Set in an azure sea just to the west of Tenerife is a peaceful nature-lover’s haven, an island of rainforest trails, dramatic gorges, low-key resorts and unspoilt villages. Welcome to La Gomera
At the modest seafront plaza bar in low-key Playa Santiago, a waiter pauses in the midst of table-weaving to kick a football back to a giggling toddler. The ball returns, and the waiter’s tray of drinks looks set to topple. Putting it down, he scoops up the child and kisses the mother in a tender way that lets us drinkers know they are man and wife. It is an exquisitely domestic moment – and even those who are impatient for their beers seem quite willing to wait.
With a couple of muscle-melting G&Ts before us, and a small cat asleep on my lap, we are in no hurry either. For a precious interlude, we feel we belong in this cheery community. La Gomera has that effect on visitors. A tiny, laidback, nature-rich haven that has stayed true to its roots, this island is the perfect antidote to the noisy beach-focused fun of neighbouring Tenerife.
WHERE TO STAY
For a comfortable, cliff-perched base above Playa Santiago, the Hotel Jardin Tecina offers spacious bungalow-style rooms, tennis courts, five restaurants and two pools within a dazzling garden landscape. The best are the sea-facing balcony rooms. Doubles from €54 b&b. Ibo Alfaro is a peaceful alternative in Hermigua, on the north-east coast. This 19th-century country inn provides tastefully furnished rooms with sea views over to Tenerife. Doubles cost €75 b&b. For self-catering apartments, try Tapahuga, overlooking the small harbour in Playa Santiago. It has clean, pine-furnished rooms with access to a rooftop swimming pool, from €50 a night.
WHAT TO DO
Pass the morning driving along the vertiginous roads that lead to La Gomera’s mountainous heart: the Garajonay National Park. Leave your car and take a stroll along one of the many well-restored, signposted pathways, uncovering ancient laurels and fern-carpeted rainforests. Or, if you prefer driving, tour the park’s pretty hamlets and villages. Hermigua, with its overspill of typically Canarian balconied houses and terraced banana plantations, is particularly eye-catching; so too are the earth-coloured townhouses that squiggle through handsome Agulo. You are now hugging the cliff-strewn north coast. Stop for coffee at Restaurante Las Rosas (+34 922 80 09 16, www.fredolsen.es), just west of Agulo, where locals teach visitors how to pucker up and perform “Silbo” – the island’s odd, centuries-old form of communication: a whistling language that sounds uncannily like The Clangers.
WHERE TO HAVE LUNCH
In the farming hamlet of El Cercado, the unpretentious Bar Maria (+34 922 804034) is a wonderful country kitchen with communal tables. Maria dishes up home-made local staples such as sopa de berros (hearty watercress soup) and goats’ cheese with spicy sauce to hungry hikers. Mains from €5.
Over in the capital, San Sebastian, the popular Bar La Tasca (+34 922 141598) serves local grilled fish and meat stews from €12.
WHAT TO SEE
Charming, workaday San Sebastian is where Christopher Columbus fetched up for food supplies, en route to the Americas. Pop into the charmingly compact Casa de la Aguada museum on Calle Real, to learn more about his stay here, then explore the quiet narrow lanes radiating off palm-sheltered Plaza de las Americas. Further along, the Iglesia de la Virgen de la Asuncion is where the explorer and his crew prayed before setting sail.
WHAT TO BUY
At San Sebastian’s fruit and vegetable market and flea market (held on Wednesdays and Saturdays), look out in particular for palm honey (made from palm tree sap), spicy “molo” sauces, lace and jewellery.
WHERE TO HAVE DINNER
Harbour-facing La Cuevita (+34 922 895568), set in a natural cave on the edge of Playa Santiago, is buzzy, friendly and a great choice for freshly-cooked seafood served with papas arrugadas (potatoes cooked in their skins with salt crust). Mains from €14.
Restaurante Mirador Cesar Manrique (+34 922 805868) is a dazzlingly-designed glass-fronted restaurant by Canarian artist Manrique, cut into the cliffs above the breathtaking Valle Gran Rey. Arrive early for sunset views and island specialities from €13.
La Gomera is low-key, so don’t expect a lively nightlife. Instead, join locals spinning out home-made Mistela honey liqueur in the sea-facing bars along Playa Santiago’s Avenida Maritima.
THE MORNING AFTER
Jardin Tecina has a challenging downhill 18-hole golf course with extraordinary views towards Tenerife’s snow-crowned Mt Teide. For further information, see www.gomera-island.com.
Monarch flies from Birmingham, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester to Tenerife South; Thomson Airways departs from 10 UK airports.
The Fred Olsen Express jet foil crosses from Los Cristianos, Tenerife, to San Sebastian de la Gomera three times a day; fares from €55 return.
Rent a Car La Rueda has rates from €31 a day.