One of the nice things about living on a sub-tropical island is the number of times the opportunity comes up to play truant, and spend time with visiting friends or family, and, of course, over Christmastime an ex-pat often finds themself playing at tour guide. Sometimes it’s lazing on the beach, or taking a boat trip, shopping in Santa Cruz or going to a “hidden” restaurant for a wonderful meal, and sometimes it’s exploring the parts of the island their brochures hadn’t covered. I enjoy it all, but especially the last, because I love to see people’s reactions to stunning scenery like the lunar landscapes of the Teide National Park, to peaceful, pretty villages and to a history which they didn’t realize were the other face of Tenerife.
In recent weeks I’ve “toured” two lots of visiting friends, and scratched my head about where to take my father, who almost always comes at Christmas, and so has seen a fair bit of the island.
First of all let me hold up my hand and say that I was the one whose mis-impression was shattered, when I went to pick up friends at their hotel. Hotel Be Live La Niña is situated in what is usually described as a “lively” part of Playa de las Americas, Torviscas Bajo, and I feared the worst! It’s years since I was in this particular area, and my first impression was that it had cleaned up very nicely, a bit like the post I wrote last year about the other end of the town. Although not actually pedestrianized, the road was now one way and a sort of modern cobblestone, not somewhere vehicles would go screaming through, as traffic used to before. I pulled into the hotel’s underground parking, to find ample space and signage, and stepping into the hotel was like stepping into another world, leaving behind the street sounds, to find an oasis of calm. My friends were happy with their room-with-a-view and with the hotel food, and I can’t really tell you more than that, except that I’m quite happy that times they are a changin’. I fully understand that it’s great to be able to stay at the beach and alternate lazy days with exploring ones, (Done it myself elsewhere to be sure) so it’s nice to have places one can recommend, in a place where there are still too many places one wouldn’t.
So, my own mind expanded, time to initiate others into the wonder that is Tenerife. I make no apologies for writing about Santiago del Teide again, maybe it’s because it’s almond blossom time, or because we are having such incredibly wonderful weather, and the sapphire blue sky is such a vivid backdrop for photos, but I find myself captivated by it at the moment, and for visitors its tranquility provides a perfect contrast to somewhere like Playa de las Americas. Just getting there, driving through villages like Chio and Guia de Isora and the cacti-studded scenery between them, opens up the mind. Apparently, my father hasn’t stopped talking about it since he arrived home, even though he has been here almost every year in the past 24.
I always take the high road, and so we can marvel at the ocean, spread out at the foot of the hillsides which fall away to the left, and at the variety of flora, both native and in gardens. At this time of year, of course, that includes stunning almond blossoms, as you draw closer to Santiago del Teide.
Arriving last week I saw that notices said that the church closed at 1pm, and it was getting close to that time, so I began the “tour” there. The belén was gone now, and it was a lazy weekday and not a fiesta, but it was still chock-a-block full of colorful, over-the-top art work, almost looking like an overstocked antique shop than a place of worship, after a coffee on the main street, we simply ambled around the village a bit, up to the cemetery, stopping to take in the fragile almond blossoms, as cocks crowed in drowsy village yards, and lizards scuttled from our path.
I ate twice at Señorio del Valle, the beautifully restored rural hotel/museum complex, just behind the church. I love the museum there, which is interesting and displays the history of the Chinyero volcano to excellent effect, there are also a couple of small art exhibits, a gift shop which sells stuff which is actually made on the islands (just a small shelf of identifiably-made-in-China things), restored wine presses in the courtyard, and artifacts displayed in the restaurant. All in all a genuine Canarian experience it seems. Shame then that two things let it down. If I find somewhere disappoints, my sense of fair play usually kicks in and thinks it might have been an off day, so I don’t condemn without giving it another go (unless it’s truly awful), but having eaten there twice now I’m disappointed to say it was the same both times. The food was at best mediocre, and the service bordered on rudeness. The details are boring, sufficient to say I can’t, honestly, recommend it, other than as a very pleasant place to have coffee. My understanding from this article by local journalist and blogger Andy Montgomery, is that actually staying at the hotel is an outstanding experience, and the hotel itself does look delightful, so I figure that anywhere is worth a third try, and I will in the near future. It’s a tribute to the overall ambience of the village that an indifferent lunch didn’t spoil the visits.
I have a kind of litmus test for people. If I round the bend and the awesome view of Los Acantilados de Los Gigantes doesn’t draw a sharp intake of breath from my passengers, then I probably don’t have much in common with them. It’s only happened to me once, and that was a few years back now. Last week we had enjoyed a perfect day, with clear, achingly blue skies and little haze, so the view was good when I stopped on the way back for the photo op. I don’t take friends down into the Los Gigantes development any more. I didn’t like it when times were more affluent, and now it has a definitely shabby feel to add to its lack of charisma, so we meandered on south keeping as close to the coast as close as we could.
Alcalá, Playa San Juan and the tiny Puertito are all en route, and if you’re returning at the end of the day any one of them is a rewarding place to stop a while, sip wine and watch the sun go over the yard-arm. My favorite is Puertito simply because it has, up to now, stayed so wonderfully quirky and untouched by commercialism. It scarcely earns the title village, but of anywhere on that coast it is the place which feels most different to the brashness of the man-made resorts. Playa San Juan may suit some guests more. It’s been prettied up and sanitized over the last few years, with an eye to custom from the posh hotels which are appearing on the west coast, but at least it isn’t beer and skittles.
Sunset at Playa San Juan
The only problem in whiling away a half hour or so this way is that the magic of the Canarian wine takes hold and I always want another glass, but since I still have a twenty minute drive after I leave Las Americas, it just isn’t worth the risk. Driving here is hazardous enough without being tipsy to boot. Still, I can always have another glass at home whilst I look back over the pictures of the day I’ve taken. Almost 24 years on, and I still marvel at the variety to be found in something less than 800 square miles!