A Winter Trundle in the Canary Isles

February 24, 2020 City Breaks, European Travel

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Canary yellow on Tenerife

I wasn’t sure about Trundling around the Canaries. I had visions of marauding Brits, celebrating Brexit with litres of lager and mountains of chips in crowded resorts.

In fact I rarely heard English spoken, just a gentle sing-song Spanish.
No lager, but lots of fresh papaya juice and instead of chips, little dishes of Papas Arrugadas – locally grown potatoes, cooked in salt until wrinkly and served with a delicious green or red sauce called Mojo.

Tenerife and Gran Canaria

In three weeks we visited two vibrant capitals, four charming seaside towns and a lovely mountain village. We used the excellent, cheap bus services and stayed in a range of apartments and hotels, costing an average of £50 a night.

Our daily food/travel/expenses budget of £25 each was plenty. The entire trip, including flights with Bintur and Vueling, cost £1,100 each for a three week Trundle.

The weather was mostly glorious and we swam in the sea, which in January and February was refreshing, but never daunting.

We spent the 31st January in a peaceful small town called La Caleta on the north coast of Tenerife. The cafe owner where we had coffee and bocadillas that morning was sad and sympathetic when I asked him what he thought of Brexit. Una Tonteria was his verdict – a silly, foolish thing.

Gran Canaria

Our flight to Gran Canaria from Valencia with Vueling cost £80 return. Easyjet have affordable flights from Britain.

We took a bus from the airport to the centre of Las Palmas – about 20 minutes – and walked from San Telmo bus station to Las Canaritos – a small, stylish hotel in the University area. It had beautiful decorative floor tiles and delicate china cups for tea which we drank with a little dish of macaroons.

Las Palmas is Spain’s 7th largest city. It’s divided into two areas – north and south.

Our first hotel was in the south, a short walk from the historic district of Vegueta, which has classic colonial architecture within its lovely pedestrianied streets and squares. We sat in the main square of Santa Ana and admired its eponymous cathedral. Then we did what we always do – we went for lunch.

Menu del Dias were in the usual range of prices – from £6 to £11 for three courses including water, wine or beer. Fresh salads, seafood and fresh fruit were the main components of the menu – light, healthy and perfect food for sunny weather.

After two nights we transferred by bus to the modern and fairly swish La Cuidad de la Mar hotel, a few minutes from Playa de las Canteras, in the north of the city.

The long, golden sand beach was an unexpected delight and many restaurants and bars lined its promenade. To my joy, you could rent a sunbed for a mere three euros a day. Swimming in the sea was easy and we broke up our arduous schedule by heading a few streets back for a fish and salad Sunday lunch.

Tejeda

The village of Tejeda is high in the mountains and gave me a good reason to wear the bulky cardigan I had been lugging around with me. From San Telmo Station we took the bus to Vega de San Mateo. Gran Canaria has made it very easy for travellers, with information centres at the bus stations, clearly marked boards and detailed timetables. You don’t need to drive here or spend a lot of money on transport.

When we got off the bus, having journeyed steadily for 45 minutes through gorgeous vibrant scenery with banana plantations, masses of cacti and bright flowers, suddenly it was winter. We scuttled into a cafe for a plate of Papas Arrugadas and waited for the next bus up steeply winding roads with spectacular views across wild landscapes.

In Tejeda we stayed at La Portada, a well-equipped apartment right in the centre. There was no need for challenging walks. All we had to do was sit on the terrace amidst the orange trees and admire the view. La Tejeda is famous for its almond festival and the entire landscape was dotted with pale pink blossoms. Now it felt like Spring. I took off my cardigan and put on some suntan cream.

La Portada was one of the best places we stayed. Our kind hosts had picked oranges for us and gave us a large piece of honey and almond cake from the famous Dulceria Nublo Tejeda, the village’s famous bakery. The apartment was fresh and comfortable but the view made it special.

Tejeda was touristy in a genteel way, with a range of bars and cafes and a branch of Spar. It also had a pharmacy where I bought a rather tasteful hot water bottle, a necessary purchase.

I visited an interesting medical plant centre – Centro de Plantas Medicinales, to learn about herbal cures and drink a soothing camomile tea. But mostly I sat on the terrace, gazing dreamily at the scenery and feeling very happy.

Aguimes

Our two bus trip down the mountainside took us through the pretty town of St Bartomole de Tirajana, for more Papas Arrugadas. Roads are narrow with big drops beneath them, but the drivers are skilled so you rarely feel scared. The mountain scenery is starkly dramatic with pink splodges of almond blossom everywhere.

The historic, perfectly restored town of Aguimes was
a great stopover before heading to the airport. We stayed in Casa de la Piedra, which at £30 a night was one of the cheapest place on our trip. It was atmospheric – rather like a cave dwelling – and friendly but felt a bit grubby. However, it was handy for the bus station and for our 20 minute ride to the airport.

Onto Tenerife

The half hour flight across to neighbouring Tenerife was with Bintur, the Canarian airline and cost £40. It felt like going back to the more sedate and courteous days before the budget airlines ruled the world. The small plane had propellers and the air stewards were smartly dressed and always smiling. During the 30 minute journey we were given a local newspaper, a plastic cup of water, a chocolate bar and a boiled sweet. We barely had time to look out the window before we landed on lush Tenerife.

We took a bus into Santa Cruz, the capital, then another to our accommodation. TITSA – the Tenerife wide bus company, offers a bono card for two euros. This gives you a third off all bus tickets and is available from bus stations and clearly marked outlets in many towns.

We stayed in the Mencey Lofts Apartments opposite the gorgeous Parque Garcia Sanabria, which has subtropical trees, where bright green parakeets take refuge having escaped their cages.

This studio apartment was very clean and bright with the most comfortable bed of our trip. Outdoor space would have been a bonus but otherwise this was a very relaxing bolthole for £50 a night.

We took a bus to the waterfront, but it was also easy to walk there. I loved this city and could imagine living there. There was no sign of Brits Abroad, merely elegant, friendly, sophisticated, kindly Canarians, living, working and enjoying the excellent arts scene.

On the waterfront, a gleaming Santiago Calatrava building lightens the landscape. Next to it is the tropical oasis of the Cesar Manrique designed pool, created by the legendary architect from Lanzarote, who did so much to keep the Canaries from being trashed by tourism.

We didn’t make Espacio de las Artes, the snazzy modern art gallery, but instead visited the peaceful Museo de Bellas Artes gallery, with its evocative paintings of rural Canarian life.

San Andres

Regular buses run from the station to the delightful seaside town of San Andres, 15 minutes away. It has a feeling of El Cabanyal about it, with its brightly coloured houses and many bars, where relaxed looking men drank beer in the sunshine. We headed for Bar Paez a few streets back from the seafront and ate potato and chickpea soup and squid with ensaladilla – a mound of Russian salad. Women seemed to join in for this part and I was riveted by a party of 70- somethings, relishing their lunch.

A short stroll away was Playa de las Teresitas, a long beach with sand brought from the Sahara. Perfect for swimming and sunning. We contemplated spending some days there but instead decided to move on to Puerto de la Cruz, further along the North Coast.

Puerto de la Cruz

This was the closest we found to a major tourist resort, but it was low key and had striking, nearly empty black sand beaches and another interesting Cesar Manrique pool. We walked along the gusty seafront on a long winding promenade and then had a picnic on the roof of our hotel, the 4 Dreams Hotel Chimisay.

This cost a bargain £30 a night and although a scruffy on the stairways, had a rooftop pool and brilliant views of Teide, which is the highest mountain in Spain. We contemplated a trip to its national park, but there was only one bus a day and it looked a bit chilly up there. We decided instead to observe it from a distance, often the best way, when Trundling, I have found.

We did a little exploring with Puerto as our base. Another busy bus took us to La Oratava and a lively Romaria – a local festival, with a traditional procession through the decorative streets. Slightly overwhelmed by so many revellers, we set off the next day for the tranquil town of Garachico.

Garachico

This gracious and polished looking town climbs upward from the sea, its black volcanic rocks and black sand beach. Behind it, a large volcanic outcrop looms, and on the lower levels are layers of local homes with lush gardens. There is a leafy central square and a selection of cafes and restaurants, a bit more expensive than we had been used to.

In one, Los Pinos, a dish of Pulpo, cooked in garlic, cost 14 euros, instead of the usual 7. Apart from that small shock we loved this town and the wonderful Apartment German, where we stayed for two nights. It was a very relaxing place with a large terrace where I sat watching a woman watering her plants, morning and night, on the terraced garden opposite.

The sea was too rough for swimming but we lazed on a rock and watched the waves as the sun shone down. I could have stayed there a long time, certainly once I had figured out how to work the fancy new cooker, essential for boiling water for my fennel tea.

La Caleta

This small coastal town was just a few kilometres along the north coast, an enticing place with a big sweep of black sand, a dramatic volcanic backdrop, a striking church and a clutch of welcoming cafes.

We stayed in Las Salinas, a large apartment with a terrible bed, where the owner had used a photograph of the neighbouring block to depict his own balcony. I didn’t like this place and was glad to leave, but La Caleta was beautiful, so quiet and local-feeling. It was a great place to spend Brexit night.

Icod de los Vinos

We broke our journey from La Caleta to Santa Cruz here and were glad we did. Slightly inland, this lively town has the world’s largest dragon tree and some beautiful, classical Canarian buildings, with typical intricate carved balconies. It was a lively, fun place, with a peaceful, shady square in the centre and brilliant sea views.

The Biggest Splash

Candelaria

Two more easy bus rides – a direct one hour trip to Santa Cruz and another 15 minute trip from there – took us to the east coast town of La Candelaria and its neighbouring Las Calletas.

This coast is more built up and busy but still feels very Spanish. Within half an hour of arriving we were on the seafront, eating Pulpo a la Gallego with all the local families in a bright and breezy restaurant called Cofradia de las Pescadores. It was just as you might imagine a great Spanish seafood seafront experience – cheerful camereros and delicious fresh fish.

We stayed in yet another smart, uplifting apartment in the Residencial Carolina block in Las Calletas. Everything seemed new and nearly everything was from Ikea. It had a very sunny balcony overlooking a large swimming pool, where no-one swam but me. It was bliss. Eva, who owned/managed the apartment was the most helpful person of our whole trip.

We spent four days here, walking up and down the promenade to jaunty La Candelaria, with its massive statues of Guanches(early Canarian settlers) We sunbathed on the black sand beach and swam in the sea, which was calm and not at all cold.

Back to Santa Cruz

We whizzed back up on the bus to Santa Cruz for our last night. After leaving our bags in the streamlined Urban Loft apartment we headed for the Cesar Manrique pool. This wonderful architect had style and vision and lying by the pool, with its palm trees and little islands was like being in a five star hotel. Except it cost 2.50 euros to spend the whole day there and the Santiago Calatrava wave building was right beside us – gleaming away against the bright blue sky.

I loved Santa Cruz and I really liked both Tenerife and Gran Canaria. If I wasn’t so happy in Valencia, I could easily move there, to spend winters in its warm sunshine and eat little dishes of wrinkly potatoes every day.

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