Last week I wrote this short piece for sunshine.co.uk’s Tenerife insiders’ blog. It got me thinking about the village of Los Abrigos, and how it has changed over the years I’ve lived in Tenerife, and musing about whether the changes were a good thing or not. When we arrived in 1987 the village had already made itself a mecca for fresh fish dining, but in addition to excellent food, it was the lack of pretension with appealed to visitors. Has it kept that atmosphere?
Looking over the harbor at sunrise
When we were making the decision to immigrate I only had one week here to form opinions. Having checked out the school (my only worry), the rest of my week was all bonus, it was exploring and discovering what was to be our new home, and I think my favorite “discovery” was Los Abrigos.
We set off down a narrow, bumpy road with more twists than a slinky. At one point it was cobbled, but mostly it was broken-up tarmac, as if it had been abandoned and forgotten. I could see that it was leading seawards, because even this close to the ocean we were elevated (there is hardly any flat ground on Tenerife). It took us over an arid, mostly sandstone scrubland with the words coto de caza scrawled ominously all over the place. This was a warning to keep out of the area on Thursdays and Sundays in the hunting season, from August to December. It was hard to imagine just what there was there for rabbits, or anything else, to feed on. This type of landscape was so totally alien to me back then. I could only relate to scenarios from my favorite westerns. It looked like bleak wasteland, but the power of nature was palpable. It celebrated the ability to survive.
Finally, and not without a touch of car sickness, although it was only about ten minutes of a journey, we arrived at a little junction, where the road flattened. In another reference to westerns, the term “one horse town” came to mind! It was a dry and hot, early afternoon, and nothing stirred. If tumbleweed had blown along the road I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised. This was Los Abrigos, or The Shelters, so-called because the bay on which the village grew up is protected from the almost constant breezes which are a feature of this coastline. On the corner was the village shop, and next to it a fish restaurant, Tito’s, famed for being a cheaper version of what we were about to enjoy. Cheaper because it didn’t have the view, and it goes without saying you have to pay a bit extra for a view.
The road forked right to the seafront, and we drove haltingly along the street, taking in the vista, the sea and harbor falling away to our right, and our left bordered by slightly scruffy buildings, most of which were fish restaurants and bars. Then, as now, one of the first things which struck you on arrival was the mouth-watering aroma of frying fish, which permeates everything in the midday heat. If you aren’t hungry when you arrive, you surely will be within a couple of minutes. Most places had plastic tables and chairs which wobbled on the roadside – there was no sidewalk. We drove to the end, squeezed through the narrow opening between two buildings, and parked behind Perlas del Mar, the restaurant which occupies the most prominent position, at the end of the harbor, with marvellous views out to the Atlantic, and over the small harbor.
We were greeted with friendly smiles. The estate agent who had taken us was well-known there, and was it any wonder?! I can’t imagine anyone not being bowled over by the experience – great selling tool! We chose our own fish from the ‘fridge – that was a novelty. Then we settled in a corner table with those amazing views, for our first taste of mojo (an island sauce), boquerones (marinated anchovies) and calamari (lightly battered and fried), and salad, whilst we waited for our fish to be cooked. If I’m totally honest, the salad was very unimaginative – lettuce, tomatoes and onions, with the oil and vinegar to be added to taste. The salads haven’t changed much over the years, if you want a decent salad stick to the resort areas. That afternoon the estate agent knew she had us hooked. We sat and washed down all that marvellous fresh food with cold beers, and the kids pottered safely around the seawall as we watched. They’d spotted the seawater pool in the corner of the harbor – so that meant we would be coming back for sure, and we did, more times than I can count.
Over the years I’ve had some memorable meals there; sunny Sunday lunches with big tables full of friends and family; a Sunday evening with friends when everything around us closed; we’d long since finished eating and were sipping our umpteenth coffee and brandy (ah, those were the days!), when the owner came out with the brandy bottle, still half full, and plonked it on our table. He told us we were welcome to stay on his terrace as long as the bottle lasted, but he was going home to bed!
Another time, during that first year, we were sitting roadside when a small procession wound its way past, carrying a plaster saint. It was a balmy September evening and the feast of San Blas, but we hadn’t known. Back then it was very low-key, unless you lived in the village, but the fireworks which ensued after the blessing of the seas were the equal of The Magic Kingdom’s, and we had, unintentionally booked a front row seat. These days the fiesta is renown throughout the south, and you have to fight for positions to view the spectacle, which is a change for the worse, I guess, except that the fireworks are ever more spectacular each year…..swings and roundabouts.
I’ve even been known, arriving back from time spent elsewhere, to go straight to Los Abrigos to eat before going home!
Nowdays when you arrive it’s by a smooth, new road which glides down from the motorway junction in Las Chafiras. As you enter the village on the left there is a smart plaza, and to your right you will spot a posh hotel, seemingly plonked in the middle of what is, essentially, still desert. On the corner, where the village shop stood, is now a trendy boutique. Last year the church square was smartened up, and pedestrianized area was extended. You haven’t been able to drive along the seafront, as we used to, for some years now.
These days there are a couple of upmarket restaurants amongst the traditional ones, and a couple of Italian restaurants, which seem to be surviving. In the old days, nothing other than a fish restaurant lasted there for very long. It’s what people go to Los Abrigos for.
I have a sentimental attachment to the place, because I lived there very happily for a while. I was living there when I first began this blog, and perhaps one reason I didn’t do much with the blog in the early days is that I had the view below – and spent more time gazing at it than at whatever I was doing at the computer. My desk with right next to the window!
When I lived there, sometimes I would be woken by noises and shouting echoing in the darkness, and unaccumstomed light illuminating my room, and if I parted the curtains I could watch the boats coming in and being unloaded. It was fascinating to hang about and observe them, doing what their families had done for years and years. You could forget about the swish restaurants and the fancy tourists and imagine that life still went on as it always had.
This boat steamed in excitedly, followed by a retinue of hungry gulls one early morning.
The reason I left this apparent bit of paradise in 2008 was an influx of what promised to be the neighbors from hell. It didn’t help my unease that they were British, and seemed to assume that I needed to be friends simply because I was too. One night of listening to their drunken, shrieking and swearing was enough for me. I set out to find a new home the next day. As you guys know, I like to move around anyway, so it wasn’t a problem. Thinking back, it wasn’t the friendliest place to live anyway. I was there for two and half years, and scarcely got to know anyone, even the owner of the restaurant below my apartment, where I used to eat quite a lot, never admitted to knowing me. The only people I ever made friends with were waiters and PRs, who constantly changed anyway. I guessed that the older families must have resented the place filling up with foreigners. I really can’t be sure, because no-one would ever talk about it very much, and given the behaviour of my new neighbours, who can blame them?
More of these types seemed to be moving into the area around that time, but I went back there to eat last week, and it was all quiet on the waterfront, so perhaps the excesses have been curbed by law and neighbours. In any event the very best time to go is Sunday lunchtime. In typical Spanish fashion lunch begins late by northern European standards, 2 or 3 o’clock, when whole families potter down, and sit and eat companionably, as meals should be taken, with lunch drifting into dinner time. By ten-ish most restaurants are closing up, and people heading slowly home refreshed and ready for the new week.
My favorite for quality and choice for a traditional meal is Vista Mar in the center of the parade of restaurants, but Restaurante Los Abrigos and Perlas del Mar are very good too. If you want upmarket fine dining with a menu worthy of any capital city, then Los Roques. It’s expensive, but worth every cent. I couldn’t help but smile when I noticed that the two I considered worst during my time there have closed down, which is the thing about recessions – survival of the fittest. One of my old favorites has made an attempt to go upmarket and failed miserably. I know because I ate there last week, and the food was very mediocre, though the setting was great, shame they didn’t stick to what they used to do so well. If you’re going to keep up with the times, you have to know how to do it properly.