‘The views are out of this world’ – a cycling trip in Tenerife is like pedalling into outer space
A thrilling bike race to the Mount Teide basecamp gives a very different perspective of the popular Canary island
“There is some flat land on the island,” our cycling guide Alberto Delgado says with a smile creeping into the corner of his mouth. “We call it the airport.”
It’s not long after getting into the saddle that I realise Alberto is only half joking when we set out on a warm-up ride preparing us for the Vuelta al Teide – a momentous “non-competitive race” to the basecamp of Tenerife’s volcano, which amateurs can join.
I am on the south side of the island acclimatising to the glaring sun after the soggiest spring back home in memory, as I pedal along the gleaming asphalt, which cuts through the arid landscape.
Alberto – who runs Tenerife Bike Training with his brother Marcos – has designed a series of rides to prepare us for the daunting volcano ride.
As I push over the summit to the small town of Grenadilla, giant wind turbines turning either side of me, I glimpse the peak of the volcano, Teide, rising above the mountainous horizon, and I realise the extent of the challenge ahead of me in just three days’ time.
At 3,718m high, Teide is the highest point in Spain, and from the seabed it rises a total of 7,500m, making it the third tallest volcano in the world.
Thankfully, the cycle route for the annual gran fondo ride reaches “only” 2,361m, but this is after a 39km ride to the top – 32km of it uphill.
Alberto advises me: “The trick is not to shoot all your bullets on the first climb, crossing the national park is harder than you think with the head-wind and altitude.”
Tenerife, with its all-year-round sunshine and brutal climbs, has become famous as a winter training base for professional cyclists such as Tour de France winners Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome.
And just as I start to panic at the thought of the gruelling big day, Alberto reminds me of the pay-off from all the effort, as he tells me: “The views are out of this world and then there’s 40km downhill to the finish line.”
However, before we take on this momentous climb, Alberto will be showing us some of Tenerife’s cycling highlights – taking in the contrasting landscapes of the largest of the eight Canary Islands, which sit closer to Africa than Spain.
After sweating my way up the sun-soaked slopes of our first morning on the bikes, I relish a trip on a catamaran, operated by White Tenerife, in an attempt to spot one of the 600 pilot whales which live off the southern coast, or any of the other 30 types of whales and dolphins that frequent the waters.
This hope is quickly dashed as the captain informs us that the conditions are too choppy to go out far, so we would be limited to a coastal cruise.
I feel disappointed, but this is quickly relieved when we pull up in the turquoise waters of Gypsy Bay – named after a set of caves which are still home to a small community – and I jump in, the cool crash of water wiping away any after-lunch sleepiness.
The rest of the voyage, complete with Cava and snacks, comes alive to dancing to the sounds of the Macarena, rather than listening out for whale song.
The next morning, setting off for our second ride after a fresh and tasty breakfast at the stylish and welcoming Mynd Adeje Hotel, we are driven to the tranquil town of Tacoronte where we meet our bikes and head for a climb to the mountain pass of Monte Aguirre.
The subtropical laurel forests have one of the island’s many microclimates, which leave the 25 types of trees constantly bathed in clouds creating a lush green landscape.
Stopping for a breather at the mountain pass, I catch an occasional glimpse of the sparkling seas 1,000m below.
But the downhill fun has to wait for a photo opportunity at an unfinished road dug into the cliff-front, which has been made famous on social media, leading to long queues forming at weekends by wannabe influencers.
We roll down to Darsena Pesquera marina, near to Santa Cruz, where we are treated to a hearty lunch of fresh squid – perfectly cooked, before being transported to our home for exploring the northern side of the island – Hotel Alua Tenerife, in Puerto Santa Cruz, which is set up for cyclists with garage space to store our bikes.
As we head out on our final warm-up ride, through the aptly-named Buenavista del Norte (beautiful view of the north) I begin to understand the striking difference of this side of the island.
While there may be more clouds passing by overhead, the mountain slopes are lined with lush vegetation, none more so than at the banana plantation at Finca los Cercados in Los Silos.
In surroundings which would not look out of place in the Caribbean, manager Adriano explains to us that the banana trees flourish on the rainier northern slopes, as they are made up of 90pc water.
Fuelled up on a banana or two, we continue to the furthest western point of Tenerife along a spectacular winding road, closed to traffic apart from a public bus, to the Punta de Teno peninsula lighthouse.
After nervously passing through tunnels in total darkness, with only a pinpoint of light to focus on ahead, the final kilometre sends me flying downhill at a thrilling speed, making me feel ready for anything – even the 32km of climbing that awaits the following morning.
This confidence quickly ebbs away as I do set off on the Vuelta al Teide and I am soon grateful that I opted for the “short” version of 95km with 2,000m of ascent, rather than the full 175km and 4,400m of climbing.
The atmosphere at the starting line is all cheers and excited chatter, which fades into concentrated silence as I pass the sign stating a daunting 39km to go, to reach the peak of the climb.
After several switchbacks, the smooth asphalt road passes through some forests, providing some much-appreciated shade from the glaring sun with the warm pine scent refreshing my senses, which have already become dulled by the effort.
The road then straightens out and I get my first glimpse of the volcano peak standing mightily ahead.
I grind on up trying to keep a track of the kilometres covered and the number still ahead, repeatedly doing the maths out of disbelief at how much is still to go before finally I peek over the top of the climb into a landscape straight from outer space.
All around I am surrounded by the rippled layers of burnt-out brown lava rocks, which cover the base of the plateau forming the national park.
But amongst the moon-like landscape, I am surprised to spot the bright red of the Teide blugloss plant, which looks straight out of a Dr Seuss illustration, and this type is only found on Tenerife, mostly on the slopes of the volcano.
A while later. I pass through a corridor of rock the colour of an avocado bathroom suite popular back in the 1980s.
The surreal surroundings help me forget about my aching knees from the 24km climb, until I look ahead and see the uphill road winding its way out past the volcano base.
Finally I reach the ride’s highest point expecting a panoramic view only to be met by clouds creeping up the road ahead.
The sudden chill prompts me to pull on my wind jacket and I pedal on, ready for the excitement of the descent back to earth.
How to do it
To take part in next year’s Vuelta al Teide visit vteide.com. See also hellocanaryislands.com, webtenerife.co.uk and spain.info.
Double rooms at MYND Adeje (myndhotels.com) start from €110 per night with breakfast; double rooms at Alua Tenerife (amrcollection.com) start from €85 per night with breakfast.
Aer Lingus and Ryanair both fly from Ireland to Tenerife.