The Mediterranean: The Canary Islands

La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and Tenerife

Rustic Beauty: The Canaries Uncaged
The Canary Islands, seven Spanish islands off the west coast of Morocco, have been called "the baby Caribbean" for their year-round sun, their proximity to London (about four hours by plane), and, unfortunately, for the fact that they're littered with tacky, mass-tourism resorts. That is certainly true of Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, and the southern coast of Tenerife, but there are still a few Canaries left to explore: wildflower-covered La Palma; La Gomera, where sheer ravines and jagged peaks rise abruptly out of the sea; rocky and rugged El Hierro; and the quiet north side of Tenerife.

STYLE-SEEKING ON TENERIFE The Canaries are not without panache. Manolo Blahnik is a native Canarian; Santiago Calatrava's Auditorio de Tenerife, considered one of the most avant garde pieces of island architecture in Europe, opened here in September. For such fashionable types, Hotel San Roque is the place to stay. Hidden in the fishing port of Garachico, this 17th-century mansion has 20 terra-cotta-and-wood guestrooms with chrome and white furniture like the classic Corbu daybed. There's a small pool, and service (everyone speaks English) is a delight. Use the hotel as a base to explore Pico del Teide, a desolate volcanic peak (and Spain's highest mountain) and the whitewashed hamlets of Masca in the west and Taganana, a north coast village beneath hills thick with oranges and dates. Ask for the Tower Suite. Rooms, $260-$355; 34-922-133-435;

LA GOMERA FOR HIKERS This island's eccentric landscape includes the last vestiges of a pre-Ice Age laurel forest that once covered most of Mediterranean Europe. Silver moss hangs from twisted branches. Mist hovers in deep ravines. Butterflies crowd the paths, and there's a pungent scent of sweet wet bark. It's a Jurassic paradise, the oldest of the Canaries, with a gem of a guesthouse, the hotel Rural Ibo Alfaro. A 150-year-old manor house in the northern village of Hermigua, its 17 rooms are neat, feminine, with dark-wood window seats, shutters, beamed ceilings, and soft lemon-yellow walls (ask for the Viñatico Suite). Furniture is colonial-style, with beds wrapped in mosquito nets. There's no pool or service, but the English-speaking German owner serves a modest continental breakfast and dinner twice a week. We found it all sweet and simple after a long day's hike. Rooms, $75-$100; 34-922-88-01-68;

THE GOURMET'S LA PALMA Yes, the beaches on La Palma are black. But the island's interior, covered in wild mint and pine forest and dominated by the La Caldera de Taburiente, a five-mile-wide semicircle of volcanic rock, makes up for it. As does La Casona de Argual, a restaurant with four rooms. Dating from 1732, it has rough, dusky-pink walls, high beamed ceilings, wood floors, toile de Jouy sofas, mercury-backed mirrors, a Russian samovar, and Belle Epoque chandeliers. The rooms are basic—twin beds, two bathrooms to share—but charming, with antiques, Wedgwood-blue paw-footed bathtubs, and a balcony overlooking a jasmine-filled garden. Owner-chef Javier Encinas, formerly an interior designer from Madrid, serves deliciously delicate Spanish country food such as excellent thinly-sliced sirloin steak marinated with herbs. By day, eat in the garden; by night, in the bistro-style dining room with its damask linen and antique silver salvers. Rooms, $65 $; 34-922-40-18-16.

RUGGED ISOLATION ON EL HIERRO An odd but fascinating place, El Hierro's landscape verges at times on the surreal, with bleached trunks bowed to the ground by Atlantic winds. But its interior is a pastoral idyll, with sage-green and buttercup-yellow fields lined with rustic stone walls leading to whitewashed homesteads. The island's best hotel, Punta Grande, is just as quirky: four rooms in a narrow 1884 building made of blackened pumice sitting on a lava spit that reaches out into the Atlantic. The rooms are comfortable, simple, with en suite bathrooms and authentic portholes for bedside tables. The restaurant on the ground floor serves hearty Canarian fish dishes. But English isn't spoken here, so only come if you're a happy loner intrigued by the strange beauty of the island's lava fields. Room to book: Number 2. Rooms, $65 $; 34-922-55-90-81.

—Sophy Roberts

Canary Islands: Getting There
To get to the smaller islands from Tenerife (served by most major carriers), fly Binter Canarias (34-915-816-726; The 30-to-50-minute flights cost $105-$175. Or use Fred Olsen ferry services (34-922-628-231;; a 40-minute ferry ride to La Gomera costs $46. You'll also need a car. Try Hertz (800-654-3001; or Avis (800-331-1212;


Hotel rates range from the lowest-priced double to the highest-priced suite in high season. In most cases VAT is not included. Meal prices are for a three-course dinner for two, excluding beverage and gratuity.

$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than American Express.