Tenerife’s idyllic island life

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Garachico is billed as the prettiest town on the island of Tenerife. (Shutterstock)
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Balloonists take in the sights of Teide National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Shutterstock)
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The Auditorio de Tenerife was designed by Santiago Calatrava Valls and has become an architectural symbol of Santa Cruz. (Shutterstock)
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Visitors to Tenerife should be sure to sample the seafood. (Shutterstock)
Updated 12 June 2019

Tenerife’s idyllic island life

  • Ignore the stereotypes and embrace one of Europe’s most enthralling destinations
  • The mountains are filled with wonderful scenery and spectacular coastal hiking trails.

DUBLIN: Tenerife might conjure up images of greasy English breakfasts and Brits abroad, but this island has a huge amount to offer the more discerning traveller. Yes, there are plenty of all-inclusive resorts and cheesy karaoke venues, but there are also picturesque villages, wonderful, buzzing port towns, and stunning scenery.

The best place to start exploring the largest of the Canary Islands is the vibrant capital: Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the northeast. Your first stop should be the Auditorio, the Santiago Calatrava-designed home of the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra. Once you have updated your Instagram feed, head to the Museum of Man and Nature, which tells the story of the Canary Islands from their chaotic, volcanic beginnings to the present day. There are three floors of exhibits, which include mummified remains of the islands’ earliest inhabitants.

Next door is the Tenerife Espacio de las Artes, which is home to a variety of modern art from the islands, and a popular café where you can chow down on a three-course lunch menu for less than $12. If you fancy some retail therapy, head to El Corte Ingles, located in the center of the city’s shopping district. The seventh-floor café offers spectacular views of the Anaga Mountains just north of the city. The mountains are filled with wonderful scenery and spectacular coastal hiking trails. The weather here is often wet (even when the sun is shining on the rest of the island), so make sure to bring suitable clothing. The trade winds bring all manner of plant life to this part of the island – look out for Dragon trees, prickly pears and a host of intriguing plants and shrubs.

Of course, it’s not just the northeast of the island that’s home to world-class hiking, and the jewel in the island’s crown is Teide National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site comprising a 10-mile-wide volcano which rises 3,718 metres above sea level and dominates the center of the island. On a clear day, ride the cable car to the top for spectacular views of Tenerife and the surrounding islands. If you prefer to get there on two feet, there is a hiking route to the top, just be sure to bring plenty of water. The park is filled with picturesque trails, and you will often be the only one on them. Once night falls, the park attracts stargazers from around the world, as the volcanic landscape and lack of artificial light provide the perfect backdrop to scanning the heavens. Base yourself in the Parador de Las Canadas del Teide, a lodge-style retreat located in the volcanic crater.

Back down at sea level, you could do worse than head to Costa Adeje, which offers plenty to do, from watersports and whale- and dolphin-watching to countless restaurants, cafes and nightlife. It’s a bit more reserved than the raucous Playa de Las Americas further down the coast, and all the better for it. After a few days R&R, we recommend heading back up north to the wonderful fishing village of Garachico. Billed as the prettiest town on the island, it’s also one of the unluckiest, once being one of the richest towns in Europe, before nature — more specifically the Montana Negra volcano — interceded, destroying the town’s harbor. The disaster ensured much of the town is preserved as it was hundreds of years ago, and it’s an extremely pleasant place to spend a few days in.

Less than an hour’s drive from Garachico is Cueva de Viento, the largest lava tube system in Europe, and the most complex volcanic tube in the world. It consists of 17km of tunnels, filled with multiple passageways, lava pits and terraces. There are daily tours and tickets must be bought online in advance. It’s a great way to end your Tenerife journey, in a place that’s beautiful, surprising and cultured in equal measure.

Catch the coastal chic of Biarritz

Biarritz is one of the best surfing locations in Europe. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 June 2019

Catch the coastal chic of Biarritz

  • The French seaside town mixes old-world glamour with a very modern surfing scene
  • This patch of Basque Country — less than 20 miles north of the Spanish border — has a windswept, relaxed charm all its own

DUBLIN: It’s hard to put a finger on what makes Biarritz so special. Maybe it’s the faded charm, maybe it’s the sprinkling of stardust that the numerous guests (the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra) brought to the city, or maybe it’s the low-slung surfer’s vibe, but this patch of Basque Country — less than 20 miles north of the Spanish border — has a windswept, relaxed charm all its own. It’s something of a hidden gem, with surfers, Parisian hipsters, retired French tourists and a smattering of in-the-know Europeans descending here every year.

Its most recent heyday was during the 1950s, when luminaries including Sinatra and Coco Chanel visited. From the 1960s onwards, Biarritz’s star fell, with Hollywood and the European elite favoring France’s Riviera as a holiday destination. Yet recent years have seen the town emerge back into the spotlight — although these days you are more likely to see surfers rather than film stars, as the town has embraced its position on France’s rugged southern Atlantic coast.

There are countless surf schools, and Biarritz is the birthplace of the sport in Europe. The (reportedly) first surfer here, appropriately enough, had Hollywood connections. Peter Viertel, a screenwriter, was in town as the movie he had co-written, “The Sun Also Rises,” was being filmed there in 1957. The long, wide sandy beaches provide the perfect place to learn, with the crashing Atlantic surf offering ample big waves to ride.

The town is small enough to explore in an afternoon, with countless cafés and restaurants dotting the narrow streets. There’s plenty of shopping too, with local boutiques such as Jox & An (which sells rope-soled espadrilles) next to the likes of Gucci and Duchatel, which features labels including Nina Ricci and Belenciaga. Indeed much of the town’s charm is seeing moneyed old French couples in their designer clothes rubbing shoulders with dreadlocked surfers in board shorts.

It might officially be in France, but Biarritz is Basque country, something very much apparent at Caroe, which mixes Basque and Nordic cuisine. This minimally designed pintxos bar specializes in local seafood and serves up everything from monkfish foie gras, smoked eel and trout gravlax. If you prefer a venue overlooking the water, head to Alaia, an ultra-stylish beachfront joint on Socoa Beach, 30-minutes south of Biarritz. You can enjoy lamb, mashed-potato pancakes, and hake and cabbage in front of the bobbing fishing boats. If you prefer to eat on the go, or grab something for a picnic on the beach, head to Les Halles market, which is filled with stalls dishing out sumptuous fare: from local goat’s cheeses and anchovies in olive oil and vinegar to limoncello jelly and hazelnut bread.

The most salubrious lodging in town is the Hotel du Palais, the brainchild of Eugenie de Montijo, the wife of Napoleon III, who chose a patch of hillside overlooking the Bay of Biscay for the Imperial residence. The hotel became the center for France’s elite, who holidayed at the sumptuous building and held balls, picnics and fireworks displays, while welcoming world leaders and royalty from around the world. These days the hotel retains all its old-world glamour, and its breakfasts are worth the room price alone.

There’s not a whole lot to do in Biarritz, but that’s sort of the point. It’s a place to while away the hours in a café, or to take long walks on one of the numerous beaches. It’s a place to relax in, not to do too much. If you do want to exert yourself, then there are a number of surfing schools where you can learn to ride the waves. Most offer similar courses (and prices), with La Vague Basque being the best reviewed. All ages and nationalities come here to learn to surf, so don’t be shy about getting that wetsuit on.

After a reviving dinner, head to the promenade and grab yourself an ice cream. One of the great French pastimes is people-watching, and the cafés along the promenade offer the perfect place to watch the world go by. Part French, part Basque, and with a wonderful mix of elegance, cool and Fifties chic, Biarritz might just be the best beach town in France.