Holidays in the Canary Islands: the delights of La Gomera, with its dramatic landscapes and enchanting views
Playa del Ingles glistens in the midday sun, the soft black sands shared by only half a dozen families.
Not your typical Canary Island beach, with no traces of the bars usually packed for those seeking sun, sand and sangria, and it couldn’t be more different from its namesake in Gran Canaria. Backed by iron-red cliffs and a natural salt marsh, this beach is located on La Gomera, one of the quietest in the Canary Islands.
Just a 50 minute ferry ride from Tenerife, tiny La Gomera feels a world away. The volcanic rocks have eroded to form a dramatic landscape of wide ravines, which descend from the center like the ridges of a giant orange press.
Clifftop eyrie: The view from the green Hotel Jardin Tecina, where the rooms are arranged like a Canarian village on the slope
It’s an island of two halves – stark and barren in the south, while in the north it’s all green valleys and banana plantations, the upper slopes draped with laurel forests that could have come straight out of Jurassic Park.
Everywhere there are enchanting views. Pure volcanic plugs rise like gigantic obelisks, impossibly steep slopes once trod by farmers, clusters of pastel houses cling to the hills and beyond, sweeping the sea.
It was not so much the beauty of the country, but of the governor’s widow, Beatriz de Bobadilla, who held Christopher Columbus for nearly a month in 1492 when he stopped at the island’s capital, San Sebastian, before crossing the Atlantic. History tells us little about this time, but La Gomera has woven its own story of romantic encounters between the couple in one of the oldest fortresses in the region, the Torre del Conde. On the nearby charismatic Calle Real is the church where the explorer supposedly made his last confession before his journey, and the customs office, which has a sign that he drew water from the well to bless the New World.
Jane says Playa del Ingles (pictured), with its soft black sand, is ‘not the typical beach of the Canary Islands’
Local legend claims that Christopher Columbus and Beatriz de Bobadilla enjoyed ‘romantic rendezvous’ at the Torre del Conde (pictured)
The sights, along with a slightly uninspired museum in the 18th-century Casa de Colon, aren’t nearly as interesting as the stories, so rather than linger in San Sebastian, it’s better to head for the hills.
And what hills. Roads wind around them like mad, then climb dizzyingly before falling head over heels into the valleys, but they’re wide, well-maintained and easy to ride.
And so we reach Garajonay National Park, where La Gomera’s highest point, the 5000 ft Alto de Garajonay, peeks through the laurel forest. From the parking lot it is a three kilometer climb to the top.
However, there are far better views from the Mirador Morro de Agando, a short walk through a time-forgotten forest, full of giant tree heather and huge dandelions. It is almost as if we are in the mystical center of the island as we cross a wooden walkway, all the sunshine on the south side and a white cloudscape to the north. Then, from the viewing platform, we gaze in raptures at the Roque del Agando, which pierces the sky at 4,087 feet.
Another spectacular vantage point awaits at the Mirador Cesar Manrique, this time over the beautiful gorge that is the Valle Gran Rey, its lush narrow terraces at the foot of the slopes dotted with palm trees and red-roofed houses.
Mystical: Garajonay National Park, pictured, is home to La Gomera’s highest point, the 5,000-foot Alto de Garajonay
Jane writes: ‘We watch in rapture the Roque del Agando (pictured), which pierces the sky at 4,087ft’
Looking at the depths, it’s easy to see why, instead of walking up and down slopes to talk to neighbors, the residents of La Gomera once communicated with shrill whistles known as silbo, which can carry for miles.
“It’s not Morse code or any other language,” said Francisco Correa of the Silbo Association, putting the tip of his finger to his lips to demonstrate the singing version of his name. “It’s a simple replacement of words with whistles.”
While Silbo was in danger of extinction when the phone came to La Gomera, it is now part of the school curriculum. It’s not easy, though, my son and I discover during an impromptu lesson. It means pressing the tongue against the back of the knuckles, and we couldn’t emit any sound.
The beautiful Mirador de Abrante walkway pictured rises 2,000 feet above the town of Agulo
Pictured is the chocolate box town of Agulo, where Jane tastes ‘some of the island’s delicacies’
Five nights at the Hotel Jardin Tecina on La Gomera, with two nights at the Bahia del Duque on Tenerife, both on a B&B basis, from £1,099 pp with flight and ferry (sovereign.com).
Francisco recounts how when someone fell ill at the Mirador de Abrante lookout, an impressive glass-bottomed walkway that rises 2,000 feet above the town of Agulo, the doctor was alerted using silbo and arrived before emergency telephones arrived.
It takes a little longer after admiring the view from Abrante to reach the chocolate box town of Agulo, where we refuel on some of the island’s delicacies in what was once a schoolhouse – La Vieja Escuela. Here they serve palm syrup made from the sap of the trees mixed with cornstarch in a heavy traditional dough called gofio, which tastes a bit like burnt popcorn. I prefer it to be poured over the local pudding of leche asada (toasted milk custard).
Even better is the almogrote – goat cheese mixed with red pepper, garlic, oil and salt.
Unsurprisingly, seafood is big on this island, and in the harbor of Playa de Santiago, where we stay, we pile on plates of the freshest fish and shrimp at La Cuevita, a tiny restaurant in a cave.
It tastes even better with a glass of local white wine, made from the forastera grape.
Later we return via the lift in the mountainside to our cliff top, the Hotel Jardin Tecina. Arranged like a Canarian village on the slope, the rooms are simple but offer beautiful sea views.
That night we open the balcony doors to look at the sky – the stars burn bright in this part of the world. Suddenly we greet the most extraordinary sound, almost like an army of frogs being strangled. It turns out that the cries come from flocks of seabirds: shearwaters, returning with great fanfare to their nests in the cliffs.
Sometimes La Gomera is not the silent canary after all.