When I was 10 my parents told me that we were going to go on holiday via airplane for the first time. I was the first in my class to ever ride an airplane, so this was big time news. Our destination: the Canary Islands, Gran Canaria to be exact. I couldn’t sleep for days ahead, my expectations were huge. And bound to be disappointed.

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We stayed in a holiday home somewhere in the mountains overlooking a beautiful scenery I was too young to appreciate. In fact I was mostly annoyed we weren’t staying near a beach. Instead I had to sleep on a living room couch in some fancy house owned by a rich friend of my dad’s. No other kids to play with, nothing happening around us other than raw nature – a dream for a busy city-person trying to get away from it all, a temple of boredom for a bubbly 4th-grader. All in all not a very memorable experience. Maybe this is why I have never felt an urge to go back to the Canaries, despite all reports about its beauty and the fun to be had there. 11 years later all this was about to change.

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A home away from home. The kind with 5 pools.

May 15th, 4pm. The airplane captain had already announced our approach but I saw nothing but a big grey cloud. Not everywhere, mind you, JUST over the island and more specifically the El Teide, the large mountain in the very center of Tenerife. I was starting to get restless. This was not what I had signed up for! Weren’t the Canaries meant to be sunny all year round? Didn’t my friend Bea who arrived a day earlier tell me that it was hot and the sky blue? How could this be? Not a good start, not good at all.

Upon landing Bea was already expecting me with a big hug and a set of car keys dangling from her finger – road trip! Tenerife is a great place to drive, with a straightforward highway system and and not too much traffic. Car rental companies don’t even offer GPS “It’s simply not necessary”, they say.

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“Our hotel is stunning, you will die!” Bea announced, bouncing happily on her driver’s seat as I clapped my hands with excitement. By the time we reached the Gran Bahia del Duque resort the clouds had passed and sun was shining brightly. This was getting better by the minute.

Two welcome proseccos and three Instagram posts of the gorgeous view from my hotel room balcony later we found ourselves doing handstands inside a heated swimming pool. As the oldest 5-star hotel on the Adeje Coast they set the standard  for quality vacationing. Just a stroll around the 100000 square meter estate quickly proves that this is not just another nice hotel. Everyone from cleaning staff to porter had a particular warmth about them, I realized that one evening when the maid kindly left me 5 chocolates on my pillow instead of just one (score!). The waiters were never short of a joke and even management was far from the serious types I have often come across in the past. It says a lot about a place with 600 employees when each of them seems happy to be there.

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The Duque is one of those hotels where you can stay for weeks and never get bored. If you’re the sporty type you can choose between tennis and squash, beach volleyball, table tennis, boules, the gym, mountain biking, aqua gym, pilates, aerobics, dancing, body sculpting as well as the range of water sports such as paragliding, jet ski, parasailing,  diving, windsurfing, sailing, water skiing and game fishing. If you’d rather cut your wrist than spend your holiday doing sports you might still enjoy the possibilities of painting, handicrafts, cocktail making and cooking classes. Learning something new on your holiday can be the best souvenir there is, I still like to occasionally show off my South Tyrolian dumpling-making skills.

Speaking of food, the Duque will have your tastebuds go on a rollercoaster ride, views included, or what would you call this sort of breakfast:

breakfast with a view

Everything from made-to-order pancakes to chocolate fountains to omelettes and freshly squeezed juices – it’s all here and happening. For dinner try out one of the 9 restaurants dishing up Canary Island, French, Italian, Latin American or Mediterranean cuisine. We spent our first evening dining at the Duque’s wonderful Italian restaurant, where even guests who come here on half board get to pick à la carte and let me tell you – the menu is delicious. My favorite bit were the options tagged as “Spa”, referring to meals that are particularly suitable for anyone trying to maintain a healthy diet (feels great after going for the 2000 sport options on offer). I opted for a spa-friend tuna with steamed veggies – a delight! We ended the evening late and at the bottom of a great bottle of local red wine – a perfect first evening of what were going to be 5 lovely days in Tenerife.

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So much to do. So little time.

We had not come here unprepared, we knew there was a ton of stuff we had to see and do, even if our schedules didn’t even allow for a half the things we wanted to see. We crafted a careful plan, one gigantic To-Do list that would have us hop around the island and see everything, while still leaving some room for relaxing and getting pampered. After all there was no way I was going home without a tan!

Whale Watching

Each morning at 11am a big boat, the Lady Shelley, leaves the harbour at Los Christianos to go out to spot whales nearby Los Gigantes. Usually you’re lucky top see 3 or 4 but we even got to see about 11, so it was a pretty exciting tour. There are up to 21 different whale species in these waters from the giant blue whale to the majestic killer whale. The pilot whale and the bottlenose dolphin are the 2 resident populations which can be observed during about 80% of the days of the year, with a sighting percentage of close to 100%.

Apart from seeing the impressive animals this is also just a great excuse to go on a lovely cruise, work on your tan on the catamaran’s sundeck and mingle with some other tourists. Around noon lunch is served and chilled drinks are provided throughout. You can choose between short 2-hour trips and 5-hour fun packages and all tours come with a qualified guide who speaks at least 3 languages. More info on departure times and pricing can be found here.

Spa

What’s a girlfriend getaway without SPA treatments? Manicures, pedicures, facials, massages – we love it all! To get our beauty on Bea and I paid a visit to the Plantacion del Sur, a hotel that specializes in wellness and is renowned for their awesome spa and massage options. Walking in, there sure is “something in the air”, as some sort of wonderful smell goes right up your nose, oozing a feel of instant relaxation. Pair that with a lovely view, a plate of fruits by the pool and a hot stone massage and you have a perfect afternoon.

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Siam Park

Siam Park was the one thing on our itinerary that the 10-year old in me had been looking forward to particularly. Massive slides? Water tunnels? Tubing? YES PLEASE! During the many package holidays my parents took me on growing up we’d often stop by these family friendly mekkas of fun and I’m glad I never got too old to enjoy them. The €33 entrance fee are not exactly a steal (€22 for kids) but well worth it if you come early and hang out all day.

Siam park opens all year round between 10am and 6pm (5pm during the winter months) and is definitely the sort of thing you want to plan in a whole day for.

siam park tenerifesiam park tenerife

If you want to get your adrenalin pumping you can slide down the Tower of Power, an iconic and downright scary slide that has you sliding down 28m at what feels like a 180° angle, essentially a free fall, so certainly not one for the faint of heart. If you do master the courage to go for it you’re rewarded to quite literally swim with the sharks for at least a few seconds since the slide ends in a see-through tunnel going right through a shark aquarium.

I don’t think I could survive this one without having a heart attack first, so I instead I went for a relaxing tubing experience in the Mai-Tai river, where you and your tube get gently pushed from cascading waterfalls under bridges to lush vegetation – pure bliss.

Ultimately we had a pretty awesome time relaxing at the artificial beach which comes with a major attraction: the arificial waves here are the highest in the world and even popular with surfers! Every 20 minutes the crowds walk into the water to enjoy jumping a few waves. Definately sharkfree and heart-rate-friendly.

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Nightlife

If you’re happy with a chilled out drink on the terrace of a bar in the center overlooking the ocean, head to San Telmo, the beach front area in Los Christianos. We liked our cocktails at Agua de Coco, but there is a number of other bars here on 3 stories, one is bound to suit your fancy.

If partying with drunk British students does not sound like your idea of fun I recommend staying away from Playa de las Americas where numerous touts will try to talk you into their bar. There is one decent option here though called Papagayo that is pretty popular amongst locals and tourists and provides one of the few places on the island where you can enjoy a cocktail with your feet in the sand, just a few feet away from the water. Other popular options include Faro Chill Art and the Monkey Beach Club. For a list of more nightlife options head to this website.

Exploring the island

A lot of people come to Tenerife and just do all of the above, let’s call them touristy things. They’re definitely not a bad idea and are likely to guarantee many fond memories but if you’re looking to take your trip to Tenerife from great to amazing you’re best advised to rent a car and get exploring. Take a drive and discover the countless adorable villages along the coast, stop for lunch by the sea, stroll along the narrow cobbled streets, so typical for the Mediterranean, watch men play cards in the shadow of the trees lining the central square, find a bench and soak in the energy.

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To get here simply grab a map from your hotel or the car rental place and see where the road takes you. Be aware that you have to drive along a few mountain roads to get to most of these places, so think twice if you’ve only driven twice in the past 10 years like myself, otherwise you might piss some people off by driving 20km/h.

Garachico

This small town can easily fool you into believing that you have arrived somewhere in the midst of Spain, at a place where time stands still. Driving down here from a mountain road you can spot the dramatic coast line from afar. The volcanic debris has created beautiful natural swimming pools that can be a great refreshment on a hot day. Overlooking these volcano bath tubs is El Caletòn, a lovely little restaurant that serves great and affordable lunches.

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Garachico used to be a busy commercial port  for Tenerife back in the days but since the volcanic erruption in 1706 it has been more renowned for being a particularly unspoilt and authentic part of Tenerife. A great place to while away for a day or just an afternoon.

Buenavista del Norte

Buenavista del Norte is a lovely little spot for excellent beaching without hords of tourists. Particular selling point is the Playa de la Arena: it comes with black sand! The coloring is down to its volcanic origin. Definately my first black sand experience and something to get used to. Let’s just say I was scared to put my bag down for fear that the color would come off on it. The little bay surrounding the beach is adorable and there are a few nice cafes where you can have lunch or coffee with seaview. This beach is amongst the least polluted on the island and has even won an award for cleanliness.

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Masca

The tiny (just 80 inhabitants!) village of Masca lies at an altitude of 600m and has only been accessible by roads for the past 53 years. Getting here involves a winding way up and is probably nothing for the faint of heart, which is why we decided to skip this one. For the experienced driver however Masca can be quite worth the journey. People come here for the breathtaking views or the popular though strenous hiking routs surrounding the village. Many of the organised excursions end at the beach at the bottom of the ravine, where a boat collects trekkers to take them back to one of the coastal towns. If this soundsl ike your cup of tea, find more info here.

mascaphoto via tripomatic

La Orotava

With almost 42000 inhabitants La Orotava is the most populated municipality on the island, a great destination to get aquainted with some local culture and history. The El Teide national park belongs to La Orotava, making it the largest surface area in Tenerife. It’s a nice place for a relaxed walk through the two historic quarters “Villa de Abajo” (Downtown) and “Villa de Arriba” (Uptown), which is especially rewarding at night when buildings here are lit up beautifully.

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One of the must-see’s in La Orotava is the Casa de los Balcones, a particularly great example of traditional island architecture with its stonework, wooden balconies and impressive courtyard. There is a craftshop here too, if you want to buy souvenirs.

El Teide

About a year ago Norwegian filmmaker Terje Sorgjerd made a stunning time-lapse video of the El Teide national park called “the mountain” that had almost 25 million views. Back then I watched that video and knew I wanted to see what he saw with my own eyes. Now finally the time had come for me to discover the world’s 3rd highest volcano, which also happens to be the higest peak in the whole of Spain, with my own eyes. The Mount Teide National Park is an outstanding experience and therefore not surprisingly amongst the most visited parks in the world, despite the fact that the volcano is still considered active, with its last eruption in 1909. Nowadays the 18,900 hectare-area is considered a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Driving up to Mount El Teide took us past villages, forests and eventually a thick blanket of clouds. On the other side of the blanket pristine blue skies and sunshine were waiting. Many people describe the rocky area around the mountain as some sort of moon landscape which pretty much hits the nail on the head. Have your camera ready!

Many people stay here over night out camping under the stars, it’s said to be a truly unique experience, especially for romantics and astrology fans.  If the whole night seems a bit daunting, you can still opt for tours that offer to take you to the best spots, have an astrologer explain the night sky, feed you a hot meal and then have you back home by 11pm.

One day i’d love to come back and spend the night stargazing up here but this time around we contented ourselves with a ride with the cable car to the top of El Teide. People have a weird obsession with going to the top of mountains that seems to justify ticket prices for the cable car to come up to a soaring €22 per adult. I cannot say that being here was a million times besser than being on the strangely cool volcanic rock formations in the surrounding the area (bear in mind this is coming from someone who has a slight fear of heights, so my opinion might be biased) but it sure was nice to take in the view.

el teide national parkview from the top of Mount Teide

el teide national parkvolcanic rock formations surrounding Mount Teide

If the baking sun, the beautiful nature and the thin air have made you hungry, put in a stopover at the Parador, a restaurant overlooking the Canadas del Teide. They have lovely outdoor seating as well as air-conditioned indoor seating and serve decent lunch and dinner options.

To arrange a visit to El Teide, simply enquire about a tour at your hotel or, if you’re renting a car, drive there yourself.

El Sauzal

The only reason we drove to El Sauzal was wine. This is where the Casa Insular del Vino la Baranda is located, an extremely charming and historic wine cellar that today hosts a great restaurant and wine shop. It doubles as a museum explaining the history of wine-making on the island. They arrange wine tastings of mostly local Tenerife wines overlooking a stunning setting during the summer months.

casa del vino la barandathe terrace at Casa La Baranda

casa del vino la barandame “researching” local wines

I love learning about wines and Tenerife is home to a good number of estates resulting in a remarkable local wine culture, many of which become exported internationally. We tasted whites, reds and roses and I ended up purchasing a dry white wine along with some other local goodies sold at the cellar’s lovely shop. I would defintely say our afternoon here was among the highlights of our trip.

Puerto de la Cruz

The 30.000 people town of Puerto de la Cruz is a lovely place to while away a couple of days and a great starting point to explore the North of the island. We stayed at the longstanding Hotel Botanico and the Oriental Spa Garden which is just a few minutes walk from the town centre and enjoys great seaviews from the hotel room balconies.

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If you don’t feel up for the 15 minute stroll to the centre, request a cab at the hotel, they are crazy cheap, I think we paid only €2. The centrally located Placa Charco is surrounded by charming restaurants, many of which feature outdoor seating. Make sure you pick one that is busy, especially once you wander off into the side streets. You can find real culinary gems here but when a place only has just a few tables seated (even though every guide seems to say it’s great) it’s best to steer clear of it. This at least was our experience by eating at Mil Sabores, a top choice according to Lonely Planet but downright awful in our experience. We’ve been told that Casa Regulo serves nice dishes as well as Blanco Bar and La Cofradia de Pescadores.

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Just like La Laguna Puerto de la Cruz is a great spot for nightlife. The big difference to the bars and clubs South of the island is that here the main target market is Spanish, making for a great night out among locals. Unforutnately this also means that bars don’t really fill up until well past midnight, so you’ll need to adjust to a Spanish rythm if you want to bump and grind in Puerto de la Cruz. If all you fancy is a relaxing drink on the terrace head to Ebano Cafe on Calle Hoya or grab a seat and a cocktail in the courtyard of Los Principes Cafe. If you plan on staying up late, head over to Limbo Bar for a dance on the terrace or even just a game of pool. Also have a peak inside the popular Blanco Bar across the street to see what’s cooking.

bar in puerto de la cruzthe courtyard at Los Principes

La Laguna

With our bags filled with wine, olive oil, cake and chocolates we were almost ready to head to the airport on our last day but not before a quick detour through La Laguna, the capitol and beating heart of the island. La Laguna is a modern student city with an old soul and once we had passed a few hip cafes and vintage stores we knew this was our spot.

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It would have been nice to spend more time here, especially after we heard that la Laguna’s nightlife was infamous, but we’ve certainly written it on our To-Do list for the next time we return to Tenerife. Our trip ended on a lovely lunch in the courtyard of the Laguna Nivaria, a charming and recently refurbished city hotel. This is where we were introduced to the Barraquito, a coffee specialty from Tenerife. Sweet condensed milk gets poured over espresso, lemon zest and a creamy liquor and is eventually topped milk foam and cinnamon. A delight, I’m telling you! Generally people drink it instead of dessert and i’m glad I discovered this wonderful liquid only on our last day because I would have otherwise downed these like water. YUM.

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Of course 5 days are not nearly enough to really go in-depth with an entire island but it was enough time to realize that Tenerife is wonderful. It really is one of those places that offers something for everyone and it simply is up to you which route you choose. Culture? Check. Nature? Check. Nightlife? Check. Spa? Check. The list goes on. One of the biggest selling points is the weather. A lot of Europeans, including myself, wonder where they can go during the winter months that is not an 8hour flight away. Tempteratures here never really drop below 20° and many hotels have heated pools, ensuring that you’ll be tanning and swimming even in the thick of February.

We had a wonderful time in the Canaries and somehow those 4 days felt like 10 because we saw and did so much! Our heartfelt thanks go out to Rosa Erades from GCE who was amazingly patient with us during the set-up of this journey.

*all photos © Katja Hentschel, unless specified otherwise