Reviewed by Emma Salmon
Tenerife may not be the first destination to spring to mind when thinking about a luxury holiday, but rest assured that the Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque Resort is a million miles away from all inclusive package deals that you normally associate with this popular Canarian hotspot.
Being only 4 hours from the UK and, thanks to the package market, served by any number of very competitive airlines, Tenerife is wonderful for a quick hop to find some guaranteed sun. More reliable that the Spanish mainland, and positioned just above the tropics, it offers year round temperatures between 20-30 degrees, and has some fabulous scenery due to its volcanic geography. The north of the island is a little wetter but boasts some incredible mountainous sub-tropical laurel forest, whilst the south is the haven for sun-seekers and many hotels line the sandy coast from Los Christianos to Playa de Las Americas. Nestled behind the headland of el Duque Castle, once owned by the Duke of Abrantes after whom the resort is named and whose crown forms part of the logo, lies the Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque.
A fantasy dreamed up by a group of eclectic designers, architects and entrepreneurs Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque was the first luxury hotel in the Canaries when it launched in 1993, and it has gone on to be recognised as one of the world’s leading resorts by industry insiders. Its credentials are founded on stunning design partnered with an ecological and sustainable focus – from the use of locally sourced building and landscaping materials, through to the environmental ethos running through every aspect of the hotel’s operations.
The hotel is arranged within 25 acres of tropical lushness, the original buildings designed to represent a traditional early 20th century Canarian village, and to move away from the high rise standard seen across most holiday destinations. Positioned within the gardens are 3 freshwater, 2 saltwater and one children’s pool, plus well equipped outdoor sport and gymnasium facilities. If you are feeling more indulgent the award winning spa is available for relaxation and personalised treatment, or you can simply enjoy one of the 5 coves along the Bahia’s 950m stretch of coastline before returning for a delicious meal at one of the eight unique and varied restaurants.
We found it a simple journey from the airport to the resort – a taxi cost 30€ and whisked us along the main highway to arrive in around fifteen minutes. On arrival we were greeted by the doorman who, resplendent in traditional clothing, took our luggage and directed us towards reception. Check in was swift and smooth and we were made to feel comfortable with a welcome glass of champagne before being shown to our room. The double room we were allocated was a small distance from the main entrance and so a buggy was sent with a bell boy to drive us down. Our room was spacious, very generously sized for the standard ‘double’ with the biggest bed I had ever seen. A selection of exquisite petit fours had been arranged for us – totally delectable and quite unexpected! There was also a well stacked mini bar, with a choice of both soft and alcoholic drinks as well as sweet and savoury selections which served equally well as snacks or gifts to take home. With plenty of room to stretch out I took some time out to gaze over the gardens from the balcony, while my partner made use of the wet room facilities in the clean and modern bathroom, and used the luxury fair trade products that had been provided
A large flat screen TV was positioned on the wall opposite our bed, with a selection of cable channels in many languages, and a few in English. The bed, as well as being gigantic, was very comfortably dressed with high quality bedding, and a choice of pillows to allow you to choose a hard or soft sleeping option. The curtains were able to blackout all the light in the morning and I was surprised to find it was nearly 9am when I woke – virtually unheard of in my house with two children!
We made our way down to breakfast at el Bernegal – the main restarant in the hotel which offers a buffet service for breakfast and dinner. We were greeted by two of the waiting staff who offered us a choice of indoor or outdoor seating and brought us tea and coffee. The options available for breakfast were extensive – over and beyond what we were expecting, and we commented on how even the fussiest of people would be able to find plenty to eat – they even had a choice of how well done the bacon was cooked. I really enjoyed the freshly made smoothies. As well as the buffet you could ask for eggs, omlettes or pancakes to be freshly cooked to your liking.
After breakfast we met up with Elisa, the contracting manager for the resort, who had offered to show us around. She first took us to look at one of the suites in the main part of the hotel, which were similar to our double room, but had a bedroom separate to the main living area. She told us that several of the double rooms were being converted into suites to follow a change in customer requirements, many who travelled with children found it a more useful arrangement. Currently the hotel has 351 rooms, 52 of which are suites. For those wanting a slightly more exclusive service there is a building called the Casa Ducales, which has its own private reception area, butler, personalised services and separate breakfast lounge. This has recently been refurbished and contains 17 suites and 34 rooms.
We met Hans, who has been working in the Casa Ducales for 12 years, and who kindly made us some drinks while we admired the botanical drawings around the walls – there was a real feel of colonial explorers and 19th century discovery to the place.
In 2008 the hotel expanded by adding 40 luxury villas styled by interior designer Pascua Ortega, and each one cloistered in the tropical landscaped giving privacy and seclusion. Crafted from volcanic stone and tropical hardwoods with a contemporary clean and modern design, each with it’s own private garden and infinity pool, the villas offer an exclusive experience for those wanting to really escape from the pressures of modern life. Each unit is personally serviced, and it is possible to have your therapeutic and culinary desires met by a dedicated team. There is a separate restaurant, reception, swimming pool and club room for the villas. The whole area was stunningly beautiful, particularly the bathrooms which featured sunken basalt baths and glass windows, giving an impression of bathing outside, due to clever tropical planting.
The spa was added a year after the villas, continuing the architectural and interior design team partnership, and creating a continuity of style and understated natural luxury. Treatment areas range from simple outdoor cabanas to VIP treatment suites, each with their own private pools, baths and relaxation areas. I loved the way that the indoor therapy rooms were arranged off a darkened high stone corridoor which curved away, lit only by huge candles in glass vessels positioned along the edge of the floor. The whole building exuded a sense of calm and tranquility and the perfect setting for the huge range of treatments available, many of which utilise native raw products. The outdoor Sea Water Spa Circuit heated thalassotherapy pools can also be accessed on a daily basis, and this also allows you to use the sauna, experience showers and hammam and enjoy the light and healthy dishes served in the Garden Restaurant.
On the subject of food, guests to the hotel are spoilt for choice – as well as el Bernegal where we had breakfast, there are 7 other eating places positioned around the resort. Las Aguas is located in the Villa complex, and is the gourmet, high dining choice, offering a modern twist on tradional Canarian fayre. For those with less electic taste the other restaurants offer a choice of Italian, Oriental, seafood, Iberian, Latin and international cuisine. Snacks are available around the pool areas and along the beach, and each hotel offers a children’s menu.
Elisa took us into La Brasserie, which has been recently redecorated to give a clean and modern feel, matching the contemporary menu created by French chef Pierre Resimont, who holds two prestigious Michellin stars. Later that evening we chose this spot for dinner, and had a delicious and memorable meal. The staff were friendly, just the right balance between being formal and friendly – aware of the customer’s needs without being overpowering, and certainly none of the epicurial snobbery I have often encountered in Michellin starred restaurants. My partner and I both chose the steak tartare, which was flavoursome and came with chips, salad, and a bernaise sauce. For desert I opted for Crème Brulee, which had a perfect topping of caramelised sugar – just a touch of crisp. My partner’s Lemon Meringue pie was delicate and delectable, with a tart citus sorbet side order to cut through the sweetness of the sticky treat.
Tenerife offers the traveller plenty of choice if you wish to stray away from the beaches. I have visited before with the children and they certainly enjoyed many of the options near the holiday coast designed with kids in mind – we spent a day out at Aqua Park, where we all took part in the dolphin experience and leaned about their conservation work. Siam Park is a huge water park just off the main highway, and it is worth making the effort to travel north to visit Loro Parque, which is one of the nicest animal parks I have ever visited. One of our best and most memorable days out though was at a small privatly run centre called Monkey Park, which is a breeding project for endangered primates, and allows a real, hands on, educational experience for children. I could barely prise my daughter out of the lemur enclosure, and my son enjoyed feeding the giant tortoise.
On this occassion we decided to take a trip up el Tiede, the volcano which dominates the landscape of the island, and is the highest peak in Spain. We found a car hire service in the reception area of the hotel, where we chose a very competively priced vehicle for 39€. This also allowed us to return it to the airport the following day thereby avoiding another taxi charge. The drive up to the visitor centre in the Teide National Park is spectacular, passing through small Canarian villages and several different ecological zones, each with their own distinct flora. Perhaps one of the most spectacular is the lunar landcape – a vast plataeu of lava flow, desolate and alien. It is possible to take a cable car up the volcano – this is equally exhilarating and terrifying, as the steep assent results in it ‘dropping’ and swinging as it travels over the towers on its way up. You need to be in fairly good health for the trip, as the air is much thinner, but the view is breathtaking. Experienced hikers can apply for a pass to allow them to climb to the summit of the volcano.
On our descent we took the road to Masca, a tiny mountain village hidden between sharp craggy peaks of the Teno mountains in the Northwest. Reputed to be a pirate hideaway, the road is hazardous, steep and with 180 degree hairpin bends, but well worth the effort for the breathtaking views. On our way we were flagged down by cars who had pulled into a layby to watch in amazement as a bus attempted the small single vehicle track up from the village. Everybody cheered and waved as he managed to go by.
On our final morning I got talking to a lovely guest who had travelled to the hotel with her 6 year old son – I was interested to know why she had chosen the hotel and what she thought of the facilities. She was a returning customer – having set it as an ambition to visit when she had been involved in the travel industry and been on the island during it’s construction in her teens. She felt that the hotel was without comparison on the island and that it was the only place she had felt safe enough to travel to for her first holiday alone with her son. She had nothing but praise for the staff in the kids club, and Jack couldn’t wait to go there every day. He also reported that the pancakes at breakfast were his favourite thing – a fact that seems universal as my own son also seems to judge a hotel on its quality of pancake.
Our check out was simple and without problem, apart from the wish that we could stay a few more days. One thing I noticed throughout my visit was how genuinely happy the staff seemed in their work – from the chamberstaff to the managers, everyone exuded a pride in their position, and staff we spoke to said how they felt that the 600 strong team were like a family, with the majority having worked there for many years. In an industry which often fails to appreciate their staff it was a welcome change. Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque is a gem, a real little patch of paradise, and I truly hope that I will be able to return again one day.
We travelled to Tenerife with British Airways from Gatwick to Tenerife South (£138), and returned with EasyJet (£140). Flights available through many airlines starting at £56 return.
Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque Resort is a member of Great Hotels of the World Luxury Collection. Double room rates start from EUR 256. For more information or to book, please visit www.ghotw.com/hotel/home/gran-bahia-del-duque.htm or call 020 7380 3658.
Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque Resort, Avenida de Bruselas S/N, Costa Adeje, 38660, Tenerife