowers and palms, dragon trees and a kind of architecture reminding me of some South American cities.
My initial base being Costa Adeje, I explored the ‘Great North’ of the island first. The Pico de Teide and Los Roques de García, the flowery La Orotava and the former capital La Laguna, the tiny coastal village of Garachico and the hidden Masca, without ignoring the capital, Santa Cruz, a proper Spanish city with buzzing scenery and lots of shopping opportunities.
La Laguna will delight you with churches and courtyards, a grid of clean and tidied streets (this is where the grid system popular in America was born) and a fantastic nightlife. This is the city where the Canarian youngsters come to study for university.
Then, La Orotava. Come here to wander in its steep streets, to admire the colorful façades and the Baroque churches full of saints, altars and golden sculptures. You cannot miss El Ayuntamiento (the town hall), the Mirador Humboldt (the great panoramic attraction over the valley), La Casa de los Balcones (a typical house dating back hundreds of years), the city gardens and the Iglesia de la Concepción (definitely the best Baroque church in the Canary Islands).
For a traditional lunch, please check the Bodega El Reloj, the stunning views and the flambéed chorizo (paprika sausage from the Iberian pig) make this remote restaurant worth the trip.
A drive on the Northern coast of the island is also essential. Have a look at the town of Garachico from above and consider this is a clear sign of human ambitions. In 1706 a volcanic eruption destroyed this town completely. It’s since been rebuilt, showing Mother Nature human beings are, perhaps, a match for volcanoes. Another gem of the island is the hidden village of Masca. Nested in a lush green valley, it looks like the Costa Rican island from Jurassic Park/World.
On the other side of the island, the capital Santa Cruz is ideal for shopping. Here you will find traditional markets with tropical fruit and fish, a huge department store, El Corte Inglés, and independent boutiques loved by the locals and almost ignored by the tourists, who stay in the southern part of the island. The Auditorio de Tenerife, designed by the world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, is one of the best contemporary buildings of the island.
For more traditional arts and culture, visit the Museum of Nature and Man, with its Guanche (the Canaries’ aboriginal inhabitants) mummies and remains, and the several Baroque churches among modern buildings and busy roads.
Of course, some of the more touristic resorts of the island are worth a visit. Playa Las Americas, Los Cristianos and Costa Adeje are the most buzzing nightlife spots in Tenerife. Just try to avoid the greasy fish and chips shops.
The Playa del Duque is for sure the best sandy beach on this side of the island; cozy bars and handsome guys will add a tropical flavor to your holiday. Climb aboard a boat from Puerto Colón, the Kosamui and perhaps you’ll meet dolphins and minke whales as you explore the coast north of Costa Adeje. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get to swim with sea turtles.
Finally, three other tips for your south-of-the-island stay. The restaurant La Vieja in La Caleta will provide you some of the best Canarian recipes. Come here if you fancy huge fish dishes, in a terrace overlooking the small bay and the ocean. In Tenerife you’ll find cod is much more then battered and fried fillets. Try it simply grilled with some herbs. Unbelievably tasty.
Second tip: the family-owned Hotel Spa Villalba, in Vilaflor. Featuring proper Spanish tastes, Canarian wooden furniture and a traditional restaurant, this relaxing hotel is in the middle of a pine forest. Unmissable. Finally, the best spot for nightlife in Playa de Las Americas is the Papagayo Beach Club – a diverse selection of cocktails, together with the breeze from the ocean, make this bar and nightclub a glamorous venue for your endless nights in Tenerife.
Also during my stay I decided to try one of the jewels of the Sheraton Hotels and Resorts family. Set in the wonderful Costa Adeje, famous for its average annual temperature of 22 degrees, the Sheraton La Caleta dates back to 2005 and is on the coastline next to the Playa de la Enramada. La Caleta Resort & Spa is blessed with a huge garden, charming swimming pools, on an exclusive ocean-front location.
You will be able to choose among 284 rooms and 20 suites – two of them even have a private terrace with Jacuzzi. My nights there were some of the most luxurious I’ve ever had. I must also mention the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in, which had multiple layers of the finest white linen and plenty of pillows of different sizes.
The hotel has several restaurants and the typical Spanish ‘La Venta’ will delight you with juicy cod, crispy bread and flavorful meat. The Spa Eutons is worth a try too – ask at reception for the five-sense experience. Enjoy!
With thanks to the Turismo de Tenerife.