Tuesday, October 17, 2017
   
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Much more than birds, beaches and bars...

PATRIC BAIRD discovers there’s an other appealing side to the sunshine holiday isle of Tenerife...

I DIDN’T know much about the Canary Islands before a recent visit to Tenerife, but I would have sworn that they took their name from the native yellow songbird, popular both as an attractive pet and, more practically, as an early warning system for coal miners.

I was therefore surprised to find out from our guide, who accompanied us on a day-long tour of the whole island, that not only was the only piece of knowledge I possessed about the Canaries was wrong, but also there was much, much more to the fascinating volcanic archipelago than birds, beaches and bars.

Tenerife is the largest of 13 volcanic islands located 100km from the western coast of Africa and, although recognised as a nationality of Spain, it has more in common with Morocco than Madrid in both climate and landscape.

Given that Tenerife’s main airport is a four hour flight from Belfast, it really feels like it’s a proper trip abroad - and when you arrive it looks like one, too. With an average annual temperature of 20C and an annual average total of 20 wet days in the capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife, yet with reasonably temperate summer temperatures, it is the ideal year-round holiday destination.

Tenerife is often described as an island of two halves - despite its relatively small size, measuring around 2000 square kilometres, making it four times larger than the Isle Of Man, the north of the island is different in many ways to the south. The north lies under the influence of the moist Atlantic winds and is well vegetated, while the south of the island around the tourist resorts of Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos is more arid and desert-like.

Another difference can be seen on the beaches which make up 400km of the coastline; in the north the sand is a golden colour, whereas in the south, the sand is black, because of the volcanic nature of the area.

It was in the south that we spent our short break, staying at the Bahia Del Duque Resort, in the town of Costa Adeje. There is no shortage of accommodation to suit every-sized pocket, but our hotel was at the higher end of the scale being the first five-star luxury property to have been built on the Canaries, and featured amongst the top ten hotels in the whole of Spain.

Built in 1992 to resemble a traditional Canarian village, volcanic lava and basalt is used throughout the resort’s construction, the site of which was literally carved out of the side of a mountain. As well as offering luxurious spa treatments, tennis courts and a mini-golf course, the hotel caters extensively to lovers of good food and fine wine - there are twenty bars and specialist restaurants throughout the resort.

Although we were quite content to spend our entire holiday in such luxurious surroundings, we were keen to experience the island as a whole. Our guide picked us up from the hotel and we set off on a round trip of Tenerife, stopping off at the main points of interest as well as several ‘off the beaten track’ destinations which tourists would not normally be lucky enough to experience. A drive to the centre of the island took us to Mount Tiede National Park, home to both the highest mountain in Spain, and the third tallest volcano on Earth on a volcanic ocean island. The park is also the domain of many plants and animals unique to the area, such as the pretty Tiede violet, as well as a multi-coloured landscape comprising layers of volcanic soils and rocks.

A cable car ascends almost to the summit and the more adventurous can apply for a special permit to walk up to the crater from where, on a clear day, the surrounding six islands can be seen including La Gomera, La Palma, Gran Canaria and El Hierro.

Needless to say, we were happy to admire the view from the base of Mount Tiede, keen to conserve energy for the activities which lay ahead. Luckily the next stop was lunch and a chance to sample some of Tenerife’s delicacies in a traditional restaurant. During the drive, our guide had pointed out many of the food crops growing at the sides of the road, including citrus fruits, almonds, bananas and grapes for producing the island’s famous wine, which all thrive in the rich, volcanic soil.

I found, to my surprise, that one of the most common crops on the island was potatoes which form the basis of the most famous local dish, Papas Arrugadas. Literally translated as ‘wrinkled potatoes’, our guide had warned us that, while it wasn’t much to look at, we simply had to order the dish at the restaurant and she even threw down a challenge that we would agree that the taste was better than any potato-based dish that the Irish could conjure up from our own common-or-garden spud.

Sure enough, when they arrived at the table, they did resemble something you might discover underneath the cooker during a spring clean, but the taste was incredible. They are boiled in very salty water, or sea water if prepared near the coast, and emerge looking like golf balls in need of a trip to the plastic surgeon.

On their own, they were the most tender, flavoursome and moist potatoes I had ever tasted, but with the addition of some essential condiments - mojo rojo (a red sauce made from sweet peppers) and mojo verde (a green sauce flavoured with garlic, parsley and coriander), I had to agree that a dish of home-grown champ would have a long way to go in matching such an amazing culinary sensation.

Rolling out of the restaurant stuffed with potatoes and some of the finest local seafood and cheeses, we continued with our gastronomic expedition, taking in a session of sampling the local banana liqueur and stopping off to watch the production of gofio, a type of flour which forms part of the local inhabitants’ staple diet.

We concluded our day trip with a leisurely drive around some sleepy little mountain villages, complete with historic architecture and beautiful churches, before arriving back at our hotel, keen to find out if any of the restaurants had wrinkly potatoes on their menu.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the yellow bird is actually named after the islands, rather than the other way around. Their Spanish name, Islas Canarias, is probably derived from the Latin, Canariae Insulae, meaning "Island of the Dogs", even though the dogs in question were actually a species of seal. So now you know!

FACT FILE:

Tourist information:

For further info on Tenerife, visit www.webtenerife.com

Accommodation:

Room prices at Bahia del Duque average EUR 381 per night, based on a double standard room with garden views and including breakfast and all taxes: www.bahia-duque.com

Flights: Aer Lingus currently offers direct scheduled flights to Tenerife South from Belfast International Airport

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