Tag Archives: Tenerife

AUTHENTIC TENERIFE: Go north for the real Canary Island lifestyle.

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Are there canaries on the Canary Islands? Not the bright yellow types that get hoodwinked into going down coal mines.CanarioCropped copyThe ones that live there are small and brownish as I discovered on a recent trip. How did these humble creatures inspire this group of seven islands off the coast of Africa to be named after them? They didn’t. The Canary Islands were named because when the Spanish arrived in the 1400s, they found the Guanches (the tall, blond first peoples), had these really big dogs. The name was derived from the Latin name Canariae Insulae, meaning “Islands of the Dogs.” I didn’t see any of the dogs, known as Presa Canaria, but my Tenerife guide Cathy Michel showed me a picture on her phone. They are huge mastiffs and have to wear muzzles, but Cathy said she had once owned one and he was a gentle giant.Perro-de-Presa-Canario-AmericanKennelClubHere’s a shot I lifted from the Internet, credited to the American Kennel Club. Although the Guanches died out, Cathy noted “all Canary Island have a little of their blood in them.”
Tenerife is a volcanic island (321 volcanos, but only one active) with a year round average temperature of 23ºC. It has an area of 1056 sq. km, is 250 km in circumference and has a population of 900,000 that swells to almost six million with the tourist influx every winter. In the mid ‘70s the government wanted to jump-start the economy and started offering package tours from the UK to the south of the island, known for its beaches and hotter weather. The Brits bought in big time, and still do. However, there is a move afoot to draw tourists to the more “authentic” northern end of the island where the majority of the Canarian population lives.
MonumentView copyI wanted to explore the authentic side of the island so I stuck to the north where the rocky landscape was layered with terraced farms, wineries, and hiking and biking trails.LaLagunaLobbyHome base was the La Laguna Gran Hotel, in La Laguna, a town of 125,000 that was named capital of the island when the Spanish came in 1496. (In 1823 Santa Cruz became the capital because it was a port town.) At 550 meters above sea level, the town was seven km from the coast, and dotted with majestic buildings that once belonged to nobility but now are mostly government offices.LaLagunaBlock copyCathy told me to look for crowns embedded the crests above front entrances. “That signifies royalty,” she explained. Unusual for a volcanic island, this town was flat. It was named a World Heritage UNESCO site in 1999, boasted a university, cathedral and 16th-18th century houses with balconies made of tough, weather-resistant Canarian pine.
I was fascinated with the town’s convent of Santa Catalina de Siena where 19 nuns lived.LaLagunaConvent copyA city block in size with a vegetable garden and courtyard, it had screened wooden balconies on one corner so the nuns could see the rest of the world (they never go out). Home to the mummified body of Maria de Jesus de Leon y Delgado, a nun from the 17th century, the convent is open one day a year (Feb. 15) so the public can pay their respects to her.
Around the corner, I discovered “La Catedral” Dulcerio y Panaderia.LaLagunaBakeryOwnerOwner Maria del Carmen Hernandez told me it had been in his family for 104 years. The sweet, flaky pastries were stuffed with various fruits and even a squash that when cooked down is known as “angel’s hair.”
The town’s cathedral was not that old, Cathy told me.LaLagunaCathedral copy“It’s the same design as the one in Pamplona. The concrete roof caved in and they had to rebuild it a year ago.”
At the north-eastern tip of the island I found myself in Anaga Rural Park, where I could literally look down upon a sea of clouds.TeideClouds copyIt took my breath away. The forest was full of plants whose seeds had blown there on the trade winds from the Mediterranean. It was raining slightly and water dripped from the laurel leaves, soaking the earth.AnagaPath copyThe humidity of this region is what irrigated the farms below, Cathy told me. “They capture the water and use for crops, especially bananas.” At the visitor’s welcome centre, we watched a video describing this island of 321 volcanos “a biosphere where a magical sea of clouds tangles with the trees.” I learned of the island’s famous wine, goat cheese, dragon trees, palms and junipers. A local guide, Pedro Mederos, explained, “In Anaga, the highest mountain is around 1,000 meters. On the way up, you can see the plants change. In the lower areas, live rabbits, partridges, and Paloma pigeons. The locals hunt the rabbits and partridges for food.”
Next, we drove to Chinamada to see the caserias, or cave houses.MountainEntrance copyMountainHouse copyWalking along the cliff side, we can to a little home carved into the stone. A man waved us over and took us inside to listen to him playing what looked like a little ukulele.MountainMan copy“I’m playing a timple, I learned from my father who loved folksongs,” he told us. Valentine Ramos Ramos explained that he was born in this house in 1962. “I was named after St. Valentines because I was born on that day.”
Lunch was in Taganana, known as the village at the end of the world. Why? It’s near the end of the coastal road in Anaga.AfricaBeach copyNote the colour of the beach…black sand.At the beach front restaurant Casa Africa. we dug into fresh fish, potatoes and salad. Next was San Andres and Las Teresitas Beach. TeresitasBeach copy“The sand at this beach used to be black from the volcanic rock, but the government had gold sand brought in from the Sahara (when it was the property of Spain) because the black sand grew too hot in the sun and burned your feet,” Cathy said.
Santa Cruz, Tenerife’s capital, was founded in 1825 and with its population of 250,000 it is the largest city in the North.SantaCruz-Auditorium copyPerhaps its most famous structure is the Auditorio de Tenerife, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava and completed in 2003. He also designed salt water swimming pools by the ocean. “The residents were not too happy at first since it cost millions. They would have preferred the money to be spent on schools,” explained Cathy. And yet, it was beautiful, and many people were enjoying the water view from it’s beautifully designed cafe.
One of Santa Cruz’s newest attractions is La Casa Carnaval, the Carnival Museum. Walking into the building, the first thing I set my eyes on was the Queen’s costume from 2018.CarnavalQueen3 copyAn astounding assemblage of red and gold, glitter, feathers and absolute fabulousness, I discovered it had wheels underneath. “The costume weights 360 kilos. The Queen must walk into her costume, then she is crowned with the 11 kilo headpiece,” Miriam, my museum guide explained.
Every year a queen, granny and girl child (girls 5-8 years) are elected. There is even a Reina Infantil del Carnaval, who makes sarcastic political statements. Just about every Canarian is involved with a murgas, or themed group that spends all year devising their costumes. Bands are made of mock instruments fitted with kazoos and the characters that are seen every year include Michael Jackson, Johnny Depp’s Pirate of the Caribbean, Miss Piggy, Fidel Castro, Groucho Marx…and Canadian Mounties!
ParadorPatio copyIn the center of the island is Teide National Park, where you can climb Spain’s highest peak, Mt. Tiede (or take the cable car, like me).TeideCablecarVolcanic lava chunks from the 3000-meter-high mountain were scattered about everywhere, giving the area an almost surface-of-the-moon appearance. This is a popular destination and gets almost three million visitors a year. If you opt to climb the final summit, which takes around 45 minutes from the top of the cable car you have to book in advance. They only let 200 people go up a day, 50 per hour. Go from the lower car park and you don’t need a reservation, just four hours to go up and four to go down.
Down the road from the cable car was Parador de las Cañadas del Teide. Open year round, the hotel offers guests a stargazing program since the area’s dark skies have made it one of the top astronomy locations in the world.ParadorCyclist copyParadorEntrance copyParadorInterior copyThe 37-room property is popular with cyclists who use the area for high-altitude training. “Lance Armstrong came here for five years to train. And British cyclist Chris Froome stayed here. Guests like the location and food,” explained Alejandro Garcia Valerio, the hotel’s director. Heading to the dining room, I learned that goat and rabbit were the most popular signature dishes.
PuertodelaCruzSeaWalk copy 2In Puerto de la Cruz, I joined the crowds and walked along the sea wall, then headed to Plaza del Charco to people watch and sip a delicious barraquito coffee (Licor 43, sweetened condensed milk, steamed milk, and espresso) at one of the square’s many cafes.
Tenerife is covered with spikey odd trees that are not really trees, but a sort of cactus-like plant called Dragon Trees.LaCasaDrago copyIn Icod de los Vinos I saw the island’s 500-year-old specimen and tried some of the sweet Drago’s Blood liquor.
MascaUmbrellas copyPerhaps one of the most picturesque spots I visited was the hamlet of Masca. Winding pathways took me past mountainside homes looking down on terraced gardens and the blue ocean.MascaMountain copy
Dinner that night was in Garachico, once the island’s capital. A devastating volcano eruption in 1706 changed that when the harbour was swallowed up.GarachicoRoofRochas copyRebuilt and beautiful, I was charmed by the cobbled streets, churches, and historic buildings.GarachicoSanRoquesInteriorAt the boutique San Los Roques hotel, owner Dominic Carayon first took me on a tour of the 17th century building. “It had been abandoned for 10 years and was in bad shape. It took four years to finish the renovations.
Wooden floors, warm colours and art objects could be seen throughout the elegant property and the fine food offered in the hotel’s restaurant Anturium matched the mood perfectly. We nibbled on aged goat cheese, tender wreckfish and finished the meal with a lovely light flan. “In the 1990s, Tenerife just a sun destination. This area was depressed and the population elderly. My family had an incoming travel agency working with Finland, France and Spain,” said Dominic. They knew the tourism business well and after Dominic’s father, who was French, passed away, he and his Spanish mother decided to get into the hotel business. “We were the first to open in Garachico and now there are two more hotels.” Slowly, it seems, tourists are discovering this historic town.
If you are looking for “authentic” Tenerife, stick to the north. Exploring the history, natural beauty and local colour is nourshing for the soul and a far richer experience than simply lounging on the beach.

The Food of Tenerife

Chef Moises Rodriguez, making his magical mojo at Monje Winery.

Chef Moises Rodriguez, making his magical mojo at Monje Winery.

What is travelling without eating? Might as well stay home! In the Canary Islands, I found the cuisine to be simple, basic and wonderful. Many fruits and vegetables grow here including avocados, papayas, apples, potatoes and squash. There is a Latin American influence which you can taste in the ubiquitous sauces served with every meal – mojo rojo and mojo verde.ReguloMojos The red mojo has red pepper, chili, garlic, oil and almonds. The green version is infused with coriander and parsley. Every eating establishment prides itself on its unique mojo.
One dish that was also everywhere was wrinkle potatoes, brought from Latin American by the conquistadors. Back in the 1400s when Spain claimed the islands, they brought the grape vines – now some of the oldest in the world. There are more than 100 wineries on the island, but only a few are open to the public. Interesting facts…while Europe suffered the devastation of all its vineyards starting in the late 1800s due to an infestation of the aphid-like bug called phylloxera, the Canary Islands were left untouched. Storied characters in history that loved Canary Islands wine? Shakespeare and Ben Franklin.
Fish is a favourite meal, including octopus and salt cod, caught off the African coast. Just about every meal is accompanied by wrinkle potatoes. MonjePotatoes copyMy guide, Cathy Michel told me they get two to three crops a year, but a special variety known as “black potatoes,” with purple skins and egg-yolk yellow interior, is harvested only once a year. “They are very expensive, between five and nine euros per kilo.” Wrinkle potatoes are cooked in heavily salted water with their skins on. When the water evaporates, it leaves a salty crust on the potatoes. People like to eat their potatoes with their favourite mojo. There’s no butter on the island, since there are no cows…no grazing fields to be found on this volcanic rock! Instead, olive oil is a go-to condiment.
My favourite mojo was the rojo, mashed with goat cheese and spread on bread or crackers.
Following are some of the great places where I sampled Canarian cuisine.ReguloExterior copyIn Puerto de la Cruz, Restuarante Regulo near the Plaza del Charco. Regulo-Mojo:GoifuReguloFriedGoatCheeseWe started with bread with chorizo, gofio slices (toasted flour mixed with honey), grilled Canarian fresh goat cheese with mojo sauces and honey, and Canarian Ropavieja which is a traditional chickpea stew. ReguloFishOur main was grilled grouper filets with wrinkle potatoes and mojo. Not that I had much room left, but dessert was a melt-in-your mouth quesillo (translated it means “little cheese,” we call it flan) with vanilla ice cream.Regulo-FlanIceCreamOur wines were white and red Arautava DO Valle de la Orotava. To top it all off? ReguloBarraquitoA barraquito coffee – sweetened condensed milk, steamed milk, espresso and the secret ingredient, Licor 43 (made with citrus and fruit juices).
In Taganana, known as the village at the end of the world (it’s at the end of the island’s most north-easterly road), I came across Casa Africa restaurant.AfricaExterior copy The owner’s name is Africa and she has run it for 60 years.AfricaPouring copy Packed with locals, I knew it was going to be good. There was a choice of fried whole fish or octopus done in black pepper and olive oil. I chose the fish, which they called abadejo, Pollock and tasted my friend’s octopus.AfricaFish copyAfricaOctopus copy It was delicious. AfricaSalad copyThe meal started with soup and a colourful salad and was accompanied by a bowl of gofio (used as a thickener for the soup) and a carafe of local white wine. All for a reasonable 13 Euros.
For an upscale experience, I tried the Hotel San Roque in Garachico. We started dinner with goat cheese cubes and papas arrugadas (boiled Canarian potatoes) with mojo verde and almogrote sauces.GarachicoAnturiumGoatCheese copy Our main was cancocho, a Canarian wreckfish, grilled then steamed with sweet potato mash, Canarian potato chips, slightly spicy red mojo and gofio crisps with palm honey.GarachicoAnturiumFish copy Good thing the portions were small. I had just a sliver of room left for dessert, banana foam with yoghurt ice cream and mini cinnamon rosquetes. Our wines were a white Vinatigo and a red Binatigo Negramoli.
The next morning in La Laguna, I headed to Dulceria y Panaderia “La Catedral.” This bake shop has been in the same spot for 104 years, the owner Maria del Carmen Hernandez Garcia told me. LaLagunaCateralBakery copyLight and fluffy, the pastries were filled with local fruits and the La Laguna special I had was stuffed with a squash mixture known as “angel hair.” Delicious.
Dinner was in Santa Cruz, at Baobab Restaurant on the cobblestoned Calle La Noria. My spicy tuna in a tomato sauce was hearty and filling.BaobabPotatoes copy
The day I visited Teide National Park, home to Spain’s highest peak, I capped off my cable car ride with a visit to Parador de las Cañadas del Teide. The luxurious parador had an elegant restaurant with superb food. Rabbit is the signature dish here, as well as goat.ParadorPatio copyParador-GoatCheeseParadorRabbit
Tenerife has some very unique plants, due to seeds being blown there by the strong trade winds. The Dragon Tree is not quite a tree, not quite a palm or cactus. LaCasaDrago copyThese spikey, brush-topped plants can live a long time and at Casa de la Drago in Icod de los Vinos, I got to view the Drago Milenario, which is 500 years old. The casa is a lovely little café next to the the storied tree and there I tasted dragon’s blood, a liquor known as Drag’s made from the bright red fruit of the dragon tree and only found on the Canary Islands. It was very sweet. I also tasted Ucana, a liquor made from banana syrup. LaCasaDragoBananaliquor“Have a tupito, a little slurp,” said my server Alicia. My favourite was a seven-year-old rum tempered with honey and palm syrup. A tad spicy, but not as sweet as the other liquors. At the café gift shop, I was fascinated with large posters of the famous men who are associated with the island including Charles Darwin and French writer and godfather of the Surrealist movement, Andre Breton.
At Meson del Norte in Portellas, part of the Buenavista region, I learned that there are a few cows on Tenerife. MasonDelNorteBar copyMasondelNorteMeat copyThe menu was practically all meat and my server explained that the restaurant’s beef came from cattle kept in a barn nearby. I had seen a cattle crossing sign on the road to the restaurant. Talk about farm to table. As well as beef, goat, rabbit and pork were featured items. I went for the garbanzo stew with shredded pork. Very filling.ReguloGarbanzoStew
I wanted to learn more about Tenerife’s viniculture, so I headed to Monje Winery for wine tasting and a mojo-making class. Monje-FilipeSmiling copyOwner Felipe Monje kindly showed me around the property. His family had always cultivated the area, but the land had been divided up many times to 10-12 ancestors, he told m. “My father bought it all back in 1956. I remember hanging out here as a young boy, eating grapes and looking for birds.” They began with two wines and now have 14 and produce 150,000 bottles a year. Seventy per cent of their wine is sold in Spain, 20 per cent goes to the US and 10 per cent to Europe. In the vineyard he pointed to one of the vines, “It’s 200 years old. Vines here live a long time. Other places they only make it to 50 or 80 years.”
The 17-hectar vineyard is located 600 meters above sea level and the way it slopes, a perfect micro climate for grapes occurs. The types of grapes, Felipe tells me, all came from Europe originally but mutated due to the subtropical climate. Their classic wines are Listan Negro and Blanco which are matured from six to 18 months in casks. MonjeBarrels“Most of our barrels are 45 years old, but we have six that are 200 years old and were originally used to import rum and molasses from Cuba. Our barrels are oak and chestnut, the young wine absorbs the flavors from the crystals inside barrel,” explained Felipe, and showed me a piece of a barrel lined with crystals.Monje-Crystals
On the fourth floor below ground was a tasting room and wine bar for corporate events. Felipe laughs about one of their events, Wine & Sex. “It’s not an orgy,” he says with a laugh. “We’ve done for eight years, four times a year. It matches wine, eroticism and cuisine. Around 120 local people come and for four taste five wines, eat appetizers and watch fantastical entertainers.”
Something very unique that Monje does is submarine wine. “It matures more quickly under sea. MonjeSubmarineWine copyWe put it in a metal box 20 meters below for four to five months. The pressure and movement makes a compact composition of the wine. Five wineries in world do this. We’ve done it for three years.” The special kicker is that divers who have open water certification can go down the 20 meters, into sealed, underwater capsule, take off their masks, uncork the wine and take a sip. “Four people can fit and there is oxygen in the dome.”
My mojo making class was terrific and I learned it’s all in the strength of your pulverizing arm! MonjiMoRojoYour mortar and pestle have to be a good size to really crush all the ingredients together. The results were delicious and the perfect idea for a party.
The Monje wines I tasted:
Drago Blanco – a good 1st date wine! A little sweetness in the finish.
Bibiana – name of Felipe’s daughter – rose, strawberry tones.
Holler – like a swear word – cholera 13% – whole grape with stem goes into wine. Violet flavor – like a gamay. A lot of sun on this part of island. Goes with cheese and cured meat.
Tradicional – Three types of grapes – A top seller, most Canarian. Goes well with stewed meats and soups. 2015
Tintella – eight months in the barrel, one grape – Tintilla. Aged in an American oak barrel which imparts vanilla versus French oak which has more spice. 14%, 2013
Interesting fact: French oak is more expensive because you need to use the centre only. With American oak, you can use the whole tree. That’s why it is half the price.
WIneMuseumPress copy 2WIneMuseumInterior copy 2To learn more about the wine and honey of Tenerife my last stop was Casa del Vino, Tenerife Wine Museum and Honey Museum. A great place to get a grip on the island’s vinifera and honey making.
Canary Island cuisine in a nutshell? Healthy, simple and delicious.