There was a time when Tenerife was celebrated, not for its eternal sunshine, but for the extraordinary landscapes that enticed scientists and explorers from across Europe to venture into its untamed interior in search of new knowledge. Today you can follow in their illustrious footsteps through parts of Tenerife where the echoes of those bygone glories are still heard, and you don't have to sacrifice comfort and style to do it.
La Laguna Gran Hotel
In the mid-19th century, when the explorer Richard Burton and his wife, Isabel Lady Burton stayed in one of La Laguna's inns en route to Mount Teide, they were so nervous of being robbed that before turning in for the night, they piled furniture up against the door, loaded their two revolvers and placed them, along with their three Bowie knives, in easy reach. If the Burtons were to return to Tenerife's erstwhile capital today, they'd find a very different scene.
Step inside the door of the 18th-century manor house and former tobacco drying warehouse that is La Laguna Gran hotel, in the heart of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you arrive into a courtyard enclosed by skylights to form a light, airy lobby. Pendulous glass and brass bauble lights suspend mid-air below the original wooden walkways which circumscribe the upper level, and above an eclectic collection of comfy sofas, easy chairs and sideboards. It's a space that begs to be enjoyed, preferably in the company of some homemade carrot cake and a glass of wine from the handsome bar that runs the length of the room. Contemporary design features sit comfortably alongside volcanic stone walls and tea wood floors as you morph from manor house to bedroom wing which rises in three levels above an open patio garden of exotic foliage and elegant garden furniture. It's all a far cry from Lady Isabel's hotel of which she records in her diary; “the patio was a ruin, the village idiot and the pig huddled up in one corner”. A roof-top swimming pool with extensive views over the Aguere Valley, an excellent breakfast and Michelin-starred dining, literally on the doorstep, complete the experience... and you can confidently leave your Bowie knives at home.
Hotel Spa Villalba
Transitioning from city centre to scented pine forest on the outskirts of the Teide National Park, the village of Vilaflor was once a thriving spa town known as Chasna and throughout the 19th century, provided respite and rejuvenation for visiting scientists and explorers on the road to Teide. Often sitting above the sea of clouds that swathe the island's central peaks, in 1887 the author and traveller, Olivia Stone wrote; “Like some vast sea of white wool spread out over the earth... it looks as if we had only to descend the mountain a little way to step upon its surface and find a soft path to the distant horizon.”
Owned by the Reverón family whose award-winning bodega provides wines for the table of the hotel's Vendimia restaurant, the Villalba is maintaining Chasna's health heritage, providing a basement spa where guests are free to soak in the mineral waters of the Jacuzzi or float beneath a canopy of pines in the swimming pool whose glass roof retracts on summer days. Stepping into the hotel's cavernous wood, glass and stone lobby, your eye is caught by dancing rainbows of refracted sunlight cast by floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows which showcase the forest beyond. Leather armchairs that swallow you whole; a roaring log fire to dispel the chill of winter evenings, and an ever-changing menu of seasonal dishes served with excellent wines all conspire to cosset you in this pine-scented paradise before you journey onwards to the distant horizon.
La Quinta Roja
With a deep, natural harbour in which sailing vessels could anchor close to shore, the coastal town of Garachico grew rich on trade with the New World, so rich that it allegedly had an entire street constructed of the finest French marble. But the street was destroyed, along with 383 other neighbourhoods and the harbour, when Montaña Negra erupted in 1706 sending three rivers of burning lava to engulf the town. Few of Garachico's aristocratic houses survived the disaster, the elegant 17th-century Quinta Roja, former home of the Marquis of Quinta Roja, is one of them. Set directly on what is arguably Tenerife's most picturesque plaza, in the heart of the town, the hotel's distinct salmon-hued outer walls conceal a serenely beautiful patio where cane chairs cluster around a tinkling fountain and lush plantings. An ornate, carved wood walkway and balcony encircles the courtyard, giving access to the bedrooms, every one of which retains its original features, marrying them with fine linens and soft furnishings. Sitting in the patio after dinner, watching the silhouette of palm fronds trembling beneath a firmament awash with stars, time stands still and it seems perfectly plausible that pure marble streets line the plaza beyond the front doors.
Hotel San Roque
Two streets away from the lovely Plaza Glorieta San Francisco, in an immaculately restored 18th-century manor house, lies Tenerife's most iconic and luxurious, rural boutique hotel – the San Roque. Juxtaposing the building's original elements of stone stairs, tea wood floors and wooden balconies with local art installations, complemented by Bauhaus, Rennie Mackintosh and Hoffman furniture, the Hotel San Roque presents a master class in design and consummate good taste. From its patio swimming pool and individually styled bedrooms, to its roof-top solarium and watchtower, you have only to step through its doors to re-live the very pinnacle of Garachico's glory days.