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Posts Tagged ‘La Orotava’

As this is the week before Christmas, I thought I’d share some of the little things on Tenerife that bring on a warm and fuzzy feeling during the festive season.

First on the list are the magical Christmas lights that bring a seasonal sparkle to the island’s historic towns. Santa Cruz looks splendid, Puerto de la Cruz glitters gloriously and La Laguna’s cobbled and perfectly preserved old streets could easily have been lifted straight from one of those cards featuring Victorian Christmas scenes, but my favourite setting is Tenerife’s most elegant town, La Orotava.

The life size belén outside the town hall is impressive and the colourful xmas lights add a touch of razzamatazz to the streets around the Iglesia de la Concepción. However, the most magical spot is Plaza de la Constitución. Last year there were icicles ‘dripping’ from the leafy canopy overhead, huge bow wrapped presents adding a touch of frivolity to the gardens and the display in the bandstand turned children’s eyes saucer sized. If there’s a more Christmassy place on Tenerife to have a coffee I’ve yet to find it.

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As we ate breakfast on the terrace yesterday morning, the sun was being very coy.
Typical. Pretty much all summer the default setting for our weather has been clear blue skies and sun, sun, sun. But Friday was the start of the annual craft fair of Pinolere in the hills above La Orotava and if belly of the donkey was going to make a re-appearance anywhere, it would be there.

800 meters above sea level and hemmed in by barrancos to the east and west, Pinolere is a community of some 700 inhabitants living in the shadow of Tenerife’s mountainous spine, and more often than not, beneath a sea of clouds. It may mean that Pinolere is never going to topple Playa de Las Americas as Tenerife’s number one tourist destination, but the clouds bring high humidity ensuring that everything here grows in abundance.

Birdsong whistles (€3) make great gifts for kids

But yesterday, as we snaked our way high above the coast of Puerto de la Cruz, the sun finally broke free and the clouds ran for their lives leaving another glorious day in the La Orotava Valley.
Even though it was barely 11.30am when we arrived, the car parking was choc a bloc and we ended up parking on a small dirt track which led off to fincas set amongst the vines of the valley. Bemoaning the fact that we hadn’t thought to bring ropes and crampons, we toiled up a near-vertical street, back to the site of the craft fair wishing that the clouds had chosen to descend as sweat trickled down our backs.

The last time we visited the fair, the trademark bruma (cloud) had entirely obscured its location but yesterday, under clear skies, the true beauty of our surroundings was nothing less than awesome. The emerald, forest-clad slopes of the upper La Orotava Valley rose to dizzying heights in a shimmering heat haze beyond the thatched roofs and vines of the hamlet.

A Crafty Piece of Work
For the majority of Pinolere’s inhabitants, the land provides their livelihood and allows them to be almost entirely self-sufficient. For generations, the community have been basket weavers, iron workers, charcoal producers, carpenters, farmers and muleteers. It’s only recently that they’ve ceased to construct their homes in the traditional manner of many of the country dwellings of Tenerife; walls of dry stone roofed with chestnut wood entwined with branches and then thatched with straw.

25 years ago Pinolere made plans to introduce a new aspect to their local fiestas and came up with the idea of showcasing the wide range of crafts and skills that they held. Calling it ‘The Day of the Traditional Canaries’, they brought together all the craftspeople from the local area and invited them to exhibit the best of their products. Over the course of the years that event has grown from a local fair to the Canary Islands’ largest showcase for crafts made from traditional produce.

Handmade ceramic dolls, €24

The Pinolere Craft Fair is set in 10,000 square metres of terraces and pathways that meander as randomly as the surrounding barrancos and contain hundreds of stalls filled with jewellery; woven baskets; clothes; hand carved furniture; ceramics; pottery; toys; herbs and spices; cheeses; jams and mojos; cakes; glassware; cane furniture; iron and copper ornaments…the list is endless.

As we made our way up level after level filled with stalls, the stone-built thatched houses provided small exhibitions on the history of wheat production in the area and a short-lived refuge from the hot sun.
Arriving finally at the top level we reached the welcome sight of a large guachinche where the aroma of sizzling pork pinchos (kebabs) and the sight of condensation running down the side of cold beer bottles was too much to resist. Finding a small section of vacant wall we sat down to enjoy our pinchos and beer and peruse our collection of purchases while gawping at the incredible scenery.

Our haul of goodies

It’s probably a good job that Pinolere doesn’t enjoy this kind of weather continuously or the fields of wheat, vines, vegetables and cereals would soon get replaced by villas and apartments and we’d have lost something really, really special.

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El Puerto de Oro

El Puerto de Oro

Last night, as Jack was taking the homemade quiche out of the oven, I went outside to set the table on the terrace and found that the world had turned to a vibrant, rich, rose hue. The white walls of our house were luminous salmon pink and beyond, the Orotava Valley shone like molten gold.

When we spot one of Puerto’s trademark sunsets shaping up, we have an overwhelming desire to run to the car, drive two minutes up the hill to Humboldt’s Mirador and photograph the valley mid-crimson but we know that by the time we get there it will be gone.
Last night, with every passing second we watched the sky deepen into a painfully intense scarlet until it didn’t seem possible for such beauty to exist in the world. And then it was gone.

It’s said that in days of old, navigators christened Puerto de la Cruz ‘Puerto de Oro’ (the golden port) as night after night the setting sun bathed it in a mist of rosy light.
I think the Portuenses should consider changing their town’s name back to that because it’s so perfectly apt.
So here, albeit belatedly, is the sky for you to enjoy, courtesy of el Puerto de Oro:

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I noticed on the news yesterday that Lufthansa airlines were offering compensation to holidaymakers who got rainy days while they were away.
I reckon it’s a fairly safe bet that the UK won’t be one of the 36 destinations for which the insurance company will pay out, but I guess Tenerife might be. The chances of seeing rain at the coast anywhere between June and October on Tenerife are low enough even for me to consider giving good odds.

We’ve had weeks and weeks of cloudless searing heat here so, for those of us who live on the island, the occasional cloud cover we’re having this week is a merciful relief.
Of course, if this is your two weeks R&R away from the sort of ‘barbecue summer’ that sent Noah heading briskly towards the woodshed, the last thing you want to see is clouds.

But worry not, there are so many excellent things to do on Tenerife that you should really look on cloudy days, not as disappointments, but as opportunities.

So, here is my list of things to do when it’s cloudy in Tenerife; it’s by no means exhaustive
:

Beat the clouds – if you absolutely must have the sun, you can pretty much guarantee finding it in Teide National

Life above the clouds

Life above the clouds

Park and at least you get to see a bit of the island in the process. Simply drive up through the pine forests to emerge above the clouds and into the blue. In this volcanic wonderland you can take a cable to the top of the world (well, nearly); eat lunch in Spain’s highest restaurant; wander amongst incredible rock formations at Roques García or simply soak up the sun. But be warned, the air at this height is thinner and the sun’s rays more intense, slap on the factor 25, wear a hat and drink plenty of water.

Go wild – leave the barren landscape of the south and head to the north’s verdant Puerto de la Cruz and Tenerife’s number one ‘must-see’; Loro Parque.
Dolphin, sea lion, Orca and parrot shows are all great fun and entertainment while the penguins at the incredible artificial iceberg are compulsive watching. You’ll need at least five hours in the park so give yourself plenty of time for this one.

In Santa Cruz, just be cool

In Santa Cruz, just be cool

See summer in the city – the island’s capital city of Santa Cruz has a surprising number of things to see and do and cloudy days afford some respite for wandering the shops (tax free shopping), chilling out in the tranquil Parque García Sanabria, exploring the museums and galleries or just kicking back in one of the pavement cafes and watching the world go by. And if the sun re-emerges (as it usually does in Santa Cruz), you’re just a hop and skip away from the island’s best beach at Las Teresitas and the best seafood lunch at beach-side San Andrés.

Tour mini-Tenerife – at Pueblo Chico in La Orotava. Spend a

Its a small world at Pueblo Chico

It's a small world at Pueblo Chico

couple of hours wandering around beautifully crafted models of the Canaries in miniature with meticulous attention to detail and lots of funny bits.
When you’re done, head up the hill to the full sized La Orotava, the jewel in Tenerife’s crown, and explore the streets of the old quarter. You’ll find parks and gardens, historic houses lining narrow cobbled streets, old monasteries, a Gothic church and some nice little antique shops.

Take a hike – along some of Tenerife’s stunning walking trails. Summer can be murderous for tackling some stamina-sapping parts of the island so take advantage of cloud cover to trek the parts that don’t have wide vistas crying out for sunshine, like Masca Barranco or Hell’s Ravine.

Dive in –to the deep, blue Atlantic at one of the island’s fascinating dive sites around the coast of Las Galletas or take the whole family and head to San Miguel marina for a trip in a Yellow Submarine…all together now; “we all live ” tum ti tum.

Mummified Guanche at Museum of Man & Nature

Mummified Guanche at Museum of Man & Nature

Mooch – around one of Tenerife’s museums. Now before you yawn and skip to the end…not all museums are dull. Science and Cosmos in La Laguna is an oversized playground of optical illusions; Man and Nature in Santa Cruz has some gruesome mummies and the Anthropological in Valle Guerra is like Tenerife’s version of the set of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’. And on Sundays they’re all free to get in.

So…bring on the clouds, see if we care!

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Some aromas just make you smile.

For me it’s the scent of hot pine needles which remind me of hiking through sun dappled forests; freshly mown grass which conjures up camping trips to Cornwall, the Lake District and Wales; candyfloss and toffee apples which transport me back to childhood fairgrounds and …toasted grass seeds. No, not the sort you smoke (though come to think of it that should be on the list too), but the sort that the Alfombristas (carpet makers) of La Orotava use to outline, silhouette, create shadow and background to their floral masterpieces during the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Yesterday we arrived in the Baroque town of La Orotava which lies in the valley of the same name above the northwest coast of Tenerife at about 11am.
Sweating in the already hot sun as we laboured up the cartoon-sized incline of the cobbled streets, the aroma of toasted grass seeds assailed my nostrils and a broad smile crossed my lips.

I remembered spending last year here with Pamela from Secret Tenerife and her friend José ‘Mataparda’; wandering endlessly around the burgeoning carpets, drinking beer outside a Guachinche and eating carne machada arepas at an arepera near the bus station…happy days.

As we made our way towards the Ayuntamiento where the main sand and soil tapestry occupies the plaza, some of the flower carpets in the surrounding streets were already well underway whereas others had barely begun. It’s one of the great joys of the day, wandering in a continuous circuit of the carpets watching as they take shape and form, transforming before your very eyes from ‘do you know what it is yet?’ status to ‘ah! It’s the La Orotava skyline at sunset’.

It took us almost two hours to do one circuit and to go up to the balcony of the Ayuntamiento from where we could photograph the main tapestry. While there, we noticed that there were people on the roof of the church of La Concepción and we headed that way to try our luck.

Eagle eyed Jack spotted ‘Mataparda’at a small balcony half way up the tower and we went inside to meet him. José took us up the narrow winding staircase of the tower to the window we’d seen him from and Jack took some photos before we continued towards the roof.

Just as it seemed we were about to have La Orotava at our feet we were stopped in our tracks by a trainee jobsworth who insisted that no-one else could go onto the roof as last night’s rain had left the surface too slippery and dangerous. We retreated back to ground level where we were joined by Colin (easy to spot with his blonde hair and ubiquitous CD Tenerife football top).
By the time we got back out into the sun it was definitely lunch time and we headed to the little Gauchinche by the side of the Town Hall where José treated us to beer and pinchos. Another perfect day and one which ought to be on the ‘must see’ list of every respectable traveller.

I’ll let the carpets speak for themselves and I’ll consign the smell of toasted grass seeds to memory for another year.

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The views are well worth the uphill slog.

The views are well worth the uphill slog.

I woke up yesterday to one of those perfect summer mornings. The sun shone down from a cloudless sky, the birds were in full voice and the warm air carried the scent of the last of the jasmine. On the mountainside above us, the ochres, mustards and russets of Mount Teide saturated the skyline.
In short, it was the perfect day for taking to the hills.

It’s been a while since our last ‘serious’ walk so I knew the 600 metre ascent from the La Caldera forest pista to the top of the ridge was going to make itself known to my legs and lungs, and I wasn’t wrong.
Stripping layers and pinning hair up as I went I found myself sweating, gasping and grunting my way up the forest path whilst bitching about the 3 litres of water, waterproofs, sunscreen, lunch etc. that I was carrying in the rucksack.

After an hour and a half of re-staging ‘The Hill’, we finally arrived at the

Stunning scenery comes as standard on the La Caldera walk

There aren't many walks where scenery like this keeps you company

stone gate that marks the end of the ascent and took a well deserved break on a promontory looking out over the entire valley with Teide shimmering above the emerald carpet of the Corona Forestal.

For me, this is where the best part of this walk begins. A fairytale dappled path twists, undulates and zigzags its way along the ridge through forests filled with the heady perfume of broom, pine and a multitude of endemic plants with the omnipresent Teide above and the shimmering Atlantic below. It’s a hiker’s paradise up here.

Then we rounded a corner to see something absolutely unspeakably, outrageously incongruous in this rustic Eden; a red wire barrier had been placed right across the path with a sign showing a hand raised in ‘STOP’ position and the words “Alto! No Pasar!” written above it.

Thats what we think of that!

That's what we think of that!

Gobsmacked, we stood and stared at the obscene article before saying almost in unison “Fuck that!”

There is NO WAY that I have huffed and puffed my way for an hour and a half up a 600 metre ascent to be told by some ‘job’s worth’ medio-ambiente worker that I have to turn back.
The sign was given all the respect it deserved and climbed around.

If we arrive at something that seems dangerous or if there’s some kind of activity that we’re encroaching on, we reasoned, then we’ll turn back. But as far as we could see, there was absolutely nothing going on and no earthly reason for the sign to be there.
For the next 6 or 7 kilometres we hiked along the path with no visible sign of

Drama and beauty - if you look closely youll see me holding the handrail on this particularly vertiginous section of the walk.

Drama and beauty - if you look closely you'll see me holding the handrail on this 'squeaky bum' section of the walk.

any activity at all save for a couple of green plastic bags into which forest debris had been cleared and a few bags of cement and some large plastic containers of water lying by the side of the path at one corner.
Eventually we arrived at the other side of this ludicrous path closure and similarly climbed over that to descend through the forest and back to La Caldera.

I’m not advocating anarchy when it comes to warning signs on Tenerife, but with a little bit of commonsense and caution exercised, don’t assume that ‘access denied’ signs on this island are either current or necessary, because sometimes they simply aren’t.

The ‘La Caldera’ walk is available to buy on PDF, sent straight to your inbox

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There’s a wonderful little photography exhibition in our local shopping centre of La Cúpula in La Paz entitled ‘Tenerife Ayer y Hoy’.
It consists of 100 or so location shoots around the north of Tenerife with one photo taken between 50 and 80 years ago and the exact same shot repeated today.

The locations are mainly in and around Santa Cruz, La Laguna, La Orotava and Puerto de la Cruz but with some around El Sauzal, Tacoronte, Los Realejos and Santa Úrsula. The photographs are interesting in their own right in terms of presenting an image of the ‘real Tenerife’ but they’re also surprising in terms of how little change there has actually been.

Particularly around La Orotava and La Laguna, some of the locations have barely changed at all except that today the buildings are looking smarter as a result of renovation and where once only dusty trails prevailed, tarmac now follows the original lines. The guard of honour of Canarian Palm Trees that run alongside Parque de la Constitución in La Laguna are actually more spectacular today as they’ve grown and produced rich foliage but now rows of housing border them where 50 years ago only fields existed.

Rambla de Castro, exactly the same today as it was 80 years ago

Rambla de Castro in Los Realejos, one of the images that's exactly the same today as it was 80 years ago

It’s funny to see the tramlines criss-crossing Santa Cruz in the ‘ayer’ photo just as they are today, although the trams themselves are space-age compared to the old style trolley buses. And funnily enough, Plaza España has almost come full circle (if you ignore the lake!) with wide open space and the replica gateway to the gardens of La Alameda del Duque de Santa Elena in clear view.

Puerto de la Cruz is much more built up than it was. The area around Playa Martiánez is barely recognisable and some of the lovely old balconied buildings around the harbour and Casa Aduana are sadly no longer there. But the area around the Hotels Marquesa and Monopole are relatively unchanged and of course Plaza del Charco is still the bustling heart of the town.

It’s just a small exhibition in the space outside the supermarket and I have no idea how long it will be there but if you get the chance, go along and have a look.

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