Monday, 26 January 2009

Going Native in Tenerife – Shhh… don’t tell anyone about it.

Last year, just as we were about to start writing ‘Going Native in Tenerife’, we were visited by a friend who’d never stayed in Tenerife before. Normally she sticks to visiting the neighbouring island of La Gomera.

Like many discerning travellers, she considered La Gomera as more unspoilt than its allegedly brasher and over-developed bigger neighbour.

So we were keen to show her the Tenerife that we knew; the Tenerife which we were about to write about in ‘Going Native in Tenerife.’

A blissful week was spent wandering around the charming Casas de los Balcones in Tenerife’s most noble township of La Orotava, heading away from the crowds and deep into the lunar landscape of the crater around Mount Teide’s base, chilling out listening to live bands at a traditional fiesta on the beach in celebration of Midsummer’s day, watching goats and horses being dragged and ridden into the sea as part of a tradition which pre-dates the conquest of the island, eating fish which looked like a parrot, strolling through banana plantations to beautiful quiet coves and delving deep into ancient laurisilva forests and through a village where people still live in caves to stand at a mirador overlooking an epic landscape which looks as though it belongs in the South American jungle.

It wasn’t until the end of the week, that we told her that we’d just been commissioned to write a guidebook for Tenerife which was going to include the sort of things we’d done and places we visited during her stay (and obviously, much, much more). What was her response?

She told us that she wasn’t sure it was such a good idea to write a book which spread the word about the real face of Tenerife…because if more people knew about the charming, cultural, historic, picturesque and spectacular Tenerife which exists outside the resorts, then the island might really be spoiled.

So, any discerning traveller out there interested in finding out what Tenerife is actually like and seeking to enjoy similar experiences as our friend should buy ‘Going Native in Tenerife’, but please, please don’t tell anyone about it, we don’t want to ruin this gem of an island.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Going Native at Fiestas on Tenerife

It’ll surprise no-one when I say that Tenerife is a party island. However I don’t mean because of Playa de Las Américas with its clubs and cabaret bars where the likes of Tina Turner and Rod Stewart never grow old thanks to a continuous stream of sound-alikes (Ironically it’s all becoming a bit surreal as the real Rod is due to play on Tenerife in May and Joe Cawley has heard that Tina Turner amongst others may follow suite).

I’m referring to the seemingly never ending succession of parties which take place in the towns and villages throughout the year…the fiestas.

There are hundreds of these; even the smallest town will celebrate any number of them over the course of a year. One municipality, Los Realejos, claims that their 80 plus fiestas are more than anywhere else in Spain.

Every municipality likes to be that little bit different from their neighbours, so as well as the traditional romerías (harvest type processions) you get weird and wonderful affairs that involve half drowning goats, mass midnight bathing, insulting giant hearts, pirates attacking landlocked towns on boats on wheels, cross dressing widows mourning a giant sardine and firework battles between opposing streets to name but a few. Many of these wonderful fiestas take place completely off the radar screen of the average tourist.

Some of the local authorities on Tenerife aren’t the greatest at promoting their fiestas, especially outside the confines of each municipality. There’s a sort of philosophy that everybody knows what’s going on; fiestas happen at pretty much the same time every year after all. As a result, although all the locals know what’s happening and when, visitors can often be left in the dark.

When we first moved to Tenerife we constantly missed the best bits of local fiestas because of this, or found ourselves standing on the fringes looking enviously at the merrymaking in front of our eyes wishing we could be part of it.
What we’ve learned the hard way over the last five years has gone into ‘Going Native in Tenerife’ so that others don’t miss out.

Every decent guidebook lists the ‘must see’ fiestas on Tenerife. ‘Going Native in Tenerife’ is no different in this respect, but where it does differ is that we’ve actually been to all the fiestas listed and have included tips about how to get the most enjoyment out of each.
Most books will advise where visitors can watch fiestas. ‘Going Native in Tenerife’ helps visitors become part of them.

There’s a world of difference

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Going Native in Tenerife – What, no room for postres?

Eagle-eyed readers, or more likely those of you with a sweet tooth may notice an omission from the food and drink section and the recommended restaurants in the town and city guide section of 'Going Native in Tenerife' – there’s very little mention of local postres (desserts).

This is mainly because we don’t think that Tenerife does postres particularly well. If you’re a fan of school dinner type puds from the 60s and 70s you might disagree and I know our friend Pamela at Secret Tenerife has a liking for them, but milky and rice based desserts just don’t ring our bell, so we tended to concentrate on gastronomic areas where we felt the island’s cuisine was more mouth watering.

However, just in case you think you might be about to miss out on some culinary delights here are a few examples of the kind of local postres you’re likely to find on most traditional menus.

Arroz con leche (milky rice pudding)

Rice boiled in milk and flavoured with cinnamon, sugar and lemon rind.

Leche asada (roast milk)

Whisked eggs, milk, lemon rind, cinnamon, sugar and condensed milk baked in the oven until set.

By this point you may have noticed certain similarities in the ingredients.

Quesedilla (cheesecake – but not the type you might be expecting)

Grated soft cheese, flour, sugar, eggs, cinnamon, aniseed and lemon rind mixed together to a doughy consistency and baked in the oven.

Bienmesabe (Almond dessert)

Ground almonds, sugar, water, egg yolks, cinnamon and, of course, lemon rind. Heated and mixed to a syrupy consistency and served cold.

See what I mean?

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Going Native in Tenerife – The Tenerife of Explorers and Poets

Word count – it’s the writer’s version of a crucifix to a vampire. You’ve got all these wonderful ideas and fascinating snippets of information and you want to share it all with the world, but you’ve got the dreaded word count, so how do you decide what to include and what not to include?

There are 31 municipalities on Tenerife, most with at least one interesting town, many with more. However, no guide book to Tenerife, or any location for that matter, unless it is encyclopaedic in size, can include every single little town and village. Or if it tried, there would only be a few lines on each location and that wouldn’t really make it of much use to man (or in these enlightened times, woman) nor beast.

Clearly then, the thing to do is to opt for the most interesting places – but then with an island as famous, or infamous, as Tenerife doesn’t everybody already know the most interesting places.

Actually most don’t.

When most people think of Tenerife, the name Playa de Las Américas will probably spring to mind. More recently Costa Adeje has become a name bandied about by the media as evidence of the changing face of Tenerife. But the most well known places are not necessarily the most interesting.

In what has been pretty much a thirty year trend to promote Tenerife as a vision of a paradise based on year round sunshine, tour operators and, to some extent, the media continually overlook the Tenerife where the island’s traditional and cultural heart beats the strongest.

Take the north coast. For centuries every explorer, writer and scientist worth his/ or her salt travelled by stagecoach from Santa Cruz to Tenerife’s most sophisticated town, La Orotava via charming little town's and villages. En route many stopped to visit historical or important geographical landmarks and then wrote about them in their journals. And yet I have read plenty of guidebooks which completely overlook these towns in favour of giving more page space to Playa de Las Américas.
Now you can’t write a travel guide about Tenerife without mentioning PDLA, but everybody and their dog knows something about it, so it’s pointless to waste too many pages telling people what they already know.

With Going Native in Tenerifewe felt it was a great opportunity to also remind visitors of the places which inspired writers, artists, poets and explorers; places which, because of changing trends, are now very much now away from the main tourist trail, but still boast some of the most spectacular scenery and charming historic centres on an island which despite it’s mass popularity is still very, very much a secret.

So if we’ve dropped a small, purpose built resort built twenty years ago on the south coast in favour of a town where the likes of Sir Richard Burton was moved to wax lyrical, then we make no apologies for it. There’s a fascinating island out there, let us share it with you.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Getting the right image for Tenerife

35 in-depth reviews of towns and villages across the island as well as its history, culture, traditions, food and drink. Then there’s the language, the climate, the extensive calendar of fiestas including where and when to best view them and not least, suggested itineraries for quick visits, short stays, temporary residence and a whole lifetime of enjoying the best of what Tenerife has to offer. 200 pages of a labour of love, all written with insight and passion and all ground to a near standstill when it came to producing…the authors’ cover photo.

We’d always known it would be needed and we’d had three whole months in which to take it but somehow it always got pushed to the back of the priority list. We’d had endless discussions about it; where should we take it, what should we wear, how should we pose? And nothing we came up with seemed to be ‘just right’. We even had a trial photo shoot in the cactus garden behind Playa Jardín with the occasional curious holidaymaker for an audience and in a banana plantation at San Juan de la Rambla with Jack’s mum as the photographer but it simply wasn’t what we were looking for.
Then the final deadline arrived and we had to face the facts; short of superimposing Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie onto our garden steps, this photo was never going to do justice to our own self image and we might as well just bite the bullet and take the photo.

They say a picture paints a thousand words and that may well be so, but the 40,000 words in ‘Going Native in Tenerife’ speak louder and have far more interesting things to say. Come to think of it, they paint just the right image for Tenerife.