Forget what you think you know about the Canary Islands: Puerto de la Cruz is serene, sunny and sangria-free
by Joe Cawley
Discard all the preconceptions of the Canary Islands you've acquired after watching too many Tenerife Uncovered-type programmes. Go to the north, and you'll find a completely different cage of canaries.
Puerto de la Cruz is cooler (in temperature and attitude) and more sophisticated than its southern equivalents, a city where the real face of the Canaries is not completely overshadowed by a souvenir sombrero. Yes, there is a patch where the pint, pie and party crowd reign supreme, but grab your bargains and hurry on by: the real Puerto is just around the corner, and for over a century it has remained the epitome of graceful tourism - sunshine and serenity in a distinctive setting.
B&B at P de la C
The Hotel Monopol (Plaza de la Iglesia) has been a lodging establishment since the arrival of the first fan-fluttering tourists in the 19th century. Although its amenities have (thankfully) been brought up to date since then, authentic trappings still remain from the days when it was home to an order of Franciscan monks. Original carved wooden balconies and attention to subtle fineries evoke the sense of a tourism era gone by, when proprietors enticed you to return with incentives more original than massage mattresses and mints on the. (00 34 922 384611; double rooms from £42).
Meat and potato pious
A 10-minute taxi ride will take you to the restaurant El Monasterio, an old monastery in the neighbouring town of Los Realejos perched high above Puerto de la Cruz. At one of four separate dining areas, you can order some of the finest cuisine in the archipelago, such as the typical conejo con salmoreja, a sharp, tangy dish of rabbit in spicy sauce served with Canarian potatoes. You may find that you have to share your table with an univited guest: ducks and geese wander freely and often decide to join you for dinner, brazenly watching every forkful from plate to mouth until you share the feast. (00 34 922 340707; open from 11.30am until midnight).
Not so wild west
Where culture and kitsch combine. At the cafe-bar in the Plaza del Charco, sun-ripened locals make thimblefuls of café cortado last the whole morning as they listen to postcard writers from the eastern side of town swap excited tales of duty free bargain hunting. Venture west beyond the Indian laurels and palm trees into the narrow, green-shuttered alleys of the old part of Puerto, and the noise quietens to a barely audible whisper.
Beyond the shops selling local lacework, hidden at the back of the overgrown garden of the 18th-century Casa Iriartes, the entrance to this little known naval museum looks no more inviting than a run-down potting shed, but once inside, a dark maze of creaking corridors lead you through a curious array of seafaring exhibits. Flys, imprisoned between sheets of Perspex and old manuscripts, obscure the words accompanying many of the 300 or so exhibits, but this unkemptness, along with groaning floorboards, is what gives the museum its personality. Life on board a 16th-century Spanish galleon would certainly have been no luxury cruise so what would be the point of presenting it in sterilised surroundings? (Corner of Calle Iriarte and Calle San Juan; 9.30am-8pm except Sunday; 80p entrance).
It's a jungle out there
If the naval museum is a hidden gem, the Loro Parque is an ostentatious diamond. You can't fail to notice it: posters plastered on the city's bins advertise the award-winning wildlife attraction, and although unashamedly theme-park-ish, it does warrant a full day of exploration and will score high on the 'wow' scale, especially from the kids. Home to many an -arium (dolphin, penguin, aqua et al) it is billed as the "jungle of Tenerife" - although some might argue that this title should be bestowed on the neon resorts of the south. A free bus service operates from the city every 20 minutes. (Punta Brava; 00 34 922 373841; 8.30am-5pm; admission £11).
Bananadrama Still the island's biggest export, everything you ever wanted to know about the fruit is explained via a variety of media at The Bananera, a working plantation. Other tropical fruits such as mango and papaya also compete for attention in a display of exotica in this walk-through fruit bowl. (£4 admission; 9am-6pm; free bus every half hour from Avenida de Venezuela)
Lounging at the Lago
Nowhere is the handiwork of Lanzarote architect Cesar Manrique more actively appreciated in the Canaries than at the Lago Martiánez complex on the seafront. Puerto's beaches are black and unattractive: for an alternative daytime hangout, you have the choice of seven salt water swimming pools and a large central lake in which to demonstrate your Johnny Weissmuller prowess with the crocodiles and other hazardous inflatables. Scattered refreshment kiosks serve drinks and snacks, welcome after a hard day's toil with the sun, seawater and swimming aids. (10am-5pm; £1.40 admission)
If Agatha Christie was inspired to write The Amazing Mister Quin while visiting Tenerife's oldest and most ornate garden, the Sitio Litre, you shouldn't have a problem with your postcards. Not for those prone to hay fever, the garden has the island's most spectacular collection of orchids and Puerto's oldest and biggest Dragon Tree from which the blood-like sap is still extracted to treat a whole host of medical unpleasantnesses. (Camino Sitio Litre; £2 entrance; 9.30am-6pm; 00 34 922 382417).
Chips in the park
The Hotel Taoro was once considered the only place to stay by genteel tourists in the 19th century. With views over the whole city, the British guests could survey the riff-raff below, all the time safe in the knowledge that the magnolia and palm tree defences of the surrounding Parque Taoro would keep Johnny Foreigner at a reasonable distance. Since the old colonialist days, the hotel has been converted into a huge casino where the wealth of the visitors is often charitably transferred into the coffers of the present owners, the Tenerife government. If you feel inclined to make a donation at one of the gaming tables, remember to take your passport, and dress smartly. (£2.50 entrance; open 9pm-4am; 00 34 922 380550).
Sleeping Beauty Looming over the city, is the world's third largest volcano. In vulcanologist terms Mount Teide is described as dormant, implying that it some point it will again decide to redecorate the landscape with a fresh pattern of lava gullies and fields of ash. The last time Tenerife was seriously renovated was in 1706 when Garachico, just a little further west along the coast was completely smothered. This is eerily evident in Las Canadas, the interior crater. Several marked trails pass through this bizarre lunar landscape, utilised by many a film crew seeking backdrops for movies such as the original Planet of the Apes. (Cable car service up Teide from within the crater runs daily from 9am to 4pm; 00 34 922 694038).
Ways to go
Most charter airlines operate from UK airports to Tenerife on Tuesdays and Fridays, although all fly to the southern airport, Reina Sofia. From there it is a one-hour journey to Puerto de la Cruz by car, coach or taxi (£35). British Airways (0845 7733377) currently run a scheduled service from Gatwick seven days a week (from £159).
Thomas Cook (0870 0100437) offer three nights half-board at the Hotel Monopol, including transfers, from £226. British Airways Holidays (0845 6060747) offer four nights at the five-star Hotel Botanico, including BA scheduled flights, transfers and breakfast, from £559.
The tourist information office can be found underneath the harbour wall in the Plaza de Europa (00 34 922 386000). See www.puertodelacruz.org for maps, details of festivals and events, and views of the city.
From Guardian Unlimited
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