Finding Shopping Paradise in Icod de Los Vinos

Ask your average visitor to Tenerife or ex-pat resident what they know about Icod de los Vinos and they’ll tell you it’s the home of the Millenium Drago Tree. Those more familiar with the area might well add that it has the picturesque cove and tranquil beach of San Marcos. But ask a Canario what they know about Icod de los Vinos and they’ll tell you it’s the best place on Tenerife for shopping.

With the Three Kings safely returned to the East and shopkeepers all over the island taking a red marker pen to their price labels, Tenerife Magazine heads off to the picturesque town of Icod de los Vinos to find out why Tinerfeños believe there’s a whole lot more to Icod than just a drago tree.

Shopping in Icod de los Vinos
Strolling down the busy pavement of Calle Key Muñoz in Icod de los Vinos, my eye is drawn by a sign which tells me I can buy clothes imported from Miami and New York from just €9.95. Popping inside, my fingers are itching to reach for the credit card as tailored dresses and skirts, so different from the usual, mass produced merchandise that fills the racks of major chain stores, yearn to be tried on.

My shopping senses awakened, I decide to take a look down Calle San Sebastián where I”M stopped in my tracks by the sight of exquisitely tailored Italian imported dresses wearing the sort of price label they would presumably not be seen dead in, were they still to be in Italy. Further investigation reveals an entire shop dedicated to French and Italian couture at prices that were eyebrow raising before the sales and are now just too good to ignore.

The trouble with buying fashionable little Italian numbers is that you simply have to have shoes and a handbag to match, and naturally some new earrings, maybe a necklace…

To those in the know, Icod de los Vinos is the place to come when you want to refresh your wardrobe, step into this season’s shoes, stock up on some fine wines or find the perfect gift for special occasions without busting the budget. In other words, Icod is a shopper’s paradise.

One of the oldest settlements on Tenerife, after the conquest Icod was quickly recognised for its fertile valleys. From 1496 sugar plantations were planted across the area attracting wealth and settlers to make it their home. But in the 17th century the sugar trade collapsed and the first vines that came to lend their names to the area were planted. Today the municipality of Icod de los Vinos produces excellent wines, predominantly cultivating the listan grape variety, under the Ycoden-Daute-Isora denomination label where, across eight municipalities, almost a million kilos of grapes are processed.

The wealth generated by the wine industry distilled a culture of commercialism in Icod de los Vinos which is evident in the 200 or more shops that make up one of the oldest shopping centres on Tenerife. Beneath the benign gaze of Mount Teide and the traditional balconies, family businesses have thrived here for decades. Keeping their prices low and their stock constantly changing, the shopkeepers of Icod aim to ensure their customers will return and, judging by the crowds who are enjoying the winter sunshine as they gather carrier bags by the armful, it’s a strategy that’s working.

Time for Tea
Having toured the main shopping streets of San Agustá­n, San Sebastián, Key Muñoz, Infanta Isabel and De la Cruz, it’s time for a sit down and a nice cup of tea. Turning the corner onto Calle San Sebastián at the Town Hall, I spot tables and chairs outside a quaint little tea shop and spotting the sign on the window, I have to do a double take as the words ‘rosy Lee’ jump out at me. Inside, Rosy Lee looks for all the world like Miss Marple might be sitting in the window with a pot of tea and a fairy cake, musing on her latest murder mystery.

Flower wallpaper and wooden shelves stacked with Twinings tea and pots of relish form the backdrop to elegant tables on which China cups, antique tea pots and dainty milk jugs sit. Ordering a pot of breakfast tea, I notice English cake trays with home made cream buns and the display cabinet which is filled with scrumptious looking cakes, its counter adorned with rows of marzipan mice and pastel coloured fairy cakes.

“Are you British?” I ask the owner, Nátalie Delgado, as she places my pot of tea before me.
“No. I was born in Puerto de la Cruz,” she replies in an accent that would have you swear in court that she was born and bred somewhere south of Bristol. “But I spent 10 years working in England and I have a lot of English friends who constantly pick me up on my accent.”
All I can say is, Nátalie didn’t just learn how to speak like a native while she was in England, she perfected the art of making a grand cup of tea too.

Malvasía Wine
Sated of shopping for the day, I head back to the car and find myself looking into the doorway of the Museo de Malvasí­a where the walls are covered with framed quotations from Shakespeare, Keats, Ben Johnson and Herman Melville and the shelves are filled with the subject of those quotations Malvasí­a wine, the Canary Islands” most famous tipple.

Housed in one of the beautiful, historic houses that line Plaza de la Pila, the Museo is a mine of information on the historic grape and its famous advocates. Stocking a wide selection of malvasia wines from across the Canary Islands, the museum also offers wine tastings so you can try before you buy. It’s all the excuse I need to indulge in a little more quality assurance of the products on offer in Icod de los Vinos.

“Oh Knight, thou lackest a cup of canary; when did I see thee so put down?” asked Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night.

Quite right, Sir Toby, it will never do. Adding a bottle of the Bard’s favourite tipple to the day’s haul, I bid adios to Icod…until next time.

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Walk this Way, El Palmar

One of the joys of walking on Tenerife is that, provided you stay clear of the hiker highways of Barranco del Infierno, Masca Barranco and La Caldera, you can enjoy many of its best trails all to yourself.
This month we apply the high factor sun cream, don our caps, stock up on water and head to one of the island’s least known rural locations ““ the El Palmar Valley.

Why this way?
Millions of visitors annually make the trip to Masca, many of them to test their stamina against nature’s assault course in the Masca Barranco, but very few of them ever emerge on the other side of the Teno Mountain Range to discover a corner of Tenerife that is still very much a secret.

Like Tenerife’s version of The Archers, the folks of El Palmar are predominantly a farming community whose daily lives revolve around working the land and tending the livestock in their green corner of the north west of Tenerife. Sandwiched between the Monte del Agua and Teno Mountain ranges, the valley once provided building materials for local housing, a legacy which has left its mark in the form of deep slices carved out of the landscape like missing portions of a pie.

Perched astride the Teno Mountains, the sleepy hamlet of Teno Alto goes about its business much as it has done for the past century, producing some of the island’s best loved queso de cabra (goats” cheese) and sustaining a small community who’s priorities are clear as they have no less than two village bar/restaurants to serve the handful of residents.

As far from the tourist trail as you can get, both physically and metaphorically, walking around El Palmar will open up a world where osprey circle overhead, the air is filled with the tinkle of goat bells and you can buy the most pungent of cheeses in the sort of village shop that you see in old episodes of Miss Marple.

Hike this way.
Starting out from El Palmar a narrow path winds its way through pines and prickly pear groves up the side of the valley, flanked by fields of potatoes and vines. The higher you climb the more spectacular the views become until finally you reach the crest, rewarded for your efforts with views over the entire valley with, if you’ve chosen a clear day, the peak of Mount Teide just visible above the Monte del Agua.

Through the cool of the forest and along the ridge of emerald hills and you’ll arrive at the hamlet of Teno Alto. In the village are two bar/restaurants, well, one’s more of a bar/shop where you can also get something to eat and one shop which stocks all sorts of locally produced goodies including their award winning cheeses. Rising in texture from soft to rock hard and in flavour from mild to pungent, you can buy fresco, semi curado or curado (only for the brave) to stash in the rucksack.

The return journey back the way you came has two distinct advantages ““ firstly it’s almost all downhill and secondly you’ve got that cheese to keep your strength up.

Stroll this way.
Leave the hill climbing to the goats and take the car instead. Drive from El Palmar to Teno Alto and park the car in the village. Beyond the scattering of houses, paths run across the cliff tops all the way to the edge where you can look down over the lighthouse at Buenavista. You can still pick up some cheese and just pretend you did the hike, we won’t tell.

My way
Peaks: There are two highlights for me: the views over the El Palmar valley from the ridge and the path that skirts the barranco covered in tree heath, passing the goats in the farmyard on the hillside. Oh, and did I mention the cheese?

Troughs: El Palmar is prone to low cloud more often than not and your views of the valley can be spoiled. Also, it’s a long way to drive from just about anywhere on the island to get to El Palmar.

My view: 4 Stars ““ Although it’s only a linear walk, it’s one of my absolute favourites and I defy anyone not to enjoy its embroidered landscape and absolute serenity.

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Magma Arts & Congress – Fernando Menis

Magma Arts & Congress in South Tenerife welcomes visitors since 2005. Semi-desert landscape with the proximity of sea embraces its contemporary design. Thirteen geometrically shaped blocks, emerge out of the building, creating sense of the flowing roof. The Magma becomes one of the most recognisable buildings in the island.
Based near the airport, motorway and several hotel complexes, right in the middle of tourist activity, Magma Arts & Congress becomes an easy accessible site.

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Fernando Menis, multi-award winner, a reputable Spanish architect of this immaculate structure, is well known worldwide. Magma Art & Congress sole, is proud with 8 major awards.

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“In reality, it wasn’t a traditional project, but a research project to develop materials and new forms. My first objective was to develop how the cement could best be produced using the dry Chasna rocks, never before used for this purpose. It was a daily objective to ensure that those immense and arid rocks fitted between the frames without leaving gaps, attaching the castings with a drop of up to 20%, while the liquid cement hardened. It was a great geological success to see those rocks of cement dispersed throughout the arid ground of southern Tenerife, perfectly integrated as if they had always been there.” Says architect Menis.

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In 2008, Fernando Menis, established Menis Arquitectos Company with its headquarters in Tenerife. Menis Arquitectos reuse natural, environmental resources in each project, demonstrating great environmental awareness. The construction of Magma Arts & Congress employed plant fibre panels with a finish that blends in with the surrounding colours for both, interior and exterior. The Magma evolved throughout the construction aiming to achieve its organic result.
Menis Arquitectos hold on-going projects on an international level. Current projects include a multifunctional concert hall Jordanki in Poland, which will be inaugurated at the end of 2015, The Three Villas, a luxury property in China, and a Winery in the Rodnoe Village, Balaklava, Crimea.

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Links: Magma Arts & Congress – Facebook  – Twitter

Fernando MenisFacebookTwittterYoutube

 

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Checking Into Tenerife’s Hotels, Las Águilas

Christmas Day is breathing down our necks. CC La Villa in La Orotava is buzzing with shoppers and the TF5 motorway beside it is gathering rows of red and white car lights like a cobweb gathers dew.

In holiday booking terms, the beginning of this week is the lull before the storm as hotels gear up for the Christmas Eve influx. But not in Hotel Las Águilas which sits calmly, both physically and metaphorically, above the shopping bedlam. Here, the hotel is currently on 80% occupancy and hurtling towards full to the brim.

As the sun sinks on the Monday before Christmas, Tenerife Magazine heads to the hotel on the hill for some early festive R&R.

A cut above the rest
Winding up the hill that leads to the Hotel Las Águilas in Puerto de la Cruz, you quickly realise that you’re not just checking into any old hotel. Set in two and a half acres of botanical gardens and woodland on its panoramic hilltop, think country estate with pools and parasols.

Inside the lobby, the marble effect walls and floors coupled with the Titian-style mural lend it an Italian classical look, but wander through to the Internet lounge and you’ll find sepia images of Native Americans. Descend the stairs to the stylish and spacious bar lounge area and it’s pop art that adorns the walls. Refreshingly devoid of the uniform look of hotel chains, the style of Hotel Las Águilas is both contemporary and traditional, an elegant simplicity bringing eclectic themes together.

View from a Hill
The sky is just beginning to glow orange as we check into reception so we take the elegant, sweeping staircase down a level, through the chic bar lounge to the beautifully manicured gardens, palm filled lawns and freeform swimming pool with its rockery waterfall, to watch as night falls gently over Puerto de la Cruz. Following the path beneath the tunnel beside the poolside restaurant, we make our way to the children’s pool and the larger swimming pool with its walk-behind waterfall where views open up across the rest of Puerto de la Cruz.

At our backs the slopes of the La Orotava Valley twinkle against the deepening sky, fading to obscurity as they reach the edge of the Teide National Park, ahead of us the Atlantic Ocean is slowly slipping from azure to cobalt blue while below, the street lights, Christmas decorations and windows of the town are gathering strength in numbers.

Over indulgence
With the sun well and truly over the yard arm, there’s just enough time to order a cold beer and try out the bar stools in the Vulcano Lounge before dinner. Resisting the temptation to order another couple of beers in the amiable company of the bar tender, we make our way to the restaurant where one look at the evening’s buffet selection has us instantly regretting the small bowl of nuts we just demolished.

Fresh and fabulous salads accompanied by cheeses, cold meats and more toppings than you could shake a lettuce at, give way to heart warming, home made chicken soup and an entire wall of piping hot, freshly made, main courses including several fish, meat and pasta options. Vegetables are fresh, meat cuts are succulent, the fish is savoury and vegetarians would be just as happy as the carnivores. The fruit and desserts section would be the undoing of even the most avid of dieters.

Half hoping that some things would be less than average when it comes to taste and I can spare my waistline a millimetre, my hopes are dashed when everything proves to be every bit as good to eat as it is to look at.

The Essentials

Location: Atop a sizeable hill on the border of Puerto de la Cruz, La Orotava and Los Realejos so that you get some of the best views anywhere over mountain, valley and coast. Rooms at the rear of the hotel overlook the La Orotava Valley, Puerto de la Cruz and naturally, the ocean, while those at the front have widescreen vistas of Mount Teide, the Tigaiga Mountains and La Orotava Valley. Puerto centre is a 20 minute stroll or a ten minute taxi ride away and the hotel has a free, daily shuttle bus service to town.

Rooms: Former apartments, the rooms are some of the most spacious you’ll find on Tenerife with a lounge/kitchen/dining area, a large bathroom incorporating a Jacuzzi bath and a spacious bedroom with a bed so large you’ll lose each other during the night. Walls are pale lemon with floral prints, art nouveau style mirrors and lamps giving them a contemporary, simple elegance. Furniture is bleached pine with mahogany fitted wardrobes and cupboards. Double sliding doors lead from the bedroom and from the living room onto a completely private balcony large enough to house the Royal family at a State occasion.

Service: From managers to gardeners, everyone we encountered provided us with warm, friendly and efficient service. In the dining room, plates were cleared, tables cleaned and drinks served with the minimum of fuss and a smile.

Food: Any hope that the calories gained at dinner could be forfeited the following morning evaporated in the face of one of the best breakfast buffets we’ve eaten. Six varieties of cheese and six more of cold meats accompanied cereals, fresh fruit, yoghurts, jams and a baker’s dozen varieties of bread. Hot choices were too numerous to list but included such decadent goodies as churros with chocolate and pancakes with honey. You don’t have to be a guest to try the excellent food at Hotel Las Águilas, pop along at weekends for breakfast, a barbecue (Saturdays) or paella (Sundays) on its terrace.

Entertainment: The youngest guests of the hotel are treated to their own Mini Club and Mini Disco entertainment programme and once the Sandman takes them to beddy bo-bos, live cabaret keeps adult feet tapping in the Vulcano Lounge.

Overall: The winner of our current holiday competition is in for a real treat. Without doubt, one of the top hotels in Puerto de la Cruz, Hotel Las Águilas is packed to its friendly and stylish rafters with comfort and taste. Beautiful grounds, excellent food and spacious accommodation are the trademarks of this unique hotel which is ideal for families and couples.

Hotel Las Águilas, Doctor Barajas, 19; 4 stars; Puerto de la Cruz; (0034) 922 37 28 06; email reservas@hotellasaguilas.com

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Top Ten Things to do on Tenerife at Christmas

Forget the fact that Tenerife is a subtropical island off the coast of Africa. Forget the fact that the sun is shining, there are palm trees and you’re wearing T-shirt and shorts. There’s plenty of festive fun to be had during Christmas on Tenerife.

If you happen to be on holiday on Tenerife you can escape the frantic Christmas crowds at home but still enjoy a magical Christmas atmosphere. Here are our top 10 things to do at Christmas on Tenerife.

Pig out on Turrón
This scrumptious cake borne from a grand romantic gesture is only found on supermarket shelves on Tenerife at Christmas (well…until stocks run out). It is sinfully good especially when paired with a cup of coffee. There are oodles of different varieties to choose from, but the original almond, sugar, honey and egg yema tostada is still the best.

Slip on some Sexy Red Underwear
Apparently it’s good luck to see in the New Year wearing red underwear (it doesn’t say anywhere it has to be sexy, but ‘slip on some plain red underwear’ just doesn’t sound the same). Two conditions for guaranteeing good luck for the coming year is that the red underwear has to be new and also that it’s a present. Who knows how many people follow this tradition; it’s a difficult one to research ““ ‘excuse me, what colour is your underwear?’ is more likely to result in a slap than an answer.

Enjoy a Sparkling Christmas
The Christmas street decorations in some of Tenerife’s towns make a visit after dark an enchanting experience. Some of the resorts put on decent displays but to walk the cobbled historic streets in la Laguna and La Orotava after dark evokes warm and fuzzy memories of childhood Christmases.

Singalong-a-Christmas
There’s usually a popular musical at the Tenerife Auditorium Adán Martín and this year it’s The Sound of Music. Actually it’s the Spanish version Sonrisas y Lagrimas, so the music might sound familiar but the words might not; somehow ‘Doh a cierva’ just wouldn’t seem right. Possibly a better option is the free open air Christmas Day classical concert in Santa Cruz.


Eat Early on Christmas Eve
This applies more if you’re in a traditional town on Tenerife where every Canarian restaurant shuts early on Christmas Eve so that families can enjoy their big Christmas dinner together.
Of course if you’re one of those people who eat their dinner in the middle of the afternoon (around 6pm) then it won’t be a problem.

Forget Santa Claus and Cheer on the Three Kings
There’s no big portly guy squeezing down chimneys here. Tenerife’s version, like the rest of Spain, is the Tres Reyes (Three Kings) who pay a visit to Tenerife’s towns on the evening of the 5th January to bestow gifts on the children. Lots of towns on Tenerife have Tres Reyes parades, in some the kings arrive on camels. The tradition makes a lot more sense than the whole Santa Claus deal.

Let Them Eat Cake
It’s traditional to eat Roscón de Reyes (the Kings” Cake) on Tres Reyes (6th January) but you can buy these throughout the Christmas period on Tenerife. Riscón de Reyes is a wreath shaped bready cake topped by candied fruit. It used to be traditional to put a dried bean and a figurine in the cake mix. Whoever got the figure was made honorary king for the day and the person who got the bean had to fork out for the cake (approx €8). Last time I tried Roscón de Reyes I got the bean, so I haven’t bothered since (you can take the boy out of Scotland but…).

Build a Snowman
Honestly, this is a popular local tradition if we get enough of the white stuff on Mount Teide. But on Tenerife there’s a bit of a difference. You build the snowman on the bonnet of your car and then try to make it to the coast before the snowman completely melts…and without crashing because you can’t see as you’ve got a snowman on your bonnet.

Check out the Beléns
These nativity scenes found everywhere on Tenerife (town halls, shop windows, hotels) can be incredibly detailed with intricate moving parts. Adults and children love them, especially when they spot el caganer ““ the guy who always gets ‘caught short” out in the open.

Sunbathe on Christmas Day
If you haven’t done it before, there’s something bizarre about lounging about on the beach in your swimwear on Christmas Day, especially if there’s snow on Mount Teide and it’s a white Christmas on Tenerife.

¡Feliz Navidad a Todos!

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The Iberostar Grand Hotel Mencey in Santa Cruz Opens for Business

I had no idea at the beginning of the week that I’d end it by sharing a bedroom with Tenerife’s President, Ricardo Melchior. But life on Tenerife often has a way of throwing up unexpected situations.

At this point it’s worth pointing out that there were about five other people in the room with the President and myself as we were all having a nosey at the new look Iberostar Grand Hotel Mencey in Santa Cruz during its official re-opening ceremony on 11/11/11.

The Mencey has long been an emblem of Santa Cruz and a throwback to the days of glamour and glitz when staying in a 5 star hotel was mainly for the rich and famous. But times have changed and these days 5 star accommodation is more accessible. Although still an indication of a certain level of quality and service, they can sometimes seem to be more about size and the amount of facilities on offer.

The re-opening of the Iberostar Grand Hotel Mencey, after two long years and 25 million euros worth of a nip and tuck, represented an opportunity to see how the hotel had changed and whether it was a 5 star hotel that had managed to retain its elegant, colonial olde-worlde charm.

The first thing that strikes on approach is the Grand Hotel Mencey’s facade. The colour of its exterior walls has changed from sandstone hues to blinding white, although sandy grey stonework still frames windows and doors. It is eyecatching for sure but I suspect it might take a bit of time for some Santa Cruceros to come to terms with the bright new look.

However, any fears about the Grand Hotel Mencey losing any of its former grandeur evaporates the second I walk past the smart, smiling doorperson and into the foyer.

Soft lighting; tall elegant pillars; ornate iron railings on the staircase with the hotel’s polished golden insignia standing out proudly; twinkling chandeliers and dark wooden recption desks exhude nostalgic exclusivity. On the other hand, cool marble surfaces; sleekly soft furnishings with minimalist clean lines; contemporary ornamental touches and artwork bring the grand old dame of a hotel sashaying into the 21st century with confident panache.

The outdoor swimming pool is ultra cool whilst the new spa is sleek and chic. Bedrooms are modern, bright, minimalist and comfortable looking. The dining room looks exactly as you would hope a hotel with the word ‘grand’ in its title would look ““ sophisticated and refined; I couldn’t imagine dining there without wearing a jacket.

There is a theme of fusing the tradional with the modernistic throughout the hotel. A conference room is tastefully elegant…yet parts of its ceiling are decorated by paintings of banana leaves; an old stone fountain and an ornate colonial wooden balcony can be seen in the courtyard behind the retro sofas in the porticoed terrace; another conference room has a wonderful mural depicting chicharros at work whilst yet another shows the exuberant sea lashing Tenerife’s north coast. Tenerife’s past and present is subtly on show everywhere you look ““ it’s a touch that reveals the care and depth of thought that has gone into bringing the Grand Hotel Mencey back to life.

Further evidence of this respectful acknowledgement of the hotel and Tenerife’s past comes in news that Iberostar and the island’s Cabildo are working on a project called The Legacy of Mencey ““ a book which will include old photos of the hotel and the celebrities who have stayed there, postcards, interesting documents and anecdotes from former guests.

As well as being an exquisite base from which to explore Tenerife’s capital, Iberostar and Tenerife’s Government want the Grand Hotel Mencey to play an important part in the social life of the city. When the dust from the freshly sanded wooden surfaces has settled and all aspects of the hotel are fully operational it will play an additional role as a venue for events aimed as much at the city’s residents as the hotel’s guests.

As I wander through the Grand Hotel Mencey’s quiet corriders (the first guests are due to arrive later in the day), I absorb and consider the fusion of tradional with the modern on display around me. It’s an approach that has seduced me. The hotel may be revamped and smell shiny and new, but its elegant soul and grandiose character remain thankfully intact.

The Grand Hotel Mencey has an unseen but very much defineable quality that other modern luxury hotels simply don’t posess. It has a sense of heritage ““ it feels much more than a hotel, it feels part of the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

All that’s left to say is – welcome back, you’ve been missed.

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La Vendimia Restaurant, Imaginatively Tasteful

The woman waved her hands to attract our attention.

“Are you going to eat at La Vendimia?” She asked.

“Just on our way now,” I replied.

“Wonderful,” she smiled. “I’ve just finished dining there and the food was fabulous. You’ve got to try the mussels…they’re huge.”

La Vendimia’s setting in the Hotel Spa Villalba in Vilaflor on the edge of the pines is perfect for a romantic culinary liaison. As dusk fell and the sky turned velvet, the patio lights on the restaurant’s terrace lit up the enchanting forest outside.

Inside, a soft colour scheme of oatmeal and beige contrasting with dark wood furnishings creates a tasteful, gentle atmosphere. Scenes of traditional country life on the walls and freshly cut flowers on each table serve as reminders of La Vendimia’s rural setting. A few tables were occupied by couples of varying ages, all of whom seemed to be enjoying the romantic ambience.

The seductive scene was set. A hike around the streets of Vilaflor had built up a bit of an appetite and so I was chomping at the bit to see whether the menu had the charm to romance my tastebuds.

The Main Attraction, The Menu at La Vendimia
I get a buzz out of being excited by a menu. Most of the time on Tenerife this doesn’t happen. That’s not to say that the food isn’t good, it’s just that menus often lack the imagination that rings my gastronomic bell.

This wasn’t the case with La Vendimia.

The menu was small, but boy was it select. Although there was a limited choice for each course, the descriptions of each dish had my tastebuds delirious with anticipation.

Tempura of vegetables from the hotel’s garden; creamy vegetables with crusty bread; pork loin in a honey and mustard sauce; garlic tagliatelle with clams

I was glad there weren’t more dishes as I struggled to choose from the short list in front of me.

After a difficult elimination process we finally decided on vegetable tempura and the cheese plate with blueberry jam to kick off this particular culinary journey, followed by Côte d’Azur mussels and the pork loin with honey and mustard sauce. Although it was unlikely that there would be any room left at the stomach inn, the lure of raspberry and mint sorbet and the restaurant’s house cake to finish off sounded too yummy to let pass.

To accompany the feast we ordered a bottle of Pagos Reverón, an ecological red wine from the owner’s vineyard.

Whilst we waited for our food, we were brought a wonderful looking and tasting appetiser of light pastry boats topped with smoked salmon, cream cheese and chives.

The cheese platter when it arrived looked attractively stylish and the blueberry jam added a fruity zing to savoury slices of manchego, semi-curado and queso fresco. However, the tempura was a revelation. I”M a huge fan of tempura and La Vendimia’s was in another class. This was the FC Barcelona of tempuras.

Courgettes, pumpkin, aubergine, artichoke, leek and red and green peppers encased in the crispiest of batters was possibly the best tempura I’ve had the pleasure to meet…and eat. I can’t tell you how good it was…and that was before it was dipped in the soy sauce.

The main courses were artistic in their presentation. Medallions of pork, squaring up to a potato gratin tower, were tender enough to be eaten using chopsticks whilst huge green mussels topped by a chipstick bonfire lay on a vibrant bed of vegetables.

All the dishes were an absolute joy to look at and, more importantly, to devour.

By the time we reached the dessert stage I was ready to wave my napkin in defeat but although the refreshing raspberry mint sorbet was the sensible choice, the cream, moist sponge and white chocolate ‘house’ cake that I’d ordered was worth risking dying from over-eating for.

La Vendimia Summary
The rural setting is wonderful and if you’re looking for a romantic location that would confound many people’s image of Tenerife, this is the place. But dining at La Vendimia isn’t just about romance, even if the food does get in on the act by making love to your senses. La Vendimia is a restaurant for people who love food and who want to be wowed by cuisine that is creative and as fresh as Vilaflor’s mountain air.

Tenerife magazine’s five star rating for La Vendimia
Décor ““ 4 stars. Tasteful and fresh with some nice original touches such as stained glass panels and the depictions of rural life on the walls. Maybe slightly too brightly lit for setting a perfect romantic scene.
Menu ““ 4.5 stars. Small but diverse and appealingly creative. Lovers of good food will want to try everything on it. There are also choices for vegetarians. When we ate there there wasn’t a vegetarian main, but there were two vegetarian starters and the tempura was of main meal proportions.
Food ““ 4.5 stars. Overall the food just looked and tasted sensational. The tempura especially was simply one of those “Wow’ dishes.
Service ““ 4.5 stars. Smiley, friendly and attentive staff who seemed extremely happy in their jobs and that came across in how they interacted with customers.
Where, when and how
Part of the Hotel Spa Villalba in Vilaflor; +34 922 70 99 30; open 7pm to 10pm daily.
Prices
The average prive of a meal is around €25 per person. A bottle of wine costs from €10.

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Checking Into Tenerife’s Hotels, Hotel Spa Villalba

When it comes to getting away from it all, a spa break takes some beating, but when it’s attached to an elegant mountain hotel nestling in the pine forest where nature holds complete sway, there’s only one word for it ““ Paradise.

In the shimmering heat of a Tenerife October, Tenerife Magazine checked into the Hotel Spa Villalba in Vilaflor to find out what the winner of our holiday competition has in store.

A mountain retreat
Arriving in the charismatic spa town of Vilaflor late morning, I take the steep turn in the village that winds up past the Ermita de San Roque until it reaches the Hotel Spa Villalba. Leaving the stifling heat of the day, I step into the Canarian patio-styled lobby of the hotel where my eye is immediately drawn to the expanse of polished wood which forms the floor and sweeps upwards in a wide curved staircase to a walkway across the galleried space beneath a hand made, wrought iron decorative chandelier.

A roof to floor window occupies one side of the lobby, its margins sending rainbows of light from their stained glass patterns dancing around the aubergine walls. The lobby floor plays host to a garden of potted plants and an elegant sculptural water feature where the sound of running water completes the feng shui balance.

Opening the door onto room number 203 I”M immediately struck by the expanse of floor space, the elegant décor, the extensive presence of beautiful wood and the bed that occupies the far wall and is big enough to justify grid references. I flick the light switch to the en suite and enter the most cavernous bathroom I have ever seen in an hotel. Decorated in exquisite Victorian tiles in teal and white, twin ornate sinks take centre stage below the mirror. A bath with overhead shower lies to one side and the ‘usual facilities” to the other, across an expanse of vintage, maize-coloured tiled floor.

I”M already grinning like a fool when I step out onto the grand balcony and am caught completely off guard by the endless, fragrant pine forest in what feels like touching distance. Birdsong and the rustle of the breeze in distant tree tops is all I can hear as I inhale the mountain air and try to take in the full extent of the beauty that surrounds me. I’ve only been here five minutes, my case is still unpacked and my car keys are still in my hand yet already my shoulders have relaxed, my breathing is deeper and the Hotel Spa Villalba has thrown me a curve ball by revealing the truly unique beauty of its location.

I may never leave.

The Essentials

Location: Nestling above the alpine, spa town of Vilaflor looking like it’s waiting for the Von Trapp family to move in, the Hotel Spa Villalba lies on the cusp of a ravine in the pine forest with panoramic views over the town to the south east coast from the front of the hotel and over the fragrant forest from the rear. Designed to maximise its rustic setting, everything in the hotel is geared towards the enjoyment of your surroundings, from the seats dotted around the garden and the hotel viewpoint with its telescope, to the glass covered swimming pool edged by pine trees which is opened in summer and cosily closed over in winter.


Rooms: As generously bountiful as nature herself, bedrooms are big on space and minimal on fuss. Oatmeal décor teamed with soft plaid furnishings complement the highly polished hard wood flooring beautifully while prints of pencil drawings and oil canvases showcase flowers and rural scenes. A large, wooden terrace overlooks the gardens and forest while bedside, shuttered windows bring the pine romance inside. Free WiFi brings modern convenience to rustic charm and the practicalities also score highly with lots of wardrobe space, a shower so powerful it hurts your head; coat hangers galore, TV, mini bar and in-room safe.

Service: I have always found Vilaflor to be one of the friendliest towns on this Tenerife amable island and the staff of the Hotel Spa Villalba outshine even my former experience. From the Hotel Director Julio, to Marta on reception, the La Vendimia dining room staff and the chambermaids, everyone welcomes guests as if they were into their own home. The guests” comfort and relaxation appear to be paramount and once experienced, the service keeps the guests returning. I spoke with an elderly lady who was in her fourth week at the hotel and has been a regular guest for many years.

Food: The La Vendimia Restaurant is the venue for a fresh and beautifully presented continental breakfast buffet with fruit, cereals, home made breads, cheeses, cold meats, pastries, juices and wonderful coffee. Eggs are available for those who like a hot start to the day. In the evening the restaurant morphs into a candle lit romantic dining venue where fresh produce from the hotel’s garden is imaginatively and beautifully prepared. A la carte choices include a good selection of vegetarian, fish and meat options and the set half board menu was a nightly decision dilemma with three delicious options for every course vying to be picked. An extensive wine menu includes very quaffable organic wines from the owners” own label as well as a good selection of Tenerife produced wines.

Entertainment: The moon shining through the pine trees and Vilaflor’s trademark, star-studded firmament provide all the entertainment that’s needed in this country idyll. A TV room and a games room provide an indoor alternative to Nature. But as I don’t have a section for it, I’ll take this opportunity to mention the splendid spa and gym facilities that come as standard for guests. Set within spacious and elegant relaxation areas are a Jacuzzi, sauna, sunarium, Turkish Bath, plunge pool, showers and a dark relaxation lounge with water beds and coloured ceiling lights to lull you comatose. Downstairs, a gym equipped with ranks of state of the art equipment is flanked by a room with a full sized climbing wall.

Overall: An idyllic, romantic Alpine mountain getaway where sublime comfort, healing spas and treatments, relaxation, good food and tranquil surroundings relieve you of stress and leave you feeling renewed and energised. This is the perfect hotel for tired executives, romantic couples, athletes, nature lovers, hikers and anyone seeking a real ‘away from it all’ experience.

Hotel Spa Villalba; 4 Star; Carraterra San Roque s/n, Vilaflor; (0034) 922 70 99 30; email hotelvillalba@hotelesreveron.com

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Volcanic Eruption on El Hierro in The Canary Islands

This week we’re concentrating on one news story concerning the events related to the seismic activity and subsequent undersea volcanic eruption on the Canary Island of El Hierro.

Last week we reported that scientists had stated that the centre of volcanic activity was moving towards the sea. Yesterday morning reports started to appear online about an undersea eruption off the coast of El Hierro.

Surprisingly, there have been little or no reports about the eruption which took place around 4am on Monday in the British press; possibly because few have connected El Hierro’s proximity to Tenerife yet. If, and when, that happens there’s a possibility some publications will seek to sensationalise events and fabricate an ‘impact on tourists” element to the story as they did with the Tenerife fires of 2007. To pre-empt this and to re-assure anyone planning a trip to Tenerife or any of the Canary Islands here is a summary of what actually happened according to eyewitness and official reports.

Events Leading up to the Volcanic Eruption at El Hierro

First of all let’s get the information that many visitors will want to know out of the way. The Canarian Government has stated that there is no risk of danger to the people living on El Hierro. There is certainly no risk to Tenerife as the volcanic activity leading up to the eruption is centred only on El Hierro.

Yesterday morning a Spanish newspaper posted a report, following an earth tremor on Saturday that registered 4.3 on the Richter scale, that earthquakes reaching up to 5 on the Richter scale could be expected. Bizarrely the article was accompanied by a photo of the ex-president of El Hierro and a couple of friends laughing as though someone had shared a joke. It was clearly meant to reassure, especially as the ex-president quipped about where else in the world can you swim near the epicentre of an earthquake.

A couple of hours later and reports started to be published on the internet of the crew of four boats claiming there had been an undersea eruption near The Canary Islands” most westerly isle. This was followed by further reports of helicopters patrolling the waters off El Hierro’s coastline.

Shortly afterwards, the mayor of Frontera on El Hierro backed up the news reports, claiming there had been an eruption about 4 kilometres off the south coast of El Hierro but there was still no official government statement to confirm this claim.

The first official confirmation that a “process of eruptive activity’ had taken place came in a Canarian Government press release issued just after 4pm which stated that although the IGN (National Geographic Institute) couldn’t confirm an eruption had occurred, they could confirm gases and volcanic fluids had been released from the seabed.

Confusion ensued for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening as various scientific bodies debated whether there had been an eruption or not with contradictory theories appearing online together with eyewitness reports of hundreds of dead fish floating belly up in the vicinity of the eruption.

Current Volcanic Situation at El Hierro
The confusion was cleared up just before 11pm on Monday night with another official press release confirming that an undersea eruption had indeed taken place about 5 kilometres off the south coast of El Hierro at a depth of around 1 kilometre which had resulted in the death of the fish spotted on the surface.

According to the report, deformation of the land and seismic activity has decreased since the eruption, although further tremors have not been ruled out; the latest tremor, registering 2.3 occurred at 6am Tuesday morning.

The report was very clear that the volcanic activity represented no risk to islanders on El Hierro.

Although a yellow alert remains in place, the Los Roquillos tunnel on El Hierro which has been closed over the last couple of weeks is expected to reopen today and the remaining sixteen people who had been evacuated from their homes due to risk of rockfall should be finally able to return home tonight. Similarly fishing and diving, apart from in an exclusion zone immediately around the location of the eruption, have been given the green light to continue as normal.

These developments suggest that, although some experts expect there may be another volcanic release, the authorities appear confident that the greatest risk may have passed. However there will be another meeting later today to reassess the situation.

At the moment all appears calm on the island of El Hierro and Tenerife Magazine will continue to keep our readers up to date with any developments in relation to the volcanic activity.

Keep an eye on Tenerife Magazine’s Facebook page and also on our El Hierro Eruption live feed page for further information.

Image: Record of earth tremors on El Hierro from IGN website.

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Walk this Way, Santiago del Teide

As we emerge from the stifling heat of late summer and the first rains of the autumn feed the earth, turning brown to green and filling the air with the promise of new growth, it’s the perfect time to head into the hills of Santiago del Teide and visit the delightful Erjos Pools.

Why this way?
There are very few places on Tenerife where you’ll find pools or lakes that aren’t surrounded by sun loungers or walls. The disused quarry workings of Erjos are one of the prettiest. When the heavy digging machinery moved out, the wildlife moved in and now the pools are a haven for butterflies, dragonflies, ducks and rabbits ““ a veritable Watership Down, but without the sad bits.

It’s a part of Tenerife that’s favoured by walkers and it’s a million miles from the beaches of the south coast. Up here, the air is scented with pine, the landscapes are rolling green hills and dramatic volcanic cones and the nearby village of Santiago del Teide is to my mind, one of the prettiest on Tenerife. For the bonus ball, Bar Fleytas provides a great place to head for a beer and some tapas when you’ve finished. The inside bar is great for escaping the cool clouds and if it’s hot, the outside tables are perfect for perusing the, err, car park. Still, there’s always plenty to nosey at.

You don’t have to be a hiking pole-carrying, rucksack sporting, boot-clad rambler to enjoy this part of Tenerife. The pools are easily accessible from the main Icod de los Vinos to Santiago del Teide road and are great fun to explore just on their own and there are more than enough places to buy ice cream and fun things to do in Santiago del Teide to please the whole family.

Hike this way*
A path drops down from a dangerous bend on the main road, just north of Bar Fleytas on the Icod road, and zig-zags down to the pools. From there, any number of trails criss-cross their way, connecting smaller pools to wannabe lakes and providing reed cover for mallards and dragonflies. Just keep hold of the smallest members of the family lest they mistake bulrushes for solid ground and find themselves doing a Moses impersonation without the aid of a basket.

When the novelty of chasing rabbits and crickets wears thin, a path leads up through heather and willow trees to the ridge that overlooks Valle de Arriba and Santiago del Teide. At this point, any breath you had spare from the climb will be taken away as the gorgeous valleys unfold at your feet with the massive bulk of Mount Teide and Pico Viejo blotting out the horizon.

From here, a Red Riding Hood trail takes you through dense forest which still bears the blackened scars of the 2007 fires, along the north west ridge overlooking Los Silos before bringing you full circle to emerge once more above the Erjos Pools. Whistling the theme tune from the Archers, you descend through the green and pleasant farming land and arrive back at the pools.

Stroll this way
In the centre of Santiago del Teide is a small footbridge which looks as if it leads nowhere. In fact, it leads to a small shrine hidden in the hillside high above the village. The path is called the Camino de la Virgin de Lourdes and is marked by the white crosses (stations of the cross) that the pilgrims follow to reach the shrine. Once there, you’ll be rewarded with lovely views back over the valley and the village, and a small oasis of honeysuckle, roses and bougainvillea in which to sit and ponder the beauty of your surroundings.

Alternatively, take a stroll through the neighbouring village of Valle de Arriba where you’ll find rural Tenerife in all its simplistic glory. Agriculture is the mainstay of the village, much of it still by back-breaking bending and weeding by hand, and the fresh water spring is the centre of village life where bottles are filled and gossip exchanged. Feel free to join the queue for the free water, it tastes much better than the bottled variety and is rich in minerals.

My way

Peaks: Check out the lovely Casa Del Patio in Santiago del Teide for great food, souvenirs and a menagerie of farmyard animals or enjoy a eucalyptus-scented picnic at the zona recreativa opposite, If you’ve forgotten to pack the egg butties, the kiosk does a mean burger.

Troughs: If you’re unlucky and the bruma (low cloud) rolls in, the temperatures can plunge to uncomfortable levels and scenery can disappear.

My view: 4 Stars ““ This is one of my enduring favourite walks in an unspoilt area of Tenerife and is easily accessible by everyone. With the lovely Santiago del Teide next door, it makes for a great family day out.

*Detailed directions for this walk are available in PDF format as part of the ‘Into the Valley’ Island Walks.

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