With holiday resorts playing second fiddle to a landscape of volcanoes, pine forests and vineyards, holidays to La Palma reveal a lesser-known side of the Canary Islands.
The quiet Canary
Of all the Canaries, La Palma sings the softest. Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura shout about what they’ve got, which means purring La Palma often gets overshadowed. But that’s where its appeal lies. This quiet island is far from the madding crowd, and you won’t find any of the tell-tale marks of mass tourism here.
Fuencaliente and Los Cancajos
La Palma’s main holiday resorts are low-rise numbers. In Fuencaliente, on the island’s south coast, you’ll find a splash of whitewashed houses, surrounded by pine forests and vineyards. Los Cancajos, on the east coast, is probably the island’s most built-up resort. It’s attracted the lion’s share of development because it’s fronted by a black sand beach. But, even here, hotels don’t get much taller than 3 storeys. And, just like in Fuencaliente, the manmade is quarantined by wide-open countryside.
National Parks and the Volcano Trail
La Palma’s trump card is its scenery. In 1983 the entire island was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. The Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente, in the centre of La Palma, is the island at its most unspoilt. This 46.9 square-kilometre nature reserve is a tapestry of pine forests, waterfalls, freshwater spring and walking trails. Elsewhere, the island is daubed with volcano-scapes. The volcano trail in the south will take you along volcanic rims and through gaping craters.
Things to See and Do in La Palma
Unlike the other Canaries, La Palma doesn’t have a lot of beaches. A lot of its coastline is characterised by banana plantations and steep cliff sides, and the beaches that do exist are of the black-sand variety. This isn’t to their discredit, though – lots of them have Blue Flags, which goes to show how highly rated they are.
The big beach
Los Cancajos’ black sand beach is rated as the best on La Palma. Despite its position at the front of one of the island’s most popular holiday resorts, it’s pretty unspoilt. There aren’t any sunloungers on the sand, and you won’t find jet skis and banana boats whizzing about, either. In fact, the watersports on offer are entirely natural, amounting to a handful of great dive sites.
The secret beach
Locals try to keep the Piscinas de la Fajana under wraps. You’ll find these sea water swimming pools in Barlovento, on La Palma’s north coast. They’re backed by a screen of rocky cliffs and they’re ideal if you want to swim in the sea but aren’t that confident in the water.
When it comes to hand-rolled cigars, La Palma is up there with Cuba as a master of the craft. Tobacco farms cluster around Santa Cruz, Brena Baja and Brena Alta, and you can buy the finished product at the farmers’ markets in Villa de Mazo, half an hour’s drive from Los Cancajos. Stalls are set up on Saturdays and Sundays in Via de Enlace Doctor Amilcar Morera Bravo.
Fuencaliente is hemmed in by vineyards, and with these vineyards come wineries. Sweet wines like malvasia, sabro and gual are the area’s speciality, but it also bottles up reds, whites and roses. The town’s largest winery is Bodegas Teneguia, on Calle Antonio Fuencaliente Hernandez Santos. You can buy bottles for as little as 10 euros and cases for around 60 euros.
The history of silk production on La Palma dates back to the 16th century. If you want to learn about the silk making process before you buy, head to the Silk Museum on Calle Manuel Tano in El Paso in the centre of the island. A hand-made tie will set you back around £100.
La Palma might not offer much in the way of karaoke and after-hours bars, but it does a mean line in sunsets. You’ll get some of the best views in the restaurants near Plaza Castilla in Tazacorte. Alternatively, if you’d rather make dinner the main event of the evening, make your way to Playa Los Cancajos or Carretera Antionio Paz y Paz in Fuencaliente. More often than not the restaurants here are family-run and serve authentic island cuisine.
Night owls are a rare species in La Palma, and most visitors are tucked up in bed by midnight. Santa Cruz is probably the liveliest place on the island – you’ll find a few quiet bars dotted along Avenida Maritima and Calle Alvarez Abreu. If you’re staying in Los Llanos, head to the Plaza de Espagna, where they hold regular live music concerts.
Fresh bread from the baker and a glass of smoky red wine are the perfect partners to a plate of locally-made goats’ cheese. Island farmers smoke the cheese over almond wood or pine needles to give it its distinctive taste.
Gofio flour is a cornerstone ingredient in Palmero cooking and the recipe for escacho makes the most of it. It mixes the flour with mashed potatoes, peppers and spices to turn it into a savoury cake. It goes really well with a glass of oaky red wine.
Potage de trigo
his dish was the brainchild of cooks in the north of La Palma. It’s a colourful stew made with sweet potatoes, carrots, corn and pork. What makes it different from other stews served on the island is the special ingredient, gofio flour, which gives it a thicker consistency.
Almond trees are ten-a-penny in La Palma, so most traditional desserts have an almond element to them. Almondrado are little macaroon-style biscuits, which are made by baking a mixture of crushed almonds, eggs, sugar and lemon peel.
This wine is known as the nectar of the gods. The Malvasia grapes are grown all over the island, especially around Fuencaliente. The wineries here use it to make roses, reds and white tipples, but they specialise in the sweet dessert variety.
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Los Cancajos is a peaceful seaside town on the east coast of La Palma, a tiny Spanish island in the Canaries. It’s a laid-back spot with friendly little tapas restaurants along the town’s main street and relaxed waterside restaurants on the promenade. When it comes to the beach, you’ve got a triple act of black sandy bays. In the distance there’s the dramatic Caldera de Taburiente mountain range, while just along the road you’ve got the capital, Santa Cruz de La Palma.
Fuencaliente clings to the southern coast of La Palma, the smallest of the Canary Islands. The region takes in the villages of Las Indias and Los Canarios, and with just a scattering of bars and restaurants it makes for a peaceful holiday. You’ll find a landscape of whitewashed houses and pretty balconies, topped off with lots of hike-friendly volcanoes.
A few years ago, Puerto Naos, was a little-known fishing village on La Palma’s west coast – now it’s a favourite with holidaymakers. Part of the appeal is the relaxed, low-key vibe, with just enough shops, bars and restaurants to go round. Then there’s the fact that it comes with one of the best – and sunniest – beaches on the island. The sunsets are quite something, too.
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