Tenerife, Canary Islands—La Orotava and the surrounding Orotava valley, situated at the foot of Mount Teide, has been lauded for centuries for its picturesque setting. Alexander Humboldt, renowned German naturalist and world traveler, who visited in 1799, and is considered to be the first preserver of La Orotava, said, “I confess that I have never anywhere seen a more varied scene, one more attractive and lovely than the Valley of La Orotava, with the layout of its masses of vegetation and rocks, not even after having traveled along the banks of the Orinoco, or to the mountains of Peru.”
Now, more than 200 years later, I was walking through the cobbled streets of its historic town center, along with the rest of our international bloggers group. Our first stop was the Casa de los Balcones (House of the Balconies), a 17th century mansion built in 1632, named for its balconies, intricately carved from Canarian pine. Now it has been transformed into small shops, one that displayed exquisite handcrafted embroidery and lace on tablecloths, handkerchiefs, and other linens. I would have loved to bring home a sampling of this traditional craft that has been handed down through the generations, but our time was limited and soon we were on our way.
We followed our guide, José Ramón, down Calle Colegio and up a flight of stairs, where we arrived at a flour mill, Molino de Gofio La Maquina. It is here that gofio, a type of flour, is made from grain (usually corn or wheat) that has been toasted before being milled. Originally hand-ground between two millstones, and later ground using water mills, the process is now done electronically.
Gofio, a staple of the guanches, who were the original inhabitants of Tenerife, is one of the island’s most traditional foods and one of the most versatile. (More to come on gofio recipes and its many uses in a future article.) As I sampled a kernel of the toasted corn, its nutty flavor reminiscent of popcorn or corn nuts, and looked out over the voluptuous valley below us, leading down to the sea, I felt a tinge of envy at the workday view the miller we met has from his window.
Our walking tour of La Orotava continued past the town hall to a small botanical garden, La Hijuela del Botánico, which means daughter of the botanic garden. A larger one is in nearby Puerto de la Cruz. This one was created in 1788 and contains more than 100 species of tropical and sub-tropical plants from throughout the world.
A wonderful example of the Dragon Tree (Drago), found throughout the Canary Islands, is a focal point of this lovely garden. It is an ancient species that has become a natural symbol of Tenerife. The Dragon Tree’s bark secretes a reddish resin, mythically dubbed "dragon's blood." While they used to be cut down and used to make varnishes and lacquers, the tree is now protected.
Our walk continued through an archway that led to views overlooking magnificent villas and an area of stair-stepped terraces made more beautiful by the blooming flowers, bright sun and blue skies. Is it possible that we began our day hiking around the side of the Mount Teide volcano in below-freezing temperatures?
Our time in this historic town was much too brief, but I’m grateful to our guide, José Ramón, for building in this impromptu stop on our itinerary, before we traveled on to Santa Cruz to check into Hotel Taburiente. The evening’s May Festival events were yet to come.
Next: The Fiestas de Mayo (May Festival) in Santa Cruz—Tenerife, Canary Islands: island of ‘eternal spring,’ day 4: Fiestas de Mayo (May Festival)
Additional information on Tenerife, Canary Islands, including La Orotava and other points of interest, may be explored at WebTenerife.