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Posts Tagged ‘La Gomera’

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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Sunset views over Las Vistas beach from The Watermelon's terrace

When Chris Clarkson and Alan Gilmour of tenerife.co.uk came to visit from the UK last week, Jack and I jumped at the chance of spending an evening in the bright lights of Los Cristianos. So we checked into The Pearly Grey Ocean Club Resort in Calleo Salvaje, joined John Beckley of Sorted Sites and headed to The Watermelon Tapas Bar/Restaurant in the chic San Telmo district of Los Cristianos.

Although we were extremely impressed with the rather chic décor (frosted glass sheet water fountain, Gaudi-esque tiled mosaics on the walls and stone benches and sleek, silver and black furnishings) and the fabulous views from the terrace over Las Vistas beach and the sun setting behind La Gomera; we were less impressed with the food and the service.
There was a good ten minute delay between the first two dishes arriving and the other three which meant that Jack and I either had to start eating before everyone else or Jack’s scrambled eggs with chistorras (Canarian sausage) and mushrooms was headed to the stone cold zone.

My toasted bread with smoked salmon and tomatoes served with rocket and parmesan was beautifully presented but was bland and there was too much bread. The other specials when they arrived were kebabs served in foil parcels with fresh vegetables and everyone seemed to enjoy them but they lacked any real wow factor.
The house red wine on the other hand was delicious and slipped down very easily.

Postres proved to be a bit disappointing but that was more a case of confused recommendation rather than any fault with the food. Alan and I being chocolate lovers, I asked the waitress to recommend the chocoholic’s choice and after a great deal of chatting and an admittance that she didn’t particularly like chocolate herself, she told us to go for dish number one. When it arrived, dish number one turned out to be mainly ice cream with some chocolate shortcake slices. Alan and I waited for everyone else’s to arrive, convinced that this wasn’t the one we ordered but it took so long that our ice cream began to melt so we started eating. Dish number four when it finally arrived for everyone else turned out to be hot chocolate fudge cake covered in chocolate sauce and served with ice cream – d’oh!

I didn’t see the bill but I wouldn’t mind betting it wasn’t cheap.
The atmosphere was lively and the venue was unsurpassable but for me, the culinary offerings had a touch of the Emperor’s new clothes about them.

Dinner over, we lingered over that delicious red before heading back towards the Arona Gran Hotel, where Chris and Alan were staying, and heading into Legend’s Snooker Club. While Tenerife Magazine took on Tenerife.co.uk on the pool table, Carol and I reminisced about our misspent youth in the clubs of Manchester and we all chilled out over some more drinks in the über-friendly atmosphere before Jack and I got a taxi back to our fabulous room in Pearly Grey.

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Picking wild freesias for the house this morning reminded me that it’s just a week since I was doing the same thing for Jo’s birthday party in Los Aceviños on La Gomera – which is where the freesia’s came from several years ago.
Like today, it was a beautiful spring morning and the sun was blazing down on the terrace as preparations got underway for the party.

Deliberating over summer pudding prep' the night before the party - notice the use of red wine to help with decision making

We’d already made the summer puddings the night before and they were sitting in the fridge with weights pressing down on them, ready to be turned out. We’d de-frosted the fish and prawns for the Caribbean curry; and the home made lemon ice cream was in the freezer for first freeze stage. We’d filled large platters with slivers of jamon Serrano and slices of smoked salmon and cream cheese roulade; we’d taken the brie out of the fridge to warm and we’d whipped up a big bowl of hummus. The neighbours were bringing homemade breads, goat’s cheese and salads.
Now it was time to get the garden and terrace ready.

A casual approach to party seating - notice the early 'guest' trying out the cushion.

Jo wanted the party to mainly congregate around her ‘new’ garden; the widest part of the terrace. So we carried the table and chairs out from the kitchen and placed them on the terrace, scattering cushions onto the flat stones and a small rug onto the ledge of the mountain for extra seating.
Then we cleared and swept the main terrace and Jo sprinkled glitter that she’d bought from the Chinese supermarket.
In what used to be the old ‘shed’, Jo had cleared the floor space and placed a fat log beneath the arbour where the jasmine and vine were just establishing themselves around the new fairy lights.

With everything ready, we cracked a beer and sat in the new garden, liberally applying factor 30 to our already-pink arms and faces and breathing in the amazing view over the valley.
At 4pm the first of the guests arrived and the cava corks began to pop. As we chatted, we felt a drop of rain and looked up to see bruma (low cloud) beginning to wisp its way across the valley. Ignoring the spits of rain in the firm belief that, if we didn’t acknowledge them they didn’t exist, we carried on chatting until we could no longer ignore the fact that it was in fact raining.

As more guests arrived, we grabbed the table and chairs and made a hasty retreat to the terrace just in time for the heavens to open. The valley entirely disappeared from view in dense bruma and the temperature slowly fell, sending factor 30-coated arms into fleeces.

There was nothing else for it; it was time to break out Steve’s home brewed cider – central heating for adults.
More guests arrived, laden with food goodies and the cava and wine flowed freely alongside the cider. As darkness fell and the smallest members of the party were whisked away to bed, the terrace fairy lights were switched on, Jack and I whipped up the Caribbean curry with rice; and the summer puddings were turned out and served with big dollops of lemon ice cream and whipped cream.

The summer pudding turned out pretty well.

By 11.30pm the clouds had cleared to be replaced by the twinkling lights of the valley and, suitable fuelled by Steve’s cider, the guests began to wend their way into the forest and the darkness, leaving just five of us to try our best to defeat the cider and polish off the summer pudding and ice cream.

No DJ spinning sounds of the seventies that we all thought were crap at the time; no streamers with big, glittery ‘50 Today’ signs on them and most of all; no anonymous room in a pub with egg butties and shop bought quiche. Just the mountains, the rain forest, friends and neighbours and good, home cooked food.

Happy Birthday, Jo!

If you’ve never been to La Gomera, take a look at this but take my advice – watch it with the volume off, voice-over man is just awful!

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Jo's scented terrace in Los Aceviños, La Gomera

When the winter storms and cyclone Xynthia hit Tenerife, they took the tangled mass of hedge which borders the bottom of our garden, bent its back low and hung its flowering heads in shame, so low over the nectarine and peach trees that no light was penetrating to the buds.
When it gets to the point that even Mother Nature is giving me one almighty hint that my gardening input has fallen way below par, I have no choice but to take action.
So, three weeks ago, armed with a €10 tree cutter and two rusty, blunt saws; Jo, Jack and I set about trying to free up the nectarine tree. After four sweaty hours of grappling with entwined, overgrown branches beneath which we wouldn’t have been surprised to find Sleeping Beauty, we’d cleared about one fifth of the hedge and allowed the sun to fall on the nectarine buds.

Jo declared our saws useless; suggested we invest in some proper tree loppers and returned to her mountain home on La Gomera where tackling two months of overgrown rain forest would feel like gathering buds in May after the trials of our hedge.
Meanwhile…we bought some tree loppers.

A profusion of flowers as Spring reaches the mountains

Last weekend was Jo’s birthday party and we went over to La Gomera on Friday to help her organise and celebrate.
We arrived at her finca at 6pm in a hot and sticky calima. As we trailed down the forest path to her terrace, we were enveloped in rich, heady perfumes. The slopes bordering the path were awash with wild lemon thyme; the terrace was a blaze of sweet-smelling freesias and spicy jasmine interspersed with vibrant lavender and the elegant heads of white Calla lilies. From the front of the terrace, the garden spread down the barranco in a profusion of orange nasturtiums punctuated by pink geraniums, more freesias, the ruby flowering spikes of aloe vera and delicate faces of purple daisies.

At the end of the house where the terrace leads to the ‘new garden’ we walked through a haze of lemon blossom and freesias to the delicious vanilla scent of a Heliotrope in full flower. We sat on the terrace until late, inhaling the perfumes which intensified with the night.
On Saturday morning, enthralled by every new discovery of scent, colour and form I wandered Jo’s garden with a growing sense of shame and determination.

It's enough to inspire even the most reluctant of gardeners

We arrived back on Tenerife late on Sunday and by yesterday evening, I’d left the keyboard and headed, new tree loppers in hand, down to the hedge. An hour later, with barely any flesh left on my bones from the midges, I’d hardly made any impression at all.
But I’ll be back there tonight, and tomorrow night and at the weekend until I’ve cleared that hedge.

Then it’s time for the avocado tree to be tackled…

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You may imagine that living on a tropical island I must spend a great deal of my time lying on a beach topping up an all-year tan. You’d be mistaken.

For one thing, I’m desperately trying to make a living which is proving particularly difficult in these times of ‘economic crisis’ and for another, my standards for what I consider to be a beach day have changed somewhat. In other words, I’ve become fussy.

Before I moved to Tenerife, any small break in the clouds would have me stripping off and lying prone until the cold became intolerable and I’ve spent many an hour on some beach or in the garden, wrapped in a towel waiting for the sun to reappear.
Nowadays, when the rare opportunity to spend a day on the beach presents itself, nothing less than unbroken sunshine in an azure sky and air temperatures of at least 24°C will hack it.

Our local beach,Bollullo...bliss!

Our local beach,Bollullo...bliss!

For those two reasons, as I sit here I’m as pale as milk and haven’t been to the beach since early November.

Well this week was post-Carnaval week; a period traditionally dedicated to R&R after the excesses of alcohol, the disrupted eating and sleeping patterns and the physical demands of repeatedly walking the 3 kilometres to town and back, partying until morning and spending hours on our feet parade watching. Coupled with an impending visit from our friend Jo en route from the UK to her home on La Gomera, this week presented the perfect opportunity to put in some beach time.

Unfortunately, having spent all day Tuesday cleaning the house and converting the small room from office to guest bedroom, when Jo arrived my visions of two days feeling the warmth of the sun on my face and the heat of the sand beneath my toes vanished in 18°C temperatures and cloudy skies. By way of a double whammy, the now abandoned hope of beach time was replaced by Jo’s busy schedule of ‘things we could do instead’.
Cleaning, shopping, cooking, baking, gardening (including weeding our neighbour’s garden while he played golf!) and walking, plus a few hours of essential work is not my idea of complete rest.

Admittedly watching football, Mamma Mia! and Blackpool went some way to compensating and it’s always a joy to spend time with Jo, but nevertheless, as far as I’m concerned I’m OWED beach time. So I hope the weather Gods have enjoyed their R&R since Carnaval ended because at the first sign of sun next week I’m beach bound …provided the thermometer’s moved up about six degrees of course.

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“That’s where I want my fridges to go” says Jo, pointing to the metre and a half high mound of volcanic rock, old concrete, rubble and compacted earth that forms the floor of her new shed.
“So we need to level it out”. She hands me a pickaxe, a pair of goggles and some gloves and wanders off to get a shovel.
This is Los Aceviños, high up in the mountains on the neighbouring island of La Gomera. It’s Saturday and I’m helping Jo to clear the floor of her new shed.

When I say ‘shed’, it’s not the sort of neat, wooden-slatted structure with chintz curtains and a doll’s house front door that you see in garden centres or on 70’s UK sitcoms where the husband retreats with a bottle of sherry to escape his wife’s nagging. No, this is four uprights constructed of odd bits of old planks rudely nailed together and wedged up against the cliff face by more bits of wood stuck into crevices in the rock and shored by stones. There are no sides and the roof is an old, discoloured piece of corrugated plastic. In anybody else’s garden, this would be known as an eyesore; in Los Aceviños it’s Jo’s new shed.

I swing the pickaxe and bring it down on the rock face, dislodging big boulders, rubble and earth. Pretty soon I’ve got a system going; flat stones which could be used in a future path-laying project in a pile to my right; big rocks for removal in the wheelbarrow, rubble in the bucket on the left and soil (ish) in the bucket with the handles. Each time the barrow fills to the point beyond which I won’t be able to move it, I puff and grunt my way along the path and stop by the horse chestnut tree. Then, with as much precision as I can muster, I throw each rock down either side of the tree to land behind the compost box and return to start again.
Two backbreaking hours later and I appear to have made not a jot of difference. The fridges aren’t going to be moving anywhere in a hurry.

At 3 pm we down tools, crack a beer and watch the match. During the course of the afternoon as the tank re-heats we take it in turns to shower in the hot trickle of water in the bohemian bathroom where the wind whistles through the open eaves.

Sunset on Mount Teide from La Gomera From the end of the terrace we watch Mount Teide burnished crimson as the sun goes down and we pull our collars up around our necks in the cool mountain air. The hot winds of calima have finished now and the autumn is moving in as quickly as the clouds that fill the valley so that you can no longer see beyond the palm tree where the washing line is strung. Darkness begins to fall and the birds noisily settle down, bidding their ‘good-nights’ across the valley.
We open a bottle of cava and decide to watch a couple of episodes of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 7’ before cooking. Tomorrow I’ll head back to Tenerife laden with apples, pears, figs, hazelnuts and lemons which we picked this morning.
It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.

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I used to be a vegetarian, (reading that statement back, it sounds as though I ought to add “but I’m better now” onto the end of it), so I know how tricky eating out in Spain can be when you don’t eat meat. My saving grace was that I ate fish.

I can hear vegetarians screaming at this point: “You’re not a veggie! Veggie’s don’t eat fish!” and I have no inclination to contradict them but what else could I call myself? My husband always told people we were piscitarians but I seriously doubt the existence of such a word and maintain that he only used it because it sounded as if it could just as easily be a statement on our drinking habits as our eating ones.

Anyway, many of our friends still are vegetarians and one in particular is also what could be termed as ‘fussy’ which is a massive understatement and equates to ‘you can never eat out’ if you live, as she does, on La Gomera.
This weekend she came to stay and I was eager to surprise her with a trip to El Maná in the Ranilla restaurant district of Puerto de la Cruz.

Restaurant district, Puerto de la CruzRanilla has always been the heart of the restaurant district in Puerto and just recently there’s been a spate of new openings which have added a touch of contemporary chic and nouveau cuisine to the traditional Canarian menus and décor of the fishing district. El Maná is a (mainly) vegetarian, organic restaurant whose owner is the chef and we’ve eaten there with veggie friends from Manchester and have all been blown away by the fabulous food.

So, confident in the knowledge that I could present Jo with a restaurant that would satisfy even her fussiness, we trotted along to El Maná on Saturday night. Jo took a long look at the menu before declaring “it’s too vegetarian for me.”
Stunned into silence, I led her back to Mil Sabores where she chose Mediterranean soup followed by mussels with garlic bread and declared it all delicious. Thus, the evening was saved and I can start work on a whole new chart against which to measure fussiness, Jo having blown the previous score of ‘10’ right out of the water.

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