Tuesday, 22 February 2011

What Does a Weather Alert for ‘Costeros’ in Tenerife Actually Mean?

You’re about to visit somewhere like Puerto de la Cruz, Garachico or Bajamar/Punta de Hidalgo and happen to stumble across weather reports talking about yellow and orange weather alerts for wild or rough seas in the north of Tenerife.

The excitement that had built up thinking about escaping Blighty for somewhere much, much warmer drains away and you kick yourself for choosing the north of Tenerife instead of the south.

If that's the case don’t be too disheartened, I’m going to share a bit of information that even some people who live on Tenerife don’t know.  Weather alerts for costeros, as they’re called by the Spanish Meteorological Office, doesn’t mean bad weather in the way you may think; often it doesn’t even mean wild seas as some believe.

On days when we have alerts for costeros, the weather on land can be sunny and warm and even the sea can be relatively calm…except where it meets the shore that is.

Most of the time the alert only involves huge Atlantic rollers that create waves of anything up to 8 metres in height. One of these even has a name – El Bravo - and word of its pending arrival attracts surfers from all over Europe to Punta Brava where the monster wave seems to always attack.
 Alerts are common at this time of year and the sea can give Tenerife’s coast, especially in the north, a right old pounding. But, unless you were planning on spending most of your time in the water, the chances are that these types of weather alerts won’t impact on your holiday.

For sunbathers, it does mean keeping one eye out for a rogue wave…and not laying out your towel too close to the shoreline unless grabbing your belongings and making a dash for it with the sea on your tail is your idea of fun.
Lifeguards are excellent at spotting a big one from way off and will warn sunbathers if they think a wave is going to come further up the beach than is usual.
In the north of Tenerife we tend to view these huge waves as something to be enjoyed…from a distance (unless you’re a surfer). Watching this incredible force of nature is mesmerising and there can be a temptation to get as close as possible to where they break to get that ‘killer’ shot. And I use the term ‘killer’ very deliberately. Every time we have these alerts hordes of people ignore the police tape on the sea wall to get that little bit closer and every year people are swept off the wall.

Employ common sense and a healthy respect for the sea and you’ll find that being in Tenerife when there’s an alert for costeros doesn’t ruin your holiday.

Quite the opposite in fact; as well as warm weather you’ll get to see some spectacular shows courtesy of Mother Nature as a bonus.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Should You Speak Spanish in Tenerife?

Do you need to be able speak some Spanish when visiting Tenerife? Not if you’re staying in a resort you don’t. Outside of the resorts is a very different story but that's another blog in itself.
The real question is should you attempt to speak Spanish when visiting Tenerife? My view is that the answer to that should be a resounding YES.

Answering people in any country in their own language, even if it’s only thanks, please, good morning etc isn’t only respectful, it usually means that you’ll get treated differently and suddenly that grumpy faced waiter becomes all smiley and charming…most of the time.

But we British can be wary of attempting it. Sometimes it’s because we’re a wee bit scared, sometimes it’s because we’re a bit embarrassed, sometimes we think we just sound funny and sometimes we’re worried about making mistakes and being thought of as stupid, especially if we’re in the company of someone who can actually speak a bit of Spanish.

There was a couple of instances in the last week which brought the last point home to me and made me think back to our first months on Tenerife.

Andy and I studied Spanish at night school at the Cervantes Centre in Manchester for a year before moving to Tenerife. The reality of trying to communicate for real in situ compared to in a classroom, even with a native Spanish speaker teacher, proved daunting. Our confidence, not helped by the fact that the words being spoken to us didn’t sound like the words spoken by our tutors, plummeted.

We found that we were at our worst when our friend Jo from La Gomera visited. Living on La Gomera, Jo has a good grasp of Canarian Spanish and when we visited restaurants and bars even here in the resort town of Puerto de la Cruz, we sort of clammed up and let her do all the talking as though we were afraid that we’d look foolish when we got it wrong.

Nowadays, whilst nowhere near as competent in Spanish as either of us would like to be, we’re less worried about making mistakes. We’re consciously incompetent in Spanish, but most of the time can ‘get it over the net’ and mostly understand when it’s returned…as long as it’s the words aren’t whizzing towards us. ‘Más despacio, por favor’ is a commonly used phrase.

Recently we’ve noticed the ‘Jo’ syndrome in reverse. On La Palma with two well travelled friends we realised that when it came to ordering, our friends sort of whispered what they wanted to us and left us to tell the waiter. These are confident, smart people who have travelled the world and managed to get by without a problem everywhere, but because we could speak some Spanish they deferred to us.

When we realised this we encouraged them to try ordering themselves. Unfortunately at the time we were in a busy workers' café at breakfast. As Linda ordered a ‘zumo naransha pekeena’ (zumo naranja pequeña - small orange juice) the waiter looked at her bemused; when she giggled at this, the bemusement turned to a glower. It wasn’t the most confidence inspiring reaction so might have been a bit counter productive, but usually on Tenerife people don’t react like that.

Jump forward to last weekend at the San Abad fiesta in La Matanza. We took our friend Bob up into the hills to witness this gathering of animals, farmers and caballeros. Bob visits Tenerife every winter and when it comes to Spanish he’s not afraid of getting it wrong. He will try to communicate with anyone and is more often than not rewarded with a smile. He’s a prime example of someone who has picked up a lot of Spanish words and isn’t afraid to try them out; subsequently people respond accordingly.

However the hills of La Matanza are way off the beaten track. If there were more than 5 non Canarios in the thousands of people at the fiesta I’d be surprised. Mostly it was just farmers and when it was Bob’s turn to squeeze in amongst the cowboy hat wearing and slightly merry locals at the makeshift guachinche, Bob thrust a five spot in my direction. Andy and I laughed and said ‘get out of here; you can speak enough Spanish to order.’
So Bob ordered some wine and then we ordered some food and another small carafe of wine. When we finished the barman placed a complimentary carafe of wine in front of us with a smile and when we finished that one he brought another. I’ve no doubt that it was because not only were we extranjeros who’d turned out on a dull and dreary day to see his fiesta, but also that all three of us had spoken to him in his own language.

And the moral of all this is: Try using a few Spanish words and you never know what the result will be. At the very least you will have a different experience of Tenerife from those who don’t.


Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Looking for an Authentic Canarian Resort on Tenerife

A regular question that pops up from would-be visitors to Tenerife is a variation of ‘I’m looking for an authentic Canarian (Spanish) town to stay in. Where should I choose?’

The first time we heard this question we answered it we thought it meant that the person asking wanted a really authentic Canarian town and so came back with Garachico if they wanted to stay on the coast and La Orotava if they were happy to stay inland a bit.
In the end they opted for Costa del Silencio - not a place I’d have ever included in an answer about authentic Canarian resorts except maybe to say not to go there. 
 That was one of our first lessons in learning that it was important to understand what people actually meant when they said they wanted ‘authentic’.
It’s quite amazing the number of people who indicate they want somewhere with a Spanish feel and then opt for Golf del Sur or Los Gigantes. When they say authentic they often mean somewhere smaller and quieter than Playa de las Américas with a few traditional eateries, but also with bars and restaurants that wouldn’t feel too alien. Send them to Tacoronte or Güímar and an email of thanks for recommending truly authentic towns would probably not be forthcoming.

We now tend to be able to spot the people who really want the Orotava’s and Garachico’s – they are more likely to be very specific about what they’re after and, a bit of a generalisation here, are a bit better at researching online and send their questions to us directly.

TripAdvisor is an excellent tool for advice about the main resorts, but anyone really looking for ‘authentic’ Tenerife is unlikely to use it as a first stop. Nine times out of ten you can bet that anyone asking the question there is looking for Costa del Silencio, Golf del Sur or Los Gigantes.

But if you really are looking for a coastal resort (if you head into the hills anywhere on Tenerife you’ll soon find yourself faced with authentic) that has a Canarian atmosphere then here are some suggestions.

Alcalá – only a hop, skip and a jump away from the south western trio of Los Gigantes, Puerto Santiago and Playa de la Arena but more Canarian by far. Plenty of choice of varied restaurants for its size; life focuses around a small plaza and sunshine is a plenty. The luxury hotel Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora on the edge of town has brought in more visitors, but for now it’s Canarian through and through.

Playa San Juan – Next door to Alcalá and a bit bigger in size. Not quite as charming but with a much better beach. A decent amount of bars and restaurants, but there’s a lack of accommodation – probably why it still feels Canarian. A lot more British voices in town than there was even a few years ago.
Garachico – Truly authentic and historic town on the north west coast and one of the Canary Islands’ most charming. Plenty of restaurants and the hotels are small boutique affairs in wonderful old buildings. Busy with visitors during the day and quiet at night.

El Médano – Wind and Kite surfers’ favourite haunt on the south east coast that gets oodles of sun and a fair breeze (hence the surfers). Bohemian and laid back with a strong Canarian atmosphere. Loads of good restaurants and a few imaginative bars.

Las Galletas
– Joins on with Costa del Silencio but miles away in character. A Canarian town and small fishing community with a pleasant marina which has a few restaurants overlooking the sea and lots more on the seafront promenade. Complete shortage of hotels though.

Las Caletillas – Part of Candelaria on the east coast and a place favoured by Spanish holidaymakers. The old part of Candelaria where the Basilica stands is much more charming than the newer Las Caletillas area where the hotels are located. Both sides of town have a good selection of restaurants and some of the biggest fiestas on Tenerife take place in Candelaria.

Los Cristianos – some people might scoff at this suggestion. Los Cristianos may be the choice for a lot of mature European visitors but its soul is distinctly Canarian. Wander through the harbour in the day and head to San Telmo late at night and you’ll see what I mean.

Puerto de la Cruz – The best mix of Canarian town/ tourist resort on Tenerife (okay I’m biased…but it is) as it’s a working town as well as a tourist resort. As much, if not more so, a playground for Canarios from the Orotava Valley and around as it is visitors. Stick to the old town, join in the fiestas of which there are plenty and don’t party until after midnight and you’ll see a very different place from that experienced by visitors who frequent the handful of bars aimed at British visitors.
 Choose any of the above and you’ll be assured of a taste of Canarian life – but remember the strength of the flavour may vary slightly depending on how much you bite into it.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Going Native in Tenerife over the Festive Season

There’s always a lot going on over the Christmas period on Tenerife and never enough time to fit everything in. This year we were guilty of not even sending Christmas cards to some of our best friends, partly because after a number of friends and family chose the same week to escape Britain for Tenerife’s warmer climes we just ran out of time (a bit of a lame excuse I know).
Apart from the fact we were failures as friends, we enjoyed a varied and interesting festive period on Tenerife.

The Week Before Christmas
Christmas week saw two firsts for me; wild boar steaks at the Sabor Español restaurant in the Barceló Santiago Hotel in Puerto Santiago followed by getting locked in a toilet in Route 66. The first I enjoyed a lot, the latter not at all.

Sarah and Terry Lee from LiveShareTravel were exploring the island and discovering oodles of material for their website. They’d been staying at the Pearly Grey in Callao Salvaje and we met up at Garachico, halfway (sort of) between Callao and Puerto de la Cruz.
Our first two choices for lunch, El Lagar de Julio and Aristides were inexplicably closed with, in true Tenerife fashion, no explanation whatsoever – bad luck guys, you could have had Andy waxing lyrical about you on a popular UK travel site. Mind you, after seeing herself on the video taken at the Los Pinos restaurant Andy vowed she’s never going to wax lyrical on camera ever again.
After lunch we persuaded Sarah and Terry to have a quick look at the belén in the former San Francisco convent to play my favourite belén game ‘find the caganer’. But being a traditional Canarian scene and not a Middle Eastern one, the caganer was missing.
 A couple of days later with my mum, sister and her boyfriend Graeme we had much better luck at the exhibition of belénes in Puerto de la Cruz where we found not one, not two but three caganers. As a bonus one of them was doing something I’d never seen caganers do before (in the interests of decency that will just have to remain a mystery).

Christmas on Tenerife

On Christmas Eve we explored the banana plantations around Garachico in Isla Baja. Due to work commitments we haven’t been able to hoof it around Tenerife’s countryside on foot as much as we like, so it was good for soul, body and mind to wander off the beaten track again. The pit stop at the ‘unusual’ bar at the end of the walk resulted in me not only getting to drink from a bottle of cerveza but also to sip from the bloggers’ Holy Grail as well as the subsequent blog was featured on the Wordpress front page for a few days.

This year we didn’t manage to make it to Santa Cruz and La Laguna to see the Christmas decorations, but we did head up the hill to La Orotava where we were rewarded a magical display and a street exhibition of evocative metal sculptures by talented artist, Julio Nieto. Arriving at dusk was perfect as the fading light created the optimum conditions for viewing these dramatic works of art.
Boxing Day and it was another walk – from El Portillo to La Fortaleza in the Teide National Park. The highlight for me was climbing over a volcanic spur to be faced with La Fortaleza on one side, Mount Teide on the other and a broad sandy plain inbetween – it’s one of Tenerife’s many special vistas.

A couple of days later it was my birthday and an excuse to try out the sexy new Cofradía de Pescadores restaurant in Puerto de la Cruz. The seafood was fresh, plentiful and scrumptious and I vowed to return to try out the razorfish.

New Year and Tres Reyes on Tenerife
New Year’s Eve saw the annual grape wielding trip to Puerto harbour for a night of cava quaffing and dodgy salsa dancing (only by me I hasten to add). We had a relatively early one and ended up walking home via a pitch black dirt track through the bananas at 4.30am. It was a bit spooky, but the cava helped steady the nerves if not the feet.

We don’t normally go to the Tres Reyes parades on the 5th January. I could tell you that’s because it’s for the kiddiewinkles, but the truth is by that point we just want to chill. But this year we dragged ourselves to La Orotava… and it was a blast. I only took one hit to the forehead, courtesy of Baltasar who was launching sweets through the air as though he was trying for some sort of long distance throwing sweeties record.

The festive period ended with the first Tenerife Magazine meet up of 2011 which included social media expert and all round star Arantxa Ros. We chose the Cofradía de Pescadores again so that Tenerife Magazine’s southern representatives, John Beckley and Colin Kirby, could experience some northern hospitality and tuna steaks that were nearly as big as the plates they almost covered.

Of course this being Tenerife, this business meeting wasn’t like the often dry affairs we experienced in the UK. This was more sun, seafood, cervezas and smiles as we bitched about the bad, glowed about the good and generally discussed plans for Tenerife Magazine's world domination in 2011.

That's our festive season ‘Going Native’ style - good fun and keeps us up to date with what's happening across Tenerife.


Monday, 6 December 2010

Why it's important to Research Where to Stay on Tenerife?

In these days of information overload on the internet, and when so much printed word about Tenerife has been written that it’s probably responsible for the destruction of a significant chunk of the Brazilian rain forest, it wouldn't be unreasonable to wonder why would anyone need a guide to a destination that’s been visited by millions upon millions of people?

The opening paragraph in Going Native in Tenerife says it all – ‘Tenerife is an island that attracts over 6 million visitors a year, many of whom believe they know it like the back of their hands and few of whom know it at all.’

The longer we live here, the more we stand by that statement. What amazes me, for all the information that exists in print and online, is the number of people who seem to make real clangers when choosing a resort on Tenerife.

I’ve been following an enjoyable and thought provoking blog written by someone who recently visited Tenerife. He stayed for a short part of his visit in Golf del Sur (below); a place that is, ironically, being increasingly referred to by its more Spanish sounding municipality title, San Miguel de Abona. This is how he described it:
‘The soulless expanse of cheap bars, restaurants, empty units and peripheral expatriate services was as depressing as the couples wandering slowly through it with miniature dogs, cheap wine and cheddar cheese slices.’

It made me laugh - a lot. Let’s be honest, Golf del Sur isn’t a resort for anyone seeking to immerse themselves in Tenerife’s culture. Head up the hill to the real San Miguel de Abona for that (see pic below) or even take a jaunt along the coast to el Médano. To be fair, that particular blogger did actually spend most of his time on Tenerife in a banana plantation near Garachico; a town as different from GDS as chalk is from...well, cheddar cheese slices.

However, what can be quite common is for people to book a holiday in a purpose built resort on Tenerife, spend all of their time there and then complain there’s nothing Spanish (or Canarian) about the resort, or for that matter Tenerife.
There’s nothing wrong with choosing a purpose built resort if that’s what rings someone's bell, but for those who complain afterwards about it lacking character and not having a Canarian feel, it just demonstrates that they hadn’t done their research properly.

On the other hand, who’s to say it wasn’t exactly what they were looking for and that they didn’t have a great time, but how can they admit that to friends who treat the very mention of Playa de las Américas or one of the other purpose built areas the same way they would dog dirt on the shoe? This excludes Costa Adeje which, in some part thanks to a shrewd marketing strategy, is considered more socially acceptable.

There’s also another approach people use to make resorts considered, rightly or wrongly, a bit naff more acceptable and that’s being creative with names. I’ve already mentioned the Golf del Sur transformation to San Miguel de Abona and this week I checked out a series of photos on Flickr that were titled Los Cristianos by the photographer even though they were all clearly of Las Américas - god forbid that someone admits to being there. The best example of being creative about being on Tenerife I've seen recently was a bio of someone living on the island which stated they resided in Africa. Not an out and out porky, but a hell of a spin.

The point of all this is that for all the information online about Tenerife, much of it is still misinformation - deliberate or otherwise. Some travel sites selling holidays can be ultra-creative with the truth, so that quaint little fishing village they describe is actually a series of hotels and apartments built twenty years ago and centred around a man-made postage stamp sized beach. TripAdvisor can be a good resource within limits, but it is terribly, terribly subjective. One person's 'best restaurant on Tenerife' and 'top bar on the island' can turn out to be a restaurant selling cheap as chips...err chips and a bar frequented by three people and a dog, all of them sozzled, saddle-bag coloured ex-pats (the dog included).

It’s vitally important to research thoroughly and to use good sources to avoid disappointment when picking a resort on Tenerife. For all the 'helpful' information about Tenerife online, it's still not difficult to spot what good sources are. God, as they say, is in the detail.

When we were commissioned to write Going Native we were told to be completely honest about Tenerife's towns and resorts. So we were and some places don't fare particularly well, but there shouldn't be any surprises in store for anyone armed with a copy. Similarly, when commissioned to write a series of online 'insider' guides for the travel website Tenerife.co.uk the brief was more or less 'tell it how it is'. Subsequently Tenerife.co.uk has a warts and all description of all of Tenerife's resorts and also many of its less touristy towns; something you are unlikely to find on any other travel website selling holidays .

The information is out there, so there’s no real reason for someone seeking Spanish culture on Tenerife to discover on arrival at their resort that they are assaulted by signs proclaiming ‘All day British artery clogger served here’, ‘€1 a gallon of watery beer’ or ‘Z-list celebrity who desperately needs public exposure Big Brother screened tonite’…unless secretly that’s what they really want.


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Menus in Restaurants on Tenerife, Go Spanish

I’m sure it seems terribly pretentious when we’re in restaurants on Tenerife with visiting friends when the waiter asks if we want the English or Spanish menu and we always, always ask for the Spanish menu.

But there are a number of reasons why if you can understand Spanish even a bit you should follow suit.

Okay for a start there’s the obvious; it’s a good way for picking up basic Spanish words and cooking terms for anyone who wants to learn the lingo. But there are a few other, more practical reasons.

Most menus have been translated into English by someone who doesn't speak it as a first language and that can lead to some, let’s say, misunderstandings.
Two classics we came across in a restaurant on La Gomera were these - tuna done with an iron and roast paw of the house. Unfortunately neither dish was as it sounded which was a shame; one was grilled tuna (plancha is grill, but also an iron), the other roast pork.

Apart from smile-raising mistranslations, getting it wrong can lead to culinary disappointment. One time in Regulo in Puerto de la Cruz, Andy got excited by the inclusion of fish pie on the menu. She had visions of the sort of pie we cook up at home courtesy of Rick Stein’s cookbook with three types of fish, prawns and mussels in a lip-smacking sauce topped with creamed potatoes. She was gutted when a cold, fish terrine was placed in front of her.

Just last week we were in a restaurant with my sister and her boyfriend and she fancied the sea bass on the menu. Sea bass is a fish which regularly falls foul of mistranslations. In this case a quick check of the Spanish menu revealed it was actually sama, a local fish. Often it’s the dorada fish that is described as sea bass, but it’s a wee liar; dorada is bream. What we know as sea bass is actually called lubina here.

However apart from risking disappointment, the best reason for always asking for the Spanish menu is that you might be missing out if you don’t.

Recently we ate at La Casona in Puerto, again with my sis and her boyfriend. The Spanish menu included a ‘combinado’ section which was mysteriously absent from the English menu. If you’ve never come across combinado menus, you’re missing out on a Spanish style of food presentation that would have Gordon Ramsey turning the air blue.
A combinado is as it sounds a combination. So you get bizarre couplings like a fillet of cherne (grouper) served with a pork chop separated by a mountain of chips, or chicken with steak and maybe a fried egg, or frankfurter thrown in for good measure.

Combinados might have the serious chefs holding up a crucifix to ward them off, but they’re quite good fun and perfect for anyone having an attack of indecision, especially if they like their food quite simply prepared…plus they are incredibly cheap, usually well under €10.

So asking for menus in Spanish on Tenerife might sound pretentious, but at least you can be sure of what’s going to be on your plate when it arrives.


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

On the Trail of Tapas in Puerto de la Cruz

Tenerife is tapas trail mad at the moment. There are at least four tapas routes taking place as I type. There’s one in Guia de Isora, a cheese themed one in La Laguna, an aphrodisiac themed tapas route along the north coast and one in Puerto de la Cruz.

I knew Puerto held a tapas route at this time of year, but with typical Tenerife advance notice, this year’s wasn’t confirmed until the middle of last week. It started on the 5th November, perfectly timed to coincide with a visit from my sister and her boyfriend, Graeme.

The hardest thing about tapas routes is choosing where to start. With 37 restaurants and cafes in Puerto participating in this one, choosing a start point was always going to be a bit of a mare, especially when you added other conditions – a) there had to be two choices and b) under no conditions could any of the tapas dishes have tentacles. As an avid eater of anything with tentacles, the second condition took some of my first choices out of the picture.

Restaurant number seven on the tapas list I had printed off met all the criteria plus it was in one of our favourite ‘secret’ restaurants in Puerto, Casa Pache.
Last year they blew us away with their space dust ravioli, this year’s tapas were a bit more conventional; albóndigas con papa negra (meatballs with black potato) and the more imaginative timbale de batata con bonito (tuna in a sweet potato mould topped by a light red pepper sauce). As always the food was delish and whilst we tucked in, we formulated our tapas route.

Some places were ruled out because the only opened in the evening, others because they bizarrely stopped serving at 2pm. This being Tenerife, following a tapas route isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Our second choice, Pandorga turned out to be closed for vacations begging the question why were they on it? A sub was quickly found. Bar Cafeteria Central dished up a couple of decent sized montaditos (slices of crispy bread with spicy meat and  tuna toppings). It wasn’t fancy (typical of the type of food they serve), but it was tasty enough. Third stop proved a bit confusing. The map showed Heladería Paraíso, but the name above the restaurant and on the menus said Pinguino; what I’ve always know it by.

“Is this Heladería Paraíso?” I asked the waiter.
“Si,” came the reply.
“But the name says Pinguino?”
“Si, it’s the same place,” he smiled.
“The paradise penguin?” Andy suggested.
“Exacto,” he laughed.

Then to confuse matters further, when we ordered two tapas paraíso and two tapas Charco (don’t ask me what they were, this was our surprise option). But he informed us they didn’t have them, all they had was chicken.

This is another aspect of some tapas routes. You don’t always get what is on the list; it sort of adds to the adventure of the whole thing. As it turned out their shredded chicken in sauce tapas was rather imaginatively presented and tasted as good as it looked.

For our final stop – although not stuffed, the beer with each tapas (€2.50 for tapas an drink) was proving conducive to making us want to practice that most Spanish of traditions, the siesta – we chose local police haunt Maga.

I liked the parrot fish mousse a lot, but the second offering turned out to be the tastiest tapas we’d tried all day. Fillet of pork with apple and sweet potato. They might not sound like obvious companions, but their flavours complemented each other brilliantly. It was a satisfactory end to our tapas trail. Or should I say temporary end. The tapas route continues until the 28th November and having been denied my tentacle hit, there are quite a few tapas that I still want to try out including the stuffed cuttlefish at El Establo and the octopus and potatoes at Lo Que Me Gusta…