Tenerife Revisited 01/02 2015

Mount Teide from the rooftop of the Hotel Rural Victoria, Orotava.

Garachico, Icod de Los Vinas, Orotava, San Cristobal de Laguna and Santa Cruz

We've enjoyed staying in Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife and wanted to explore more of the island — taking a look at some of the towns on the north side and hopefully some warmer weather than the UK in January/February. Tenerife is certainly warmer, but we still needed jackets in the evening and the clouds did roll in from the Atlantic as predicted — but some bright, sunny days too — check our photographs.

Driving north from Aeropuerto Sur
Out of the airport precincts, the motorway cuts off the most southern end of the island — the Costa del Silencio — a bit of a misnomer since the airport was built, and the less than attractive rear ends of Playa de Los Cristianos, Playa de Las Americas and Costa Adeje. A bit further on, after skirting the town of Adeje the motorway terminates and although you can see the new road and tunnels towards Santiago del Teide — the government has not approved the final funding to complete the motorway ring round the island — you have to make the most of the old TF 82.

So it’s up, up ,up zig-zagging through a surprisingly attractive landscape of mixed deciduous and succulents on the lower slopes of Mount Teide — then into the clouds and down to the town of El Tanque — and one is back on motorway? passing above the coastal town of Garachico and through swathes of banana plantations and down our first stop: the town of Icod de Los Vinos — where have all the tourists gone?

Quiet square and palatial townhouse in the histric core of Icod de Los Vinos.

Icod de Los Vinos
Famous for it’s giant Dragon trees [Dracaena draco] — that’s about it! Icod is quite a large modern town surrounding a small historical core with a smattering of older buildings in the narrow, mainly one way streets. It’s about a mile uphill from the Atlantic and is very ‘un-touristy’. It seems to have only one hotel in town: the Hotel San Augustin, a beautifully refurbished Canarian town house of 1736, although there are some very attractive lodgings within the banana plantations outside town. We arrived around 2.30pm and had to telephone the owners to gain access as the staff are at lunch from 2-3.30pm. Obviously a labour of love, the album of restoration photographs shows the building being restored to it’s former glory, retaining the huge, wide floorboards and wooden lining to the roof. Our room was away from the street, with a neat bathroom created within a ‘pod’ inside the room. Breakfasts, eggs cooked to order, was taken in the open courtyard at the centre of the building, that also served as a cafe open to the public until about 8.00pm [closed 2-3.30pm!].

Dragon Tree in a quiet square in Icod de los Vinos.

In town is an attractive central square surrounding the parish church of San Marcos, with interesting trees and a bar under the bandstand [a Canarian feature] and some palatial houses nearby the famous Dragon Tree set in a separate small park requiring the purchase of an entrance ticket. Restaurants we visited were Jorge Wichy [a TripAdvisor recommend] an unpretentious bar/restaurant on the main road into town and La Parada — Casa de Comida on Rambla Perez de Cristo, near the main square. This restaurant was recommended to us by the owner of Hotel San Augustin. A smallish space in a big old building near the main square and church. The menu was handwritten for the day on the waitress’s notepad — so you need a smattering of Spanish. The food was excellent Canarian cuisine: black pudding lollipops [breadcrumbed and fried], Puchero Canario y Ropa Vieja [translates as ‘A Canarian Pot of Old Clothes’] — one pot dishes featuring goat and rabbit, pork, chickpeas and tomatoes and of course Canarian wrinkly potatoes with mojo sauce. See their Facebook page for photographs of dishes and chefs [father and daughter] in action. Prices are very modest and surprisingly good local wine is served by the litre or half-litre carafe.

The flowers of the exotic Dombeya tree [Dombeya x cayeuxii] a native of Mozambique,

in the Plaza San Marco, Icod de los Vinos.

We also visited the nearest ‘seaside’ Playa de San Marco: a small black beach with apartment blocks, bars, cafes and restaurants. Open fishing boats traditionally were drawn up on the beach but this practice has been superseded by a launch crane to put boats directly into the sea from a storage facility beyond reach of stormy seas. We also visited Garachico a town on the coast a few kilometres west.

Garachico
In the rural northwest of the island, along the coast through the banana tree plantations from Icod is the charming town of Garachico. The town suffered major disasters in the past, particularly the volcanic explosion of 5 May 1706. Today a big banana warehouse dominates the seafront. But there are also tidal pools to swim in, off-limits when we visited, an open-air swimming pool, being refurbished when we visited and a new marina/port.


The Church of Santa Anna, Plaza de Constitución, Garachico.

Behind the coastal road, the town comprises cobbled streets and many old buildings some of which have been very tastefully refurbished. The very attractive Plaza de la Libertad features the church of Santa Anna, the church of San Francisco and the recently repurposed Palacio La Quinta Roja, built by Cristobal de Ponte y Llanera, the first Marquis of La Quinta Roja and now a highly recommended small hotel. The centre of the square has a bandstand — with a bar/cafe under — surrounded by tables and chairs for customers. Nearby on Calle Esteban de Ponte is the stylishly designed Mirador de Garachico craft shop and gallery, through which you can access a similarly designed bar/restaurant with a glass roofed courtyard. Both enterprises use the name of the original restaurant at the Mirador [viewpoint] high above the town on the TF 82 road — wreathed in mist when we drove through a few days earlier! Also on Calle Esteban de Ponte is the Hotel San Roque a beautifully restored, and a quite expensive lodging option, manor house built in the 18th century by a descendent of Christopher de Ponte, the founder of the town. The Carayon family have created a wonderful contemporary space within the traditional building, with a second courtyard featuring a small swimming pool. The rooms feature a selection of contemporary design classics with furniture designed by Le Corbusier, Eileen Gray and a selection of chairs by Charles Rennie Macintosh.

The town is a focus for coach trips bringing in day trippers from the southern resorts and there are lots of restaurants offering ‘menu del dia’ at very reasonable prices. A few days here sampling the quieter evening offers would be very interesting.

The bandstand and Kiosko Bar [underneath] in Plaza de la Constitución, Orotava

Orotava
The main centre on the north coast until the advent of tourism and the development of it’s coastal counterpart — Puerto de La Cruz — the city of Orotava has retained a beautifully maintained core of historic buildings and public spaces that are a great base — if that’s your thing. Orotava was built in a valley that supported a range of agricultural enterprises from the 16th century onwards, resulting in manor houses, churches and public spaces dating back to this time and later. Comprising the posh 'Villa de Abajo' [Downtown] and artisan 'Villa de Arriba' [Uptown] — we stayed at the the Hotel Rural Victoria on Calle Hermano Apolinar — definitely ‘downtown’ — a large converted Canarian townhouse with a glassed in central atrium and a tiled roofspace with loungers for a great view of the town, Mount Teide — if you're lucky — and the surrounding area.


The Hotel Rural Victoria on Calle Hermano Apolinar, Orotava. The balcony is to our room!

It’s worth finding your way to the Tourist Information Office, near the Plaza Constitución [bar under the bandstand!] to get a walking tour map of the city [only €0.50] that provides a full itinerary of the notable buildings, churches, museums and parks in the city centre. Our particular favourites were: Hijuela del Botánico, entrance on Calle León. An outpost of the larger Jardín Botánico in Puerto de la Cruz, it has numerous plant varieties and a small ornamental pond. No charge for entry, but was closed at the weekend during our visit! Opposite is the entrance to the larger 19th-century French style Jardínes del Marquesado de la Quinta Roja , formal flower gardens cascading down the hillside also known as the Jardín Victoria. There is a cafe terrace on the lower slopes run by Restaurante Casa Egon/Confitería Café Taoro — heaving with local families on a Saturday afternoon and a way to gain access to the gardens when the gates shut at 17.00.

Entrance to Hijuela del Botánico, Orotava — closed at the weekend!

From the Jardín Victoria you can gain access to the big pink building that is now the Liceo de Taoro — a cultural institution that has exhibitions and a bar/cafe open to the public, games rooms and tennis courts for members. A drink on the terrace allows you to view the well manicured slope of gardens down to the Plaza Constitución and beyond. We also enjoyed Plaza Casañes, planted in a contemporary style with a number of bar/cafe/restaurants around the edge — plus a Bulthup kitchen showroom [sure sign of gentrification!] and Carrera del Escultor Estévez the main street lined with old buildings including a great ironmongers shop in an old building right opposite the Ayuntamiento [Town Hall]!


The Liceo de Taoro, Orotava.

We had some good meals of traditional Canarian food at the Hotel Victoria restaurant, the Sabor Canario at the Hotel Rural Orotava and La Bodega Tapias on Aveneda de Canarias towards the bus station. A modern interior with a country/wine bar theme [barrels as tables] we initially we stopped off for a few drinks — Rioja Crianza for €2.50 and top-quality Jamon Iberico for €7.50 — they have a very good display of wines: bottles grouped by price! We returned a day later for a full meal of Canarian specialities and a very good Tacoronte-Acontejo, from the far northeast of the island,for a very reasonable price. One winery from this region — Bodegas Monje has courted notoriety with their Wine & Sex escapades — check it out!


The Casa Monteverde, a palacio town house in Orotava.

Puerto de La Cruz
We wanted to visit the larger Jardín Botánico — the La Orotava Acclimatisation Gardens at Puerto de La Cruz — on the outskirts of Puerto de La Cruz by bus and get a albeit brief feel for the town itself too. So we headed for the Orotava bus station and were soon aboard the bus that drops passengers right by the entrance to the gardens. Created on the orders of King Carlos III in 1788 it was initially to be a stop-of point for plants from the Spanish dominions in the Americas, before transplantation to mainland Spain for the King’s delectation. Today it is a densely planted rectangle of tropical and sub-tropical plants from around the world with a circular and a rectangular pond and no beds of flowers — not a proper garden then! Proposed expansion of the public garden seems to be on hold — presumably awaiting further funding.

The town itself is a bustling place, some pleasant cafe-lined squares away from the ocean, but dominated by unattractive hotels jockeying for position and views of the ocean. If you want a good view and a drink or snack, head up to the Parque Tauro — it’a bit of a slog up the zig-zag paths to the top but the view from the bar/cafe at the top is worth the effort. Beyond the conference centre and hotels it’s a bit of a disappointment — mainly scrubby grass and joggers.


A former tobacco factory in the cetre of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Back on the motorway across the rump of the island to Santa Cruz was not a pleasant experience: driving rain and a charmless landscape as you hit the relentless industrial and big-shed retail strip between Laguna and Santa Cruz. But once cruising down the Ramblas de Santa Cruz we felt at home again. Reception at the Grand Hotel Mencey was charming and we got a great room, top floor overlooking  the gardens and pool — as requested and free parking. During our week here we got a few outdoor swims in and had virtually a whole day in the sun mid-week. Breakfasts are amazing and staff very obliging without being obsequious. Big cocktails in the bar/terrace are well priced and it’s a great location for local restaurants. GOM our previous favourite has simplified it’s offer with a Menu Del Dia that is amazing value in addition to A la Carte that’s a little less experimental. Anocheza is also nearby is new to us, with mixed reviews from Tripadvisor respondents. We also visited the closest Da Canio Pizza/Pasta restaurant — great value and enormous pizzas!


Planting between in the narrow space between the two main elements of TEA — Tenerife Espacio De Las Artes — designed by Swiss architects Herzog & Mueron with Virgilio Gutiérrez.

There was lots of preparation for the imminent Carnival festivities — frenzied activity in the specialist shops and building of booths in the Plaza Príncipe de Asturias — we got to the Auditorio de Tenerife for a look inside — denied us due to a public holiday previously, and were well impressed by the huge space surrounding the box office and bar/cafe. The latter has a huge horizontally hinged window some 100 metres long that opens to the view of the Castillo San Juan and the Parque Maritimo designed by César Manrique. Although it could be better resolved this is a great public space and one of the few places to eat and drink with an view of the sea uninterrupted by traffic in Santa Cruz. Prices were reasonable for a public institution and was well patronised on the Saturday afternoon of our visit.

Palacio Salazar [1664] subsequently, the Bishop's Palace, San Cristóbal de La Laguna.

We also took the opportunity to use our Bono Bus card to revisit [San Cristobal] La Laguna, the original capital of Tenerife and spend more time visiting the many palaces and town houses converted to new uses. We took lots of photographs and noted some interesting developments. We only wanted a snack for lunch and found the Cerveceria Montaditos for cheap beer and a fast food offer of local[ish] dishes.


The bar/cafe with open horizontally pivoted windows on the lower concourse and terrace at the Auditorio de Tenerife, designed by Santiago Calatrava.

Finally

We though we had a really good trip — weather could have been a bit brighter — some fascinating places, some great meals and at the current rate of exchange between sterling and the euro .  . . . There is a further selection of photographs to follow.