Head to the hills, Vilaflor – Tenerife

Close to the south of Tenerife is the quaint village of Vilaflor. Surrounded by pine forests it is the highest village in Spain, located at 1,500 meters above sea level.

It has been a long time since we last visited but the views remain as magnificent as ever.

vilaflor-49

The main economy, apart from Fuente Alta mineral water, is agricultural, although these days a bit of rural tourism is thrown in for good measure.

The main street has a number of shops, bars, and restaurants but if you arrive during the heat of the afternoon, it is eerily quiet. The walkers are well into their treks, the villagers are indoors behind closed shutters.

There is, however, more to see than just admire the orange trees and potted plants from a shady roadside bench. Once you reach the small but well-kept centre there are several historical buildings close together.

Vilaflor is the birthplace of the first Canarian saint. Brother Pedro was born in here in 1626 and his presence is everywhere, from the statue as you enter town, the plaques outside the houses and the town centrepiece, the village church the Iglesia de San Pedro Apostle. There is also the Batlemita convent building began in the 18th century, and finally finished in 1980 it now houses a museum.

Check out the remains of the old water mill, built in 1664 and used until 1915, and you can still see where the grain was ground. A few yards down the road is Los Lavaderos where in the past poor families did their washing. You can also see the old steam pump used to provide water to the town laundry.

The Casa de Los Soler is one of the most important examples in the south of traditional Canarian architecture. The Marquis of Soler built it in the 17th century.

La Huerta Grande is a bakery very similar to the one in Casa de Los Soler. It is located inside a private property opposite the Fuente Alta bottling plant. Access is from the Plaza de San Pedro. The oven made up of two parts has been abandoned for many years and while one part is in reasonable and recognisable condition the other has crumbled.

Located just outside the village there is a large carpark, where you should pull in to admire the views. Across from this, a small path will take you to El Pino Gordo a spectacular Canary Island pine that is said to be more than 800 years old, is 60m high and more than 3m in diameter. On a hot day, it is the perfect place to sit on one of the small benches and enjoy the shade from the tree.

Vilaflor is not only worth a visit for its historical sites it is surrounded by exceptional landscapes that make it a paradise for walkers. The best way to visit is by car but public transport, (TITSA Line 482) can whisk you from Los Cristianos in a little over 30 minutes.

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Corazones de Tejina (Hearts of Tejina) – Tenerife

The fiestas in honour of San Bartolomé last approximately 15 days culminating in the Corazones de Tejina that usually takes place on the last Sunday in August in Tejina. The program covers all kinds of events, cultural, sports, art, folklore, and is a time of fun for all who attend.

Offerings of flowers and fruit are common in celebrations by people involved in agriculture, not only in Tenerife, but throughout the Canary Islands. The origins can be traced back to the pre-Hispanic inhabitants who used flowers to decorate places to honour important people, and especially at their annual harvest festival, called Beñesmén. However, no celebration is as quirky as the Hearts of Tejina.

Three village streets “Arriba”, “Abajo” and “El Pico” compete with each other for the most beautifully decorated heart. The hearts measuring about 12 feet long and weighing about 1000kg are intricately adorned with ribbons and fruits. In each quarter is placed a cake (represent different agricultural customs). They are crowned with a large bouquet and Spanish flags and finally paraded, on the shoulders of the men to the church to be ritually offered to St Bartholomew the patron saint. All the while fireworks and rockets accompany groups of dancers and singers attending the celebrations. The entire village gets involved, and everyone is motivated by local pride and a love of the land.

Afterwards, the hearts are hung on a cross like structure and left until Monday at 6pm when the people eagerly await the moment they are dismantled and the fruit and cakes thrown to the public.

Experience Tenerife as you’ve never seen it before and soak up the fun at the most unusual summer fiesta on the island.

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Navigating our way around Portugal

I said previously, when talking of the Algarve, that Portugal isn’t our favourite country. This time my thoughts are on non-resort places, including Lisbon.

Starting with Coimbra once Portugal’s capital and home to one of the world’s first universities, its biggest attraction.

Our hotel had spectacular views of the old town. Coimbra stands on a steep hill and in the narrow streets are plenty of cafes, shops, and numerous historical sites. There is an old and a new convent, not satisfied with that, the city brags two cathedrals, the old “Sé Velha” and the new “Sé Nova”. However, the name is a bit misleading, since the new has been around since 1598. Close by, are the ancient houses called “Republicas” where university students live, just as they did centuries ago.

After climbing the hill, we needed a coffee in what was once a chapel. It is a great place to absorb the atmosphere, with its vaulted ceiling, stained-glass windows, and wood panelling. Behind the café, a delightful garden and lake, ‘Santa Cruz Park’ (easy to remember). I imagine, the peace and quiet in the midst of the city, makes it great for a picnic. We had lunch at a popular hole-in-the-wall restaurant in a back alley. It had only a few tables, but the walls were plastered with numerous messages from visitors from around the world.

Coimbra although a provincial town is big on history. We spent two days there but coach parties can take in the highlights in just a couple of hours.

We continued our journey to Fatima by way of the Gothic masterpiece Batalha, built in the 15th/16th centuries. The outside is covered in gables, pinnacles, buttresses, and small columns. The interior justifies a visit in its own right. It is vast and the stained-glass windows exceptionally beautiful. In the Founder’s Chapel are several tombs including that of Prince Henry the Navigator.

Naturally, this ex-convent girl knew about Fatima, a shrine for those who believe the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in 1917. It attracts thousands of pilgrims from around the world. On one side of the plaza the basilica, with the tombs of the three children, two died in 1919 and 1920, and Lucia dos Santos, died in 2005.

Across the plaza an ultra-modern chapel and a number of shops selling religious articles. We bought a Jesus, when next seen, he’d been converted into a pilot complete with goggles, and flying helmet, well he was the right size for the model plane.

Having visited Lisbon before, the grim exterior of our hotel, although clean and modern inside, surprise us. The area is supposedly good, but what it lacked in simple charm was made up for by ´scruffy´ apartments; however, we slept well and forgot the tat beyond the door.

Lurching and rumbling across the hills on which Lisbon stands, our city tour took us to St George’s castle, for a bird’s-eye view over Alfama, the city’s medieval neighbourhood. Then by sharp contrast, to Parque das Nacoes, with its contemporary architecture, and Europe’s longest bridge.

No visit to Lisbon is complete unless it includes the impressive monument to Henry the Navigator, and the Belém Tower. Like many places visited by coach parties, we didn’t have to walk far, and being a Sunday it was quiet when we were dropped at the waterfront and Portugal’s “Age of Discoveries”.

Our first stop was the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. Built in the 1500s it is huge, and while built in honour of Henry the Navigator, it is also the resting place of Lisbon’s second favourite explorer Vasco da Gama. Its cloisters are considered among the most beautiful in the world no surprise it is a World Heritage Site.

Across the road is the Monument to the Discoveries, that depicts Henry gazing dreamily across the Atlantic, at its base a mosaic compass showing routes sailed by Portuguese explorers. Mythical beasts, ships, and mermaids add colour and a little fantasy.

Next the iconic Torre de Belém. This squat tower has had a mixed past, having been a prison, a customs house and a lighthouse.

The final stop in Belém and a different kind of journey. Statue of the Santa Cruz Seaplane used by Coutinho and Cabral in their attempt to be the first to fly across the South Atlantic.

For us a day was enough to experience Belém. We had been inside the Monastery viewed the Torre, taken the obligatory photos of Henry’s monument and were totally cultured out. Despite the old terracotta tiled buildings that line Lisbon’s maze of streets, we found the city timeworn and lacking charm. We like ‘old’ and Lisbon is one of Europe’s oldest cities, nevertheless, for us something is lacking and three days was just one too many.

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Pondering Travels Past and Planning Travels Future.

In May we visited the UK, in June it was Italy and as I write this blog, I’m planning a return to India in October, but it is while you think about one holiday that others from the past creep into the small corners of your mind.

Having been to Portugal several times it is fair to say we are not impressed. Logic says you can’t be disappointed with a whole country, there are areas that are beautiful and some not so, but we feel having given it a fair chance it hasn´t quite come up to muster.

In the Algarve, we booked the Oura View Beach Club in Albufeira. It was clean, the views lovely, but like the area outside the complex, tired. Seemingly locked in the 1970s, many premises were closed, although happy hour signs flourished, indicating in this area, you are more likely to hear English, than catch a snippet of the native language – similar to home.

Having hired a car, we visited Faro the capital of the region. It is far from a bustling metropolis but the old quarter has an old-school charm. There are no ‘sites’ to speak of but the storks that nest on church spires and chimneys are interesting. Dining in one of the cities family-run restaurants offers a sharp contrast to the Algarve resorts, where I found prices extortionate, but in the ‘cidade velha’ you can eat well for €10.

To the north of Faro is Loulé. Once again, not much for tourists, but we found the Nossa Senhora da Piedade (church) interesting, it looks like a spaceship sitting on its hill. We also enjoyed the market but as it wasn´t the weekend we missed the famous ‘gipsy’ market.

One day when the weather was particularly bad, we drove from place to place and spotted what we thought was a winemaking demonstration. It turned out to be the local firewater; nonetheless, it was fascinating to see the old machinery and the slabs of cork retaining the shape of the trees waiting to be turned into corks for the bottles.

We found Alte nestling at the foot of the Sierras a delightful village with its whitewashed houses lining the narrow streets. We saw the famous springs, although at the time we didn’t know they were famous. We wandered the picturesque area around Fonte Pequena (little spring) with its bridge crossing the stream, a series of waterfalls and local resident ducks. There is also a pretty, walled garden dedicated to Alte’s famous poet, whose name I didn´t know and now can´t remember!

Finally, after another day of grey skies and drizzle, the sun put in an appearance and there was no denying, it made Silves look good. The town is dominated by a Moorish castle, the largest in the Algarve. A stroll along the riverbank through the cobbled streets takes you past the ‘Cruz de Portugal’ to the castle and the gothic cathedral next door. Silves’ plaza, with gardens and ponds, features eastern looking figures, and numerous cafés offering lovely river views. We decided it was the best place we had seen during the week, or was that simply because the sun was shining.

Portugal is nice, not spectacular and the pace is different, similar in some ways to its Spanish neighbour but lacking the vibe. I was looking for the gems but sadly the ones we found didn’t really sparkle

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The dreaded Calima

Recently I tried to explain the weather tourists were seeing on the webcams wasn’t just cloud but a Calima. This isn´t the first time this discussion has taken place on TripAdvisor, earlier this year a visitor insisted the weather was lovely but a hot weather alert was in place for temperatures over 34oC!

I appreciate those sort of temperatures may sound wonderful to holidaymakers wanting to sunbath but care should be taken when outdoors as what may look like a bit of haze on the horizon can be dangerous and they will burn badly.

Briefly, a calima is a strange weather phenomenon when sand and dust filled clouds blow over from North Africa. It affects all the Canary Islands and generally brings high temperatures and low visibility. This satellite image shows us directly in the line of fire.

Earth Observatory – NASA

The southern and eastern areas of Tenerife usually experiences the brunt of a calima while the north is somewhat protected because of the mountains.

Calimas happen on a semi-regular basis but are generally more common in winter December to March, and summer July to September. They can last a day or two, possibly even a week but that is unusual. They can be heavy like the latest one where the landscape was shrouded in a thick yellow fog and temperatures may be excessively high (it was reported that Gran Canaria and La Gomera experience 39.8 degrees). Some are accompanied by strong hot winds and others are light and can almost go unnoticed.

As far as health is concerned if Aemet think it will be a serious one, they will issue a warning. The majority of people will only suffer if they have asthma or are susceptible as the dust can irritate eyes and nose but calimas are not dangerous as long as people are sensible.

Thankfully, most of the calimas this year haven’t been too bad and the worst we suffered here in Chayofa was to lose our view of Los Cristianos and Las Americas.

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