Surrounded by palm trees, the Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque looks like a fairy kingdom, with turreted roofs, buildings on several levels, numerous pools, curved pathways and a multitude of quiet, private spaces.

Sunshine on a Winter's Day

14th October 2016

Olivia Greenway discovers the more luxurious side of a popular sunshine destination...

If you dream of winter sun but can’t face long haul, why not consider Tenerife, a mere four-and-a-half hours away? With comfortable flights at sociable times and a selection of five-star accommodation from which to choose, your holiday should be a far cry from the downmarket image sometimes associated with this sunshine island.

Although it belongs to Spain, it’s actually nearer to Africa, so has an identity of its own. The largest of the Canary Islands, it has the volcano Mt Teide at its centre, rising to 12,198 feet. Punctuated by ravines and hills, the island is superb for walking, with dramatic views to the sea. The northern coast is mostly steep and rugged with characteristic black sand; to the south are gentle bays with lighter sand. Tradewinds keep the temperature moderate and pleasantly warm to hot most of the year. It’s sunny too, with over eight hours of sunshine daily.

Bananas used to be big business on the island, but stiff competition killed off the export trade and those grown here now are just consumed locally. Today the island relies on tourism for 75% of its income and has worked hard over recent years to attract the luxury market. BA flies here, along with other non-budget carriers and luxury accommodation, formerly sparse, is now in good supply.

Surrounded by palm trees, the Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque looks a bit like a fairy kingdom, with turreted roofs and buildings arranged on several levels. Numerous swimming pools, curved pathways, bridges and restaurants are spread across the site, affording a multitude of quiet, private spaces. A family owned five-star hotel on the southwest of the island at Costa Adeje, it’s also positioned right on the sandy beach. If your budget stretches to it, you may want one of the private villas, set in their own block, with butler service. With their own plunge pool and sundeck, these are perfect for families.

The hotel also has its own observatory with telescope. With clear unpolluted skies, star gazing here is exceptional and guests are encouraged to participate. You don’t have to leave the resort at all, as there is plenty to do, although local attractions, and many other restaurant choices, are just a short walk away if you wish to explore.

If you prefer the self-catering option, there are numerous luxury villas with pools to rent on both the north or south side of the island. Car hire is simple from either of the airports and driving easy – the island is the size of Surrey – so it’s worth considering if you want to have the freedom of the whole island and not be restricted by villa location. With a raft of inexpensive and gourmet restaurants there is no need to cook if you don’t want to, although a barbecue by the pool should be tried at least once.

A trip up Mount Teide, the highest volcanic peak in Europe, is highly recommended. The Teleferico Teide cable car moves quickly, climbing 12,000ft in a matter of minutes. I’d recommend you pay a visit early evening to catch the sunset and to see if you can cope with the altitude. If you feel it’s not a problem, you may want to come back during the day to go on a hike.

The National Park is a UNESCO site, with Mt Teide at its centre. It’s Europe’s only subtropical mountain with fauna and flora that are found here and nowhere else. With loose volcanic rocks forming the path to the lookout over the Pico Viejo crater, make sure you are wearing sensible shoes or trainers, and if you are planning to hike, you’ll need walking boots. It feels a bit surreal up here in the half light before sunset, with the bare rocks creating a desert-like appearance. Looking over to Gran Canaria – visible on a clear day – it’s hard to believe you are so high up. Then the golden light becomes orange, casting shadows across the moon-like landscape, and before you know it, the sun has gone.

Back down the mountain, you can enjoy some star-gazing. Volcano Life organise combined cable car trips and stargazing, using large telescopes that they position at the base. They supply cocktail snacks and Canarian wine too, so you won’t go hungry or thirsty.

Easier walks are available at lower altitudes if you find the mountain a bit challenging. There are a multitude of opportunities, through towns and villages or along the coast. A useful website is http://walkingtenerife.co.uk, run by two resident British travel writers.

A gentle stroll around Santa Cruz – the island’s capital on the northeast coast – is next on the agenda. Just outside the centre is the Expressionist Auditorio de Tenerife, the islands’s own answer to Sydney Opera House and inspired by it. It was designed by architect Santiago Calatra Vals and built in 2003. It’s home to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra and I’m told the acoustics are incredible. Regarded as one of Spain’s most distinctive buildings, it is surrounded by large concrete and stone terraces, the stark white of the building contrasting with the vivid blue of the sky and sea.

From here, wander down through the traditional Garcia Sanabria Park, graced with colourful flowerbeds, statues and fountains, the numerous trees and benches affording welcome shade and resting spots. Santa Cruz itself is fairly compact and has its main streets formed in a cross, with shops running off one way and the port the other.

Tenerife’s annual week-long carnival in February has half a million people attending. It ends with a 24-hour party and the setting on fire of a huge papier-mâché sardine, a nod to the island’s fishing heritage. I gather nearly every one on the island plays a part, no matter how small.

As I round a corner in the centre, I come across a carnival drumming group: ten men and women, all carrying drums of various sizes. In fact, I hear them first and then see them in action. Not only do they drum very quickly, they also dance to samba reggae music at the same time, directed by an animated modern version of the Pied Piper, who sometimes seems to lead the way, and at other times, turns around and conducts. When they pause to rest, member Petra Munday (originally from Tunbridge Wells; she came for a holiday ten years ago and didn’t catch her flight back) tells me she has been playing with the group for eight years; they practise every week, all year round.

Nearby is TEA – Tenerife Espacio de las Artes – a modern art gallery with impressive library. There is a permanent exhibition here to honour Oscar Dominguez, Spain’s third most famous artist (after Picasso and Miró) who was born on the island. There is a delightful café, too, where you may enjoy a light lunch.

Try to taste some of the Tenerife specialities during your visit. Papas arrugadas are a small Canarian potato, boiled with their skins on until they are wrinkly, then sprinked with sea salt and served tepid with either a red mojo sauce or a green one, both delicious. Also look out for churros de pescado, bite-sized battered fish on a stick, and choppitas, tiny bites of fried squid and local goats’ cheese, only available on the island. If you’d like a gourmet experience, there are four Michelin-starred restaurants on the island. Two of these are at one hotel – the Ritz Carlton in Abama, over in the west. Two-star MB, named after the eponymous chef Martin Berasategui, focuses on Canarian cuisine, while New Abama Kabuki serves food with a Japanese flavour.

A short stroll from here is the waterside and port, where you can often see cruise ships in the distance. Several ice cream shops will tempt you inside and there is more exploring to do in the shaded alleys nearby. Look out for the Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África, a regular market selling fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses and more unusual foodstuffs such as black flour, banana flour and local cakes.

Other days could be filled with trips to the water park, whale watching, scuba diving, snorkelling, quad biking, exploring historic towns such as San Cristobal de la Laguna or walking along the promenade at Los Cristianos. So many possibilities. Chances are you’ll fall in love with the island and decide to leave some activities until next time.

Tenerife Tourism • www.webtenerife.com

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