The road began to snake its way into the Guama Mountains and as the first sharp bend to the right approached, the car in front ground to a complete standstill, leaving us scrabbling to get into first gear before we stalled. Baffled by the need for the sudden halt as there was no other traffic on the road, we held our breath as the hire car rolled back to within uncomfortable distance of our bumper before the driver finally found the bite and resumed his excruciating journey, stuttering around hairpin bends as if he expected to drive off the cliff at any second and hitting a top speed of 2 kilometres per hour on the straight sections. Behind him, we barely got out of first gear until mercifully, he pulled off at the first viewpoint.

So dangerous and yet so safe.
Tenerife’s second most popular day trip destination it may be, but the vast majority of visitors who make it to the remote hamlet of Masca, do so by letting someone else do the driving. For those intrepid independents who hire a car on Tenerife and take the wheel themselves, the road to Masca is the island’s most notorious white knuckle drive, twisting and turning its way down the sheer side of a mountain in a series of gravity-defying switch backs.

Ironically, the road to Masca is actually one of the safest roads on Tenerife where accidents are a rarity, and that’s because everyone is driving so slowly that even if they make contact, there’s usually no more than a smudge on the bumper to show for it. But that’s not to say a plunge over the edge is beyond the realms of possibility, particularly given how badly some visitors drive this stretch of road.

The art of steering
In much of Europe, peoples’ daily commutes consist of road journeys that require very little in the way of steering wheel manipulation. From motorway lane changes to main road junctions, it’s a simple fact that many of us predominantly drive in straight lines. So, confronted with some of Tenerife’s narrow roads that zigzag their way up and down mountains, coupled with an unfamiliar car, your average driver has no notion of how to steer through the curves.

Having spent some time in the south west of the island yesterday, we had to detour to Buenavista del Norte on the way home to check out some details about one of our Island Walks and the quickest way to do that was via Masca. Unfortunately, we found ourselves behind this very nervous hire car driver. But he wasn’t the only dangerous element on the road yesterday, the way was littered with offending motorists.

Essential tips for driving the road to Masca

  • Don’t use passing bays as car parks – you’re putting other drivers at risk. All the way down the road we saw stopping places used as parking spots with people posing for photos and even eating their sandwiches while their cars occupied the only space where two vehicles could pass.
  • Follow the road markings which take you wide on left hand bends and hug the cliff on right hand bends, leaving space for oncoming vehicles to get past. The man we were stuck behind took every corner in the middle of the road, forcing oncoming traffic into the ditch or dangerously close to the edge.
  • If a viewpoint is full, you can’t stop there. We saw two cars yesterday with their rear ends stuck half way across the road because they’d squeezed into spaces too small for their vehicles.
  • Don’t arrive at 1pm and expect to get a parking spot. Masca is extremely popular, particularly between the hours of 11am and 3pm when the jeep safaris descend. It’s impossible to get a parking space anywhere nearer than El Palmar, and deciding to sit in your car in the middle of the little roundabout on the off chance that someone might be leaving soon is just plain silly – stop it.

Having said all of that, if you’re a confident driver, the road to Masca is a brilliant drive, provided you’re not unlucky enough to be behind the bloke in the hire car who, for all I know, may still be en route.

The road to Masca is part of the Hidden Depths  drive in Real Tenerife Island Drives.

Memories of idyllic childhood holidays spent slowly driving along Cornish lanes the width of the car with skyscraper hedgerows laced with sweet scented honeysuckle. Dad’s expression in the driver’s mirror betrayed his hope that no other vehicle would be coming towards us while my brothers and me in the back seat excitedly hoped they would so we could scream conflicting directions to Dad as he reversed to the nearest passing point. Mum’s job was to read the cryptic directions from the leaflet she held in her hands; turn left at the Cornish pasty (which turned out to be the name of a cottage that was just crying out to be featured on clotted cream packaging) then take a right at the monkey puzzle…you get the picture.

When we moved to North Tenerife and began traversing forest roads and mountain villages, we wanted other visitors to the island to find this hidden, ‘real’ Tenerife too, and it was then that we had the idea of writing Real Tenerife Island Drives. We didn’t just want to give people directions, they could buy a map for that, we wanted them to enjoy the whole experience of exploring the island. So we designed routes that wove through off the beaten track parts of the island, including snippets of information we’d discovered along the way such as how a place got its name, if it had an unusual fiesta and its place in Tenerife’s short but colourful history. Then we added places to stop for a view or a leg stretch and nice little places to stop for lunch or a picnic along the route.

Never having had any experience of self publishing, we drove, wrote, photographed, designed and did the layout for Island Drives, sharing one desktop pc between us. It was a journey of triumphs and disappointments but it was a labour of love. When we finally despatched it to the printers and arranged its distribution, we had just 3 weeks in which to build and launch a website on which to sell it.

We sat in front of that steam-powered pc and began to build a website without any knowledge, training, prior experience and most importantly without WordPress. All our waking hours were spent grappling with page design and layout, trying to understand Meta data, diagrams, parent and child pages and basic HTML.

The word ‘divorce’ was uttered on many an occasion and we laughed and cried our way to finally hitting that ‘publish’ button. Neither before nor since have I felt such elation and such a sense of achievement. We were delirious with joy and promptly got drunk! Of course, what we didn’t realise at that time was that we launched our site into cyber obscurity…but that’s another story.

Over 2500 worldwide sales later, this month Real Tenerife Island Drives has taken another giant leap forward into the 21st century and has just been published on Kindle. It hasn’t been quite the same torturous experience that its original creation was, but nor has it been without its hair pulling, screaming out loud moments and the mere mention of the term ‘Table of Contents’ can still bring on a sweat.

But at last I can say: Real Tenerife Island Drives – now available on Kindle. YAY!

“This is Playa Jardín which was designed by the world famous Lanzarote-born architect, César Manrique,” I proudly point out to Miles as we stroll along the seafront of Puerto de la Cruz beside its volcanic beach landscaped with palm trees and a vast cactus garden.
“Oh!” says Miles, a look of mild consternation on his face. “I don’t fancy putting my towel on there, it’ll get dirty!”
I’m speechless. Not only has it never occurred to me that the beautiful, black/silver sand is like dirt, but I’m taken aback that such a notion should pop into anyone’s head.

There is no doubt that first time visitors to a volcanic island experience a beach culture shock as they gaze upon the dark sand shores that are so alien to their stereotypical view of a tropical island. The deep, hypnotic, azure waters and wafting palm trees are present and correct but the talcum, soft shores of a Robinson Crusoe fantasy are missing, and in their place are taupe grey swathes bordering the shoreline, their obsidian particles glinting in the sun like stowaway fairy lights.

Of course, not all beaches on Tenerife have black sand. The majority of the island’s most popular resorts of the south coast have beautiful, man-made, golden beaches like the endless Las Vistas in Los Cristianos and the perfectly manicured Playa Del Duque in Costa Adeje. For the thousands of visitors who daily scour the internet for flights to Tenerife in order to replace the depressing grip of a Northern European winter with the warmth of the sun on their faces and the feel of sand between their toes, if they stick to the islands’ southern resorts, they may never experience the beach culture shock.

Beaches in the Canary Islands are an east west divide. The further east you go the more  concentrated the presence of pale pumice rocks which, coupled with the Islands’ proximity to West Africa which allows sand from the Sahara to be carried in the wind and deposited on the shores, creates natural pale sand. For that reason the eastern islands of Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote have natural golden shores. By contrast, travel west to the islands of El Hierro, La Palma and La Gomera and you’ll find beaches formed from the darker basalt rocks.

Here on Tenerife, which lies in the centre of the archipelago, you’ll find natural golden beaches in the eastern resorts like El Médano where the near constant wind doesn’t just provide the perfect conditions for the wind surfers and kite boarders but also ensures an endless supply of Saharan grains.  But head instead to the north and west of the island and you’ll find the sultry, dark sand shores of picturesque coves like Playa de la Arena, Los Gigantes and Puerto de la Cruz.

From a sunbathing point of view, the beaches of Tenerife are as varied as the shores they coat. The sand in some of the man made golden beaches is quite coarse and sharp to walk on because it has to be heavier than your average sand pit contents in order to prevent it from being washed away. On the other hand, the black sand retains the heat more, making a walk to the sea for a spot of paddling a pain endurance test that morphs into an ungainly sprint accompanied by involuntary yelps. It’s also heavier and doesn’t stick to you in the same way as golden sand, easily brushing off once your skin is dry. Of course, what it doesn’t do is make your towel dirty, well, only if you get it very wet…


Falling in Love Again.

I opened the fridge to see if anything edible had been left and I spotted the Jamon Serrano. Laying the paper thin strips onto a plate, I cut several slices from the Manchego block and added some pieces of the semi-curado goat’s cheese we’d bought in Teno Alto, so pungent it makes your tongue burn. I spooned some anchovy olives into a bowl, cut the bread we’d bought on the way back from the airport into thick chunks and poured two glasses of lightly chilled Rioja.

The sun was still full on the raised terrace at the front of the house with its Basil Fawlty sea view which you can just get if you crane your neck around the orchid tree and peer through the branches of the Canarian pine. But it was early evening and the burn factor was dissipating, so I laid the food on the glass tabletop and we raised our glasses to each other:
“Salud,” we said.

We didn’t speak again for a long time. We just slowly ate our Jamon and cheese, drank our wine and listened to the silence, broken only by the wild canaries and Tenerife blue tits as they chatted while stealing the nectar from the hibiscus flowers and scouring the chilli plant for insects. As sunset began I walked to the back terrace and watched as Mount Teide glowed in the dying embers of sun and a paraglider floated silently above the banana leaves, drifting towards the coast.

We’d arrived back from Marrakech via Gran Canaria late that afternoon, hungry and spent. It had been an incredible trip in which seven days in Morocco had drawn itself out to full stretch as we crammed experiences into every waking moment and most of the sleeping ones too; even my dreams were exhausting. We’d walked the medinas and souks of Marrakech and Essaouira and we’d hiked the High Atlas Mountains. We’d stayed in the most beautiful riad and splendid dar and we’d slept on a mattress on a concrete floor. We’d struggled to get past the default foreign language setting of Spanish in our brains and we’d endured stifling city heat and chilly mountain nights.

And now we were home. And like a dam bursting its banks, a tide of memory flooded my brain and I recalled with absolute clarity why it was that I first fell in love with where we live. And here I am, falling in love with it all over again.

The largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, Tenerife is one of the most popular diving destinations in Europe. It sits off the west coast of Africa in the crystal clear water of the North Atlantic Ocean. Compare flights to Tenerife South and you’ll find that it is easily accessible from Europe and the rest of the world.

Often called the “island of eternal spring”, Tenerife has a diverse landscape of pine forests, wildflower fields and rugged cliffs leading to golden beaches. Colourful coral, shipwrecks and exotic fish can all be seen beneath the beautiful blue water of Tenerife.

PADI and BSAC certified instructors and guides from Tenerife Dive, Aqua-Marina, Ocean Trek Diving Centre and Atlantic Divers offer diving excursions to many popular sites. From the novice to the most advanced and adventurous diver, Tenerife has a dive site and school to suit all.

The Condesito Shipwreck is a great dive site for beginner and advanced divers. The Condesito was a freightliner that wrecked near the shoreline of Punta Rasca more than 30 years ago. The hull, cabin and engine room are intact and have become home to a large array of colourful fish, coral and underwater plants. Rainbow wrasse, trumpet fish, tiny boxfish, stingrays and an octopus or two can often be seen swimming along with divers.

The Rays at Los Chuchos is a unique experience for all levels of diving devotee. Popular with photographers, videographers and nature nuts, this peaceful place is filled with schools of rays that glide across the golden sand floor and drift past a small wreck site. Dive and swim among all sizes of rays from small bat rays to large eagle and sting rays.

Located ten minutes from Los Cristianos and Las Galletas, Palm-Mar Cave, or Cuevo Del Palm Mar, is a thrill for advanced and deep divers. Crystal clear water gives incredible visibility to view large rocks, a cave, lobsters, Atlantic barracudas and several species of moray eels. Though gentle and inquisitive, some of these toothy eels are quite ferocious looking.

The deep, dark mysterious cave is best viewed from the outside. It has a series of mazes and no one knows how long it is or where it leads. A cross at the entrance commemorates the divers that have died while exploring this cave. Another interesting image is a statue of the Virgin Del Carmen, which was erected to give protection to the divers and fishermen on the island.

Beginner to advanced divers will find that Tenerife has just as much beauty and adventure beneath its sparkling surface as it does above.

This post was submitted by travel blogger Nicholas E cheapflights.co.uk. It’s his job to travel the world and give fellow travellers advice on a range of topics ranging from the getting the best deals on your flights to New York to the best diving spots in Tenerife.

Just in case there was the slightest outside chance that we might find ourselves with spare time on our hands, we’re currently converting Real Tenerife Island Drives into Kindle format.

We’ve watched with interest over the past year as Kindle has taken off, and having just bought one as a present for someone and seen it in action, it’s clear why this little gizmo will soon replace paper-bound holiday reading. So, never one to miss an opportunity, I have embarked on making Real Tenerife Island Drives available on Kindle, which gives us an opportunity to ensure that all our directions and references are fully up to date.

As we’re constantly driving the length and breadth of Tenerife to get to meetings, the start of walking trails or to fiestas, it’s quite easy to check most of the routes in the book by simply slotting them into our itinerary. In this way, we’ve ensured that everything’s still hunky dory. But there’s one route that takes a little more effort – Here Be Dragos…[Read more]

The more eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that I’ve been conspicuous by my absence on here of late – that’s because I’ve moved. You can find my ramblings now self-contained within the all-singing, all-dancing The Real Tenerife website. Come on over, the kettle’s on 🙂

“Probably many people have shared my feeling of disappointment on landing at Santa Cruz…but even so, the utter hideousness of the capital of Teneriffe was a shock to me”
Florence Du Kane, The Canary Islands, published 1911

Santa Cruz may be a long way off rivalling Florence, Venice and Paris for inclusion in the list of the World’s most beautiful cities, but nevertheless it has come a long way since Florence Du Kane and her sister disembarked at the dirty port in 1911.

Dominated for many years by the ugly and smelly skyline of the CEPSA oil refinery, nowadays visitors arriving by ferry and cruise liner are greeted by the sexy, sleek curves of Santa Cruz’ 21st century icon, Santiago Calatrava’s Auditorium, its cobra head blindingly white against the cobalt sky.

Once on dry land, the city opens her doorway with the lake-filled Plaza España and its strikingly eclectic blend of Franco symbolism and urban modernity. Below the surface lie the fortified remains of a city that withstood three attacks by British naval forces, the final encounter leaving Horatio Nelson with just one arm and the British fleet marched back to their ships in disgrace.

Santa Cruz lends itself beautifully to exploration on foot. Avenidas overhung with the scarlet flowering branches of flamboyance trees provide shady walkways through its compact centre while palm-filled plazas beckon with the aroma of freshly filtered coffee and the cry of wild parrots in the canopy. The magnificent Parque García Sanabria is an open air art gallery set within acres of mature botanical gardens which showcase Tenerife‘s amazing capacity to grow exotic flora to Jack and the Beanstalk proportions.

Art lovers will be hard pressed to drag themselves away from the canvasses of religious Masters in the Belles Artes gallery or the contemporary eclecticism and surrealist imagery housed in the architecturally stunning T.E.A (Tenerife Espacio de las Artes). Shoppers will find air conditioned plazas filled to their designer label roofs with VAT free bargains and city centre streets where household chains and small independents sit cheek by jowl with pavement cafés and tapas bars.

Architecture, sculptures, markets and museums are all within easy walking distance of the port and the city centre but like any city, Santa Cruz can be difficult to navigate if you don’t know your way around and you can miss many of its finest attractions.

For that reason we have written and published a guide to exploring Santa Cruz on foot which will show you the city’s best profile and give you all the information you need to get the most from your visit.

The Santa Cruz City Guide features a guide to the city’s attractions complete with the time we think you’ll need to allow to get the most from each one; two routes from which to choose deciding on how far you want to walk, what you want to see and do and how much time you have available, and an easy to follow map with clear timings and directions.
Best of all, it’s in PDF format sent to your email in-box so there’s no waiting for postal delivery or wandering around trying to find a shop that sells it. You just print it off before you go and start planning your trip. We’re pretty sure it’ll be the best €3 you ever spent.

So avoid sharing Florence’s feelings of disappointment and make sure you get to see the very best of Santa Cruz.

Santa Blues 2011

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of this weekend’s Santa Blues festival in Santa Cruz which, for me, is the highlight of a summer packed with music.

It’s not just the artists who make this festival so special, although I have seen some truly memorable performances at this gig – Robert Cray in 2008, The Deans in 2009 and Kenny Neal in 2010 – it’s the venue too. Standing beneath the flowering branches of the flamboyance trees at the foot of the clock tower of Iglesia de Concepción has to rank as one of the most atmospheric venues in the Blues calendar. Throw a sultry night into the mix and you’ve got the perfect Louisiana setting for artists to exploit.

Well, with midsummer’s Eve almost upon us and calima in full flow keeping the Tenerife thermostat stuck on ‘hot’, the stage is set for another great year of live Blues. The festival opens on Thursday 23rd with local boys Lightnin’ Blues kicking off proceedings and bringing a welcome local flavour to the event. They’ll be followed by the Andy J. Forest Band all the way from New Orleans.

The organizer’s haven’t done this charismatic little festival any favours by holding the opening night on Noche de San Juan when much of the local population will be decamping to their nearest sand for the biggest beach party of the year, so opening night is going to need all the help it can muster to ensure the continuation of this very special annual festival.

On Friday night Emerging Sound take to the stage followed by Red House Blues and Saturday rounds off with the Spanish Three Bones and Mississippi’s Zac Harmen.
Be there – or miss one of the best music events of the year. Your call.

Cast your mind back to the days when you sat with a pile of blank postcards in front of you and a head filled with sea breezes, the whiff of Ambre Solaire and diddly squat in terms of what to write, and you’ll have just the vaguest inkling of what it’s like to be a travel writer.

It’s funny how so many people who don’t write seem to think that writing is the easiest job in the world, and if you throw travelling into the equation you’re just taking the piss if you even use the words work and travel writing in the same sentence.

There can be no doubt that writing comes more easily to some people than to others, in the same way that drawing, or carpentry or accounts are second nature to some and a miracle of human achievement to others. But I wouldn’t expect an artist or a carpenter or an accountant to churn out the same drawing, cabinet or spreadsheet time after time, and neither should a travel writer. Travel writing has to be as fit for purpose as anything else we seek to create and whenever I put fingers to keyboard, I have to think very carefully about who it is I’m writing for.

There is absolutely no point in a travel writer or blogger writing a feature about staying in five star hotels and eating at the best restaurants in the destination if their audience is primarily backpackers and gap year students travelling the globe. Equally, to expound the virtues of trekking to off the beaten track locations and staying with a local family in their one room stilt house is going to be as appealing as a dose of the noro virus to professionals who have limited holidays and unlimited budgets.

If I am going to write about a trip for a tour company that markets itself to low cost, mass tourism destinations, they won’t be too happy if I wax lyrically for 300 words about the wines, the culture and the gastronomy of a region when their market really wants to know about the theme parks, the beaches and the best place to get a proper English breakfast.

But here’s an interesting thought. If I produce a feature for a mass market that uses simple language and short sentences, is it written to a lower standard than one that uses complex imagery and dictionary required adjectives? Surely, if my writing is fit for purpose, then it’s good writing isn’t it? And if I fail to meet the specific needs of my commissioning editor because I like to write a certain way regardless of who the audience is, doesn’t that make me a bad writer  – or just an unsuccessful one?

Whatever else a travel writer or blogger may or may not be, unless they’re at the top of their profession one thing’s for sure, they won’t be getting paid vast sums of money for the articles they write. As a professional travel writer, there’s only one way to make a living and that’s to keep outputs as high as possible by producing work for as many different commissioning editors as you can muster. And that means being able to adapt your style and content to suit each customer you’re writing for.
Isn’t that what a good travel writer is?

Opinions on a postcard please – or you could just use the comments space.

Early in May 2011 I was lucky enough to be a part of what must surely be one of the best blog trips ever, the Costa Brava blog trip.

For those who are not familiar with the term, a blog trip is like a press trip but for travel bloggers. A tourism destination invites a group of the most influential travel bloggers to visit their region, discover the beauty of their landscape, sample their hospitality, their gastronomy and their activities. For their part, the bloggers promote the destination on their blogs before, during and after the trip and use social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to broadcast their experiences in real time.

During the seven day trip to Costa Brava, 16 international bloggers were wowed and wooed with experiences that ranged from lunch prepared by fishermen in a hut with no running water to a twenty course lunch at the second best restaurant in the world. They hiked to volcanoes in the rural interior and jumped from aircraft over the stunning coastline and they stayed in idyllic coves, seaside resorts and in Girona; in five star, family run and city centre hotels.

Most importantly of all, the bloggers met fascinating people from across the region who brought Costa Brava alive for them. They met famous chefs and painters, fishermen, sailors and vineyard owners. Everywhere they went they were welcomed with open arms, photographed, filmed and interviewed for TV and press and for their entire trip they were given access to WiFi to ensure that they could effectively do the job they had been brought to Costa Brava to do.

Costa Brava didn’t need a blog trip to raise awareness of a region of Spain that hitherto lay hidden from the tourist trail. Quite the contrary. Resorts like Lloret de Mar, Tossa de Mar and Roses have long been on the holiday destination map. But Costa Brava wants to  promote itself as much more than just a seaside resort and has used the blog trip to position itself as a destination for activities, gastronomy, diversity, culture and scenic beauty.

Now, cut to Tenerife
A popular holiday destination that desperately wants to reposition itself on the travel radar. A destination known only for the sun, sea and sand of its south and west coast resorts while the epic scenery of its mountains, its stunning volcanic interior and its cultural heritage go largely unseen.

The opportunities for activity holidays on Tenerife are endless, with everything from walking to paragliding to highlight. We may not have the world’s best chefs or restaurants but there is first class gastronomy to be enjoyed on the island and there’s a heritage of fine wine production that dates back to Shakepeare. There are five star hotels and rural idylls; festivals and fireworks; mountains, valleys and palm grove coastlines all waiting to be discovered and showcased to the world.

So why do I think a blog trip is unlikely ever to happen on Tenerife? Because any such publicity opportunity would be taken over by the politicians rather than focussing on local people interacting with the bloggers. Because in order to pull this off successfully you would have to have local and island-wide government working in seamless unity, something I have yet to witness on Tenerife. Because in Costa Brava local businesses, hoteliers, restaurateurs and tour operators opened their eyes to the power of social media; on Tenerife most of those people are oblivious to its existence and blind to its power. Because you can’t achieve millions of tweets and retweets and broadcast in real time to the world on an island where high speed WiFi is still a luxury and not a given. Because you can never move forward when you’re stuck in the past.

Wake up Tenerife, the world is passing you by.