Romantic Winter Sunshine Breaks in La Gomera
Reviewed by Christine Charlesworth
For those who are looking for a relaxing, magical, romantic winter holiday look no further than the completely unspoilt island of La Gomera in the Canary Islands. It is a gem. My husband and I spent 7 days there in January 2014 staying at three destinations, all very wonderful and all very different:
The Island of La Gomera
Travelling across from southern Tenerife we arrived at La Gomera, the second smallest island in the Canary Islands, on a windy Thursday afternoon at the end of January. The skies were blue, but the waves were white, as we left the harbour at Los Christianos on the Fred Olsen high-speed ferry taking us over the sea to this ancient, rocky island. Being one of the first to board this modern, comfortable boat, we made our way to the top and walked along to the prow of the boat to select two comfortable front row seats in the lounge area, where we were able to enjoy a panoramic view of the 45 minute journey. Although the waters around La Gomera are a haven for several types of whale and dolphin we only saw the occasional fishing boat, quite large rolling waves and very many white horses.
La Gomera is a truly magical place and the magic becomes ever more potent as you discover its hidden treasures. This is not a place to visit if you like the bustle of large crowds, the miles of shops, fast-food places, hotels and apartment complexes of the large tourist resorts of the Canaries. However, it is exactly the place to spend time exploring if you prefer a haven of tranquillity, a place for romance, an abundance of breathtaking views, a stunning wild and naturally rugged landscape full of ecological treasures, helpful friendly people and fine, fresh, traditional food.
The main town of San Sebastian de la Gomera is where the two ferries from Tenerife bring visitors and supplies to the island. This is also the town where Christopher Columbus set sail to discover the Americas in 1492 after stocking up his ships from the ‘watering holes’ or special wells. In fact visitors can see the original well in the Columbus House museum. Columbus visited the island on three more occasions during his discoveries bringing, among others crops, the papa negra and papa bonita variety of potatoes to the island from America. Today these are still grown locally and cooked in many ways, including hot ‘wrinkly’ potatoes with mojo sauce, which I definitely recommend.
La Gomera has a legend that takes it back to Biblical times as it is said to be named after Noah’s grandson, Gomer. It is named and marked in Cresques Abrahani’s Atlas of 1375 and the Castilian conquest expedition arrived on the island between 1404 & 1405. During the 16th century La Gomera suffered a series of attacks by English and Dutch pirates, but the worst pirate incursion was launched by the Berbers in 1618 when La Torre del Conde or ‘Count’s Tower’, designed to defend the island, was not enough to repel the attack and the island suffered great losses.
Do remember to bring your walking shoes and be prepared to explore this almost circular island, which is only 25km wide, with the highest point, Pico Alto de Gajonay at 1,487metres above sea level, only a little taller than our own Ben Nevis. It is an island made for walking with guided walks available or simply follow the well-marked routes. At the centre of the island is the Garajonay National Park, a World Heritage Site, set on a high plateau and occupying almost one tenth of the islands entire surface. Often this area is covered in a mist of clouds which help to make the vegetation very lush and nourish the vast mountain rain forest. Part of this area was devastated by huge fires two years ago, but already we saw good signs of recovery. There are said to be no snakes on the island but it is home to the Gomera Giant Lizard (Tarentola Gomerensis) which is a flamboyant example of the rich indigenous wildlife. However, they are very shy and dash away as soon as they hear you approaching, so I had to be very patient waiting for them to re-appear.
Although La Gomera is volcanic it has been free from volcanic activity for over 2 million years and, therefore, erosion has been more continuous giving the island the deep ravines, sheer cliffs and spectacular rocks that we see today.
I do not have a very good head for heights. La Gomera does not have any coastal roads but has four main coastal areas – San Sebastian in the South East, Playa de Santiago (the sunniest) is the South, Valle Gran Rey in the South West and Agulo in the North. To travel between these areas it is necessary to wind up the hairpin roads towards the centre of the island and then drop down into the coastal valley. Providing someone else is doing the driving, eyes can be closed during part of these journeys and it really is well worth the effort to see the very different parts of the island. Journeys are taken at a leisurely pace as it is impossible to drive fast or overtake and the roads are well maintained with long tunnels in several places, making journeys easier. We hired a car to explore the island, but there are a number of organised tours by bus, or even local buses if you can understand the timetables. There is a small airport in the south, near Playa de Santiago, with flights to northern Tenerife and Gran Canary.
Cars can be hired at the main port of San Sebastian or at the airport at Santiago. We hired a car fromCICAR at the port. We paid for our own fully comprehensive insurance in England and booked the car prior to arrival. It is advisable to hire a small car as some village streets are very narrow.
Ferries travel to La Gomera three times a day. The Fred Olsen Express costs €37 per person one way and takes approximately 40 minutes. All seating is inside.
The Aramas ferry costs €27 per person one way and takes approximately one hour. It has a large deck area where passengers can sometimes be lucky enough to see the whales and dolphins or just be sprayed by the sea and catch the sun.
Both ferry companies have special luggage – carriers where passengers can leave their suitcases prior to boarding and collect when they leave the boat on arrival.