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Meet the cool Canary in La Gomera

Janice Hopper sings the praises of one of the smallest Canary Islands, little-known La Gomera

(Picture: Janice Hopper)
(Picture: Janice Hopper)

The first noticeable thing when discussing a trip to the green Canary Island of La Gomera, is that most people simply haven’t heard of it. Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, even Fuerteventura, yes, but La Gomera is the Canary that’s been flying under the radar.

Lying west of Tenerife it’s beautifully unspoiled, partly due to the absence of an international airport. Instead we took a chilled 45-minute sailing from Tenerife’s Los Cristianos port with Fred Olsen Express, arriving at La Gomera’s capital, San Sebastián, ready for adventure.

We steered our hire car literally into the clouds that cover the island’s mountainous top, driving through the island’s dramatic calling card, Garajonay National Park.

This mystical and magical wonderland, a Unesco World Heritage site, is ideal for hikers, with well signposted trekking routes that take walkers through the misty green foliage of this unique corner of the world. At the coastal fringes of La Gomera, visitors can still find sunshine and beachlife, but up in the clouds, it’s reminiscent of an atmospheric Tim Burton movie.

Travelling with young children, we took a gentle and short walk along the Ermita/El Cedro route. Clear footpaths pass waterfalls (and the rather novel ‘Peeing Tree’, with water running from it, which is amusing for children and big kids alike) before reaching the small church built by Englishwoman Florence Stephen Parry who, having lost her fiancé in World War I, arrived on the island as a governess and made it her lifelong home.

Another curious sight is the many hikers thumbing a lift along the roads, trying to make it back to their accommodation. We felt the island’s cool, relaxed vibe beginning to rub off on us.

Garajonay National Park (Picture: Janice Hopper)
Garajonay National Park (Picture: Janice Hopper)

The island’s dining style is just as chilled, and its larder is quietly remarkable; the fish, vegetarian and vegan offerings are particularly notable. La Gomera’s restaurants and cafes are ahead of the curve when it comes to serving plant-based dishes that suit most dietary requirements — although they don’t necessarily label dishes as Vegan or Vegetarian, as they don’t realise how on trend they are.

In Pension Victor in San Sebastián we tried the local dish, Watercress Soup, which sounds desperately healthy but is actually filling and flavoursome.

In the picturesque town of Agulo, we visited the converted school La Vieja Escuela and sampled Salted Canarian Potatoes, almogrote (a typical Gomeran Cheese Paté) and mojo sauce (both green and red, the former featuring generous quantities of coriander and garlic, the latter flavoured with chilli).

At our hotel I couldn’t resist lashings of Gomeran Palm Syrup: this sweet treat, harvested from the island’s palm trees, enhances any dessert.

Whilst San Sebastián is La Gomera’s capital, there are many quirky rural hotels dotted around the landscape, and Valle Gran Rey on the west coast makes an excellent base. There’s a strong ‘alternative’, even hippy, presence here, and the sunset is said to be one of the finest in Europe.

As the sun descended, folk were playing drums and dancing on the beach. Some individuals sat meditating on the sand as the rays disappeared behind the waves, others enjoyed an aperitif at a beachside café. La Gomera boasts ‘slow’ tourism, and it works.

Exploring Valle Gran Rey (Picture: Janice Hopper)
Exploring Valle Gran Rey (Picture: Janice Hopper)

There’s a choice of beaches to relax on: the main stretch of kilometres of black sand, the Port Beach near the harbour, and a secluded cove known locally as the ‘baby beach’ as it’s ideal for children at play.

And standing on the sand, directly in front of Hotel Gran Rey with its rooftop swimming pool, is the huge and imposing statue of Hautacuperche.

Before the Spanish colonisation of the island, it was populated by the ancient Gomeros or Gomeritas of North African origin, and Hautacuperche was a native warrior who led an uprising against the Spanish in the 15th century.

In his hand he holds a broken pot that is hugely symbolic. When the Spanish initially arrived on the island it’s said that the locals were relatively welcoming, offering the Spaniards a Peace Pot as a token of agreement and friendship.

The shattered fragments of the pot in Hautacuperche’s hand speak volumes about the repression that followed. Today it’s still possible to see these symbolic pots hand-crafted using age old techniques.

Head to the northern village of El Cercado to visit a cluster of artists who create La Gomeran pottery using rudimentary tools and basic materials (such as clay, sand and red ochre), sculpting pieces freehand, in the absence of a potter’s wheel. There’s an interpretation centre to visit or, for a more authentic experience, simply drop into one of the artisan’s houses for a browse.

Whilst these potters often don’t speak English, it’s possible to see them at work and purchase ceramics such as Chestnut Pots, Potato Plates, Peace Pots or Garlic Pots. Pictorial displays explain the process and the prices.

From El Cercado it was a short drive uphill to the jaw-dropping Mirador de Abrante. La Gomera certainly isn’t short of viewpoints but Abrante is something else. A suspended seven metre glass walkway, jutting out over a cliff top, with direct sightline of Tenerife’s Mount Teide, it is simply unmissable.

From the summits and peaks of mountains and volcanoes we headed back down to sea level to take the children whale-watching on a Yani Cruise. Lucky enough to spend 40 minutes with a pod of pilot whales, we felt our green, and very cool adventure, had exceeded expectations.

Our La Gomeran canary was flying high.