From The Sunday TIMES
It’s the perfect time of year for a continental hike. Vincent Crump presents our step-by-step guide to four classic walking weekends.
The whole of Tenerife is essentially one big volcano, and its evergreen northern uplands erupt with supercolourful subtropical flora. Spring is flowering time, and the effect, as you drive the steep-sided coast road from the airport to Puerto de la Cruz, is of a giant rockery exploding with every kind of shrub, cactus, flower and tree. Buzzy Puerto makes a perfect base camp, with a relaxed nightlife founded on strolling between bars to the rhythm of the Latin groups who play out in the squares. Behind, snaking up into the mountains, is the Orotava Valley, where a maze of footpaths leads you into Canarian pine woods, with 4,000ft views down over the coastal plain.
Drive up, though, and abundance gives way to desolation. Now you’re in Las Cañadas, the surreal 15-mile crater left behind when the island imploded 300,000 years ago. The sun shines for more than 3,000 hours a year, jagged fields of purple pumice crunch under your boots and the snow-dipped cone of the 12,200ft El Teide peeks into every photograph you take. Here you’ll traverse a tormented landscape of lava and dust — but in colours so eye-catching that, each June, for the festival of Corpus Christi, artists use it to create intricate biblical pavement paintings on the squares of La Orotava, only to see them swished into oblivion by the carnival dance. The walks: begin with a wander back through time, among the restored Castilian mansions of old-town La Orotava. Many are flanked with ornate wooden balconies, like pirate galleons. Then drive on to Aguamansa, in the upper Orotava Valley, with its banana terraces, chestnut groves and amazing floral fireworks. After fresh trout for lunch beside La Caldera, an old volcanic hollow, strike east along the looping two-hour trail to Choza El Topo, beneath Los Organos — a bizarre basalt pipe organ sculpted by the elements. So much for the warm-up.
Next morning, it’s time to climb through the clouds into the mind-altering moonscape of Las Cañadas. Here, under the wide skirts of El Teide, an easy-to-follow three-mile hike from the Parador de las Cañadas circles the Roques de Garcia, a geo- logical freak show of twisted lava pinnacles with names like the Finger of God and the Cathedral. From the same starting point, more intrepid types can tackle the helter-skelter peak of Guajara (five hours to the summit and back), named after a Berber princess who threw herself off it after being spurned in love. This whole landscape is like nothing you’ve clapped eyes on before….
It gets even better. On day three, drive an hour east along the razor-sharp ridge of the Anaga peninsula, park at the casa forestal beyond La Cumbrilla, then tunnel steeply down through Tenerife’s rare laurel forest, the laurisilva, its branches sprayed with lichens like luminous party streamers. After two miles, you’ll emerge, blinking, in the photogenic seaside village of Taganana, where you can visit the oldest church in Tenerife, its outrageous altarpieces peopled with life-size waxworks of the Madonna. Toast your trip at the beach restaurant in Roque de las Bodegas, with a plate of salty spuds dipped in mojo sauce and wine drawn from a jar-like garafonne — a guarantee that it came not merely from this island, but from this ravine.
A helping hand: walking maps of the island are unreliable; much better to pack Noel Rochford’s book Landscapes of Tenerife (£9.99, or £11 from www.sunflowerbooks.co.uk), which details all of the routes above.
When to go: spring springs eternal here, with the temperature hovering near 20C year-round. In May, Tenerife is blooming — or why not time your trip to coincide with the petal-strewn Corpus Christi celebrations, held this year from June 17-20
Getting there: www.ba.com www.flymonarch.com www.aerlingus.com.
Where to stay: the four-star Hotel Tigaiga (00 34-922 383500, www.tigaiga.com) in Puerto has ocean-view rooms, its own programme of guided walks and subtropical gardens so impressive that they inspired a former director of Kew Gardens to retire here. Doubles start at £80, B&B, in April.