Santa Úrsula is a thriving shopping and commercial centre, richly endowed with excellent restaurants and all manner of retail outlets. Furthermore, on every other garage door and garden gate, the ‘se vende vino’ signs invite you to buy locally produced wines. In short, Santa Úrsula is a great place to eat, drink and shop; for some of us, three of life’s greatest pleasures.
The roads climb steeply from behind the main street into the upper reaches of the municipality providing you with heart stopping moments as your car, if it’s anything other than a 4 x 4, starts to slide inexorably backwards on the 1 in 1 incline; even the short stroll from town to the Post
Office leaves you glancing anxiously around for the oxygen bottle. But head down towards the coast and you see a different face to Santa Úrsula; for although a quiet invasion of new housing developments is creeping across the headland of La Quinta, in the as yet untouched area of Malpaís, nature still holds sway; the mighty cliffs that guard Barranco Hondo and provide sanctuary for seabirds like the shearwater are carpeted in the lush palm groves that were once prevalent throughout this area.
In pre-Hispanic times, this north westerly area of Tenerife was one of the most densely populated by the first inhabitants of the island; the Guanches. Living in caves, they grew subsistence crops and tended livestock, moving from upper to lower levels from spring to autumn in search of rainfall. These seasonal trails became known as ‘camino real ’ and there’s a walkable patchwork of them throughout the municipality of Santa Úrsula, along with many sites of Guanche remains including the Cueva de Bencomo, or Cueva del Rey (King’s Cave), which contains primitive wall engravings.
Following the Spanish conquest, the lands in Santa Úrsula were given over primarily to the cultivation of cereals and vines; the vines thrived in this area, which ultimately become part of the Tacoronte-Acentejo region; the first on the island to receive a Mark of Origin.
In 1922 The Fyffes Banana Company bought their first terraces on Tenerife in Santa Úrsula and built galleries to provide water to the crops.
Always at the hub of transport, Santa Úrsula was an obligatory stop on the mid nineteenth century Santa Cruz to La Orotava horse-drawn carriage route; the horses were rested at Cuesta de la Villa, and in 1902 it was on the first bus route on the island which ran from La Laguna to La Orotava.
What to See
You know you’re in the centre of Santa Úrsula when you arrive at the imposing Town Hall with its row of flags and young drago Trees. It’s worth popping in here to see their collection of old photographic prints that adorn the ground and first floor walls. The photographs show landscapes covered in palm groves, vines, bananas and fruit trees, right up to the latter half of the last century.
The church of Santa Úrsula, opposite the Town Hall, was founded in1587 and is devoted to the British Saint, Ursula. It has a single nave which widens into a cross before the altar providing two side chapels separated by arches of Acentejo blue stone.
On Good Fridays, a procession follows the camino real from the church down to El Calvario; a simple altar of three crosses dating from the early seventeenth century.
Opposite El Calvario are the Casona and Ermita of San Luis, the ermita still retains its original 1680 style, including the central stone arch and Arabic tiles; the surrounding plaza is planned for extensive renovation later this year.
When Santa Úrsula named the viaduct over Barranco Hondo ‘Puente del Rey’ (The King’s Bridge), it was no idle whim of a planning officer, for this bridge was actually commissioned by a King; Alfonso XIII, on a visit in 1906. Designed by engineer José Eugenio Ribera, this elegant structure can only be seen in its entirety by walking up the hill opposite the restaurant ‘El Cuevita’, on the TF217 Santa Úrsula side of the bridge.
Signposted on the TF21 towards La Orotava is the Mirador Humboldt. It’s from this point that the famous German explorer and scholar is said to have first noticed how the vegetation varied from coastal to upper regions, adapting in layers to its environment; thus began the new science of geo-botany. Humboldt might not recognise it today, but it’s still a great vantage point over the Orotava Valley.
What to do
There are ancient trails leading to unspoilt ravines and secluded coves all along Santa Úrsula’s coastline. Recent urbanisation, however, has meant that finding them can prove more taxing than cracking the ‘Da Vinci code’. Two hundred yards before Café Vista Paraiso, a passage, marked by an eroded metal sign, leads to a path which meanders through glorious countryside to the coast. Beyond La Quinta Park Hotel, a woodland track dissecting a row of trees emerges at four wonderful mature drago trees. The best is found across the bridge over the TF5 at the end of Camino Malpaís. One ‘dead end’ road from the roundabout leads to the historic Ermita of San Clemente, whilst on the other, a recently restored trail descends through the beautiful Barranco Hondo to a small beach lapped by crystal waters; a perfect spot for appreciating why the Acentejo coastline was once considered to be one of the most beautiful natural areas of the island.
Fit for a king
Before the Mirador Humboldt a Guanche mural signals a road which serpentines upwards; from its hairpin bends, two paths follow the valley’s curves to the Cueva del Rey (King’s Cave). The lower trail gently crosses goat pastures to emerge opposite the cave, whereas the higher path will appeal to Indiana Jones types. A narrow concrete water course, thankfully with handrail, clings to the hillside; its highpoint, literally, is the vertigo inducing aqueduct which spans the ravine directly above the cave. Admittedly, views from the safety of the road may be as good, but they don’t come with the added adrenalin rush.
Parque Las Palmeras, on what was once a palm tree filled plain, is a recreational area with a difference. Amongst the shrubbery, a jogging track and wooden exercise apparatus, designed to work abdominal and upper arm muscles, have transformed the park into an open air gymnasium, or torture chamber depending on your viewpoint. Have a go, or pop across to the adjacent park (open 17.00-21.00 daily, 10.00-13.00 & 17.00-21.00 Saturday & Sunday, closed Thursday) where trickling water from the fountain and birdsong from the small aviary provide a more relaxing alternative.
Dulcería La Sirena
This isn’t just a cake shop; this is compelling temptation with a fridge and opening hours. The fabulous handmade birthday cakes are themed from Disney classics to naughty postcards and the range of fancies will get you mentally stepping onto the treadmill before you’ve even ordered.
(+34) 922 302 927; Carretera General, 15; open 11.00-21.00 Monday to Saturday, closed Sunday
Where to Stay
La Quinta Park
An oasis of tranquillity set in expansive tropical gardens overlooking the Atlantic. The sumptuous Spa Club offers health, relaxation, beauty and health regimes in an aquatic turquoise wonderland. Just walking through the door loosens the neck muscles a notch.
(+34) 922 300 266; Club Spa (+34) 922 300 951; Urbanización La Quinta; www.spa-clublaquintapark.com; junior suites for two people from €54 per night
Casa Rural ‘Peraza’
For those who prefer a simpler and more rustic base from which to explore, the Peraza offers traditional accommodation for up to six persons in the La Corujera district. The steepness of the streets here offers an aerobic alternative to the gym.
(+34) 922 300 379; ‘Casa Peraza’; Antigua Corujera, 40; €72 per night for two persons
Where to Eat
The old road through Santa Úrsula is renowned for its choice of quality restaurants. Setting the benchmark is the impeccable ‘donde Mario’, one of a trio of delightful restaurants run by the same family, where quality and attention to detail in both food preparation and décor ensure both eyes and appetite will be suitably sated. Inspired traditional and international dishes, which appear to have been designed to complement the mint fresh interior design, and a cellar of the finest wines make donde Mario’s a culinary must.
(+34)922 304 585; Carretera Provincial, 119; average cost of a main course €20; open 13.00-16.00 & 18.00-23.30 daily, closed Sunday
Although the menu is typical Canarian, chef, Victor Manuel Ortiz’ skill is such that familiar dishes taste mouth-wateringly original; lamb melts in the mouth whilst pork chops elicit pleasurable sighs. Five star food at embarrassingly low prices in a charming old mock henhouse.
(+34) 922 303 010; Carretera Provincial, 171; average cost of a main course €6; open midday-midnight, closed Thursday
La Bodeguita de Enfrente
With a creative menu matched only by its exquisite dining area, it comes as no surprise to learn that this intimate ‘Bodeguita’ is run by sons of Mario, of ‘donde Mario’ fame. By following their father’s philosophy they’ve created a great little restaurant to enjoy some tantalising tapas.
(+34) 922 302 760; Carretera Provincial, 205; average cost of a main course €15; open 18.00-midnight, closed Tuesday
Possibly because of the proximity of the Popular University, the bars in Santa Úrsula have a more contemporary style than is usually found in smaller communities around the island. On Carretera General, atmospheric Africa is a particularly chic example, whilst Mirlo Blanco and Tijarafe are inviting and individualistic watering holes in which to soak up the ambient atmosphere as well as some local wine.
Cultural refreshment is provided by concerts, plays and art exhibitions which are regularly staged in the municipal cinema and theatre on Carretera General and in the Casona San Luis in El Calvario
From Las Americas and Los Cristianos catch the 110 or 111 service to Santa Cruz, departing every thirty minutes from 06.15 until 20.45, then transfer to the 101, departing, also half hourly, between 06.00 and 21.30.
From Puerto de la Cruz, the 101 service departs every half hour from 05.30 to 21.00
The taxi rank is outside El Medievo on Carretera General; telephone 922 300 031
The nearest office, with leaflets and information covering the whole Acentejo area, is in Tacoronte opposite Plaza Estación. Cultural agendas can be found in Santa Úrsula’s library on Calle Alejo Pérez (open 09.00-14.00 & 16.00-21.00 Monday to Saturday).
(+34) 922 570 015; Carretera Tacoronte-Tejina; open 09.00-14.00 Monday to Friday
There are spaces all along Carretera General.
Party time comes to town in early May and on 21st October when the Day of the Cross and the fiestas in honour of Saint Úrsula are celebrated. The church and main square are garbed out with stunning flower garlands and elaborate arches constructed with harvest fare, whilst the atmosphere in town is ignited by spectacular pyrotechnic displays.