Palm fronds rustle in the breeze as the trade winds sweep across the Atlantic Ocean. Cliffs tower over black sand beaches hidden in secluded coves, which have paths that carve their way from the rocky coast, through the island’s forested heart and up to volcanic peaks. The sun, of course, is shining.
It’s a scene that plays out year round here in the Canary Islands, otherwise known as the Land of Eternal Spring. The Spanish-held archipelago is well-known throughout Europe as a subtropical paradise, with consistently mild temperatures and about 300 days of sun a year. But it’s finally getting more attention in the U.S. thanks to its natural beauty, an ever-improving dining scene and new direct flights from the East Coast.
Of all the islands, Tenerife is the king, the chain’s largest and a rare beach destination that offers much more than sea and sand. Among the numerous luxurious retreats on the island, The Ritz-Carlton, Abama has one of the loveliest locations. Spread out over 400 acres and surrounded by banana plantations, the resort overlooks the water from a cliffside location on the southern coast. All rooms and suites have ocean views in a pink terra cotta complex that is studded with Moorish architectural influences.
The Ritz-Carlton, Abama’s adults-only Tagor’ Villas provide the most privacy and come with their own pool.
Besides the location, it’s one of the only resorts in Europe to have three Michelin stars; in fact, we hear that people come here for the food as much as for the resort. When we visited, staff members were setting up for a reception marking the launch of the 2018 Michelin guide to Spain and Portugal.
The signature restaurants include MB, named for Spanish celebrity chef Martin Berasategui; and the Bali-chic El Mirador, which has a great view of a neighboring volcanic island. Among the other dining choices are Kabuki, for a fusion of Japanese and Mediterranean cuisine; and 20/20, a steakhouse that opened in December, which takes its name from the 20 different cuts of meat and 20 regions of wines that are available. Luxury travel advisors can book reservations through Head Concierge Fernando Pereira ([email protected]; 011-34-617-111-640).
Other resort amenities include seven tennis courts, eight pools and a golf course designed by Dave Thomas. A funicular brings guests down to an exclusive cove attended by staff from the casual Beach Club (after dark, ask Pereira to arrange a stargazing dinner on the beach). In the 27,000-square-foot spa, we recommend the Earth, Wind and Fire, a 90-minute treatment involving a lava sand exfoliation inspired by Mount Teide, the peak that forms the center of the island.
Those seeking plenty of space should book several months in advance if they want to request the Imperial Suite — a 10,225-square-foot space that has a terrace with heated pool and panoramic views of the mountains and ocean. The adult-only Tagor’ Villas provide the most privacy and come with their own pool. For VIP clients, travel advisors can book through Sara Ruiz ([email protected]).
In-room features include Nespresso machines, a Bluetooth sound system and marble bathrooms stocked with luxurious products by Asprey of London.
Apart from its abundant amenities, The Ritz-Carlton is well positioned for exploring the 785-square-mile island. Less than eight miles away, giant basalt cliffs called Los Gigantes loom over the glittering ocean, nearly 3,000 feet from the top. A black-sand beach next to the cliffs lends a spooky, technicolor blue color to the crystalline water.
In the center of the island is Mount Teide, Spain’s highest peak and its most visited national park. Rising to more than 12,000 feet, the active volcano (don’t worry — it’s monitored and hasn’t erupted since 1909) draws millions every year away from the pristine beaches and up its forested slopes for breathtaking views. At times, visitors can be both above and below layers of clouds in an otherworldly landscape that once was the setting for a Raquel Welch movie called “One Million Years B.C.”
Inside the park is an astronomical observatory run by a consortium of European nations. Insider Tip: A can’t-miss excursion from any hotel is an after-hours tour run by Volcano Teide Experience, which provides an astronomer who gives private tours of some of the telescopes before taking guests on a stargazing excursion ([email protected]; 011-34-922-010-444). We were amazed when we saw the Andromeda galaxy through a 5-foot telescope.
Just down the coast from The Ritz-Carlton, Abama, the Royal Garden Villas & Spa attracts visitors who are looking for tranquil isolation. Situated adjacent to a golf course just inland from the coast, the privately owned property is hard to judge from the outside, with a high wall hiding the lush oasis inside. Behind the wooden door are 28 luxurious villas, each with their own private pool.
Royal Garden Villas & Spa’s Restaurante El Jardín serves creative cuisine, combining local and international ingredients.
The hotel staff stresses relaxation, privacy and quiet to give their numerous repeat guests a chance to recharge their batteries, says General Manager Fiona McAndrew, noting that the small size of the hotel makes it very easy to make a personalized level of service.
In the room, guests can enjoy the hotel’s house blend of luxury bath products, a separate bathtub and hydro massage shower, and sumptuous bedding, says McAndrew ([email protected]; 011-34-922-711-294), who can be contacted directly by advisors looking for help with bookings, tailored excursions, spa services or restaurant reservations.
For the top couple’s experience, McAndrew recommends the 2,152-square-foot Gran Duchess Villa, while for groups, she says, the three-bedroom, 5,300-square-foot Cielo Villa is an ideal fit. The Golden Pond Spa, a Thai-style temple to wellness, provides an extra opportunity for relaxation, as well as a gym and squash court.
McAndrew says she often sends guests out on the property’s yacht with a boat captain to find waters teeming with pilot whales, dolphins and sea turtles. After a couple hours, the boat drifts into a secluded cove for a dip, and guests can enjoy a lunch of fresh paella and cava (Spanish sparkling wine).
Despite the Royal Garden’s location away from the coast, the chic town of La Caleta, with a great beach and beautiful seaside promenade, is a pleasant 20-minute walk away. Caleta has abundant dining options, including Masia del Mar, excellent for seafood, and the modern Char, which added an urbane option to the picturesque fishing village when it opened last year. The property’s restaurants include the elegant Jardín, which offers creative combinations of the best local ingredients with international techniques, and the Tucán Tucán Pub for a casual bite.
Guests at the Iberostar Grand Hotel Mencey can unwind at SPA Sensations.
Travelers searching for a more active environment can head to the Iberostar Grand Hotel Mencey in the island’s capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The best of the 261 rooms at the Mencey, which is designed in a Spanish colonial style, command amazing views from a hill overlooking the city and sea. Though the hotel boasts noteworthy cuisine at its Los Menceyes and Papa Negra restaurants, the highlight of a stay here is the access to the booming city of 200,000.
“We’re completely different from the hotels on south of island, with many different kinds of guests,” says Laura Rams ([email protected]; 011-34-922-609-900), head of guest services. “It used to be only business guests coming one or two days, but now we have vacationers coming for 10-12 days to stay with us and enjoy the city.”
The pedestrian streets between Plaza Weyler and Plaza de España has upscale boutiques and delectable restaurants less than a 10-minute walk from the Mencey. Taberna Ramón has traditional Spanish tapas in a cozy atmosphere, and Rams tells us we should go early, or risk missing out. But remember, for dinner in Spain, “early” means around 8 p.m.
Of course, the rest of the island beckons as well, so the hotel offers transport to beaches around the island. Rams can also help advisors or guests book tours of its surprising number of wineries. The local grape, malvasia, was known in mainland Europe as far back as Shakespeare, who referenced it in “Twelfth Night.” Rams recommends pairing winery tours with a visit to one of the breathtaking towns near the island’s northwest coastline, which includes the stunning colonial hamlet of La Orotava and the famed black sand of Playa Jardín in Puerto de la Cruz.
La Orotava in Tenerife, one of the oldest towns in the Canary Islands, encompasses much of the Teide National Park. // Photo by Albert Stumm
Other activities near the Mencey include trekking in the protected cloud forest of Ánaga and a visit to the old town of La Laguna. The lively university town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because its 16th-century design served as the prototype for Spanish colonial capitals throughout the Americas.
With so many activities and guaranteed good weather any time of year, it’s no wonder guests are now staying 10 or 12 days.