Tenerife has, over recent years, developed an unfair reputation as little more than a package-holiday destination, over-run with lairy Northern Europeans intent on living as much of the good life as possible before their return flight home. But for those travellers in search of a more authentic experience, the northern part of the island holds a few real surprises. As well as incredible views of the great, sweeping bay where Mount Teide dips into the blue mid-Atlantic, this area is home to a number of excellent wineries, museums and charming colonial towns. Here, we share our picks of the Tenerife towns that will take you by surprise.
1. Garachico: On the far north-western shore of the island, Garachico is an 18th-century rebuild of an earlier settlement that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1706. Today, the town is home to a small number of boutique hotels, great restaurants and a rocky seafront complete with natural volcanic swimming pools and one of the island’s best seafood shacks, El Caletón. The municipal open-air swimming pool occupies a prime spot on the seafront, and the town’s central square is a particularly pleasant spot for people watching and drinking coffee while the horse drawn carriages roll by in time-honoured tradition.
2. Icod de Los Vinos: Just up the coast, Icod de Los Vinos is a slightly larger town whose main draw, the purported thousand year old Dragon tree (Drago Milennario), makes for a convenient excuse to spend a few hours in this charming town littered with quiet plazas and hidden gardens. Another major draw is the subterranean visit to the Cueva del Viento, one of the world’s longest lava tunnels and in which no fewer than fifteen new species of animal were discovered. Granted, most of them were quite strange-looking and had evolved to have no eyes, but still. Icod’s steep, white-washed streets are home to a good number of decent restaurants, and the town’s working population ensure a good number of authentic local bars remain. Beware of the fiendish one way system and extremely steep roads if you are driving.
3. La Orotava: Once the beloved home of the great and good of Tinerfeño society, La Orotava is a sleepy town perched high above the sea and on the way up to the Mount Teide National park. Attractions include the Museum of Ceramics and The Museum of IberoAmerican Handicrafts, the lush Victoria Gardens and Casa de los Balcones, but for many visitors the real highlight is simply wandering around the elegant 17th century buildings of the old town and stopping every so often to take in the spectacular view. La Orotava is also a good place to savour local cuisine, with culinary highlights including the restaurant at boutique Hotel Rural Victoria or Sabor Canario, not forgetting Casa Egon for cakes and Tasca Tapias for a local snack.
4. Masca: Improbably perched on a rocky promontory in the Masca valley, the tiny, hundred-person hamlet of Masca ranks among the most beautiful towns in Tenerife, if not in the whole of Spain, by virtue of its stunning position. The first road to the town was built in the 1970s, and is little changed to this day, winding up and over the surrounding mountains, taking in precipitous drops and dizzying edges. This is not a drive we would recommend for the faint of heart (or fearful of heights) and be warned – parking is extremely limited, so it is advisable to visit either early or late on in the day (i.e. before 11am or after 3pm). A popular hike from the village down to the sea is possible although a strenuous 3 hours (and approximately 600m climb/descent) each way. There are a small number of restaurants (offering local specialty cactus lemonade) and, in the absence of any formal hotels, some offer rooms to rent.
5. San Cristobal de la Laguna: One of the biggest towns on Tenerife, La Laguna is a relatively busy place, home to a university and vibrant student population of 30,000 who do their best to keep the town’s many tapas bars and bookshops in business. The old heart of the town is a designated UNESCO world heritage site, and it’s easy to see why: colourful colonial buildings and dreamy churches jostle for space on its wide boulevards. Founded in 1496 and the first city in the world to be planned from scratch, La Laguna still hosts the biggest holy week party in the Canaries as well as a belle époque theatre, a fistful of stately homes (including the Palacio Lercaro and the Palacio Nava) and the Tenerife History Museum.