Can’t wait for summer? Then head off to Tenerife for warm weather, natural wonders and great adventures, says Gillian Thornton
Wherever you go in Tenerife, Spain’s highest mountain is never out of sight for long. The unmistakable outline of Mount Teide dominates the largest of the seven Canary Islands, the textbook image of a volcanic peak and the island’s most visited tourist attraction.
But holidaymakers with a sense of adventure can enjoy a very different perspective of this UNESCO-listed mountain and the crater beneath.
Take the eight-minute cable-car ride to the terrace below the summit and, as afternoon turns to evening, you can watch Teide’s triangular shadow lengthen over the rumpled terrain of the crater, the summit glowing blue in the fading light.
Tenerife is renowned for its year-round sunshine, for the modern resort hotels of the south, and the more traditional promenades of the north coast, where international tourism began in the 19th century.
Many holidaymakers seek nothing more than a sunlounger, a pool and a good book, but this diverse island also offers a huge variety of active and cultural experiences for those prepared to dig deeper.
One night, as the skies darkened towards evening, we boarded a bus to the heart of the Teide National Park to explore the heavens through powerful telescopes.
With expert astronomers to guide us, we enjoyed close-up views of gleaming stars, mysterious nebulae and – it seemed – the Man in the Moon himself.
Teide was once much bigger, the cone collapsing to form a vast drive-in crater. Today it’s an atmospheric environment to visit on foot, with walking trails leading between ancient lava flows and through the perimeter forests of Canarian pines.
Tenerife’s volcanic origins have produced a surprising variety of landscapes. In the north-west, the village of Masca stands at the head of a deep ravine that drops steeply to the sea beneath the green peaks of the Teno Rural Park.
The circular trip involves a return upward hike or a ferry to Los Gigantes, and if you don’t want to go it alone – or just wish to learn about the natural environment on the way – join a guided group with a company like El Cardon (elcardon.com), specialists in nature experiences.
I skipped the hike but enjoyed a visit to Masca village as part of its Teno and Isla Baja day, which also involved a demonstration of traditional ‘shepherd’s leaping’, a method of negotiating steep slopes that involves a long flexible pole and a great deal of nerve.
The Isla Baja – or Low Island – along the coastal strip includes the pretty village of Garachico.
The original port for Tenerife, the harbour was buried by a volcanic eruption in the 18th century, trade moving first to Puerto de la Cruz and then the modern capital of Santa Cruz.
The main road that slices across the north-east of the island towards Santa Cruz offers tantalising views over the Anaga Rural Park, an ancient laurel woodland where walkers can enjoy coastal views and villages like Taganana off the tourist trail.
It also passes La Laguna, Tenerife’s original capital, founded on high ground away from the risk of unwanted visitors. Today this beguiling town is listed by UNESCO for its historic properties and an urban grid plan used for Spanish colonial towns in the Americas.
Santa Cruz is a bustling modern city best known for its colourful spring carnival. Backdrop to scenes in the fifth Bourne movie starring Matt Damon, due for release this summer, it’s worth wandering round for its art deco houses, botanic gardens, and the tree-lined avenue of Las Ramblas.
Browse the food and craft stalls in the market, visit the stunning building of the arts centre opposite, and take a walk round the wave-shaped Auditorium.
Watching the whales
On the east coast to the south you hit Playa de las Americas, first of the southern resorts to be developed in the 1960s, Los Cristianos and Costa Adeje, where I stayed comfortably at the Iberostar Anthelia.
From the nearby harbour at Puerto Colon, I took a cruise excursion in search of the whales and dolphins that frequent the food-rich strait between Tenerife and La Gomera. Sightings are virtually guaranteed but I never expected so many animals, nor at such close quarters.
Dolphins and pilot whales popped up regularly around our catamaran – often several at a time – and sometimes racing past us just below the surface. A mother and baby even settled happily for photos beneath the viewing nets – an unforgettable encounter in a destination packed with extraordinary experiences.
Great for loved-up romantics
There’s nowhere better to whisper sweet nothings than over a glass of champagne
on the Sunset and Stars trip to Teide, which includes cablecar, buffet dinner, and stargazing, plus pick-up from resorts (volcanolife.com).
Great for fun-loving families
Sail for three or four-and-a-half hours with Freebird Catamaran from Puerto Colon, including whale-watching, drinks on board and swimming from the boat (freebirdone.com). Other excursions operate from Los Cristianos and Los Gigantes.
Great for spirited adventurers
Soar over banana plantations and whitewashed villages on a tandem paragliding flight from Teide, dive in clear waters with fish and friendly turtles, and go sea-kayaking or mountain biking (webtenerife.co.uk).
Woman’s Weekly travel offer
16-day Canary Islands & Madeira Cruise on board Magellan departing 14 October 2016 from £1,739pp.
Buy one, get one free when you book by 31 March quoting 8YPGQP. Full-board, afternoon tea and midnight snacks.
To book or for more information, call 0330 160 7858 or visit newmarket.travel/IWW.