If you fancy a short break or even a longer holiday in the sun then you won’t beat Tenerife. Not only is it clean and safe but also family-friendly and at just over a four-hour flight away from most parts of the UK, it’s no wonder that it is consistently one of Britain’s top winter sun destinations. In the last couple of years it has smashed all previous records as the number one summer holiday hotspot with over two millions British visitors, so if you’ve not visited, you’re obviously been missing out!
With warm, sunny days and balmy nights, September is one of the nicest months to visit and at this time of year prices are not yet at their seasonal high, so there are always good deals to be had. High season is January to Easter.
When I last visited, I spent my time on Tenerife mostly looking at plants and gardens but also found out quickly whilst driving around on the coastal roads that you don’t even need to pack a beach towel if you fancy an impromptu stop for a quick dip because you can quickly roll around on the coarse black sand to dry off!
Tenerife is full of surprises and not least that many of the shining natural black beaches and Playa de las Teresitas near Santa Cruz in particular, are covered over especially for the tourists with golden sand that’s been shipped in from Spain!
Playa Jardin at Puerto de la Cruz in the north of the island
If like me, you are more interested in plants then I recommend visiting Playa Jardin at Puerto de la Cruz in the ‘windy’ north of the island, which has been landscaped with gardens by the famous Canarian artist, César Manrique. The gardens are full of local palms, natural volcanic rocks and ornamental plants alongside saltwater waterfalls and decorated with a few of his “Wind Toy” sculptures.
Other than the beaches, little else has been tampered with on this beautiful island, so there are plenty of un-spoilt rural landscapes, lush green forests and volcanic moonscapes to see.
You need to get up close and view the magnificent mushroom-shaped Dragon Tree from all angles and especially from beneath looking up into the tracery of branches, so don’t begrudge paying the entrance fee and definitely bring your camera!
I knew that I couldn’t possibly leave Tenerife without visiting the Parque Natural del Dragon at the Icod de los Vinos to see the famous Dragon tree, so made this my first stop. It is a living fossil and reputed to be over 1000 years old. I’m told that this notion might be stretching it a bit, but it gives you an idea, just how favourable the rich Tenerife soil and mild climate is for plants to thrive.
The rest of this fertile garden is planted with a wealth of exotic plants such as prickly pear, American agave, giant echiums, hibiscus and vivid coloured bougainvilleas, which are also found growing wild on the island.
Tenerife has a wealth of exuberant flora and many microclimates, which favour the growth of a variety of plants. These include lush jungle-like vegetation, pinewoods, belts of giant laurels, eucalyptus, chestnut and almond trees plus desert-loving cacti and unique plants like the Teide violet, which can only be found high up on the slopes of the volcanic mountain.
To discover this authentic and natural side of the island you need to hike the ridges between the sea and the mountains and amble along the well-worn paths between sand dunes, ravines, beaches and cliffs. If you’re a committed hiker, I know that you also won’t want to miss the ancient laurel forests and rugged ravines of the Anaga Mountains.
Whilst all this trekking might sound daunting, I always came back from my walks energized with all my senses alive, so I strongly advise packing some sturdy shoes if you want to see some of the best that Tenerife has to offer.
“Doggo”, the Canary Mastiff, is a large Molosser-type dog breed originally bred for working livestock
On my travels, I also had another surprise when visited a grower that specialised in proteas and had an amazing collection of succulents including agaves, aloes, echeveria and euphorbia and sedums growing in his private garden. Here I met a real life “Doggo”, a dog breed called Molosser that is indigenous to Tenerife. It’s a heavy, ‘thick set’ shepherd dog, similar to a mastiff, which has by all accounts was used as a guard dog and to work the fields as long ago as 50BC. It was not a dog that I would like to meet on a dark night!
For most visitors though, undoubtedly one of the main attractions of the island is the stunning Mount Teide, which dominates almost every landscape. Standing at 3718m the Pico del Teide is the highest point in Spain and for the record is approximately three times the height of Ben Nevis.
I recommend making an early start and taking the cable car to the top of Mount Teide then stopping for a barbecue or picnic in the pine forest before descending down and back to the amazing beaches of the coast
So that I could make the most of my time on Teide I stayed one night at the Paramor hotel, which is located in the heart of the Mount Teide National Park at an altitude of 2,200m above sea level, and surrounded by craters and indigenous plants.
This hotel is not overly luxurious but it has awesome moonscape views and is a stellar observatory. So after dinner, I joined a group of like-minded visitors and locals to enjoy a bit of star gazing with the experts, who explained everything that was happening in the sky with the aid of a telescope and torches.
A mixed planting of palms, succulents, agaves, aloes, furcraea and cycads at the botanic garden Puerto de la Cruz (photo: botanicalgardenphotography.com)
Tenerife is as you’d imagine not short of public gardens and the Botanical Garden and Orchid Centre in Puerto de la Cruz, are a must-visit. Here you will marvel at the awesome trees and incredible variety of tropical and sub-tropical pants many of which you might recognize as houseplants at home!
If you’re really into plants, there’s also the Palmetum located in Santa Cruz. I found the place very interesting, particularly as it focuses especially on the palms that you will see growing on the islands and especially Palmera canariensis, which is the only palm that is native to Tenerife.
You will have probably chosen to eaten these small ‘cute’ Canary bananas at home but will soon discover that wherever you eat on the island, this sweet banana is on the menu – bananas fried or served flambed are excellent
Whilst driving around Tenerife I found that nearly every picturesque village beckoned me to stop for a stroll. Much of the landscape is also dotted with carefully managed banana plantations that I could almost believe that I was visiting the Caribbean!
Whether you like sun worshipping or lots of activity such as whale watching, wind surfing, paragliding, fishing, sailing, which is all on offer in Tenerife, I thoroughly recommend planning your trip to coincide with a date when there’s a festival of some sort happening.
The most important fiesta in the annual calendar is the Santa Cruz Carnival, which comes to town in the month of February – starting just before Shrove Tuesday and ending on Ash Wednesday. It is one of the biggest and best in the world, second only to Rio de Janeiro, earning its place in the “Guinness Book of Records” for the largest ever Carnival Ball
Unfortunately I missed the colourful Santa Cruz Carnival but was there in time for the June fiesta of Corpus Cristi, which sees the laying of the famous flower and sand carpets, principally in the towns of La Orotava and La Laguna.
The designs for the beautiful pictures, which are laid along the streets and in La Orotava’s Town Hall Square are very intricate and nothing short of spectacular. They are made from delicate flower petals and the fine coloured volcanic sand and rock particles, which come from above Mount Teide´s snowline
If you’re feeling in the mood for culture, I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed as I found that Tenerife also has a wealth of art galleries and baroque churches to visit and the Teatro Guimera, the 19th Century opera house where you can see ballet, opera and theatre.
Whilst there, I was keen to take in a Tapas tour, in-between souvenir shopping in the Capital City of Santa Cruz. This cosmopolitan city is also rich in history and has many important monuments and mementoes of battles fought and won, including banners captured from Admiral Nelson at the battle of Santa Cruz, where Nelson lost his arm.
With an average of 23C and 300 days of sunshine Tenerife is a real tonic and especially for beating the winter blues.
Go on a plant hunt – these plants are endemic to Tenerife
Dracaena draco isn’t only indigenous to Tenerife but the whole of the Canary Islands. It is renown to be extremely fire retardant, which is why a forest fire in Tenerife is a very rare event.
Viola cheirathifolia can be found growing wild on the upper, rocky slopes of Mount Teide.
Palmera canariensis is the only native species of palm. Mature specimens can reach up to 12m tall.
Prickly Pear Cacti, Opuntia ficus-barbarica and Opuntia dillenii are not truly indigenous, they originate from Mexico, but can be found growing everywhere on the island – the edible prickly pear fruits are sold by street vendors and if you manage, without injury to get through the thorns and seeds to the sweet flesh, you will taste something that’s close to ambrosia!
Almonds, Prunus dulcis, can be found growing on the western slopes of the island.
Aeoniums are found growing on Tenerife and there are about 30 varieties of Aeonium urbicum throughout the Canary Islands
Echium wildpretii is found in large numbers in Las Cañadas caldera. It grows to an impressive 3m and flowers late spring to early summer
Tabaiba mejorera is an impressive type of euphorbia native to Tenerife, which grows up to 2m tall and produces large rosettes of bluish-green leaves at the end of the branches. It can be found growing on the islands many ravines, slopes and terraces. From December to May you’ll find plants in flower.
Euphorbia canariensis look like a cactus, producing one fleshy trunk, which can be as thick as a man’s arm that has the potential to produce more than 100 lateral branches, which are all clothed with fierce spines. Mature specimens can easily reach 2m tall
Pericallis echinata is a member of the Aster family, so produces similar-looking blooms in pale lilac
Agyranthemum foeniculaceum is a Margurite, which has a bushy habit, finely dissected leaves and masses of daisy-like white flowers, which has been bred to produce many garden hybrids
Other plants that you will doubt recognise found growing on waste ground around the islands…
Flanders Poppies (Papaver rhoeas) are the symbol of Remembrance Day
California Poppies (Escholzia California) are easy to grow hardy annuals with edible blooms
Hedera canariensis makes an excellent houseplant and is the best, glossiest, large-leaf ivy available
Eat like a native!
Typical food of the Canary Islands tends to be simple dishes of grilled meat and fish with vegetables and salad and their speciality papas arrugadas, which are small potatoes with their jackets that are boiled in heavily salted water until their skins are wrinkled.
Papas arrugadas served with mojo (photo: veganhousehold.com)
Mojo, a piquant sauce which may be orange, red, or green depending on its ingredients, is used as a marinade or dressing with meat and fish. The red mojo is made with olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and paprika and is especially good when lathered over the papas arrugadas. For green mojo, which is excellent with grilled fish – tuna, swordfish, sea bass, parrot fish Vieja, is particularly good, the spice used is coriander. For mojo picon, which is a good dressing for steak, hot chili peppers are added.
Parador de las Canadas del Teide – paradore.es (+34 922 386 415)
Tourist information – todostenerife.es & webtenerife.com
(Photography featured is courtesy of Tenerife Tourism)
Need an independent travel advisor? – visit https://www.travelcounsellors.co.uk/Cathie.odea