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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Getting Your Pound's Worth of Tenerife

Lago MartianezLast month's continuing growth of the Euro is very good news for anyone who has a holiday home here, but to the millions of Brits who are planning to travel to Tenerife on holiday this year it means higher prices and tighter belts.

That's particularly bad news for those who want to spend all their days around their hotel or in their resort.

A survey of 2,053 Brits on behalf of Halifax Travel Insurance last month revealed that, when they get to their exotic holiday location, Brits spend on average less than 7 hours in total away from the 'bubble' of their resort.

The report went on to find that almost three quarters of package holiday Brits never visit modern tourist attractions such as water or theme parks. All they want is a long day at the same pool followed by a long evening in the comforts of the same bar and they even prefer eating in the resort rather than sampling local cuisine. All of which may prove to be bad news for a wallet full of currency that's struggling to carry its suitcase.

So, how do you make your weak sterling go further when you come to Tenerife? It's easy; take it by the hand, buck the survey results, and give it some exercise.

Firstly, avoid the places where prices are at their highest, that is, the Brit resorts of the south coast. You'll pay substantially higher prices for meals, drinks and snacks in Playa de las Américas, Costa Adeje and Los Cristianos than you will virtually anywhere else on the island. Opt instead for locations such as Puerto de la Cruz, Playa San Juan and El Médano where Canarios and Spanish mainlanders also holiday; you won't find them paying the sorts of prices being charged on the south coast, they're notoriously canny when it comes to value for money and you'll do well to follow in their footsteps.

Regular contributors to the popular on-line holiday planning resource of TripAdvisor are complaining about the prices of drinks in the southern resorts where many of the bars are charging €6 (£4.80) for a spirit and mixer. Prices are even higher in hotel bars. Although prices vary hugely, the TripAdvisor regulars are quoting an average of €25 (£ 20) per person just for standard restaurant meals, many of which are of the micro-waved 'chips with everything' variety, and as much as €50 (£40) for up-market French restaurants such as El Roque and Bistro D'Alain.

Last time I was in Playa del Duque, I was amazed to see that restaurants were charging €16 (£13) for 'Cherne', a white, meaty Grouper commonly caught in these seas and very popular on traditional Canarian menus. In Puerto de la Cruz you'll pay €7 (£5.60) for Cherne.

Move away from the resort areas of the south and you'll pay €2 (£1.61) for a pint of Dorada, €3.50 (£2.82) for a 'combinado' (spirit and mixer) and €4.50 (£3.62) for a cocktail. For top notch dining in Puerto de la Cruz you can expect to pay around €30 (£24) per person including wine, and in most of its 300 or more restaurants you're more likely to be faced with a bill of under €18 (£14.50) and an average of €9 (£7) for the menu del dia. You'll also find that chips are almost always passed over for 'papas arrugadas con mojo' (small, salty boiled potatoes with spicy sauces).

Secondly, even if you can't possibly consider staying anywhere other than Costa Adeje or Playa de la Américas, get out of the hotel or resort and explore. You can pick up a BONO bus card for either €12 (£9.67) or €30 (£24) at kiosks, shops and bus stations displaying the green 'BONO Bus' sign which will get you half price travel on the extensive network of buses that will take you all over the island.

The Titsa bus service is clean, efficient and (mostly) reliable and it's a great way to see the island as you travel. Lunches, drinks, ice cream and snacks will all cost you a fraction of the price outside of your resort or hotel and you'll gather a stock of experiences and memories to take back home with your suntan.

It's ironic that most of the trips offered by travel reps, (Loro Parque, Masca, La Orotava, Garachico) are in fact in the north, centre or west of the island which means those staying in the south are travelling further and paying more for the privilege of visiting the less expensive locations.

If you prefer to have complete independence over your travel arrangements, you can hire a car on Tenerife for very reasonable prices with a one week rental falling mainly in the €150 (£121) to €200 (£161) range but can be for as little as €102 (£82). Petrol is also cheaper here than in the UK.

Finally, if you really can't be crow-barred away from a day by the pool, discover some of the island's wonderful swimming pool complexes. Some, like the ones in Puerto de la Cruz and Santa Cruz, have been designed by the Lanzarote born architect and designer César Manrique and offer tropical landscaping, comfort and beautiful design alongside aqua waters, restaurants and bars for just €3.80 (£3) for the price of your sun lounger and mattress for the day and you'll still be saving money on your drinks, snacks and Piz Buin.

If there's to be a silver lining to the strength of the Euro for holidaying Brits, it's the opportunity to get out and experience some of the real Tenerife and to go home feeling like they've actually been abroad; you never know, it may just catch on!

Copyright © 2008 Real Tenerife Island Drives. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without the written permission of Real Tenerife Island Drives.

    Lying on a beach all day every day might make for a relaxing holiday, but memories of it fade as quickly as your sun tan. Island Drives is aimed at travellers who want to experience the real essence of Tenerife, not just its pools and beaches. If you want an unforgettable holiday as opposed to a good one, Real Tenerife Island Drives will make the difference.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

2008 Year of Agustín de Betancourt in Tenerife

Agustín de Betancourt y Molina (1758-1824), whose 250th Anniversary is being celebrated throughout the year in Puerto de la Cruz.
You don't need to spend very long in the Canary Islands before you'll, undoubtedly, see or hear a reference to the name of Betancourt.

There's Tenerife and Guatemala's shared Saint, Hermano Pedro de San José Betancurt who was born in Vilaflor, back in 1626, while prominent engineer, Agustín de Betancourt (Biografía), was born in Puerto de la Cruz, on the north of the island, 250 years ago, on February 1st, 1758.

Both of these famous men, among other folk of Canary Island descent, still bearing the surname, can trace their ancestry to the French explorer and conqueror of the islands of Fuerteventura and Hierro, Jean de Béthencourt, who had first landed on the island of Lanzarote in 1402.

Anniversary to be marked by King's visit

The King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, who has accepted the Presidency of the Committee of Honour for the commemoration of the 250th Anniversary of Betancourt's birth, is to visit Puerto de la Cruz for the celebrations, it has been confirmed, in a letter from the head of the King's household, Alberto Aza, to Puerto de la Cruz' mayoress, Lola Padrón.

For Puerto de la Cruz, where 2008 has been declared the Year of Agustín de Betancourt, the King's visit will also be an opportunity to rekindle old ties between the monarch and the city, to which he presented a Gold Medal in 1985, as well giving as just recognition to such an important, local figure.

Meanwhile, among the various events to mark the occasion in St Petersburg, was the issuing of a Russian postage stamp dedicated to the Tenerife born engineer.

Father of Modern Engineering

Agustín de Betancourt y Molina is considered to be "the father of modern engineering" in both Spain and Russia, with work that ranged from steam engines and balloons to structural engineering and urban planning. (An Iberian Isambard Kingdom Brunel if you will (and indeed their life spans partially overlap.)

Betancourt, who supervised planning and construction in Saint Petersburg and was involved in other significant projects, including the Moscow Manege and The Saviour Cathedral in Nizhny Novgorod and, works in other Russian cities, reached the rank of General in the Russian army of Tsar Alexander I and was the first director of the Madrid School of Civil Engineering, also visited England where he met Scottish steam engine pioneer, James Watt.

Curious then, that whilst Puerto de la Cruz and Betancourt are good enough for a King and, the engineer was also good enough for one of Russia's Tsars, that there seems to have been some bickering at Puerto town hall when opposition Coalición Canaria party didn't want to see Betancourt's name replacing that of former dictator, Franco, for one of the town's main streets.

Holidays for Modern Engineers

Bust of Agustín de Betancourt outside the church of Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia, in Puerto de la Cruz.
On the north side of the Plaza de la Iglesia Photos here (church square) alongside the church of Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia Photos here, is a bust of Agustín de Betancourt Photos here.

You can actually stay on the spot where Agustín de Betancourt was born, because the Hotel Monopol, opposite the bust, is built on the site of his birthplace.

(The hotel is in the Calle Quintana, which runs at right angles to the Calle Agustín de Betancourt. Both are pedestrianized streets in the center of the town.)

As well as being in this delightful setting and offering a superb family style service, the Hotel Monopol has "typical Canarian style wooden balconies and an internal glass atrium", it is said, "filled with palms and other exotic plants"!

And if you want to know more about Puerto de la Cruz, start with the Visitors' guide to Puerto de la Cruz, written by people who actually live in the town.

Join the Pilgrimage along Brother Peter's Way

Church of San Pedro, Vilaflor.
Anyone who's up for a nice little downhill stroll, should mark Saturday, April 19th, 2008 in their diary, which is the date of the III Ruta del Camino del Hermano Pedro, the 3rd edition of the now annual pilgrimage down the Camino del Hermano Pedro (Brother Peter's Way): the route that was taken by the Tenerife born Saint, Hermano Pedro de San José Betancurt, when he made his way from his native village of Vilaflor Photos here (Tenerife's highest village, up in the mountains), down to his cave near the coast at El Médano.

Statue of Hermano Pedro in the village of Vilaflor.
Last year, apparently around 1,000 people took part in the guided walk, which began at 7 a.m. from the center of Vilaflor, to reach the cave, which is now a shrine dedicated to the saint, at around 1 p.m.

Starting at an altitude of around 1,400 meters, the route descends to the cave, at a mere 64 m / 209 ft above sea level, by the Tenerife South Airport.

The Hotel Spa Villalba, which is in Vilaflor, is listed as being 14.4 km (about 9 miles) from the airport - as the crow files. Don't forget that not even main roads go in straight lines here! Your mileage may vary, but the walking distance will be longer.

Hermano Pedro's cave is on land owned by the Spanish Airports Authority, AENA and, is right next to the end of the airport runway. (Location) Jack Montgomery informs me, that there are landing lights right by it too!

Hermano Pedro, of course, did the route regularly with his goats and, walked across Central America to La Antigua, Guatemala, where he lived and died, is buried, illuminates and, if not landing lights, keeps the candle industry going.

This video, by José Juan Cano Delgado, geographer at the University of La Laguna, condenses the 6 hour walk down to just over 3 minutes, but it gives you a good idea of the terrain and the contrasts in scenery along the way.

Maybe faith does help keep people going until the end, but I doubt it is entirely necessary to enjoy the exercise, the convivial company and the landscape.

And as this article by José Juan Cano Delgado points out, the Camino del Hermano Pedro is, by far, not the only one of these traditional old footpaths or rights of way on the island. He lists numerous others and suggests the possibility of rediscovering the south of Tenerife along these routes, if the authorities and, above all, local population work to conserve them (and visitors use them.)

Interior of Hermano Pedro's cave.

Exterior of Hermano Pedro's cave.

Another image of the area outside the cave Photos here and a collection of images of both outside and inside Photos here More: See Tenerife The Saintly Way

Map showing the route, roughly as the crow flies:

Larger map

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

April is Wine Month in Tegueste, Tenerife

You'd be forgiven for thinking that every month is wine month in Tenerife - the quality here really is superb - but April is, officially, wine month in Tegueste on the north of the island.

And they're celebrating it with gusto including; visits to bodegas, theme nights, a tapas bar crawl in Tegueste, cinema, live gastronomical demonstrations, photographic exhibition, other entertainments, and, of course, wine tasting.

Throughout the whole of the month, you can join the Ruta de la tapa y del vino de Tegueste (Route / crawl of tapas and wine bars) that passes through various establishments in the town. Shouldn't be too difficult to find ones with some sort of poster or leaflet, bearing the wine stain logo of the current promotion.

For more details of individual events, download the PDF program or visit Tegueste town hall website, Abril, Mes del Vino en Tegueste 2008 (in Spanish).
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