David J Whyte discovers two quite different sides to Tenerife, the most popular of Spain's Canary Islands.
In Tenerife, the sun is boring! It comes up, hangs around all day then slinks off back into the sea. There are rarely any clouds and the temperature sticks a balmy 23 to 28 degrees pretty much all year round.
People seem to enjoy this! Especially Germans! They’re so eager, they're down by the pool before dawn securing towels to the best-placed loungers then reclining on them pretending to read. It's still dark! We all know they’re flaunting the hotel’s ‘no reserving loungers’ rule. Maybe they’ve spent the night! They are determined, that’s for sure! And who can blame them! Tenerife’s getting busier by the day and competition for prime poolside spots is at an all-time high.
There's a lot more traffic too! Friday used to be 'moving-day' on the island when one batch of tourists left and another arrived. Now every day's Friday!
There's also a noticeable increase in construction, stacks of studios decorating the hillsides like whipped-cream roulades and, for the higher-heeled, elegant, quadrilateral cubes, each with its own infinity pool. All very James Bondish!
I've been coming to Tenerife for a few years now and watched it change. It was once very touristy with the adjoining towns of Las Americas and Las Cristianos offering cheap and cheerful holidays mostly for Brits with a few Germans sprinkled in too. Then further along the coast, Costa Adeje came along, more upmarket with some super 5-star hotels. Now, it's a mix: the Chavs and the Chav-nots you might say, mainly British and each seeking their own particular slice of this Canary Island cake.
Brits abroad can be a bit of a thorny issue for me! Case in point! We’re relaxing on the terrace of Adeje's clubhouse after our first round, sipping a beer! It's already dark and we just managed to scrape in 18. The Swedes and Germans are doing the same, a quiet, post-round pint after a good game of golf - there's nothing much better! In the red corner, a large group of British golfers, clearly been there for a while are holding court and have seemingly lost all sense of couth. They get louder and louder, laughing ludicrously at anything anyone says then stumbling off in a direction roughly equated to their hotels, careering into anything in their path, my golf clubs for instance as one half-crocked ugador takes a spill into them (thankfully no damage done)! My little group, (all from the UK) sit and shake their heads incredulously at how some Brits abroad just don’t know how to behave themselves. Of course, this is not always the case, but Brits do seem to go out of our way to confirm a somewhat 'boozy' reputation.
Let's Go Clubbing
In the evening, if you are particularly unlucky, you might encounter the same group. The pubs and clubs along the San Eugenio strip in Costa Adeje are a haunt for beer-seeking Brits. After dinner, we tried to mingle (and be less haughty) but listening to a Jim Reeves sound-alike or some old crone from Walthamstow singing ‘Yellow River’ amidst a sea of cigarette-lighter waving, half-sozzled women are holiday-memories I'd rather not cherish.
And this is the thing about Tenerife! It can still be quite tacky! A week in the sun with cheap food and copious amounts of alcohol definitely appeals to certain types. I'm just not one of them!
So, is there an alternative to this lovely mid-Atlantic island? Can you find a level of sophistication on and away from the golf courses? And what about the golf anyway? Is it of a high enough standard? Let's take a closer look...
Conjuring up 'The Magic'
Still out for the evening and at the recommendation of some savvy-looking locals, we hopped in a taxi to Avenue Las Americas looking to conjure up a bit of ‘Magic’. The Magic Lounge and Bar is part of the Safari Centre in downtown Las Americas where you’ll find posh shops, expensive jewellery and top-brand apparel. It seems someone twigged to the fact that Tenerife needed an injection of class! Shopping includes Bounty, GAS, The Levi Store, Armani and Hugo Boss and there are lots of good eating places there too, either through the day or for dinner.
‘The Magic’ jumps with live DJ’s, sax players and sexy dancers (not referring to myself, of course). There’s no cover charge and drinks are modestly more expensive but hey, compared to the initial places we visited, you'll happily pay an extra Euro or two. Also recommended, (although I didn’t get a chance to visit on this trip but most definitely will the next) is the Papagyo Club in Costa Adeje and the Buddha Bar in Las Americas. Of course, it all depends on what you like. Maybe you’re a Jim Reeves fan!
Things were looking up! There was a decent nightlife with a pulse but I was worried Tenerife might not step up to the plate when it came to food. My fears were unfounded! First of all, you'll notice Tenerife's fruit & veg are much tastier certainly than that of the UK's. I’ve never tasted such sweet onions and salty Canarian potatoes or papas arugardas as they’re locally known have long been a favourite. It must be the sunshine and fertile volcanic soil.
As you would imagine in an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, seafood Is bound to be a winner! Las Rocas Restaurant is attached to Jardin Tropical Hotel and enjoys an exceptional setting, perched by craggy, volcanic rocks and sea. You can almost reach down from your table and touch the waves. Sunsets are terribly romantic here so bring along a loved-one. Let the staff here dictate your gastronomic journey and you’ll arrive in epicurean heaven. Chefs Jorge Peñate and Luis Martin's 'taster' menu presents some delectable samplings full of flavour and altogether most satisfying.
Another good, hotel-based restaurant is SeaSoul, part of Hotel Anthelia in Costa Adeje, a spacious 5-star hotel which I've stayed in on a previous visit and highly recommend. Facing the sea and ideal for promenade people-watching, SeaSoul is fish-oriented but great also for traditional Canarian dishes. We started with some local cheeses then I dove in for Turbot and rounded the meal off with Liqueur de Hierbas Ruavieja, the Spanish equivalent to Grappa - although a fair bit sweeter with a distinct herbal, minty flavour.
I like to explore restaurants frequented by locals (not so much the tourists) so you get insight into the authentic flavours of the island - as well as better prices. My sources tell me there's a great chicken restaurant up in the hills called simply ‘Adeje Chicken’. “Great for food and views,” so I was told. “Chicken is all they do…oh yeah...and chips!” I’ll try it also on the next visit. (I'm going to be very busy this next visit). I’m sure there are many such restaurants if you take the time to chat with staff and find out where they are.
When it comes to accommodation, Tenerife can be as 'eclectic' as the pub & club scene. The hotel rating system I find generally throughout Spain difficult to trust and sometimes quite misleading. Web pages and brochures make everywhere look ‘fabuloso’ so it's hard to tell if it's a genuine, quality product. Ratings often depend on the number of amenities a property offers according to the local tourism authority. But in practice, especially in touristic parts of Spain, 5-stars are not always heavenly. I stayed in Sando San Blas for instance on the last part of this trip. I think it gets its name from the wind as this coast is famous for windsurfing. The hotel was not a blast! According to the brochure and website, it's officially an all-inclusive 5-star. Not in my eyes! The food and restaurant setup is actually quite lacking compared to many all-inclusive hotels I’ve stayed in. It's certainly not a patch on Turkey’s and not on a level with other Tenerife 5-stars such as IBEROSTAR Anthelia.
It seems in Tenerife, you don't look at the number of stars - you look at the price! If you think you're getting a bargain because it's 5-star, think again. In Tenerife, you get exactly what you pay for!
While all 5-star properties are not equal, you can find some very good 4-star properties such as Les Jardin Tropical which we stayed in for the first part of this visit. Admittedly, they were undergoing refurbishment when we visited so it was hard to tell exactly how much things were going to improve but the hotel has got an ‘old-world’ charm and ease about it, great food and attentive service and I’d certainly go back.
The Golf Courses
So now, what is there left to discuss? Oh yes, I’d suppose I’d better give a mention to golf. There are 7 courses on the island and whatever you do, don’t start with Abama… I'll tell you why in a moment...
We started with Golf Costa Adeje and it’s a fairly good golf course. It offers a series of unique holes so much so you could think you were on different tracks. The Par 3’s are most memorable as are the terraces built for a banana plantation back in the day. There are however stories of people driving buggies over those tiny-terraced walls, oh-so-easily done! You can’t see them as you eagerly canter towards your ball and signs of a buggy doing the inevitable as so small and placed at the sides of the fairways, they’re really not much help. A golf pro friend of mine from Scotland did it - and Stephen wasn’t such a bad driver as I recall. Thankfully no one was injured but if you rent a buggy be aware that you could slip up by driving over the banana terraces. Besides that, Adeje is a good start, our first round of the visit and so determined were we to finish, we putted the 18th in the dark.
The next day we sailed for the island of La Gomera. This is a day-trip and I highly recommend it, not only for the journey but for the peace and quiet you find on this little island, a 40-minute ferry ride from Las Americas. You can get a day-ticket on the Fred Olsen Express Ferry plus a return taxi included with your round of golf for €157 per person which is not bad when you consider all the travelling involved. By the way, you need to show your passport at the ferry port to get to La Gomera... I don’t know why but they do ask for them.
The road to the golf course which is on the other side of the island climbs and twists round some serious hairpins. “I hate driving on these mountain roads,” Dave, our redoubtable driver decided. “Don't you worry!” I told him. “You just keep your eye on the road and we’ll keep an eye on the views.” And they are incredible! You can see Mount Teide back on the main island from many of the turns. Then it’s up and over the top with signs for the village of Hernia. I just hoped Dave wasn’t going to have one!
The village and golf course of Tecina are both utterly charming! It’s so different over here compared to the touristy tracks of Tenerife. On the golf course, you drive a buggy up to the top and cascade back down to the bottom. It's a short course and ideal for walking but full of tight, testing challenges. And fun all the way! The 4th is a spectacular Par 3 playing towards languid Atlantic bays. So is the 11th! In fact, I've never known a course that offers so many stunning vistas. You finally arrive back at the clubhouse armed with some great memories and no doubt a batch of superb pictures on your phone.
I also know from past trips that the Hotel Jardín Tecina just next to the golf course is equally charming. Guests stay in little villas. It’s a bit dated as I recall but gorgeous. The ideal scenario would be to stay here for at least one night. I’ve never done it, only been a day-visitor. So yet again, I intend to do it - one of these days!
Where Else to Play
Back on the main island, we also played Las Americas and I then took on the nearby course of Amarilla on my own. Las Americas is ok! The front 9 is more elevated and interesting but the back 9 is quite pedestrian playing through avenues of cypress trees with the occasional pond. These are holiday tracks and the challenge for half-decent golfers is often trying to get through the 4-ball ahead.
I don't know what’s going on with Amarilla? I’ve been visiting this course for over 20 years and, disappointingly, little has changed in all that time. A new tee box has been added at the memorable 4th and the same at the 12th by the marina, both laudable additions but the course itself has never been kept in good condition. All it needs, as far as I can tell are the services of a half-decent greenkeeper. Lots of villas have been built around the course so if they’re selling such real estate, management clearly isn’t investing the money back into the golf course. This leaves Amarilla at the bottom of my hit list which is a shame as I’m sure it could be a fairly decent track.
Very nearby, Golf del Sur is much more interesting as I recall (I didn’t play it this time as I had a terrible sore throat). With lots of dark (volcanic) sand bunkers, cacti and barrancas (cacti-filled canyons) Golf Del Sur presents three excellent 9-hole sections.
So let’s get to the main golf dish of the day, Abama! Wow! They set the bar high when they built this one. To be frank, Abama's 18-holes puts all the others in the shade. Buenavista, Seve’s seaside track on the north of the island comes in a good second but Abama’s presentation, challenge and breathtaking views of the sea along with the Island of La Gomera tops them all. There are many long holes and demanding approach shots so it’s a track designed for better golfers. But there’s enough room out there on the fairways that any handicap level can enjoy it. The two outstanding features are the views - incredible, and the presentation of the golf course - absolutely first-class!
We met with Brendan, the resident Irish pro. ”It's the greens that catch people,” he told us. “You need to be on the correct side of the flag otherwise it’s 3-putt territory.” There are 22 lakes on the golf course and they recently hired a company to dredge out golf balls. “They brought up more than 79,000,” Brendan told us. That’s a lot of balls but then there are a lot of lakes. To be honest, and in spite of all those lost balls, water doesn’t come into play as much as you might think, certainly not to the judicious player. On long holes like the 10th, it’s easy enough to plot your way along and stay dry. There are three lakes on the Par 4, 11th and I’m sure they catch more than their fair share but it’s fair punishment for making a mistake. And that’s what I like about Abama. It’s demanding for sure but not tricked up or penal. You’re stretched to your limit and every good golfer will love that. The last 3 holes differ from the rest, long and brutal but good if you’ve hit your stride with the driver, which to be honest, if you want to score here you should have done that way back at the 1st.
All-together Abama is a magnificent golf course, one of the best in Europe! Is there a catch? It costs €270 for a round including a buggy and you most certainly need a buggy on this climbing course. You can save yourself around €100 on green fees if you stay in the hotel. But this is the overriding theme on Tenerife. Be prepared to pay and you'll enjoy high calibre golf and superb accommodation. Abama is simply outstanding! The resort is run by Ritz-Carlton and again, from past experience, I can tell you this is an exquisite luxury hotel with exemplary service, a luxurious spa and fine dining. The building is unusual, like a terracotta termite-mound tumbling towards the water. Inside it’s very Moorish. There is a world-class spa and two Michelin-star restaurants encompassing both Basque and Japanese cuisine. One more time, it’s a while since I’ve stayed and I intend to go back - very soon.
WHAT ELSE TO DO IN TENERIFE
One of the most popular excursion trips from Tenerife is out into the Atlantic to spot whales and dolphins. There is a veritable fleet of catamarans and yachts waiting to transport you to the animals but the animals might be less cooperative and the best you’ll see is numerous breaches. Still, with copious Spanish Cava (sparkling wine) and pizza on hand, it’s a fun afternoon or evening out - as long as you don’t get seasick!
At a mighty 12,000 feet, El Teide is the third largest volcano in the world. It’s quite easy to drive up to its base, about an hour from Las Americas and then you can take a cable car higher up the mountain. But be warned, it might be nice and sunny in Las Americas but mighty chilly up the mountain so take warm clothing including a good jacket.
THE VILLAGE OF GARACHICO
Near the golf course of Buenavista in the northwest, Garachico was once Tenerife’s principal harbour. Then, in May 1706 the nearby volcano, Montaña Negra erupted sending rivers of molten lava towards the town, choking its harbour and destroying forever its main source of wealth. You can still see those lava streams today and feel for the terrified and soon-to-be poverty-stricken residents. During a guided tour we also learned about the Guanches, the aboriginal people of these islands, descendants of the Berber tribes of North Africa. When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived to claim these islands in the late 1400s, it took them many years to subjugate the tall, athletic, indigenous rock-climbers who peppered the small-statured Spanish invaders from on high.
So that’s my roundup of golf on Tenerife. You can certainly have a good golf holiday here and probably there are deals to be had. But generally, if you spend that little bit extra and seek out the best both on and off the course, it’ll make your experience exponentially better.