Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Is Playa de las Américas just Blackpool in the Sun?

Playa de las Américas – people either love it or loathe it. It is often described as Blackpool in the sun; a place where chavs and chavettes go to try to drink themselves to death, picking up the occasional STD in the process whilst gorging on all-day breakfasts served with a pint of beer and a packet of Bennies.

That's the way the media had portrayed it and that's the image I had of it. Even after I moved here I treated the place like Will Smith's New York in I Am Legend; a place to be visited with extreme caution during the day and totally avoided at night.

When it came to having bias against Playa de las Américas, I was at the head of the queue. I looked down from my elevated position in the authentic north at what to me amounted to a theme park; a Sodom and Gomorrah that had nothing much in common with Tenerife, but which infected the whole island with its tacky reputation. I despised it for that crime.

In my mind it was made up of no more than cheap tourist shops, Brit restaurants that served meals straight from Birds Eye's packets and run-down bars selling watered down beer whose mock Tudor décor (if it was as sophisticated as that) went out of fashion quarter of a century ago in the UK.

But then I started writing about the island and that meant having to visit places that I wouldn't normally have chosen to spend time in; places like Playa de las Américas. Because like many, many, many people my vision of Playa de las Américas had been formed not by experience, but by what I'd read and heard about it.

The reality was far removed from the image I expected – I found sophisticated restaurants, smart avenues, style bars, tastefully luxurious hotels and well dressed visitors representing a whole host of European nations. Even its beaches surprised me – Las Vistas, considered by some (not me) to be the best beach on Tenerife, Camisón (a better beach in my view) and the surf dude scene at Playa Honda. Much of its sea front promenade was lined with modern sculptures, ideal for a romantic sunset stroll.
What I didn't encounter was the Britain in the sun I'd expected. Parts of it were over the top in a kitsch sort of way, but I don't mind that – I'd much rather have outrageous Las Vegas style pizazz than unmemorable mediocrity.

Maybe there are some people out there who know (or knew) Playa de las Américas who are guffawing in disbelief at this point, but let me share a couple of little things. One of the first times I visited was with a friend from the UK who had stayed in the resort quite a few years previously...and hated it. He didn't recognise it.

Recently we recommended Playa de las Américas to two friends who are unashamed travel snobs. A few years ago I would have cut off my right arm with a butter knife before doing something like that. But I know PDLA now and realise that it isn't quite the demon it is made out to be.

The other thing that has changed is that much of what was Playa de las Américas is no longer Playa de las Américas. The young upstart Costa Adeje has reclaimed areas that people once knew as PDLA. So today's PDLA definitely isn't the same. The modern PDLA only stretches from Los Cristianos to Veronica's.

Okay I've mentioned the name, so before anyone says 'AHA', I'll come clean. The old style PDLA still exists in parts and people still flock to it, but the tide has turned. It isn't what defines the resort anymore, or it shouldn't be. Costa Adeje is considered by many as the more upmarket resort. I don't necessarily agree. There are sophisticated areas and not so sophisticated (the diplomatic term) in both resorts. In fact a couple of weeks ago I saw more 'euro a pint' offers in parts of Costa Adeje than I did in PDLA.
All of this might make me sound as though I'm now PDLA's biggest fan. I'm not. It's not the sort of place I would ever choose for a holiday, but that's because I prefer places with local culture and the sort of atmosphere that comes only from being in existence for centuries. However, I do recognise that PDLA delivers exactly what it says on the packet and it does it well and also feel that it deserves a fair hearing.

What PDLA isn't, is Blackpool in the sun (unless Blackpool has completely re-invented itself as well). But if you give a dog a bad name it sticks...even if that dog has had a shampoo, cut its hair and swapped its mongrel coat for some posh designer fur.


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Foreign Fields of Tenerife

The most foreign feeling country I’ve ever visited was…France. Until I visited France it had been Sri Lanka. The first time we visited Sri Lanka was a serious culture shock, there was virtually nothing that was familiar to me; from the crowds clinging to the wire fencing at the airport, road blocks manned by kids with Kalashnikovs (it was during the civil war), shanty towns amidst palm groves and children in rags whose smiles were as white as the surf, but there was the occasional Coca-Cola billboard…and the people did speak English.

France on the other hand was a shock. It was the first time I’d been anywhere where the people couldn’t, or wouldn’t speak English. Thank god for Andy’s grasp of the language and the difference that a couple of bottles of French country wine can make in helping you understand the lingo.

Tenerife on the other hand is a place which is as foreign as the La Tasca restaurant on Deansgate in Manchester…if you believed some.

On Sunday at a popular fiesta, the Corazones de Tejina (hearts of Tejina) in the north of Tenerife, the only other English speaking voices I heard were that of Tenerife blogger, Islandmomma and her friend Colleen.

Despite the thousands of British ex-pat residents and tens of thousands of British visitors who descend for their holidays on Tenerife every month, this isn’t something that’s uncommon. Recently at the Riscos del Fuego in Garachico we heard another English speaking voice and expressed surprise. That might seem an odd thing to say, but after years of visiting fiestas all over the island, some of which attract thousands upon thousands of people, it still comes as a surprise when we see or hear many other Brits at one (apart from those close to resort areas in the north and south).

By far the majority of people at most fiestas are Spanish speakers – most fiestas have their roots in a very strong communal bond and are held by the community for the community.
Why these fiestas don’t attract more British, I don’t know. They’re fun, visually enthralling and the people are always welcoming. In the past (before the internet changed the world) promoting them on Tenerife wasn’t a strong point and people have said to me in the past that they just weren’t aware of all the things that were going on. This might still be the case, especially if people don’t use the internet.
But the Corazones de Tejina had pride of place on billboards all over the tourist resorts and there were no more Brits there than on any other year I’ve been.

Fiestas aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and neither is local culture and that’s cool. We all have different likes and dislikes, but it still amazes me that on an island whose reputation has been one of being overdeveloped for tourism, that the reality is that so much of its towns and the events that take place in them are still invisible to most visitors.

The upside of this is that anyone looking for a holiday experience in a land that feels deliciously foreign with a culture that is quite fascinating and with traditions that border on the bizarre then…don’t laugh…Tenerife is your place.

And if you do happen to scoff at that suggestion, next time you’re in the area let me know and I’ll take you to a town away from the resorts and plonk you in the middle of a fiesta - if you’re still scoffing at that point, I promise to pay for the carafe of vino del país.