The Tenerife diaries: San Cristóbal de la Laguna
To celebrate the arrival of the New Year on Monday, I took the tram from the centre of Santa Cruz to La Laguna – or, to give it its full title, San Cristóbal de la Laguna – a city that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Formerly the capital of Tenerife, La Laguna is a jewel, filled with quaint and colourful streets and colonial architecture. At 600 metres above sea level, there is no beach – which means that it’s off the usual tourist trail and is a real delight to explore in the absence of crowds, particularly at this time of the year.
(Incidentally, public transport on the island of Tenerife is both cheap and efficient. Trams, local buses and intercity buses are all very frequent. My daily return journey to walk the beautiful beach of Las Teresitas costs me a whole €1.50. Las Teresitas is a man-made beach of imported Saharan sand: local government decided that the citizens of Santa Cruz needed such a pleasant amenity and it was lovely to see whole families enjoying the Christmas and New Year holidays there on a couple of kilometers of spotlessly clean sand.)
Anyway, back to La Laguna: most of the city dates from the fifteenth century and was constructed without the protection of any city walls. It’s now a university town and the extensive pedestrianised streets that make up the old quarter mean that it is a real pleasure to stroll around.
Apparently its efficient grid system design meant that La Laguna was used as the blueprint for many South American cities.
The next day, I visited Orotava, a town that lies just a short journey from La Laguna. There, in the main square, the Christmas season was celebrated extravagantly. Around the traditional crib were displays of all the different cultural influences in the Canary islands.
Right in the centre of Orotava, dating from the seventeenth century, is the ‘House of Balconies’ (La Casa de los Balcones) which, as its name suggests, is famous for the elaborately carved wood of the balconies that adorn its facade. All over the town there are beautiful courtyards set back from the streets, filled with plants and fountains – oases of tranquillity.
Each year, during the Festival of Orotava, whole carpets of sand, flowers and seeds are created in order to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi.
The majestic Mount Teide is visible from everywhere in Orotava – a volcano which last erupted in 1909.
Tenerife’s almost perfect climate means that it is a mecca for sun-seekers: but most of the large resorts are in the south of the island.
Up north, even in the capital city of Santa Cruz, life has a slow, graceful pace.
I could get used to this: particularly when I hear the January weather reports from home…