Away from the raucous, beach-based fun that draws most people to Tenerife is a tranquil world of heritage towns, rustic cuisine and eerie volcanic landscapes. The secret? Head north
Yesterday, in the lively Playa de las Americas resort on Tenerife’s south-west coast, it was the mechanical whine of quad bikes that pulled me rudely from my sleep. Today? I lie listening to sonorous church bells, and the soothing rhythm of a willow broom sweeping fallen leaves from the Plaza Libertad in Garachico. In terms of wake-up calls, they couldn’t be more different – for the second occurred in north Tenerife, a pocket of unspoilt charm that many tourists miss on this, the best-known of the Canary Islands.
Dotted among the surf-bashed bays and sprawled across a wild mountain landscape pierced by canyons, you will find unutterably pretty heritage towns. Don’t miss seaside Garachico; then try San Cristobal de la Laguna – the island’s former capital, listed by Unesco. Equally full of interest is La Orotava, huddled among the hills, with its core of traditional townhouses with balconies.
WHERE TO STAY
Garachico has two top-notch hotels: San Roque is a friendly Havana-style mansion with two airy internal courtyards, spacious and stylishly contemporary bedrooms, plus two restaurants. Doubles from €180 b&b. More simply furnished rooms can be found in the attractively colonial 17th-century Hotel La Quinta Roja, facing Plaza Libertad. Doubles from €82 b&b.
Over in La Orotava, the charming 16th-century Hotel Rural Orotava has eight cosy but spacious antique-filled bedrooms set around an internal courtyard. Doubles from €75 b&b.
WHAT TO DO
Spend the morning exploring Garachico. The kernel of this seaside gem is the much-used Plaza Libertad, still pristine with noblemen’s houses and sturdily built convents, yet sporting a little children’s park sheltered by towering palms, a kiosk bar, and a handful of good restaurants. Radiating from here are cobblestone lanes flanked by whitewashed houses that lead eventually to the ozone-rich seaside promenade: the perfect spot for a recuperative coffee.
WHERE TO HAVE LUNCH
Drive over to La Orotava, where Sabor Canario, the courtyard restaurant at Hotel Rural Orotava (for bookings, see above) serves exquisite Canarian specialities: fish croquettes, air-dried hams, goats’ cheese in spicy sauces, and pork stews. Mains from €15.
In the tiny north-eastern fishing village of Taganana, the sea-facing café Casa Africa (+34 922 590100) is the perfect spot to sit in a state of wind-buffeted bliss and enjoy tender grilled octopus, fresh fish, salads and the café‘s own white wine. Mains from €5.
WHAT TO SEE
Take the mountainous TF-24 road down to La Laguna. The old capital’s grid layout and blocky, highly embellished houses served as a model for colonial towns in the Americas. Stroll the pedestrianised, poker-straight streets, where townhouses give tantalising glimpses of internal courtyards and fountains. Don’t miss La Laguna’s fantastic indoor market, where you can pick up cheap mangoes, figs, papaya and local cheeses.
In the north, you can sample the volcanic landscape in a totally different way to the well-known Mt Teide cable-car experience. Trek along the Cueva del Viento, a labyrinth of lava “tubes” or tunnels left by the hot lava flow from centuries-old eruptions. You will find them beneath the pine forests behind Icod de los Vinos. Guided tours (€6, hard hats and head torches provided) can be booked through the visitors’ centre (+34 922 815339).
For a deeply rural perspective of this unsung area, take the beautiful mist-swathed El Bailadero mountain road through ancient laurel forests and past prehistoric caves, down to Taganana. The landscape is pure Lord of the Rings, with occasional glimpses of the sea a dizzying 900m below.
WHAT TO BUY
Canarian lace and local sauces and spices can be found at the House of the Balconies in La Orotava.
WHERE TO HAVE DINNER
In Garachico, Restaurante Aristides (+34 922 133412) is a friendly, family-run establishment, with a small outdoor terrace overlooking Plaza Libertad. Good for simple grills and pastas. Mains from €12. For tasty seafood, Casa Gaspar (+34 922 830040) is a good choice and a favourite with locals; a pleasant old-fashioned establishment on Avenida Republica de Venezuela, serving dishes spanning local mussels and clams as starters to spiny lobster in a rice-based broth. Mains from €12.
Join the chattering Spanish families of gossipy grans, excitable kids and dignified old men who crowd Garachico’s kiosk bars on Plaza Libertad. Chances are, the square will have some live music or comedy acts performing. Alternatively, La Laguna’s university zone, the “Cuadrilatero”, is perfect for bar hopping. Pubs and live music bars packed to the gills, such as The Blues Bar in Plaza Zurita, attract a young, local crowd.
THE MORNING AFTER
Hungover? The perfect cure for headachey mornings is a bracing dip in Garachico’s natural rock pools. “El Caleton” runs alongside the Castillo de San Miguel and features ladders for easy access to the therapeutic water.
Monarch flies to Tenerife South from Birmingham, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester. EasyJet flies from Gatwick.
Hertz Canarias has rates from €42 a day.