The Christmas season is almost upon us but we also know that ‘tis the season to be chilly.
Rather than follow the herd of sun starved holiday makers to the resorts in the south of the island of Tenerife, why not try the north for something different.
The weather in the north of the island may not be as warm as the south, but with average temperatures of 20C, it’s certainly still much warmer than the UK and other northern European countries. Losing some southern warmth for added natural beauty, culture, history and fine food, is truly a worthy sacrifice.
The Sydney Opera House style Auditorio in Santa Cruz provides more cultured sounds with the likes of the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra and many other visiting drama and opera companies, giving visitors a very different experience to the karaoke bars and clubs in the south.
The local culture is quite different in the north of the island too, possibly because outsiders have had less influence on its inhabitants
There are several wine growing regions that produce very good white and red wines and as expected, on the 29th November each year, a fiesta is held to celebrate the new wines.
Rather than an occasion of sampling the wines in the town of Icod de los Vinos and other peripheral villages on the northern coast, the ritual is for the local children to slide down steep cobbled streets on wooden boards.
The children on these wooden boards slide past you, sparks flying from the cobbled stones of the streets as they hurtle towards the bottom where a stack of car tyres are heaped together, providing a softer landing than their body’s to concrete.
Although it looks quite dangerous, the locals consider this ritual quite tame in comparison to the late night hours when, the boards end up carrying multiple riders at once adding to the adrenalin rush.
Puerto de la Cruz lies further to the east and nowadays, is favoured by a different crowd although it was the first tourist resort of the island.
Here, the locals celebrate the occasion in a less risky manner. The tradition here is for children to pull strings of cans, pots and pans through the streets with gusto, creating a cacophony of sound which is supposed to resemble the sound of wine barrels being brought into the town.
The stalls on the harbour offer local delicacies such as grilled sardines and baby squid. For the not so hungry, there are roasted chestnuts and all this can be washed down with fine local wine while listening to local bands creating the perfect atmosphere.
One of the locals once told me that although visitors try to schedule their holiday to coincide with certain events; it really doesn’t matter because his home village celebrates over 80 fiestas a year with each one lasting up to four days.
To you and I, that may seem excessive, but his point certainly made sense. This is a part of the island where life is lived to the full and in a much more traditional way as opposed to the alcohol fuelled bars and clubs of the south.
The north is not without its share of bars and clubs either. La Laguna in the northwest has a reputation for party life owing to the university and its ever growing campus. As in other parts of the world, students are more interested in the party culture of late night entertainment than architecture and other interests.
The 17th century convent of Santa Catalina overlooks the Jacaranda trees of the main square of the town and its nuns can look through the Moorish influenced grille on the upper floor, completely unobserved.
Canarian pine balconies adorn many homes accompanied by leafy courtyards owned by wealthy merchants of a previous era. One local stated that the courtyards were built so that guest could be greeted without having them enter the homes. The fact was that Tinerfeño/a were not outgoing people like those of southern Spain and the courtyards were specifically built to keep visitors at a distance.
Nowadays, they are used to lure visitors into parting with some of their money through boutiques and casas rurales or rural houses.
The aromatic smells wafting out of the local tascas alert you that lunchtime has arrived and drift you irresistibly to the closest one. Lunch on the island is a serious affair and that is why the siesta is such a necessity.
Most tascas offer a selection of meats, cheeses calamari, the salty Canarian potato served with mojo sauce (papas arrugadas), and delightful solomillo steaks, all washed down with excellent wine. I can now see why siesta is such a necessity.
La Orotava was once the domain of families made wealthy by the fertile valley that gave name to the town. The place has a tranquil nature with views overlooking banana plantations and beyond. The mansions, churches and perfectly preserved architecture are the only evidence left from the 16th and 17th centuries when fortunes were made from its sugar and wine trading bonanza.
In La Orotava, the Marquis de Florida’s former home is now a hotel. The fishing village of Garachico also has hotels which come in handy if you decide to do a bit of exploring in the north western region of the island also known as the Teno.
When on the island, don’t miss out on the primeval beauty of the north and what it has to offer.
Take the plunge and see a different side of Tenerife.