Michelle Harbi leaves the British chill behind for a luxury break in Tenerife.
As the sun descended on another languid day at the Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque, the well-heeled residents began to rise from their loungers and drift back towards their rooms. Perhaps, after dressing for dinner, they might stop for a glass of cava at the wine bar, or take a stroll along the promenade to work up an appetite. Me? I lingered as long as I could – with winter beckoning back home, I was happy to snooze poolside in the early-evening warmth, the peace punctuated by chimes from the bell tower on the half-hour.
When sun turned to shadow, I took the grand staircase that led up from the pool, pausing at the top to take in the expansive ocean view. Suddenly, the stillness was interrupted, somewhat incongruously, by a blast of techno pop – a pirate ship making its way westward along the coast, packed with revellers on an evening cruise. Just as quickly, it was gone, and quiet settled on the resort once more.
The south-west of Tenerife has long been a magnet for British holidaymakers in search of reliable winter sun. While the party crowd of Playa de las Americas earned it something of a mixed reputation, in the past couple of decades the largest of the Canary Islands has worked hard to tempt the luxury traveller, with much of that activity focused on Costa Adeje.
The stretch of coast that leads on from Playa de las Americas, its western end has been developed into an upmarket resort destination attracting a wide mix of European travellers – older couples and young families in particular being drawn to its sedate charms. A string of impressive-looking hotels and smart restaurants face out to sea, while a wide and well-manicured waterfront promenade runs its length, planted with bright bougainvillea and tall palms.
By day, a juice bar whizzes up smoothies for passing strollers and joggers; by night, couples sit on stone benches and watch as the sky turns from steel to ink, while buskers play mellow tunes on fiddle and guitar. Set back from the water is a shopping centre with stores from the likes of Cartier and Armani – indicating the demographic that this area is designed to attract.
FIT FOR A DUKE
Bahia del Duque kick-started Costa Adeje’s high-end development in 1993, on a site previously home to a banana plantation. Built in late 19th-century Canarian style, the sprawling Leading Hotels of the World member is more of a mini village, its pastel-hued buildings set in 100,000 sqm of grounds, of which more than 63,000 sqm is tropical gardens – there are more than 300 types of trees throughout. It’s on a prime spot facing Playa del Duque (Duke’s beach), one of the island’s finest, with golden sand imported from the Sahara (the native volcanic black grains being less aesthetically pleasing).
The resort has 347 rooms split across the main building and the Casas Ducales – the latter recreates “a colonial estate home” and is the property’s executive club equivalent, with butler service. There’s also Las Villas, a hotel within a hotel with its own reception, pool, and 40 villas with attractive interiors and private plunge pools. There are eight restaurants – from fine-dining Canarian to Basque, Mexican and a brasserie led by Michelin-starred chef Pierre Résimont – plus lagoon pools, tennis courts and a large, lovely spa.
There’s even an observatory. Tenerife has some of the world’s clearest skies for stargazing, with the observatory on Mount Teide – Spain’s highest peak, in the centre of the island – being one of the top centres globally for astronomy. (Brian May, who is an astrophysicist when he is not being the guitarist for Queen, worked there as part of his PhD studies, and has been quoted as saying the Teide National Park is like “being close to heaven”.) After dinner one evening, we ascended winding steps to one of the highest points of the resort and, under the guidance of the resident expert, spied first Mars, and then the rings of Saturn.
The south-west of the island is also renowned for its whale-watching opportunities – the calm waters here, protected from trade winds by the mountainous interior, mean an estimated 500-600 pilot whales have settled off the coast, while up to 21 species can be spotted in total, from blue to killer whale.
Another big player on Tenerife’s hotel scene is Spanish group Iberostar, which has seven properties on the island, mostly in Costa Adeje. These include the luxurious adults-only Grand Hotel El Mirador, and the five-star Iberostar Anthelia. A short walk along the promenade from Bahia del Duque, the latter is peaceful and family-friendly, and offers great sea views from many of its 365 rooms.
Two of the property’s five room buildings have just been refurbished in a fresh, contemporary style, with the rest to be completed by August 2017, but for added luxury it’s worth opting for one of the duplex one-bedroom suites, which feature Balearic-inspired white décor, spacious bathrooms, Nespresso machines and secluded roof terraces with loungers and bistro tables – some terraces also have spa baths.
Food and drink is another of the Anthelia’s strong points – à la carte options include the fine-dining Poseidon, where warm and knowledgeable staff serve up well-crafted local cuisine, and the equally impressive Italian restaurant Portofino. Like Bahia del Duque, evening entertainment is laid on, and there are also three pools (two seawater) with abundant sunbeds, a modern spa and gym, and kids’ and teens’ clubs. Part of the same complex and reopening in December 2016 following a full refurbishment is the Grand Hotel Salome, a luxury adults-only option with 32 suites and a 1,100 sqm spa.
When hotels have multiple dining options it’s easy to stay on site, but it would be a shame not to get out and try the excellent local restaurants. One of the most enjoyable things to do is to follow the promenade further west to dine in the fishing village of La Caleta. It’s a 30- to 40-minute walk from the Anthelia, more if you stop en route for a cocktail in the Ibiza-style Altamira Chillout, with seats facing the sea for catching the sunset, or the Coqueluche beach bar, where bands play reggae in the early evening to a laidback crowd.
We ate at Salitre, feasting on bountiful tapas and fantastic grilled fish, and Char (chargrilltenerife.com), an impressive steakhouse that serves up succulent Galician cuts cooked on a Josper grill. As we strolled homeward, the stars twinkling above us, and much of Costa Adeje already in their beds, we saw the lights of Playa de las Americas glittering further along the coast. It really was quite close, but it might as well have been as far as Mars, or Saturn.