When searching for a suitable winter retreat, it comes as little surprise that avid gardener Sir Winston Churchill opted for the idyllic setting of Puerto de la Cruz.
Even on an island as blessed by nature as Tenerife, from the stunning views of the surrounding mountainous countryside to the black sand beaches lining the town’s shores, El Puerto is a little bit special. Renowned for being the island’s (and some say Spain’s) original tourist destination, the prime location and stable tropical climate are complemented by an extensive range of top quality attractions, restaurants and hotels. Perhaps most impressive of all however is the genuinely welcoming attitude of the townsfolk, who having had plenty of time to get used to the foreign influx (120 years and counting), treat visitors in the same easygoing manner as they do one another.
Established in 1506 as a port to serve La Laguna (then the island’s capital city) it was only some 200 years later – after a volcanic eruption destroyed the docks at Garachico – that Puerto de la Cruz became the island’s principle harbour. Known as ‘the key to the island’ due to its role in the development of international trade routes, it was this increase in naval commerce that first brought Puerto to the attention of a wider European audience. At first simply a stop off point for sailors working aboard huge fruit transporting steamers, by the middle of the 19th century a small (and wealthy) British community had settled in the area, gratefully embracing their rustic refuge away from a recently industrialised homeland. By the time the town’s first hotel, the majestic Taoro, was constructed in 1890, tourism had already replaced fishing and banana production as Puerto’s primary source of income. And whilst a succession of booms have resulted in the skyline becoming a little blighted by high rise hotels and apartment blocks, much of the town’s intrinsic charm and character is still very much in evidence today.
What to see
Surprisingly, for such a historic town, there are only a few buildings of any great interest on display in Puerto’s town centre. This is not to say that a walk through the picturesque streets is time wasted, as in all directions from Plaza del Charco (the town’s main square) there is an abundance of antique (if not instantly spectacular) architecture. Definitely worth a visit is La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia in Calle Quintana. Built in 1620 and named after the town’s patron saint, the breathtaking interior, featuring grand religious portraits framed in gold, is rightly proclaimed as one of Tenerife’s finest.
If appealing architecture is a little thin on the ground, when it comes to more natural attractions Puerto is positively spoilt. Firstly, in the hills to the rear of the town is the glorious Taoro Parque. Originally built in 1890 for the pleasure of the affluent guests residing at the aforementioned Hotel Taoro (now a casino), the immaculate water features and floral displays are outshone only by the magnificent views over the town.
Just a little further up Carretera del Botanico is El Sitio Litre, the oldest ornamental garden in Tenerife. Inside, amongst a huge number of radiant orchids you’ll discover the town’s oldest and largest Drago tree and an appreciation of the garden by Agatha Christie, who wrote The Amazing Mr Quin whilst residing in Puerto in 1929.
Last, but certainly not least, at the end of Avenida del Marquesa you’ll find the historic Botanical Gardens. For an ideal afternoon stroll, step through the front gates and discover over 200 years of botanical history. From the tropical palms to the marauding cacti, the tranquil atmosphere and fascinating exhibits exude a timeless charm that at once eases tensions and loosens muscles (for a more in depth review see issue 10 of Living Tenerife).
What to do
Catch a Wave
Situated in Punta Brava, just a ten-minute walk from the centre of town, the fine black sands and surrounding tropical greenery make Playa Jardín one of the island’s finest beaches. Originally designed by César Manrique and recently refurbished, there is a spacious beach and a host of bars and restaurants. Though swimming is possible (and popular) thanks to the semi-submerged seawall, pay attention for any sign of a red flag flying at either end of the beach, which indicates that the notoriously choppy waters of the Atlantic are unfit for bathing. For a slightly less invigorating swim, try the Lago Martiánez complex at the far end of Puerto’s seafront, which although at the time of going to print was undergoing a comprehensive renovation, still offers a sizeable pool and ample lounging area.
As Tenerife’s most popular tourist attraction and Spain’s largest wildlife park, it is easy to see how Loro Parque has achieved such elevated status amongst both locals and tourists. From the authentic Thai village at the entrance, to the stunning (and it must be said very healthy looking) variety of animals on view, be sure to allot a full day for your visit to avoid running out of time. And don’t concern yourself with walking the kilometre or so from the town to the park – there are free ‘little yellow trains’ departing from outside the Gran hotel Concordia Playa in Avenida del Generalissimo and running every 20 minutes. (+34) 922 374 081; Avenida Loro Parque; entry €22 adults,€14.50 children, includes all shows and attractions; opening hours 08.30-18.45 (last admittance 17.00)
If you fancy picking up some local crafts or delicacies, pay a visit to Casa de la Aduana (Calle Las Lonjas) which besides being a fine example of 17th century Puerto architecture also offers a vast selection of regional produce, ranging from lace tablecloths to cactus jam.
Where to stay
Originally the home to a brotherhood of Franciscan monks, the regal three-star Monopol oozes old-world charm. Opened in 1886 and run by the Familia Gleixner for the past 75 years, the antique and lushly green interior is instantly welcoming, and the rooms (92 in total) all come comprehensively equipped. Overlooking Calle Quintana and directly opposite the church of Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia, be sure to ask for a room with a balcony when making your booking.
922 384 611; Calle Quintana 15; double rooms (with balcony) from €37 per person; www.hotelmonopoltenerife.com
Just down the street but too charming to overlook, you’ll find the equally historic (and also three-star) Marquesa. Featuring finely carved wooden verandas and original furnishings, the central courtyard is almost worth a visit whether you’ve booked a room or not. Each of the 137 rooms provides a television, a telephone and with any luck, a balcony overlooking the pedestrian precinct below. And if you can read Spanish, ask a staff member for a copy of ‘El Hotel Marquesa’, a book that was published to coincide with the hotel’s centenary in 1987.
922 383 151; Calle Quintana 11; double rooms from €24 per person; www.hotelmarquesa.com
For a truly five-star stay in Puerto, book yourself into the illustrious Hotel Botanico. Aside from the exemplary service and luxurious abodes, there are also numerous top class amenities on offer including a choice of four restaurants, a comprehensive gym, and a pitch ‘n’ putt golf course. To add that final touch of opulence, pamper yourself at the recently opened Oriental Spa Garden, which features jacuzzis, a Finnish sauna and an invigorating (if not a tad chilly) ice igloo.
922 381 400; Avenida Richard J Yeoward 1; double rooms from €190; www.hotelbotanico.com
Where to eat
Casa de Miranda
Named after the pristine 18th building that it occupies, the Restaurante Casa de Miranda is the epitome of Canarian hospitality. Downstairs, amongst the wine vats and heavy wood decor, you’ll find a charming Bodeguita offering tasty tapas, whilst upstairs, the elegant restaurant is renowned for its fresh seafood. To further enhance the sumptuous Cherne (grouper) or Merluza (hake) on offer, try grabbing a table by one of the carved balconies found in the airy dining room.
922 373 871; Calle Santo Domingo 13; average price for a main course €8; open 11.30-midnight. Closed in June
Though a little less refined than some of Puerto’s more polished establishments, this modest Bodegon recommended to me by a couple of the town’s police officers still serves some of the best traditional cuisine in town. Located opposite El Peñón del Puerto (The Rock of Puerto), the restaurant is divided into small rooms, each containing two or three plain wooden tables. But don’t think for a moment that the rather sparse decoration (not too sure about the boat paintings) correlates to the standard of delicious seafood on offer.
922 380 078; Calle San felipe 95; average price for a main course €6.50; open 12.00-23.00
Should you not require a full-blown meal, head for this bright and breezy vegetarian alternative. Noted for its veggie burgers and impressive array of fresh juices and milk shakes, the interior is clean and simple and the clientele predominantly local. To get the best deal, look out for the all-inclusive Menu options, which save you money and simultaneously provide the perfect excuse to indulge in some delicious papas locas or aritos de cebolla.
922 381 619; Calle Esquivel (on the corner where it joins Calle Benjamín Miranda); price for veggie burger menu €4.25; open 13.00-16.00 and 19.00-23.00
Whilst there are numerous agreeable bars in Plaza del Charco, for something a little more urbane, head for the Color Café. Although a little hard to find (it’s on the first floor of the building next to El Centro Commercial Olimpia), once inside you’ll discover welcoming wicker chairs, a wide selection of cocktails and a great view of the lively Plaza below you. And if it’s your birthday (or near enough), why not treat yourself to one of the many varieties of cigars on offer.
629 709 081; Edf Rincón del Puerto (1st floor), Plaza del Charco; open 20.00 02.00, closed Tuesdays
With simple wooden furniture and a delightful leafy courtyard, this lively Cuban bar is for anyone with a surplus of excess energy. With a multinational clientele, a buzzing high-spirited ambience and pumping Latin samba tunes, the only obligation is that you get off your chair and dance. And don’t worry should you not know your Merengue from your Mamba; after a few loosening daiquiris you’ll soon get the hang of it.
922 387 014 Calle Iriarte 1; open 8.30-late, closed Mondays
Situated at the end of Calle Quintana, overlooking the diminutive beach of San Telmo, this is another great spot for sitting back and enjoying the view. Inside you’ll find a colourful decor, staff from all corners of Europe and a fine range of wines, beers and cocktails. With occasional live music and regular displays of art by local painters, order a couple of Caipirhas, catch a little local culture and watch the deep blue ocean crash upon the nearby black sand shore.
637 408 264; Calle de Quintana, Punta de los Vientos; open 18.00 – 02.00
From the south: The direct 343 service from Las Americas to Puerto (€10.20) runs only four times a day, with the last bus south departing at 17.35.
From the North: From Santa Cruz, both the 102 and 103 (direct) services (€3.70) depart every half-hour or so. After 22.00 only the 102 is available, running on average once every two hours.
The town’s main taxi rank can be found at the far end (nearest the sea) of Plaza del Charco.
If you find yourself short of cash, there are ATMs to suit any card around the perimeter of Plaza del Charco.
Tucked away in the sea wall in Plaza Europa, before getting stuck in to the attractions of Puerto, pay a visit to this friendly, English-speaking bunker of information. And should you require the services of the local constabulary, the police station can be found in the same square, directly opposite the underground car park (see below).
Unlike most other towns in Tenerife, Puerto is a veritable parker’s paradise. The largest and most central car parks (both underground) can be found at Plaza Europa (€1.00 an hour) and under the Centro Comercial Martiánez shopping complex (€1.05 an hour) off Calle de Aguilar y Quesada.