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La Palma, The Canaries - Part 1 - Orlando / Florida Guide

Florida Guide > Travelling

When you talk about The Canaries most people in Europe think about holidays but these islands are not just all about beaches. You can explore wild volcano trails, gaze at clear starry skies and enjoy a colourful capital on the island of La Palma.

Let me paint you a picture, I am sat at a sidewalk table and sipped a mojito gazing past locals, walking along the seawall, to the turquoise ocean. It’s a cobbled square, shaded by a scarlet blossomed Delonix regia tree. There’s an old man smoking a hand-rolled cigar as notes from a busking guitarist waft past on the balmy air. Around the corner, the sound of Spanish chatter emerges from a cocktail bar in a 300-year-old merchant’s house. It sounds very much like my last trip to Havana, but no it’s Santa Cruz, capital of La Palma which is the north westernmost Canary Island and part of Spain.

The original inhabitants, called Guanches by the invading Spaniards but known to themselves as Benahoarites. They left their mark in petroglyphs and cave burials. Centuries later, waves of emigrants, fleeing hard times on La Palma, settled in Cuba and Venezuela, forging Caribbean ties that remain tangible in the island’s cuisine, rum, tobacco-growing and easy pace of life. While the old mansions and whitewashed Renaissance churches of Santa Cruz might be all that cruise ship passengers see on a fleeting visit, there’s much more to La Palma. It has plain black sand beaches in the west and stark lava fields and cones in the far south. The vast Caldera de Taburiente dominates the island’s centre, its volcanic past has created a rugged landscape, far more verdant than other islands in the Canaries.

La Palma is famed not just for its tobacco crops but also malvasia vines producing fine white grapes which are turned into a wine formerly known as malmsey, which was very much in favour in the 16th and 17th century. That’s not the only taste sensation to seek out; there’s fabulous fish and seafood, juicy figs and bananas, terrific goats’ cheeses and pan-Canarian favourite papas arrugadas. These are ‘wrinkly potatoes’, which are served here with piquant mojo Palmero which is a hot chilli and garlic sauce.

La Palma is interlaced with some 1, 000km of well marked and signposted footpaths, offering opportunities for burning off feasts on hilly hikes. It’s claimed that this is the world’s steepest island. The walking trails climb volcanic craters, go through dense forests of Canarian pines and lush rain forested gorges. The central south has been hit by forest fires, and a few trails remain closed to allow regeneration and path restoration, but most of the island is open for business. Despite the wonderful variety in such a compact package, nowhere’s more than an hour’s drive away, foot traffic remains fairly light. It’s popular with German and Spanish visitors but, for the most part, people from the UK are still to discover the joys of hiking on La Palma. So why not take a stroll on its terrific trails and you’ll quickly discover why the Spanish call it La Isla Bonita; ‘The Pretty Island’.

Continued in part two

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