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“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…

 

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Having just spent an idyllic long weekend on La Gomera, it strikes me that most visitors to Tenerife never see anything more of our neighbouring island  than the stunning canvas it lends to the nightly sunset, or glimpses of its shoreline from dolphin watching trips along the Los Gigantes and Los Cristianos coasts. For those who make the effort to take the ferry across the water, a forty minute sailing lands you on an island which is a far cry from the bustle of their Los Cristianos departure point.

La Gomera was once described by a friend who has lived on the island for some 14 years as being shaped like a circular tablecloth that someone has pinched in the centre and raised off the table. Steep barrancos (ravines) create deep folds in the landscape that run from the coast to the central rainforest of Garajonay National Park, making travel a time consuming and sinuous business, and farming a back-breaking toil.

The difficulty of easily traversing such a landscape, combined with rocky coastlines, strong currents and sheer cliffs which prevent the coastline from getting sucked into the Tenerife addiction of beach building, has meant that La Gomera remains mercifully devoid of large resort development. The down side to that equation is that many of La Gomera’s younger generation have abandoned their agricultural inheritance to make the weekly commute to Tenerife for an easier living and bright lights, leaving La Gomera low on economic development opportunities. But the island has seen an influx of (mainly German) immigrants who have invested in renovating traditional properties, opening restaurants and select rural guest houses and cultivating fincas. The end result is an island of rare beauty, unspoilt by tourism.

I’m not a fan of coach tours with their prescriptive itineraries and refreshment stops which often bypass local pockets, but if you want to tour La Gomera in a day, on this occasion it’s probably your best bet. Confident drivers can hire a car at the ferry terminal and explore independently but for anyone who doesn’t have experience of driving abroad and on mountainous roads, letting a coach take the stress has a lot to be said for it.

Those who prefer a more leisurely day can wander around the capital of San Sebastián where the ferry docks and from whence Christopher Columbus set sail on his globe-changing voyage of 6th September 1492. Buildings of note are the iconic Torre del Conde (above), the little church of La Asunción and Columbus’ House where the eponymous hero stayed prior to his epic voyage and which is now a museum. There are shady pavement cafés and restaurants serving very reasonably priced menus del día of typical Canarian cuisine and lots of places to stroll and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere.

Visitors in the north of Tenerife should consider taking a day return flight on BinterCanarias or IslasAirways who fly into the airport a short taxi ride from the resort of Playa Santiago. Best known as the location of the La Tecina Hotel, Playa Santiago has seen a small but steady growth over the past five years and now offers a picturesque marina; a small, black sand beach; nice restaurants with promenade views and a good selection of shops. It’s a laid back, one horse sort of resort where the default setting is sunny and life moves at a ripple pace – the perfect spot in which to enjoy a very different Canary Island for a day.

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As a Canary Islands resident, using the local airline to island hop between Tenerife and its neighbours is an easy, convenient, time saving and economical way to travel.

With flights lasting 30 to 45 minutes, there’s barely time in between take off and landing for the flight attendants to make one swift traverse of the aisle, so by way of an in-flight service passengers are treated to a plastic cup of water and a Binter Canarias chocolate wafer biscuit. I don’t claim to be a biscuit aficionado, but these are something special.

A few weeks ago we had arranged a flying (literal and metaphorical) trip to La Palma with good friends Linda and Robert and we arrived at the Tenerife North Airport for the 6.30pm flight to be met with the knowledge that flights were being delayed and cancelled due to a storm which was in full flow across the Canary Islands.
The two flights before ours were cancelled but amazingly, we were called to gate, boarded and took off just a half hour behind schedule.

The airline operates with a fleet of ATR-72 airlines which can take off and land from short runways but which are not very good at smoothing out air pockets. That Wednesday night as we headed off over the Atlantic Ocean, the plane was buffeting and rocking us around like the crew of early Star Trek episodes on the bridge during a battle scene.
As the contents of my stomach began to feel as if they may make a break for freedom at any moment and the rain lashed the windows from the storm, an announcement came over the public address system that, due to turbulence, the in-flight service would not be available on our flight.

Twenty minutes later we could feel the aircraft descending and the buffeting increased significantly. I looked around at my fellow passengers. Some were chatting to their neighbours as if this was the most normal flight they had ever been on, others had their heads in their hands, and the lady directly across the aisle from me had her eyes closed, Rosary Beads threaded through her fingers and was silently mouthing a prayer.
I felt surprisingly calm and accepting of what was increasingly looking like my final few minutes of life and I smiled an apologetic smile at Linda for being inadvertently instrumental in her and Robert’s demise. No words passed between any of us.

Then we began to climb again and the pilot informed us that we were returning to Tenerife as conditions for landing on La Palma were too difficult.
It’s hard to say whether my disappointment was more for the fact that our planned break was being swallowed by the storm or that we now faced a further 30 minute flight back to Tenerife at the mercy of the gods.
And just to add insult to injury, I hadn’t even had my biscuit.

When the wheels finally touched down back at Tenerife we re-arranged our flight for the following morning in the hopes that the storm would have abated by then. It did not.
We started to board at 7.10 am the following morning while the rain bounced off the runway and when we finally took off, it was to a near repeat of the previous night’s flight. We rocked and buffeted our way across the Atlantic while the fasten seat belts sign remained resolutely illuminated and the Binter biscuit was nowhere to be seen.

Thirty minutes later we landed at La Palma airport where the rain had stopped and a clear sunrise was taxiing behind us on the runway. The relief at once more being on terra firma where the sun was shining was as palpable as a cream cake onto which the flight attendant placed a cherry, or should I say a chocolate biscuit, as we left the aircraft.
Fitting reward for still being alive I felt.

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You might consider that, living in the Canaries, visiting the other islands would be a regular occurrence of everyday life. Sadly it isn’t so. Unlike the residents of La Gomera, El Hierro and to a lesser extent La Palma who have little choice but to travel to Tenerife, as International flights from their own islands are either scarce or non existent, living on Tenerife we’re pretty much self contained.

It would be interesting to conduct a poll of ex-pats to find out just how many of them ever visit neighbouring islands. I wouldn’t mind betting that for the majority the answer would be “never”, which is a lengthy way of admitting that, in the seven plus years we’ve lived on Tenerife, we hadn’t once visited Lanzarote… until last week.

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but I’m not sure that’s true.
Before last week, the first (and only) time we have been to Lanzarote was 20 years ago when we sought some winter sun and booked a last minute, cheap ‘pot luck’ type holiday where you didn’t know which resort or accommodation you were going to until you got there, and we got Puerto del Carmen.
To be fair to Lanzarote and Puerto Del Carmen, we had recently returned from our honeymoon in Sri Lanka and been completely blown away by the island. I suspect that no matter where we had gone next, disappointment was the only emotion we were going to feel and in that respect, Puerto del Carmen didn’t let us down. As the coach drove along the sea front passing row upon row of ‘all day British breakfast’ signs, amusement arcades and British pub names, we looked at each other in horror and  realised we had made a terrible mistake, this was our idea of holiday hell.

So it’s fair to say that when we had to go to Lanzarote on business for three days last week, it was with some trepidation that we boarded the Binter Airlines flight to Arrecife.

As we drove the short journey to Costa Teguise and Sands Beach Resort which was to be our home for the next three days, Lanzarote got a second chance to make a good first impression on us…and she rose to the occasion with style.
The first thing we were struck by was the marked contrast in the landscape between Tenerife and this eastern isle. As Jack put it: “I keep wondering where the rest of the horizon is.”
We are so used to seeing a backdrop of mountainous terrain towering above us that Lanzarote’s arid flatness was almost unnerving. On the other hand, from what we could see there were no high rise hotels; no industrial estates sprawling into the distance; no motorway or vast commercial centres and no traffic queues or gridlocked junctions.

The stark contrast of low rise white buildings against the black volcanic earth studded with cacti and irrigated rows of palm trees create a beauty that is unique to Lanzarote.
We arrived at Costa Teguise and drove through the resort to the far side of Las Cucharas Beach where the resort of Sands Beach lies in its own unique, lagoon side location.
We had a lovely, beach front apartment on the edge of the saltwater lagoon with its little golden beach beyond which a promenade led along the coast to the centre of Costa Teguise and to beautiful sandy coves and tranquil bays.

On our second day we visited the former capital of La Villa de Teguise and were thoroughly charmed by its narrow cobbled streets, picturesque plaza, pavement cafes and historic buildings. 20 years ago we hired a car and spent three days touring the island but neither of us could remember going to Teguise, or Costa Teguise for that matter.

This was a very different Lanzarote from the one we visited 20 years ago. Could it be that things have changed so much in that time? They certainly have in Tenerife so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Lanzarote too has shaken off some of the tacky image of the 1990s. Of course, only a return visit to Puerto Del Carmen will determine if that’s the case.

Or was it just that we were literally and figuratively seeing a different side to the island? Or were we simply looking through different eyes?

Whichever it is, I don’t think it will be another 20 years before we next return to Lanzarote.

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I like Latino music, I really do, but not at the expense of every other type of music in the Universe and unfortunately, here in the north of Tenerife Latino is aired, played and listened to as if no other order of notes has ever been invented.

Still, it was New Year’s Eve at the annual street party in Puerto de la Cruz and I resigned myself to another night of salsa, salsa and more salsa which certainly improves in direct relation to the quantity of alcohol consumed.

Midnight strikes, grapes are swallowed, fireworks explode into life and the champagne corks are popped – hello 2011.
Jack, Nicole, Sebastian and I wander back to Plaza Charco where the evening’s Latino band are in full swing and the dance floor is packed with salsa dancers. I do my best to shake up an explosion by attempting (badly I suspect) to emulate the moves while carrying a rucksack in which our chilled cava supply is stashed.

Shortly after 1am Nicole and Sebastian bid their farewells and Jack and I  finish off a bottle of cava and head over to the other side of the harbour to see what’s happening.

Lo and behold, what we find is the alternative New Year’s Eve – the one that has loud, throbbing rhythms and multi coloured strobe lights and joy upon joy, the unmistakeable chords of Insomnia!
With unrestrained delirium we launch ourselves into the middle of the pulsating dance floor and let the music wash over us in a tsunami of nostalgia.
I don’t think I have ever been more happy to hear Faithless, and the atmosphere alongside the harbour with the neon Big Wheel of the funfair slowly turning in the distance is nothing short of electric.
Now this is what I call party music.

We video’d snippets of the two sides to our NYE party so that anyone who has never experienced New Year’s Eve in Puerto de la Cruz can see what they’re missing and book now for 2011/2012. Oh, and in the interests of editing, I’ve culled the 5 minute firework display down to 1½ minutes.

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Any of my friends will attest to the fact that, for the past three months I’ve been about as much fun as a bout of influenza, virtually all of my waking hours being in front of a screen and a keyboard in order to meet deadlines. So the weekend before Christmas, deadlines finally achieved, Jack and I took ourselves off for a bit of R and R on Tenerife’s sunny south west coast.


The prospect of this mini holiday had been keeping me going through the final pushes of work and I’d envisaged myself lying by a Bond-esque swimming pool, cocktail in hand, soaking up the healing rays of the sun and watching my skin slowly losing its blinding white hue.
So it wasn’t without some concerns that a few days before we were due to go away I began to pick up reports of yellow alerts and first hand accounts of persistent rain in the south of the island.

On Saturday morning we headed out of the blue skies and sunshine of Puerto de la Cruz for the drive to Puerto Santiago. As we climbed higher into the cloud my heart began to sink, but when we reached the mirador above Santiago Del Teide I could see the resort of Playa de la Arena in sunshine on the coast below and we arrived at the Hotel Barceló Santiago in glorious sunshine.


You often hear about the different weather zones on Tenerife and here we were under blue skies and sunshine just a fifteen minute drive along the coast from Los Cristianos, Playa de Las Américas and Costa Adeje where, very unusually, it was raining heavily.

After checking in and getting into the holiday mood with a complimentary glass of chilled cava, we headed to our suite.
We’d stayed in the Hotel Barceló Santiago seven years ago and although completely blown away by its location, we’d been somewhat disappointed with our room. But clearly the hotel hadn’t stood still in those intervening years and refurbishments had transformed it beyond recognition.
As we walked through the door of room 819 it wasn’t disappointment we felt, it was elation.

The first thing we saw was the stylish en suite bathroom and walk in shower constructed in ice blue opaque glass. Beyond the bathroom was a comfortable lounge area and beyond the opaque glass screen lay the elegant, contemporary-styled bedroom which occupied a corner of the hotel’s eighth floor.
Drawing back the floor to ceiling curtains, we had panoramic views over the cliffs of Los Gigantes and the whale and dolphin watching boats which were cutting a white swathe through the shimmering turquoise of the ocean. From the other window, the views were equally impressive over La Gomera and the hotel’s fabulously stylish swimming pools and sun terraces.


After wandering over and back between views on our corner balcony, we unpacked and headed down to the buffet lunch.

I wasn’t really very hungry and so I headed for the salad bar and stacked my plate from the cold meats, salads and dressings. Unfortunately, on the way back to my table on the elegant outside terrace I caught sight of the carvery section where sirloin steaks and plump pork fillets and chops were sizzling on a griddle, then past the sweets tables (okay, admittedly my route back to the table may not have been the most direct…) where small pastries, ice creams and chocolate mousses were whispering “eat me” in seductive tones.


After my salad lunch which morphed into a three course sumptuous affair with red wine and several return trips to the buffet there was only one place to go. I chose a sunbed alongside the infinity pool with views over the Los Gigantes cliffs, applied the factor 15 and let the afternoon drift away in a pleasant doze lulled by soft Jazz melodies drifting from the pool bar, the distant chatter of a couple in the Jacuzzi and the rhythmic ebbing and flowing of the ocean.

As I lay there in the afternoon sun, the stresses and strains of the past three months began to evaporate into the ether and all I had left to worry about was how on earth I was going to be hungry enough for our 7.30 pm reservation at the Sabor Español restaurant. Now that’s what I call R and R.

P.S. If you like the look of the Hotel Barceló Santiago, you could win a  FREE week, half board for 2 persons simply by liking Tenerife Magazine on Facebook – no catch, no hidden ‘sell’, just hit the ‘like’ button and you could be lying by that pool gazing over the Los Gigantes cliffs. I’ve already hit the button several times. Well, you never know…

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I feel like I’ve been watching back to back movies in some dingy cinema for weeks and have finally emerged, blinking into the sunlight.
I’m not complaining (okay, that’s clearly a lie) but I’ve been so wrapped up in trying to meet my Simonseeks deadlines for their Tenerife pages that I’ve neglected everything else, including this blog, Twitter, Facebook, hiking, cooking and most importantly of all – R and R.

So when Jack’s sister and her boyfriend arrived on Tenerife for a two week holiday which coincided with hitting the second of three arduous deadlines, it was time to cut loose and take a break.

We’ve been hearing great things about a band called Traveller who regularly play Friday nights at the Tajinaste restaurant outside Los Gigantes so I figured I’d kill three birds with one stone – see Traveller, eat at the Tajinaste restaurant which I could then review for Simonseeks and have a good night out with Rhonda and Graeme.

But with typical bad timing, the day before we were due to see them, I got a mailshot from  Traveller to say that the new management of Tajinaste were closing for refurbishment…no band to watch, no restaurant to review and a disappointment for our night out in the west.
Except that it wasn’t really. Sure it would have been great to see a good live band but not seeing one didn’t spoil our night.
We headed into the resort to eat at Domingos and then to the Pilgrim for a few drinks. Domingos was pretty much full but it’s fair to say that the rest of the resort was very quiet. It was a great night and we enjoyed ourselves but to be honest, there was really not very much there in the way of bars and if I was on holiday in the resort, I guess I’d be heading elsewhere for my Friday night out.

Playa de la Arena

Most bar owners blame the lack of after-dark customers in Playa de la Arena on the proliferation of all-inclusive hotels in the resort but a few nights later Rhonda and Graeme were in Route 66 in Puerto Santiago where, with the usual full house, they watched the excellent Old Dogs New Tricks. One of the things that they noticed was the number of people in the audience wearing tell tale all-inclusive wrist bands.
It seems that if you give them a good enough reason, people will give up their free beer and bring you their custom. If you don’t, they won’t.

Fast forward to last Saturday night when Rhonda and Graeme came over to Puerto de la Cruz for a change of scene.
After spending the afternoon testing tapas we headed back into town around 8.30 pm and arrived in a packed Plaza Charco where every seat around the red hot braziers was taken. We had to sit on the harbour wall to eat our roasted chestnuts hors-d’oevre and drink our vino del país aperitif.  There was no entertainment, no live band or cabaret – just the old fishing town, the chestnuts, the wine and that old Puerto charm.

Blanco Bar

After eating we headed into Blanco Bar where some tables in the courtyards were still vacant and we tried a new instant favourite cocktail – Bailey’s Colada – courtesy of the bar staff, before relocating to the downstairs bar to see a local band. We watched and listened for a while before moving on to Limbo where we arrived at the upstairs bar to find that even standing room was limited. It was packed to beyond capacity.
A couple of rounds of beer and much gawping (mainly from me) at the group of young seven footer basketball players who were standing at the bar like Aragorns amongst the hobbits of the Shire, it was on to the next venue.

Courtyard entrance to Limbo

No Saturday night out in Puerto is complete without a visit to Azucar, the town’s liveliest Cuban bar and despite its temporary relocation to the ground floor while the former gentleman’s club upstairs is refurbished, it was good to see the place still packed to the rafters with people of all ages and a range of nationalities.

Suan Chill

After the madness and salsa of Azucar it was time to chill out so around 2 am, just as the town was beginning to reach its Saturday night zenith, we headed for Suan Chill where  we settled in amongst the sequined cushions and relaxed until fatigue got the better of us at around 3.20am and we headed for a taxi home.

The contrast between our two nights out couldn’t have been more marked, as indeed is the contrast between the two areas.
Happily, despite the move to all-inclusive by many of its hotels, Puerto has a thriving local population who don’t rely on bars laying on good entertainment to get them out into the town at night.  I really like Playa de la Arena and think it’s a lovely family resort but if you want night life, it’s not going to deliver the goods, or at least, not until the bar owners stop bitching about all-inclusive and start giving holidaymakers something other than sports coverage and Karaoke to leave their hotels for.

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