Tenerife is making a big effort to highlight the hiking attractions of its northern half and, after some initial trepidation says Isabel Conway.
I knew the writing was on the wall when the statuesque Dane (a woman you could easily imagine jumping in ahead of her fearsome countrymen on that Viking longboat about to sail for our shores) sternly announces “if you want to hike here on Tenerife you have to be in good shape”.
Quaking in our ‘dressy up’ shoes, my motley crew was in a minority.
A fleeting look around produces lean, tanned, fit-as-a-fiddle folk who have come here for Tenerife’s annual ‘No Limits’ Walking Festival, which attracts hardcore trekkers from all over Europe and beyond, as well as a more leisurely class of walker.
Dominated by spectacular volcanic Mt Teide and rugged remote landscapes up north, the largest of the Canary Islands is usually associated with mass tourism’s beach-bed-to-bar-stool level of activity.
A big effort is afoot now to promote the beautiful northern half of the island as a 24/7 open air gym, instead of a round-the-clock, booze-fuelled party venue.
In the courtyard of Puerto de la Cruz’s former Santo Domingo convent, where a welcome reception for festival goers is in full swing, I sidle up to a funky-looking white blonde, Mary from Kent, whose hearty laugh echoes through the cloister.
Her footwear for the four-day walking marathon ahead consists of silver-sequined, thin-soled loafers, perfect for journeys from beach to bar, plus the flimsiest of cardigans, in case of bad weather.
I am a Scott Polar Expedition member by comparison, though I have no idea how to adjust my new telescopic walking poles.
The guy from Trespass sold me two for the price of one on the premise that to hike with just the one would be akin to wearing a boot on one foot and a slipper on the other.
The latest in hiker boot technology would transform me from lounge lizard to mountain goat, he has promised.
Irish, French, British, American, and Scandinavian ramblers — among the voices present — are sipping excellent Tenerife wines and sharing stories about their hikes through far-flung Pyrenean passes, Alaskan wildernesses, and the wilds of Venezuela.
The aforementioned Liz Nielsen from Denmark, current president of the European Ramblers Association, reveals that she has already completed four different “quite tough” walks here earlier in the week.
What can we expect, someone nervously asks and she shrugs, saying: “Depends on how fit you are. If you want to climb Teide [Spain’s highest peak] you’ll be disappointed, it was closed because of all the ice.”
What a relief. I almost danced with joy at not having to toil up Teide’s 3,700 metres.
A life-long hiker, Liz walks because it makes her “feel so free, the world disappears, no mobile phones or wifi, just you away from everything”.
Over three million people in Europe belong to walking clubs, making it one of the fastest growing outdoor activities, she says.
Participants were required to choose a walk suitable for their level of stamina and fitness for each of the four festival days .
Drawn to those labelled ‘light’, I will soon discover there is no such terrain as flat outside of the manmade promenades that border Tenerife’s over-developed resorts in the south.
I chose volcanic, coastal, and forest tracks for their variety and less extreme gradient.
Here’s how the roller coaster of hikes and brilliant craic went:
Afur to Taganana through remote spectacular Parque Rural Anaga in the north eastern corner of Tenerife with difficulty rated medium/high.
The day-long hike took us through gorges slicing the volcanic terrain of Roque Negro over steep paths uphill and often sharper descents.
The mating croaks of frogs in the salt water pools below beat time to my huffing and puffing.
Luxuriant greenery and immense vertical ‘piton’ volcanic chimneys dating back seven million years adds to the extra-terrestrial terrain and an extinct prehistoric reptile could appear at any moment.
After a blissful, short rest on a little beach, our agile guide Letitia urges us to hurry up saying “you walk too slow”.
We will be welcomed at the end with lots of free wine and tapas, she shouts, to accelerate our pace.
Los Silos-El Palmar covers the mysterious forested interior aboriginal lands and traditional villages in a hike classed as medium.
We untrained hikers haul ourselves stiffly to the assembly point, noting the rain drops. Groups of walkers in plastic ponchos glumly await the buses to the 15 walks.
At the picturesque harbour town of Garachico, mini tsunami waves pounds the shore.
Our guide reveals “we will walk mainly uphill, it will be very steep, as we must reach 800 metres”.
A noticeable sharp intake of breath is heard from a few of us, now praying to the rain god. Drizzle turns to lashing rain. Yet, a portion of the walk is gamely attempted.
By now the path turns into a stream, torrents of water gush down the road, so, with the determination of an advancing army, we make for the nearest bar back in El Palmar.
This hiking thing is becoming addictive.
Stiffness all but gone, I spend the morning doing Puerto de La Cruz walks of historic monuments, cobbled laneways and the old fisherman’s district.
Today, we take a late afternoon walk to romantic Roque de Garcia, the easiest of several trails inside Teide National Park.
As our bus climbs through an eiderdown of cloud, Spain’s highest mountain and the extraordinary lunar landscape beneath it are revealed under an intense cobalt sky.
The three-hour long walk takes us down into the floor of millions of years of volcanic activity.
Twilight turns the towering slabs of rock, some with the pattern of flowing lava, to the colour of barley sugar. It is all magnificent.
By the time we return to the starting point, night has fallen, so it’s time for a look at the sky and all the constellations with an astronomer in one of the world’s best locations for star gazing.
Hurrah….it’s a walk in the park!
We are by now raring to go and this last hike at El Malpais (the Badlands) of Guimar winds through an extensive lava field bordered by the white foam of waves crashing against the jagged shoreline below.
It all looks like a perfectly-assembled manmade volcanic garden.
Yet, nature has created everything, except for carefully laid rocks to prevent straying from the path.
Amid the black sand and endless lumps of lava strewn artfully as far as the eye can see we marvel at the perfection of intricate lava sculptures, spurges, giant cacti, hair grass, clumps of wild flowers growing out of the black sand, and rock whose inhabitants includes the pretty blue and green Tenerife lizard.
The 7km family-friendly path (it even had some roped railings on a steep stretch) is deemed “far too easy” by some.
However, as we sip our €1.50-a-litre glasses of cool lager at the end of the road in the retro sleepy harbour of Guimar (whose charming restaurants also feature retro prices: €9.50 for the dearest dish), I notice Mary of the sequined loafers and flimsy cardigan has progressed to a sensible all- weather rain jacket and red sporty Nikes.
We bask in the sun and in our survival. Sure, we would do it all over again we say, toasting ‘No Limits’.
Where to Stay: For the ultimate pre-walking festival indulgence try the grand dame of lodgings in the Canary Islands 5 star Hotel Botanico ( www.hotelbotanico.com ) with top quality in house restaurants whose award winning oriental spa is set in gorgeous gardens.
Luxury tour operator Classic Collection Holidays ( www.classic-collection.ie ) tel: 01-5413000 lists the Botanico, one of the’ leading hotels of the world’, including flights and transfers with seven nights B&B from as little as €734 pp sharing with daily room type supplements.
For convenience to the sea front and downtown Puerto de La Cruz Hotel Vallemar www.hotelvallemar.com
Ending my visit in the sunny south at Costa Adeje the adults only 4* colonial style boutique Colon Guanahani ( www.adrianhoteles.com ) is a perfect spot for relaxation with beautifully designed and decorated bedrooms, landscaped seawater pools only 20 minutes from the airport. Tenerife’s Walking Festival: Routes open to hikers of all levels.
Think cliff walks, mountain climbs, flat lava beds, ancient laurel groves, deserted beaches, remote hamlets and villages offering good local wines and delicious cuisine. The 2017 festival is from May 23-27.
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