Escape to Tenerife’s treasure island
Tenerife is the biggest of the Canary Islands, boasts Spain’s highest mountain and is packed with an extraordinary variety of activities and attractions.
“There was something magical about an island – the mere word suggested fantasy. You lost touch with the world – an island was a world of its own.”
When she expressed this sentiment in her novel And then there were none, Agatha Christie was describing a fictional island on the English coast. But her description applies perfectly to another, real island with which she is closely associated: Tenerife, the biggest and most-populated of the Spanish Canary Islands.
It was at the town of Puerto de la Cruz on the island’s north coast that she arrived in 1927 in an escape from public attention, the reasons for which were cloaked in as much mystery as any of her crime stories. The novelist’s connection with Tenerife is celebrated to this day with an annual, international Agatha Christie Festival and in the form of a colourful memorial flight of steps in Puerto de la Cruz bearing the names of her novels.
For visitors and residents alike, Tenerife lives up to Christie’s idea of an island being ‘a world of its own’. By virtue of sharing the same latitude as the Sahara Desert, it is blessed with a climate that ranges through the year and from north to south between pleasantly mild and tropical, bathed through the year in a daily average of eight hours of sunshine. Vineyards and banana plantations testify to a rich arability, while enigmatic mist often encircles the pine forests and volcanic lunar crags on the slopes of Mount Teide, the dormant volcano and Spain’s highest peak at 3,717 metres that crowns the central landscape.
The variety of landscape in such a compact, self-contained area often surprises visitors. Forming an irregular triangle with south, west and north-east tips, rimmed with both dark volcanic and white sand beaches, the island lends itself to infinite ways of enjoying a vacation. That includes not doing much at all but simply soaking up the sun with a cocktail for company, with the Atlantic surf as a soundtrack at lively Costa Adeje in the south or at the quieter, less expansive Los Gigantes to the west. There is a good chance, however, that the temptation for activity, both maritime and inland, will prove too strong eventually.
Sea-borne adventures set off from sheltered Costa Adeje, where bottle-nose dolphins and pilot whales are almost guaranteed to swerve and dip ahead of catamarans and yachts. Calmer waters provide perfect conditions for diving lessons and snorkelling, followed by leisurely dips and relaxing deck-based tan-work sessions.
Unsurprisingly, the sea is also the source of Tenerife’s best edible ingredients, with many of the top seafood restaurants clustered along the Costa Adeje. The settings range from the homely cheer of Restaurante Abordo in Los Cristianos to the Michelin star-winning culinary art of El Rincon de Juan Carlos at exclusive El Cabezo. The prices may vary but the menus draw on the same fresh oceanic riches, including lobster, clams, squid, tuna and swordfish.
Other gastronomic specialities abound. Top of the list of these are the award-winning artesanal goat-milk cheeses of the Queseria Montesdeoca. The family-owned operations follow traditions of handmade cheesemaking and are managed by brothers Alberto and Daniel Montesdeoca. Visitors to guided tours and tastings at their cheese factory get to sample the products – and might come face to face with some of the 1,000 goats that make up its own herd.
There is no better accompaniment to such exquisite cheeses than a glass of organic wine produced in Tenerife’s own vineyards – more specifically, the vineyards of Bodegas Ferrera, another family-owned enterprise. Tastings are the highpoint of visits to the winery, up on the steep volcanic slopes with fabulous views down to the east coast and across to the mountains.
“The wine is in my blood,” laughs Ruben Ferrera, whose father Tomás founded the winery in the 1940s. “We have a lot of tradition in making wines. We do all the work with our own hands, without tractors or machines. In winter the grass grows very fast, the soil is so rich, so our own Canarian sheep walk around the vineyards to eat it! The sheep are also the source of our compost and fertiliser.”
How to counter all this wining and dining? Possibly with a day hike up on the rugged, thinly populated northeastern tip of the island beyond the capital Santa Cruz. Or by jumping on a road bike or eBike for a roller-coaster ride in the hills around the villages of Fasna and Arico. Cycling is a popular local sport as well as an exhilarating option for visitors, and the more demanding rides are a magnet for competitive cyclists in training. Younger family members can use up any excess energy at Siam Park, a sprawling collection of Thai buildings with water slides and an artificial beach, complete with machine-generated surf.
As for nightlife, the bars and restaurants of the coastal towns double-up as live music venues. For a raunchier, louder and more flamboyant – and more adult – experience, try the Scandal cabaret dinner show at the Hotel GF Victoria. A less raucous after-dark activity – and perhaps the most quintessential Tenerife experience – awaits you in the Teide National Park encircling the mountain’s summit. Time your visit to admire the pinks and violets that fringe the stunning, otherworldly volcanic landscape at Mirador de la Ruleta or from the breathtaking viewpoints reached by cable car closer to the peak at sunset. Take dinner at the Restaurante Parador de Cañadas del Teide, then head outdoors again to admire the star-studded heavens in one of the most accessible least light-polluted skies in the world.
At which point, you might feel like pondering another Agatha Christie quotation, from her Tenerife-inspired novel And then there were one: “Best of an island is once you get there - you can't go any farther...you've come to the end of things...”