Tenerife 09/10 2013

Great October autumn sun break
We got a great deal [from Voyage Privé] for a 10 day break at the recently refurbished Grand Hotel Mencey [now owned by Iberstar] in the capital and main port of Santa Cruz de Santiago de Tenerife. It's an uninspiring ride from the main airport Tenerife Sud to Santa Cruz, but the city itself has some charming areas and a total contrast to the main tourist areas in the south: Costa Adeje, Los Cristianos and Playa de la Americas.

Getting there

There are numerous flights from all parts of the UK and many other parts of Europe to the main airport of Reina Sofia (or Tenerife Sud) plus some long haul destinations too. The older airport — Tenerife Norte or Los Rodeos — has flights mainly to Spain and some of the other Canary Islands. The port of Santa Cruz provides facilities for cruise ships, commercial and industrial shipping, ferries to the other Canary Island, a big fishing fleet, a marina for yachts and two weekly ferries from Cadiz and Huelva in Spain.

Accomodation

Tenerife has thousands of accommodation options at all levels and styles, however the star hotel in Santa Cruz is the Iberostar Grand Hotel Mencey. It has grounds with a large swimming pool and healthclub/spa in addition to conference rooms, a demonstration kitchen and a casino. During our stay we noted a number of commercial events and a wedding being accommodated. The GH Mencey is one of several hotels located along the Ramblas, the tree lined avenue with a central walkway, kiosks and play areas in the north of the city. This hotel is situated diagonally across from the the beautiful Parque Garcia Sanabria with fountains, children's play areas and a cafe sometimes showing films and football on a big screen. Although the public areas of the hotel are in classical design style, the rooms are very contemporary, the best of which overlook the garden. Our advice is to secure a garden view room with a balcony on the top floor, but away from the kitchen door — high numbers are best.

Getting around

Just outside the exit of Tenerife Sud airport is a Tourist Information office that provides information regarding public transport on the island and will direct to the appropriate bus stop [just outside] for your onward journey. Much cheaper than a taxi, the journey on the 111 bus [at high speed] to Santa Cruz takes about 45 minutes, with a few stops that seem remote from any habitation along the way. Buses [called 'guaguas' in the Canary Islands] go everywhere on Tenerife, radiating out from the Intercambiador de Transportes in downtown Santa Cruz — on a raised platform of concrete the size of football pitch — that, at a lower level, is also the terminus for the Tranvia tramline that runs through Santa Cruz to the old capital of La Laguna and the taxi rank. You can download some booklets of all the bus routes on the island from the operator TITSA's website with a diagrammatic map and there are a number of useful circular routes for getting round the city, but no detailed maps of these services. It's most convenient to buy a 'bono-bus' (bus pass) for 15 or 25 euros from a bus station or newsagent shops. You can be share the pass between several people and save about 50% on individual ticket prices. There are a number of pedestrianised streets and the squares and parks have bar/cafes to offer respite from the heat in summer and provide social facilities for residents and visitors.

 Santa Cruz de Tenerife Itinerary

The city has a vibrant eating and drinking culture reflecting it's rôle as the joint capital of the Canary Islands [shared with Las Palmas, Grand Canaria] with a resident population willing to patronise bars, cafes and restaurants not reliant on tourists. It also has a slew of cultural venues for the island: concert halls, galleries, museums, theatres. The administrative and commercial zones of the city surrounding the port lead up to residential neighbourhoods of late nineteen and early twentieth buildings in the art nouveau style around the Parque Garcia Sanabria Arbórea and art deco/mid-century style in the Las Mimosas area beyond the Ramblas de Tenerife. The Parque is popular all day with residents and visitors perambulating along tree lined avenues with fountains and sculptures offering respite from the narrow streets in the city centre. At it's lower end is a bar/cafe with a large outdoor screen that's particularly popular when Spanish football matches are televised. The Ramblas de Tenerife form the upper edge of the Parque — a major traffic artery for the city moderated by trees lining the outer edges and along the pedestrian walkway separating the roadways. Kiosks selling newspapers and snacks and play areas for children are located at intervals along the route. The friendly staff at the art nouveau style Kiosko Numancia bar/cafe positioned on an island at a major intersection adjacent to the Parque make sitting surrounded by traffic an almost pleasant experience! Other green areas in the city include the Granja Park, created in 1976 near the entrance to the city and nearby, currently undergoing restoration, is the Viera y Clavijo Cultural Park. The nearest beach is Las Teresetas at San Andraes, about a 7 km. bus ride from the city centre, comprising about a kilometre and a half of imported fine golden sand, protected from currents and waves by a breakwater. It's very popular with locals, especially 'pensionistas' spending hours walking along the water's edge and groups of disabled people under supervision.

The cultural icon of the city is the Auditorio de Tenerife, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, located on the seashore near the Embarcadero bus/tram terminus and adjacent to the Castle of San Juan and César Manrique Maritime Park. Isolated by pedestrian walkways, the almost subterranean entrance is rather difficult to find. It was closed the day we attempted to access it. The even newer TEA: Tenerife Arts Space designed by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, comprises two large gallery spaces, a library and photographic centre, an auditorium, a restaurant and shop, all under a single dramatic sloping roof.

Bars, cafes and restaurants

These abound throughout the city. We happened upon the 'Carousel de Tapas' event in the Plaza Principe Asturias during our trip — a group of restaurants in a circle of tents offering a drink and a sample tapas for €2.00 — a great way to check out some of the venues in the city and test their skills.  However, we tended to focus on restaurants near the GH Mencey and Parque Garcia Sanabria. Our favorites were GOM, the restauarant in the Hotel Taburiente on Calle Doctor Jose Naveiras, the restaurant entrance is on Calle Doctor Guigou. Translated by Google, the website description is: 'A la carte restaurant . . . . innovation in service and in the kitchen, customer lighthearted and friendly, good prices and the most meticulous interior and current. Combined with exceptional balance of flavors, textures and aromas of the Spanish avant-garde cuisine'. We couldn't say better ourselves. On the same back street is Restaurant Porton de Oro: very traditional, a bar/sit-down tapas part and a bit more formal restuarant. The excellent food is cheap with 'hearty' portions and a no-nonsense delivery. Following up a number of good reviews, we also visited La Cazuela on Calle Robayna, the other side of the park and although the food was good and service reasonable, it was an expensive experience. Very different to the pizza restaurant we visited bursting with local residents at the lower end of Calle San Antonio and the corner of Calle de Santiago [we think!]. Good food, generous portions and very good value for money.

San Cristóbal de La Laguna

We caught the Travia metro up the hill out of Santa Cruz, passing the ULL: Universidad de La Laguna main campus, reaching the terminus in about 40 minutes. La Laguna was the main town of the island and the grid pattern of streets at it's historic core served as the model for many colonial towns in Spanish speaking America. Now the dark stone of the mansions lining the largely pedestrianised streets have been colonised by stylish bars, cafes, restaurants and small shops hinting at it's past importance. As in most Spanish towns there are numerous churches, convents and mansions now serving as small museums or providing an insight into traditional Canarian architecture of wooden balconies surrounding courtyards hidden behind heavy doors. We spent most of our time in Laguna having a very pleasant couple of lunchtime drinks, saving the cultural sites for next time!