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Archive for August, 2010

The normally sedate dining room was in uproar.
An American drawl was loudly berating the fact that the steak on his plate was tougher than the leather on his shoes and at the pastries cart a physical fight had broken out between two families over the last of the chocolate éclairs. In the midst of hair pulling and screaming, a woman’s voice was heard to tearfully proclaim ”It’s the only bloody decent food we’ve had all week!”
This was Kenya circa 1990 and the last time I ate dinner in a hotel buffet…until last weekend.

When we first began to travel beyond the Greek Islands it didn’t take us long to realise that hotel food was largely geared to the palates of guests, the vast majority of whom appeared to want to forget the fact that they were anywhere other than home except when it came to sunbathing. We very quickly dumped half board options in favour of room and breakfast and opted instead to explore local eateries.

The distinctive tower of Hotel Isabel, Costa Adeje

So it wasn’t without a certain amount of trepidation that, last weekend, we checked into the Hotel Isabel in Costa Adeje on a half board basis because, on an assignment to review the hotel, we knew that food was to be an essential element.

The fact that this was one of the busiest weekends of the year for holidays on Tenerife and the hotel was filled to capacity, did nothing to allay our nerves. As we walked past the hotel dining room at 7pm on our way to the summer carnaval in Playa de Las Américas and saw it was already pretty full, we hoped that by the time we got back at least most of the guests would have eaten, even if we were facing the equivalent of the aftermath of a swarm of locusts with nothing left but cold chips, limp lettuce and metallic-tasting frozen mixed veg’.

We were wrong – on both counts.
When we finally arrived at the dining room it was still packed, but we were immediately shown to a clean table. Heading to the food counters, I couldn’t begin to take in the choice of food available.
At either end of the vast counter there were two cooking stations; one was grilling and roasting chicken and meat and the other was baking fresh pizza and garlic bread and simmering sauces for pasta.
On three large islands in front of the hot plates were salad ingredients like cold chicken, ham and seafood; chopped fresh onions, tomatoes and green peppers; a choice of three different types of washed lettuce; coleslaws, sweetcorn, pastas and shredded carrot; hard boiled eggs…I really can’t remember them all.
Food mountains of fresh rolls lay alongside huge soup tureens which were sending saliva-inducing aromas steaming into the atmosphere.

At this point my decision-making skills had a panic attack so I filled a plate with salad ingredients and headed back to our table. My second assault on the buffet took me along the hotplates which held five different styles of cooked potatoes; lamb, beef, chicken and fish dishes; vegetables; sauces and more pasta dishes. Everything was piping hot and although none of the trays was even close to empty, fresh supplies were being poured in continuously.
This was not what I had expected.

One of the pretty plazas at Hotel Isabel

I finally plumped for pork chops from the griddle,which were succulent, smoky and tender. My only disappointment was the mixed vegetables I’d chosen which I’m pretty sure were frozen. Vowing to opt for a single veg’ the following night, I finished up and headed to the sweets section where a chef was busy peeling, chopping and serving an entire plantation’s worth of tropical fruits. Then, trying not to look at the cheesecakes and pastries en route, it was onto the ice cream section where six flavours of ice cream, unknown varieties of yoghurt, sumptuously sinful chocolate decorations and half a dozen bottles of assorted spirits and liqueurs from which to choose ensured that the next two weeks would be spent on rice and salads.

For families, I can see how half or full board must be an extremely attractive option; the children we saw in the dining room over our weekend at the Hotel Isabel had smiles on their faces as wide as the mounds of chips, spaghetti or six kinds of ice cream on their plates.

Hotel buffets have certainly moved on since the War of the Chocolate Éclairs all those years ago, at least, they have in Tenerife. I wonder what the hotel buffets in Kenya are like nowadays…?

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A couple of weeks ago we had a fantastic weekend in the country in the pretty rural hamlet of Santiago del Teide.
Set in a gorgeous valley about 800 metres above sea level, bordered to the north by pine forests, to the east by Mount Teide and Pico Viejo, to the west by the Masca mountains and to the south by the spiralling descent to Tamaimo and Los Gigantes, this little village is one of Tenerife’s most picturesque.

Ironically, although thousands of people pass through it en route to Masca, very few of them leave their cars and tour buses to explore Santiago del Teide, and the handful who do head straight for the life-sized model of a horse which is harnessed to a trap, on the terrace of the Chinyero restaurant at the western end of the village.

But with the opening of the Señorio del Valle Visitor Centre and rural hotel, that may be about to change because now visitors can upgrade from Chinyero’s wonky plastic horse and experience a ride in a real horse and trap.
Stabled behind the Señorio del Valle Rural Hotel, a selection of beautiful horses are now available for horse riding and along with one very cute Shetland pony, offer pony and trap rides through the village, around the grounds of the Visitor Centre and to the neighbouring hamlet of Valle de Arriba.

Sitting in the shade of the trees at the kiosk cafe of the picnic zone opposite the church, it was magical to hear the clip clop of hooves and the swish of the wheels of the trap as another delighted passenger was taken through the village.
If there’s one thing about the past that I would happily re-instate if I was Mayoress of the World, it would be travel by pony and trap. There’s just something so romantic about that mode of transport and for me it conjures up images of Jane Austen heroes and heroines and Sherlock Holmes adventures.

So if you fancy taking to the saddle to explore some of the beautiful forest trails around Santiago del Teide, or you happen to be heading into Masca any time, make a point of stopping off at the Señorio del Valle Visitor Centre and enjoy the peace,tranquillity and beauty of the village the old fashioned way.

Riding lessons are €8 for ½ an hour and €16 for an hour
Riding is €30 an hour, €60 for 2 hours
Pony & trap rides are from €1 to €10 depending on time and distance.

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A well deserved congratulations to the eight great Tenerife hotels that picked up Holly Awards after being voted into TUI’s top 100 leisure hotels.

The Canary Islands fared remarkably well overall with nineteen hotels making the list which was chosen from hotels in sixteen countries around the world.

The Tenerife TUI Holly Award Winners 2010

Aparthotel Atlantis Park, Punta de Hidalgo
Arona Gran Hotel, Los Cristianos
Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque Resort, Costa Adeje
Hotel Botanico The Oriental Spa Garden, Puerto de la Cruz;
Hotel Jardines de Nivaria, Costa Adeje
Hotel RIU Garoe, Puerto de la Cruz
Hotel Tigaiga, Puerto de la Cruz
Roca Nivaria Gran Hotel, Playa Paraiso

Special mention goes to the Aparthotel Atlantis Park, Punta de Hidalgo which made TUI’s Holly Awards top 10 for service.

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As we drove around the wide El Guincho corner of the fancy new road on Sunday night we saw the line of red tail lights ahead in the darkness and thought “uh oh”.
A small patch of flat earth lay just before the opening of the tunnel that took six years to build and replaced a ½ km of road with 500 km of space-age concrete tubing.
What about parking there?” I tentatively suggested, following the Golden Rule of fiesta attending on Tenerife which clearly states ‘as soon as you see vehicles beginning to back up, park at the very first available space you see’.
But we were still a good 2 km from Garachico and fatally, we nudged forward and the opportunity was lost.

Fun exhibits in the town

It took us 20 minutes to crawl, bumper to bumper through that tunnel before we finally emerged and Jack did a nifty u-turn manoeuvre, drove up the slip road to El Guincho and parked to one side. Within seconds others were following suit.
We joined the ranks of fellow car-abandoners all walking in the direction of Garachico, and it now being 9.30pm, desperately hoped that the scheduled 9.45pm start for the fuegos (fires) would follow the usual Tenerife mas o menos punctuality.
By the time we reached Garachico our numbers had swelled and we joined the thousands already crammed into El Caletón and the harbour area.

Once every five years the charismatic little town of Garachico commemorates the event that changed its history; the night Arena Negras volcano erupted and sent rivers of burning lava down the cliffs to engulf its streets and destroy its harbour.
Almost overnight Garachico’s status plunged from Tenerife’s wealthiest town, to the town that got buried by an eruption. Any other place might have thrown in the towel at that point, but not the folks who have Glorioso en su Adversidad (Strength in Adversity) embroidered on their coat of arms. Garachico rose from the volcanic ash and re-built its town and its pride. Today it’s one of Tenerife’s most popular excursions where folks flock to swim in the delicious rock pools hewn out of its trademark frozen lava.

At somewhere around 10.30pm a small procession arrived at the harbour carrying the candlelit Santísimo Cristo de la Misericordia. When the procession came to a standstill we saw the first bonfire flare up on the cliffside above the beach and large drops of molten fire began to drip from the road above the cliff into the flames. A cheer went up  from the crowd and all heads turned to watch as fire after fire was lighted. With the rocks ablaze, the street lights all went out and we were plunged into total darkness, the glow of the fires blazing on our retinas.
As the fires spread around the cliffside and a pall of scarlet smoke began to rise, our eyes were drawn to a flare in the cliffside, high above the road. A fire sprang into life, the flames licking the rock face as they gained strength from the breeze. In seconds, a ball of fire broke free from the conflagration and to roars of “fuego!” from the crowd, began to careen down the hillside leaving a fiery tail in its wake. But its progress was short-lived and to theatrical disappointment from the crowd it came to rest.

Seconds later four fire balls began their descent, this time gathering pace and strength as they fell and bounced off the cliff face. Roars of approval, shouts of “bravo!” and wild applause greeted each new fireball as one after another they scorched down the cliffside to the barranco where the Bomberos were waiting to douse the flames.

Finally, their display spent, the fire chasers took a well deserved bow to tumultuous applause and we turned our backs to the cliffs to face an explosive kaleidoscope of colour splitting the night sky over the harbour.
To an impassioned performance of classical music; rockets, flares and air bombs burst open sending cascades of illuminated colours across the sky and sound-waves ricocheting around the harbour.
As Handel’s Messiah Hallelujah reached its crescendo, a full sized Christ on the crucifix burst into golden fire on the cliff below the mirador, every feature of the face alive in its flames.

When finally the fireworks climaxed, we made our way through the beautifully garlanded and paper-flowered town, booms still ringing in our ears, and headed towards the tunnel and the long trek back to the car.
Provided Mother Nature doesn’t try to upstage the night with her own version before then, it’ll be 2015 before Garachico next stages the Fuegos Del Risco and I for one, can’t wait.

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I wasn’t really too surprised to hear that yet another yellow alert for high temperatures in Tenerife had been issued by the Spanish Met Office last week. After all, Día de la Trilla was fast approaching.

For reasons beyond my comprehension, some events on Tenerife are linked inextricably with certain weather conditions. For example, Carnaval season pretty much guarantees rain; Puerto’s Fiesta Del Carmen simply couldn’t happen on anything but the most glorious of days and Día de la Trilla seems to need blisteringly hot days before a single straw of wheat can be threshed.

Last year we set off into the hills of Tenerife and found temperatures in excess of 40°C waiting for us in El Tanque. This year, with the tail end of a calima still in evidence, the mercury was  only somewhere around the 39°C mark as we arrived at the site of what is soon to be an agricultural eco-museum.

A fancy new concrete car park greeted us where previously only fields provided space for the mainly 4x4s and horse boxes that gather in El Tanque for the annual traditional wheat gathering and threshing.
Unfortunately, the work being undertaken to create a centre where traditional farming methods are showcased meant that the venue for the day’s fun was largely a building site and certainly wasn’t going to win any beauty prizes. But neither the surroundings nor the excessive temperatures could detract from the festive air as we made our way past stalls selling home made produce, hand made ornaments, Bonsai trees and naturally, lots of home made bread, to a soundtrack of folk music blaring from speakers across the ground.

Horses, oxen and people all mingled under a heat-leaden sky, blinded by the glare off the gold mountain of wheat that filled the small era, or threshing circle in which most of the day’s action would take place.


Barely had we got video and camera lens in place when the first of the teams of horses arrived and the threshing began. Teased from the centre of the era, the two horses cantered in circles, knee deep in wheat, or in the case of the smaller of the two, belly deep. As the level of the sea of wheat visibly fell, pitchforks worked to replenish the bales.
A second team of horses took over to bring renewed energy to the proceedings and slowly, the wheat levelled out and broke down enough for the big guns to take over.

Enter two teams of oxen. Beautiful, placid creatures with big cow eyes and haunches the size of  bulldozers, the oxen stood patiently while they were tethered to heavy wooden threshing boards before setting off effortlessly, the boards, a driver and several squealing local children in tow for what in El Tanque, passes for a fairground ride.
Round and round the oxen were driven, stopping to take on board fresh young passengers, until the wheat was fine enough for winnowing to begin and the fine chaff to be whisked away on the breeze leaving the wheat to be gathered.

But we didn’t stay long enough to see the process through to its conclusion. With my nose already twitching from the hay dust, we made our way to the busy beer tent where bodies vied for space under the limited shade of its awning. After downing possibly the most refreshing beer I’ve ever drunk, we made our way past the guachinche with its burgeoning dinner line and headed to the car, a picnic and the sanctuary shade of the local pine forest.

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