There are bears lurking in the hills of Santa Barbara above Icod de Los Vinos in the north of Tenerife. Don’t be alarmed, these are of the small, friendly, and cheeky variety, and they are so gentle they share their home with the most delicate and ornate porcelain dolls. I was expecting a small gathering of the cream of the toy world but there were 400 on display at the newly opened Art Landya museum and finca.

George and Ingrid Taupe have gradually transferred their collection from a similar museum in Carincia in the south of Austria as they have transformed the ruins of an old farm into a feast of natural colour and design. Ingrid started the doll collection in 1992 fired by her artistic studies. “I love the contemporary dolls that enjoyed a boom in the 1980’s and 1990’s, makers around Europe began to make them with such wonderful stylish designs and costumes. Later teddy bears also enchanted me with their distinctive characters and they fit well with the dolls.”

George looks after the business side of things but as they showed me down from the living area to the converted stables I could see he shares Ingrid’s creative vision, the cascading fruit trees, turtle filled ponds, and trailing plants entwine to make the 11,000 square metre farm seem even bigger. The views were pretty special too with a calima (dust cloud) shrouded Mount Teide towering over one side and a steep drop to Icod and the sea beyond on the other.

The smaller stable door opened into a long display area. Was it my imagination or had the rows of teddys quickly frozen after mischievously scuttling around on their shelves and in their alcoves? One of their stock suppliers had told Ingrid that for a teddy to make you love it, first it had to make you laugh. Maybe it was the tilt of their head or those big button eyes but they all seemed to have a sense of fun whether they were cooking, entertaining a few stray dolls, or relaxing on a window ledge. Two well wrapped up New Zealand bears were trying a spot of skiing, some small chunky wooden bears from Russia pulled apart to house candles with open mouths to release the smoke, and a smiling trio had even embraced the Three Kings tradition.

Out and down one of the family and wheelchair friendly ramps through the gardens, it was time to meet the ladies in the main stable. Dolls of all sizes and varieties awaited, the traditional and more fragile porcelain models were around the walls in glass cabinets. The museum has moulds to make porcelain body parts and a small kiln to fire them in for the curious that want to see how they are made. There are other alternatives, some dolls were made from cloth and two distinctive sisters with ginger ringlets were made from papier mache and coated in wax. The chubby cheeks and freckles were all sweetness and light but their smiles hinted at a less angelic side.

Most of the dolls come from France and Germany but oriental and eastern European groups showed the wide spread interest through all corners of the world. Ingrid always has an eye on new recruits “I’d like more Russian dolls. There is a big gallery in Moscow, their dolls have a more religious feel and fashion. African stone ethnographic dolls are another ambition of mine, we could make a special area for them here.”

I felt quite guilty closing the door on the bears and dolls but they need a constant cool temperature, I still think they all burst into life and play once they are left to their own company. Museums are often seen as coldly serious but in the sun kissed wine region of Icod de Los Vinos, Art Landya is offering warm lively memories of the pleasures of our youth.

FACT FILE

Art Lanya ““ El Finca, Camino Moliero, Santa Barbara, Icod de Los Vinos

Open ““ Tuesday to Sunday 10 am to 6 pm

Price ““ 10 euros, children 6 to 14 years 4.50 euros, free to under 6 years old

Contact ““ (0034) 922 812615

Location – Around 8 minutes drive from Icod centre, or 358 Titsa bus from Icod