La Gomera, Bashful Neighbour of Tenerife
By Rupert Parker
Where do you go when you want some winter sun and a bit of piece and quiet, without breaking the bank? Christmas was looming and we needed to get away from the horrors of a London winter. We ruled out our choices of previous years – Morocco, too cold, India, too far. Cheap flights were on offer to Tenerife with Thomson and, although the party capital of the canaries is not to my taste, I knew that you could take a ferry to its sister island, La Gomera. We waited until the last minute, watching the price go down and then bought the tickets, not sure whether there was going to be room at the inn.
Los Christianos to San Sebastian de La Gomera
An early morning flight from Gatwick brought us to Tenerife. It’s possible to get the bus, but we didn’t want to miss the boat so took a twenty minute taxi ride to Los Christianos. Here you have a choice between the Naviera Armas car ferry which takes over an hour and is cheap and the faster, more expensive, Fred Olsen Benchi Express which does it in half the time. Better, it carries on to Valle Gran Rey which was our ultimate destination. Of course things never turn out as promised and the winter swell meant that it still took over an hour to San Sebastian.
San Sebastian, Columbus’s Last Stop before America
Compared to its neighbour, everything in La Gomera is tiny. Less than 5000 people live in the capital, San Sebastian, and accommodation is limited to a handful of hotels and apartments. It’s a pleasant enough place and does have a beach of sorts, but it’s not really a place to linger. Even Columbus didn’t stay long when, in 1492, he set out from here to discover America
Fred Olsen Benchi Express to Valle Gran Rey
This is where the more expensive choice pays off. You can get to Valle Gran Rey by bus but narrow twisting steep roads means it takes over two hours, and the service is limited to a handful a day. Our state-of-the-art catamaran advertised journey times of 35 minutes, but that’s on a calm day. As it was, it took almost a couple of hours, and less hardy sailors parted with most of their lunch on the voyage.
Valle Gran Rey
Discovered by hippies in the late 60’s, this deep steep sided valley feels cut off from the rest of the world. The upper parts are terraced for agriculture but in the three villages, Vueltas, La Calera and La Playa, the houses are mainly holiday homes. It still has a slight alternative vibe since the majority of visitors are German students and professionals, adult versions of the original hippies. The great attraction is that there are only a couple of low rise small hotels here, and most of the accommodation comprises villas or tiny apartment complexes. There’s no traffic and no all night drunken parties.
A Great Hiking Centre
The black sand and pebble beaches are nothing to write home about, but perfectly adequate for relaxing in the sun and cooling off in the sea. What brings most people here is the sensational hiking. Four different trails climb out of the valley to the protected Laura Silva forest, 1000 meters above sea level. And, if that’s not enough, an early morning bus will drop you off at the trailheads round the rest of the island and pick you up later in the day.
Good Simple Gomera Cooking
A good lunch is an absolutely essential item for our sort of hiking, and a network of simple local restaurants ensured we never went hungry. Indeed the food and drink was uniformingly excellent, and the afternoon’s walking was often a pleasant blur. Christmas is usually a time for expanding waistlines but, after two weeks hiking on La Gomera, we returned home slimmer and fitter.
Hotel Gran Rey is the most luxurious hotel in Valle Gran Rey.
Hotel Playa Calera is right on the beach.
El Puerto, Vueltas, 922 80 52 18 is amazingly good value.
La Salsa, Vueltas, Valle Gran Rey 922 80 55 18 is more up market.
Casa Conchita Restaurant, Arure 922 80 41 10 is high end cooking at low end prices in an attractive village.