Tenerife. It’s not really a word I’d ever uttered, except perhaps ironically, nor a destination I’d considered, except (you’ll excuse the pun), as a last resort.
A bit, you know, touristy. Frankly, I blanched at the thought; even my passport flinched. I’ve no tattoos, I don’t like beer and I’m not from Gravesend. How would I blend?
Well… I went, I blended, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself on this tropical slice of Little Britain, where you can buy an English newspaper any day of the week, first thing in the morning, just so long as it’s the Daily Mirror.
I went because it was October, it was two weeks and lots of stitches after having a couple of hernias repaired, I was pale, sun-starved and short of funds, and it was great value, given the promise of sun, sea, sand and session upon session of massage and pampering in a splendid five-star spa hotel at the quiet end of the island… and all — as Canaries’ experts Voyana pointed out — barely a four-hour flight away.
My first full day at the Gran Tacande Hotel on the palm-strewn Costa Adeje ran something like this: woke earlier than was really necessary, stepped out on to my private, ocean-view terrace, saw nothing but blue ahead and above, and instantly ditched all plans to hike up Mount Teide in Las Canadas National Park.
At 12,300-ft Teide is higher than any peak in mainland Spain, and only a half dozen or so summits stand any higher in all of Africa, and it did seem a bit daft to consider tackling it with a newly patched up abdomen. And anyway, there’s a cable car that does the job.
I settled instead on a half hour in the hotel’s gym, followed by a glorious jog along the coast — so far along the coast, in fact, that I ran clean out of coast and was forced inland, away from the red-brick paths and slatted boardwalks that bisect the beach, and on to soft lush grass through laurel groves and amid billowing hibiscus and palm leaves. This, I thought, beats the treadmill at the David Lloyd.
I felt I’d earned my breakfast. And so, on the dot of 10, I picked up my king-size cappuccino (by me that’s breakfast) and carried it, along with my over-stacked backpack, through the hotel’s sculpted and manicured terraces and pools, past the hotel’s Vitanova Spa with its Roman
and Turkish baths and relaxation rooms, and down on to the beach.
And there I stayed till the sun went down, attached as though surgically to my recliner, save only for a paddle in the Atlantic each time I finished a chapter of “Cold Comfort Farm” (my most oft-read book; I never travel without it). I lay there in a world of my own, a little middle-aged Jewish speck between Africa and America, blissfully oblivious to all the comings and goings. And how easily oblivion comes, with a good book, the new Ry Cooder album whispering through my iPod and an obliging beach attendant to tend to my periodic cappuccino refuelling needs.
On the odd occasion that I looked up I noticed just what a lot of kids there were. Fair enough, I thought. Broad, clean beaches, rocky bits to clamber up and jump off, plenty of ice-cream vendors along the boardwalk peddling the most fantastic ice-creams and fruit shakes.
Of course, it’s easy to affect such benevolence to rampaging kids when the rampaging kids are somebody else’s, and you’ve nothing more grown up and responsible to do than adjust your recliner and slap on some more Factor 5. But honestly, if my kids were still kids I think I’d bring them here.
By five o’clock the beach was all but deserted — just me, the sea, and a bloke who bored me senseless with his coma-inducing tales of life as an Essex County Councillor. Then he was gone, doubtless to call home and see if the proposed twinning of Billericay with the whole of the Canaries had been approved. People gone and iPod exhausted, I could not have been happier than to have no sound other than that of the waves to wash over me. It would be another three hours of peace — definitely not a phrase I’d expected to use of Tenerife — before I presented myself on one of the hotel’s massage beds for a micro-blasted seaweed wrap with lipolitic action (I’m sure I saw the same thing on the dinner menu) followed by a half-hour’s reflexology and a late-night, four-course supper washed down with a deeply pleasurable local Cumbres de Abona 1997 vintage, all consumed on the hotel terrace.
And for accompaniment, the tinkling ivories of a man called Juan and a vocalist who, to judge from her reproachful glares in his direction every time he hit a bum note (which was often), I took to be Senora Juan.
And then it was midnight. It had been a perfect day. Never mind all my judgmental, pre-arrival posturing, I was really enjoying Tenerife.
Days two, three and four were not dissimilar to day one, save for one respect: I wanted to see some of the island, something more than just the pink-stuccoed, turreted and porticoed palaces of pleasure that line the coast.
Aqualand Water Park and Dolphinarium was an option, but you’ve seen one dolphin, you’ve seen the lot. They squeak, they jump for fish but, hey, I can do that.
No, it was the interior I was after, and I found it on day two in the company of my guide Ignacio, Tenerife’s answer to the Schumacher brothers and a man for whom the words “slow down” and “careful now” are a foreign language, even in his own language.
The Tenerife coast is certainly, how shall I say, a touch overdeveloped, where high-rise apartment blocks seem almost to race each other up the mountainside. If you know the hills around Jerusalem you’ll know what I mean, and if you like Marbella you’ll probably think I’m nitpicking.
But head inland and you can quickly rise above this. In Ignacio’s car, very very quickly, and as he wound his Merc around the mountain roads of Tenerife, the views grew ever more spectacular at every hairpin bend. No more buildings marching up the hillside; just acacia groves, terraces laden with fruit and vegetable crops and lovingly tended vineyards.
This is the Tenerife I had not expected. Scenery by turn Pyrenean and Patagonian, with wacky rock formations that are pure Utah.
Then, as we climbed up and above the clouds, there it was, poking through the grey-white fluffy stuff at a shade under 8,000-feet, volcanic Teide. Standing, like Kilimanjaro, in majestic isolation, the volcano lords it over the myriad tourists below who never quite make it out of their deckchairs to see the heights of this surprisingly appealing island with its beautiful sunsets.
While they were picking sand out of their toes, I was flicking volcanic scree away from my climbing boots. That’s right. I was heading up there, the man’s way. Cable cars, to paraphrase Gordon Gekko, are for wimps, as indeed are hernias. And when I got to the top I sat myself down on a narrow ledge, opened my backpack, and read my Daily Mirror. Oh yes, I know how to blend.