FAR from the beaches and madding crowds, Helen Ochyra discovers there’s another side to the largest Canary Island
I am tucking into a bowl of garlic chicken and washing it down with a crisp white wine produced just a few miles away. Between mouthfuls I dip whole, salty potatoes into tangy mojo sauce. And through it all I keep my eyes fixed on the view beyond the terrace where a plunging ravine leads down through crumpled mountains towards the distant Atlantic – and one of Europe’s busiest tourist resorts.
This is Tenerife – but not the Tenerife you’ve seen in the holiday brochures. I am eating where locals eat, surrounded by Spanish voices in the village of Adeje, towards the top of the Barranco del Infierno and high above Adeje’s coastal namesake.
Costa Adeje is where much of Tenerife’s recent tourism development has taken place, but unlike the neighbouring raucous party resort of Playa de las Américas, it has retained some traditional charm. Here you’ll find the most upmarket hotels, laid out along the Atlantic coastline to make full use of the beauty of this dramatic, volcanic landscape.
I stroll from my hotel, the Sheraton La Caleta, and after a few minutes’ walk along the seafront and under the bougainvillea, I find myself at the quiet cove of La Caleta. Here the small, pebbly beach is lined with Canarian restaurants and tapas bars and I am drawn around the sweeping cove to the far end and Las Rosas restaurant, where I sit for several hours overlooking the water and feasting on local seafood.
I am going to need my energy, because I have not come to Tenerife to sit on a sunlounger, I am here to hike. Tenerife is home to some of Europe’s best hiking trails, running along volcanic ridges and down into imposing barrancos (ravines). Many of these trails run through the foothills of Mount Teide, Spain’s highest mountain and the world’s third largest volcano, and in a few days’ time I plan to reach its summit.
But first some training, and for this I head to Los Cristianos to make the short hop by ferry to the neighbouring island of La Gomera. This is the Canaries’ premier hiking destination, an island with a landscape so dramatic the people invented a whistling language, silbo, to facilitate communication across its sharp ravines.
The locals may seek to save their legs but mine are raring to go and in a few days on a Macs Adventure walking itinerary I cover 50 kilometres, hiking through the forests of Garajonay National Park (one of the last vestiges of the laurel forests that once covered the Mediterranean) and down the steep banana plantation terraces of Hermigua valley. I pass just a handful of other hikers and although the snow-capped cone of Teide is visible across the water, Tenerife’s resorts feel a million miles away.
And yet that ferry journey takes just 40 minutes and all too quickly I find myself swapping the quiet cobbled streets of Gomera’s capital San Sebastián for the bustling promenade of Los Cristianos. This is Tenerife’s other big-name resort, with plenty of restaurants, and at Las Vistas I am drawn to the far end of the beach, where Chiringuito Atlanticus serves up the catch of the day – cherne, a local white meaty fish.
When the day of my hike to the summit of Teide arrives, I am raring to go. Most tourists who visit the volcano do so by cable car and at first I stay with them, driving with my guide, Felix, the hour or so inland to reach the popular stop of Los Roques de Garcia.
Here, lava flow from Teide’s eruptions has cooled into twisted pinnacles and brooding rock stacks. The most bizarre rock formation is the Roque Cinchado, known to locals as the finger of God, that’s teetering on its fast-eroding base and looks like it could fall at any second.
The start of the trail to the summit begins at Montaña Blanca and from here we hike for four hours, following the path through patches of unmelted snow and feeling the burn as it steepens. I am wearing seven layers, my hands are cold and my legs are tired, but the view from 3,718 metres makes it all worthwhile. The islands of Gran Canaria, La Palma and La Gomera poke their heads above the sea of clouds, the sun lights Teide’s sulphurous rocks in rosy pink and the triangular shadow of the peak we are standing on dominates the skyline like a giant, dark pyramid.
An eight-minute descent by cable car and a short drive back to the coast, and I have swapped shivering at the summit for sunbathing at sea level. In Los Abrigos, a fishing village near the airport, I eat the best shellfish platter I’ve ever tasted at Restaurante Los Abrigos and marvel at the unlikeliness of it all.
Ten things you must do in Tenerife
- Hike to the summit of El Teide, at 3,718 metres above sea level, or take the cable car to 3,500 metres.
- Stroll along the seafront promenade that links Los Cristianos to Costa Adeje.
- Explore the cobbled alleys and historic buildings of UNESCO World Heritage-listed La Laguna.
- Enjoy the rides and slides at Siam Park water park.
- Order the shellfish platter at Restaurante Los Abrigos for some of the juiciest prawns and most succulent squid you’ve ever tasted.
- Snack on papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes) dipped in some mojo sauce and washed down with a Dorada beer.
- Swim in natural rock pools at Garachico.
- Have a drink overlooking the waters of La Caleta – try the terrace at Restaurante Masía del Mar.
- Sunbathe on a black-sand beach beneath towering cliffs at Los Gigantes.
- Take the ferry to La Gomera and hike through Garajonay National Park to the island’s highest point, Alto de Garajonay.