La Orotava Valley
La Orotava Valley was made famous by the geograther Humboldt, who marvelled at the spectacular steep slopes of the foothills of Teide, a green landscape occasionally concealed by the clouds that cling to one of the Canary Islands` most picturesque towns: La Orotava, a truly superb garden city.
On leaving the northern motorway at La Cuesta de la Villa we come to the Humboldt Viewpoint, the perfect spot from which to admire spectacular sunsets against the backdrop of Teide, La Oratova and El Puerto de la Cruz. However, the landscape today is doubtlessly radically different from the one this scientist observed over two hundred years ago: the green banana plantations and gardens have gradually given way to coloured cement, and today the settings is scattered with residential developments surrounded by landscaped grounds. The municipality of La Orotava, oldest on the island, also includes much of Canadas del Teide National Park. The town centre stretches out along steep cobbled streets lined with noble houses with courtyards, gardens and balconies looking out over the Atlantic. There are numerous fine examples of traditional Canary Islands architecture, ancient aqueducts, palaces and mansions and churches and convents. La Orotava is famous for its Corpus Christi celebrations when vast carpets of brightly coloured sand from the Teide cover the square where the Town Halls stands and the adjacent street. These intricate artistic patterns disappear as the procession of the Santisimo Sagrario makes its way along the decorate streets.
The road from the viewpoint brings us to the spectacular Avenida de Las Araucarias and the nearby Plaza de La Paz. The first sights worth looking out for include the Chapel of El Calvario, the Liceo de Taoro Cultural Society (this terraced space is presided over by an eclectic style house) and the Victoria Gardens (site of the mausoleum built in 1882 in Carrera marble for the VII Marquis of Quinta Roja, although he was never actually buried there). A little further down from this landscape space we find another delightful square that looks out over the town and the Atlantic Ocean. The central feature of the Plaza de la Constitucion is its characteristic bandstand. At the entrance to the square we find two adjacent temples: the Church of San Agustin and the Convent of Nuestra Senora de Gracia (today converted into a cultural centre). The former is of particular interest, this Baroque church boasts a magnificent façade and basilica plan with three naves, a coffered ceiling covering the transept and superb altarpiece. Interestingly, the Corinthian capitals on the façade are crowned with palm leaves. Carrera del Escultor Estevez brings us to the Town Hall, taking us down the steep cobbled streets and past another building of interest, the Dominican Convent of San Antonio de Abad. The church, with its typical Canary Island Baroque façade, houses ten chapels and superb 16th century Flemish panel. One wing of the convent houses the fascinating Latin American Craft Museum, which occupies two floors around the cloister. Exhibits include a wide range of objects ranging from musical instruments to ceramics and handcrafted textiles, not only from America but also from the Philippines and the Canary Islands themselves.
From here we make our way to the Town Hall, a spectacular building featuring a Neo-Classical façade. It is in front of this building that the famous sand carpets are laid during the Corpus Christi celebrations. Behind the Town Hall we find the Hijuela del Botanica, a superb experimental garden created back in 1788 (making it the second oldest in Spain), with more than a hundred species from the Canary Islands and the Macaronesia, many of which are over a century old. The side street affords a glimpse of the tiled rooftops and the Church of La Conception rising up with its characteristic lantern domes. This Baroque church stands out for its characteristic main façade, which, like many other buildings in this town, has a garden forecourt. Inside, the wealth of art is reflected in the altarpieces. Many other works are on display in the Religious Art Museum, including numerous paintings and gold and silver items known as the “treasure of La Conception”. Casa Torrehermosa is situated just a short distance from the church, housing a collection of almost a thousand items of popular Spanish pottery. Visitors can also acquire authentic Tenerife crafts (Artenerife).
Carrera del Escultor Estevez (named after a local artist) winds its way upwards past a number of 16th and 17th century buildings, all featuring striking facades, balconies and interior courtyards. The Tourism House (Casa de los Molina) is also situated in this area, with its attractive front. Casa de los Balcones is also well worth keeping an eye out for. It is actually two houses with balconies running the length of the façade built in 1632 and 1670 by two of the town`s wealthiest families, the Mendez and the Jimenez Frenchy who, together with the Ponte, Salazar and Zerolo families, created much of La Orotava`s historical and artistic heritage. This building is noted for superb courtyard and balconies and the museum reflecting traditional lifestyles and customs. Next door is another council building housing a display of the volcanic sand carpets created for the Corpus Christi celebrations. Other outstanding buildings include Casa Monteverde and Casa de los Lercalo, forming a group of 12 houses built in the traditional Canary Island Style. A little further up we find the Church and Hospital of La Santisima Trinidad, engulfed by fire in 19th century, yet which still conserves the original portico and delightful side balcony. This part of Calle San Francisco is lined with stores selling all types of souvenirs and the famous hand-sewn embroidery, crafts, cigars, wines, liqueurs and even traditional costumes.
Visitors can also observe several watermills constructed next to the aqueducts during the 17th and 18th centuries. There is a signposted route, which takes in a total of 10 watermills.
Finally, at the top end of the town, known as Villa de Arriba, stands another of the town`s most important churches, San Juan Bautista, which presides over a traditional Canary Island church. The exterior of church is colonial in style, with a pyramid-shaped bell tower, whilst the interior boasts a wealth of altarpieces and figures. La Orotava is an excellent place in which to sample a selection of tapas or enjoy a meal. Indeed, many tourists travel from Puerto de La Cruz to La Orotava to have lunch followed by pleasant stroll around the town. There are several excellent tapas bars, including Las Palmeras (Calle Sabino Berthelot), La Duquesa (Plaza Casanas, 6), Bodegon Casa Emilio (Calle Zurbaran, 15) or Casa Egon which also sells delicious cakes and pastries.
The coastline in this municipality is narrow and rugged, with sheer cliffs dotted with small beaches such as El Ancon, El Bollullo or Los Patos. Although they are not particularly suitable for bathing and hard to access, they do get crowded on sunny days. The national Park Visitor and Interpretation Centre and central offices, currently situated in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, will shortly be moving to location just outside La Orotava, on Calle Domingo Hernandez on the Mayorazgo Estate.
The TF-21 road takes us up to the Canadas del Teide and El Portillo Recreation Area. A short detour brings us to the village of Pinolere, where visitors can tour the ethnographic museum that recreates the traditional lifestyle of people that once lived in the medianias or midlands of La Orotava Valley, and learn about the traditional dwellings that existed in this area. The museum has various rooms, one dedicated exclusively to wickerwork and another to the region`s farming traditions.
Going back to the main road we now pass through Aguamansa, the site of trout factory. The road then takes us to a series of recreation areas and viewpoints such as La Piedra, situated in the pine forests of Teide National Park. Finally we reach El Portillo, just a few kilometres from the foothills of Teide and Porador Hotel.