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Thursday, December 22, 2005

While the Canary Islands are part of Spain, they are physically closer to the west coast of Africa. This tropical paradise attracts hundreds of thousands of mainland Spaniards and other Europeans year-round.

But while they were colonised by Spaniards and are politically and administratively Spanish, the islands have their own cultural and geographic personality.

The Canaries consist of seven islands divided into two areas. The province of Las Palmas brings together Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. The Province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife encompasses Tenerife and la Gomera, La Palma and Hierro. While they share an eternal spring climate they dramatically differ from each other. They offer sub-tropical vegetation, volcanic semi-deserts, verdant cliffs, gorges and sand dunes by the sea.

The original inhabitants were known as Guanches and they lived an existence of shepherding and extremely basic agriculture.

They buried their dead and mummified chieftains, much the same as the Egyptians. The leader of the Tenerife tribe fiercely resisted the conquistadors with flint axes and slings, while European strangers were welcomed by the Gran Canaria leader.

Christopher Columbus rested at La Gomera before venturing into the unknown on his first journey in search of the Indies. That led to the Canaries becoming a vital link in trans-Atlantic crossings, a stepping stone between Europe, Africa and the American continent.

The triangular-shaped island of Tenerife is the largest of the archipelago. A mountain chain runs through the centre from Anaga to Teno and on both slopes are large, fertile valleys; La Orotave and Gumar being the most outstanding. Las Cañadas del Tiede is a gigantic, natural crater in the heart of the chain. It is 29km across, 2000m above sea level and is a national park. El Pico del Teide is Spain's highest point at 3718m and is snow-covered in winter.

Tenerife's plant life is extremely varied. Wooded mountains and extensive areas of banana, tomato, potato and other agricultural crops are grown. Its coast is rocky and in some places is lined by cliffs, and in others there are beaches with soft clean sand, some black, some golden.

It is a cheerful, light-filled, modern city of 220,000 permanent inhabitants sitting on a gentle slope and open towards the south’s wide plains. It is the seat of the military headquarters, La Capitanía General de Canarias, and its port, Puerto Colón, in the large bay is important for sea traffic and communications between Europe, Africa and America.

Playa de las Americas is a purpose-built resort with a huge range of amenities and activities to keep everyone amused day and night. It was created in the 1970s. It has beaches with black or gold sand and is bordered by a long promenade lined with shops, bars and restaurants. There is no shortage of modern apartments and luxury hotels.

Nightlife also abounds. There are around 100 clubs and discos and you can dance till you drop. Pubs offer karaoke, quizzes and live music and there are many restaurants and cafes to choose from. The cuisine is not just Spanish — there's Thai, Chinese, Italian, Anglo-French and Swiss … something for everyone's palate.

The town of Garachico in the north-west is a sleepy backwater founded in 1496 by Cristos del Pone. It was once the main port and trade centre, particularly for wine. A huge volcanic eruption overwhelmed it in 1706, partially burying the town and blocking the harbour. Inhabitants were forced back to their traditional ways of making a living — fishing and farming — and today the area produces some wonderful seafood and wines.

Buildings which came through the earthquake unscathed are Castle San Miguel from 1517, the convents of San Francisco and Santa Domingo and the castle of San Miguel, used for repelling piracy intrusion in the 16th century. Fine mansions of wealthy merchants and the Parish Church, with its collection of paintings and religious sculptures, are worth a visit. Garachino has paved streets and much colour and contrast. It is one of Tenerife's real gems.

Hotel San Roque was built in the 17th century and completely renovated and re-opened in 1996. Renovations incorporated traditional Canarian architecture with the classical and decor includes modern pieces from the Bauhaus period.

The 20 rooms are on just two levels with each room individually designed. People who stay there prefer the serenity of Garachino over the fun-driven activity of Tenerife.

By the way, if you thought the Canary Islands got their name from pretty little birds, you're a long way from the truth! They were in fact named after a large and ferocious species of canine which once roamed the islands!

Shoppers will be delighted to discover that Tenerife is a free port with no value-added tax on luxury goods. Pottery and hand-embroidered goods are unique to the area.


In Spain's Canary Islands.


Spanish Tourism Promotions has as five night package from Madrid to Tenerife including return airfares, twin share accommodation at Hotel San Roque and full breakfast, starting at $1409 per person, plus $17.20 Tax.

Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

More information

Hotel San Roque
C/Esteban de Ponte, 32
38450 Villa y Pureto de Garachico
Tenerife, Canary Islands
Ph: 0011 4 922 133 435

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