Day 4 – Discovery tour of Tenerife

June 20, 2010 in Spain | Comments (2)

From desert to forest, from coast to coast


We drive from the dry and sunny Costa Adeje over extraordinary mountains reaching to 3700 metres in Teide National Park and descend to the northern coast which is greener – and is where the local people really live.

On this triangular island the Southern coast is dry and deserty, and is where the tourists are assured of what they most want – sun. This is where hotels stretch along a 14 km string of volcanic beaches from serene La Caleta to Playa des Americas (where you find McDonalds) and beyond to quieter beaches, slow dining and exclusive shopping.

Looked at from afar, parts of Costa Adeje are elegant or showy and parts have a fast building feel with lots of new apartment blocks, some stretching up the brown slopes of the mountains that rise dramatically behind.

But today we will discover Tenerife. Beyond the beaches and hotels…to the uplifting experience of Teide National Park.

Up – and up – the winding road heads towards ridiculously pointed peaks – almost fantasy mountains in blue haze. You feel a quiver of anticipation or is it trepidation?

It turns out to be a beautiful drive; as we leave behind the dry crumbling slopes of the eroded semi desert, the prickly pears get thicker and entwine with other fleshy leaved species (xerophytes), creating a denser green. Now we see the first pines.

These are endemic/found only on Tenerife. They have extraordinary long roots into the volcanic soil and extraordinarily long needles to get moisture from the clouds that the trade winds drive against the mountain barrier. This is explained by our excellent tour guide as our bus trundles up the slopes.

It is a pity we cannot stop in this big bus. For now we are in these thick and luminously green pine forests – and one sees that picnickers are in there under the graceful, unusual pines.

But now we are getting up towards Mount Teide and other volcanoes – and we stop to see lava fields dotted with smaller pines … stretching over to a sea of cloud from which emerge two peaks of the distant island La Palma.

Lava flow and the distant sea of clouds

The Teide National Park was an uplifting, soul-stirring experience though a little dense with tourist buses near the famous outcrops that once adorned a Spanish peseta note.

Mt Teide 3718 m - and a rocky outcrop

I loved the vegetation, the sweep of greens and greys, and the flowers in pink, yellow and white. It grows on a dry volcanic earth, and has a special something, a feel of wild untarnished spaces, if you walk just 50 paces or so away from the other tourists.

After a short stop we met at the Parador (state owned restaurant) and continued our journey.

We drove into the caldera, a tumble of volcanic rocks and plains of pumice, ringed by mountains.

Our guide explained there is a cable way up to the peak of Mount Teide. Walking up it is a popular activity these days. But once up the view is a little flat our guide confessed – as it is so high the view resembles that from plane – height causes flattening. He recommends reaching the top at sunset or sunrise – for then the view is wonderful. To do that you can overnight at 3500 m from where there is a 200 m climb to the top for the sunrise.

Walkers in this area have to be aware that distances and heights are distorted in this strange landscape – this alien place.

Now our bus continuing north was descending again into pine forests – and a layer of cloud called the “sea of cloud”. Vapour brought by the trade winds forms clouds that lie like a lake with one side meeting the mountain.

This is the source of horizontal rain. Water condenses on the vegetation – hence the extra long pine needles – and condenses and drips down into the earth.

Richly green, unusual pines - and the sea of cloud

As we got further down we wound into rainforest-like vegetation, facing North (and the stray cyconic weathers from Europe?).

La Orótava

The bus parked at the town square of this delightful old town on the slopes facing north to the sea. Every town in the Canaries has  a little square like this, where people meet, our guide explained.

Orótava was a world away from the intense modern buildup of hotels and apartments on the sunnier southern coasts. The St Augustin church near the square had a very Mexican look – as did the whole picturesque town. Our guide, born and raised in Tenerife, said that much of the Central and Southern American colonial architecture seen on the Canary islands was not a copy, but had been tried first on these Spanish islands.

San Augustin church Orotava - a Mexican feel

Our walk was steep – and took us past bright flower beds and views.

Next stop was Monje winery. There was one cellar with a very old feel and oak barrels 40 to 200 years old. Then one of these moe boring spoltess ones with stainless steep vats. Then deeper to a gallery, that was part of the entrepeneurial develpment including a wine club, conference faciliteis and restaurant for groups – created by the dashing Mr Monje and his “hard working companion” (as she was called in a coffee table book on display).

We got to taste the wine – which reminded me somehow of wine on Cyprus. Very enjoyable but perhaps lacking a few of the flavours of my South American and South African favourites. I should add I am no connoisseur of wine.

All these activities took so long that when we got to our planned hotel inpsection and  lunch stop at Hotel Botanico it was more like evening than lunch time.  I was ravenous. It was a very leisurely lunch. We got dessert after the first course – but then came the next course. Of course that was not really dessert explained Jill from Belgium – it was for degustion to´”make a gap”.

This little degustion finesse was sorbet and chocolate. It is usually not chocolate she explained. Yes, I said – the problem is the chocolate filled the gap (rahter than made it) – but I guess that was better than being ravenous as before.

Hotel Botanico was built in the 1970s and has the architecture of that era – a big lobby with traditional feel. They have tried to combine a classical hotel with Thai touches. The spa certainly kept up the theme with little carved elephants by the goldfish pond at the entrance. The spa has won awards and is completely separate with own pool and gardens.

This hotel for all its old style, 70s thing, gets a huge number of VIPs to stay. So they have a large number of special suites. Apart from 32 Junior Suites they have  8 Senator suites, ambassador suites, 4 Penthouse suites (173 sqm), 2 Presidential (200 sqm) and at the very top a suite named Bill Clinton (580 sqm).

The drive back along the motorway was (and will always be) rather boring.

But soon we had the free night when I planned to do my blog.

However, I and a Swedish travel agent linked up with the sunny happy go-lucky Italians Daniela and Melissa (my earlier comments about Italians being snappy was quite unjustified in the light of these charming creatures). In addition we had the mysterious, independent and fascinating Gloria among us. An Italian Swiss, who lived in Oz, Bombay, Kerala, Goa – and now lives in Rome with her Ozzie husband. She talks multi languages.

This was our second night in the Sheraton’s Spanish restaurant. The food was reasonable the others thought, but mine was not five star. I left before midnight, sleeping with balcony door open, bringing the gift of balmy air. What a privileged climate!

LUXURY IMPRESSIONS IN TENERIFE

The glorious year-round warmth of Tenerife has not just nurtured charter beach holidays. It has proved fertile sunny ground for luxury too. There are 20 five star hotels on Tenerife – more than there are in Barcelona.

See my later post.

At the top the group felt was Abama…This is top luxury, far from the madding crowds…


2 Responses to “Day 4 – Discovery tour of Tenerife”

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