Rupert Parker gets a preview of Tenerife’s first walking festival, taking place in early March.
Over the years, I’ve visited Tenerife many times but never thought about going hiking. Rather I’ve been on the beach, or by the pool, sipping cocktails and taking in the sun. Of course I was in the arid south of the island, and I hadn’t realised that in the north and west there are over 1500 km of well signed walking trails. Some hug the coast, others run around Teide, the island’s 3700m volcanic peak, and more ramble through Europe’s last remaining subtropical laurel forests.
Tenerife is keen to promote this much-overlooked aspect of the island and, in March, their first Walking Festival is taking place. Over 4 days, there will be 15 walks on offer, all starting from Puerto de la Cruz with transport and guides provided. They’ll cover the coast, the volcanic region and the forests, so you can take your pick of the different landscapes.
What’s also good about the Walking Festival is that they’ve negotiated special prices with luxury hotels, part of Tenerife’s Select Brand so you don’t have to rough it. I’m staying in the 5 star Hotel Botanico in Puerto de la Cruz, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, and I must say it’s good to get back and enjoy a relaxing massage in their award winning spa. Although the Walking Festival is a good introduction to hiking on the island, the trails are so well marked that you can easily follow them at any time of year, without needing a guide.
My first hike is in the Mount Teide National Park and as I leave the hotel in Puerto de la Cruz, there’s a steady drizzle. Things don’t look promising but as I climb up to my starting point, at the Parador hotel, I’m soon above the clouds in bright sunshine. The walk follows the Camino de Chasna, which was the main artery between the north and south of the island for 500 years, and now it’s part of the National Trail GR131.
I’m surrounded by a bleak volcanic landscape – it’s how I imagine the surface of the moon and it’s dominated by the cone of Mount Teide. The last eruption happened in 1909 and they’ve been regular occurrences every 100 years, so the next one is overdue. I get stupendous views of the mountain, before descending through a forest of native Canary Pines to the Paisaje Lunar or Moon Landscape. Here eroded rock formations form gigantic natural sculptures, thrusting up through the pines, and it’s a favourite lunch spot. After 6 hours of walking I finally arrive at 16th century village of Vilaflor, the highest in Spain, and enjoy a beer in the town square, overlooked by the historic Iglesia San Pedro.
Next day I’m on the other side of the island in the Malpaís de Güímar, right by the sea. These are volcanic badlands, relatively recently formed just 10,000 years ago, and now a nature reserve. The walk takes me over lava flows, volcanic bombs embedded in sides of the path, the vegetation strutting cacti and Euphorbia flowering plants. Their brilliant green is a pointed contrast to the black of the rocks and sands. Sugar cane was once grown here, but now it’s reverted back to the wild, the only sound the murmur of the waves. The bonus at the end is a dip in the clear waters of the Portito de Güímar, refreshing after the heat of the walk.
I also get wet on my 3rd walk, this time though the thick laurel forests in the Anaga region in the north. It’s usually misty here and today is no exception, but without the damp there’d be no subtropical forest. This is some of the last remaining in Europe, most of it wiped out by various ice ages, and of course is a conservation area. I start at Cruz del Carmen and begin my descent towards the coast through thick foliage. The path tunnels through the vegetation, with steep ravines on either side and sometimes is so narrow that you can only walk in single file. Halfway down is the hamlet of Chinamada where the houses are dug into the side of the rock, no doubt as a respite from the damp.
It’s also beginning to rain hard so I shelter in La Cueva, the local cave restaurant, and enjoy a dish of chickpeas and goat casserole, refreshed by a couple of glasses of red wine. There are other British hikers here who burst into song to keep their spirits up, but they are also about to admit defeat. Outside, visibility is nil and the rain is horizontal, so there’s not much point in carrying on. Funnily enough, as I make my way back to Puerto de la Cruz, the sun suddenly appears. It’s still only January so March, when the festival takes place, should guarantee fair weather.