Thursday 14 December 2017

Brendan O'Connor in Tenerife: 'This is far away from many people's idea of the Canaries'

Canary Islands

The small village of Alcala, with its beach of black sands. The dormant volcano of MountTeide gives the island its black cragginess.
The small village of Alcala, with its beach of black sands. The dormant volcano of MountTeide gives the island its black cragginess.
Thomson Sensatori Tenerife
Siam Park in Tenerife
Playa de la Teresitas, Tenerife, Canaries
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

Brendan finds a family holiday where adults get to have an adult experience while the kids are kept happy too.

I suppose you could say you like a place you're holidaying in when you decide to retire there. And what's more, I'm not even of retirement age. But you couldn't but notice how older people around the Guia de Isora area of Western Tenerife are outside living instead of inside dying by the fire in what is still pretty much winter in Ireland.

Every morning they are out walking by the sea. They also hang around, letting it all hang out, at the gorgeous little tidal pools along the seafront that have been walled off from the Atlantic. They hang around there, half-naked, chatting and dipping in and out of the pools, locals and what seemed to be

 German ex pats. The deep mahogany of the ageing Germans suits the men better than the women I would have said. But I'd rather be outside getting leathery by the sea in my latter years than at home in the cold, stuck indoors, wondering if the flu was going to get me.

The tidal pools were necessary at times. You're on the Atlantic here and the sea can be wild. So they've put up these walls that break the waves and allow for a bit of genteel dipping. It does mean too when the waves are high that you can bob around in the pools and face the huge waves coming at you that are then diminished just as they are about to hit you.

This is far away from many people's ideas of the Canaries. And it is probably part of the conscious effort to rebrand the Canaries as a place of natural unspoilt beauty, which it is in many parts, I swear. The landscape isn't totally unspoilt but the interference in recent years is done with a sensitivity that wasn't always there.

Thomson Sensatori Tenerife
Thomson Sensatori Tenerife

Our hotel, which is the Tenerife outpost of Thomson's excellent Sensatori brand, is built in a comparative wilderness near the small village of Alcala. But it looks like in conjunction with building the hotel there, they put a nice tasteful natural promenade, and a couple of little coves have been developed into little black-sand beaches.

We have a lot to learn from the Canarians in ways. The beaches are clean and organic-feeling but the facilities are excellent. The small beach we went to out near the front of the hotel had buoys across the entrance of the bay beyond which you didn't go, a very actively vigilant lifeguard watching all who dared get into the Atlantic; and good toilets and showers, as well as a nice wooden decking area for those who didn't want to get involved in black sand.

On days when the waves were high, the lifeguard would even personally give you specific guidelines on how far in he would tolerate you going. So essentially you were having a full-on nature experience and coming face to face with the elemental force of the sea, but it was all carefully managed for you without destroying the natural beauty and the natural feel.

In the middle of all this was the resort, which had everything on tap without feeling at all like your typical family resort. We liked to think that the crowd there were quite a cool bunch. There was a distinctly Balearic vibe and you suspected that before they had kids these people might have tended more to Ibiza than Tenerife.

But now we have kids, so the sunset party with the DJ playing chillout music every evening as the sun set over the neighbouring island of La Gomera, involved maybe just one or two drinks and kids running around. But the balcony out onto the sea was huge and stylish with designer lounging furniture, and if you ignored the kids - which you could because they all tended to entertain each other - you felt you were somewhere trendy and stylish.

Indeed, the whole hotel was beautifully done. The Italian restaurant was a glass box-type affair behind the chill-out balcony that also looked out to sea. There was a vast courtyard in the middle with huge trendy sofas everywhere that you could throw yourself down on at any point.

Siam Park in Tenerife
Siam Park in Tenerife

My day started with a pre-breakfast dip in the huge seawater infinity pool that stretches the whole front of the property. I think it's the largest hotel pool in Europe, at about 200 metres long. Behind you is Mount Teide, the currently long-dormant volcano that gives the whole island the black cragginess, and in front of you the shimmering sea continuing on visually from the edge of the pool. And then it was time for the first buffet of the day.

I have a complex relationship with buffets. In one way it's probably not a good idea for a food addict to be confronted by every type of food under the sun and told he can eat as much of it as he wants. The sheer variety of it means that it would feel wrong not to try everything.

I marvel at the other holiday makers and how they pick tiny bits of everything, and eat it gingerly and sensibly, having just one plate per course, or perhaps even per meal. My view is that if something is nice and there are unlimited amounts of it on offer you have a duty to eat more of it.

Breakfast-wise, it takes me a few days of a scattergun approach of trying everything to settle down into my sensible three-course breakfast buffet, which is the egg-and-bread course, the bun course (a doughnut course in this instance) and a melon-and-kiwi course to ease my conscience.

On this holiday, my problem was exacerbated by the fact that we were on full board, so there was another buffet for lunch and another for dinner. The gaps between eating became smaller and smaller each day. And, of course, the buffet paradox applied. The buffet paradox states that the more you eat, the more you are capable of eating and the more you are constantly hungry. You could put it down to the outdoor life and the sea air, but I think it's largely to do with availability. As the week went on, I even found myself starting to eschew the table-service restaurants that were also available. I started to feel resentful about having to commit to one specific thing for my meal, and about having my intake of food controlled and limited by a chef and a waiter.

Why should I commit to a set amount of something that I may not like, when I could have unlimited amounts of everything in the buffet? Having said that, there is a certain anxiety about buffet-eating. You tend to horse the food down fast so you can get back on your feet and get something else. And there is always the worry that they may run out of something if you don't hurry up, though this never happened.

Still, Buffet Fomo is a real problem for the addict.


Mornings were spent at the pirate pool with the slides where the kids would all essentially look after each other in a Lord of the Flies-style scenario while the parents pretended to keep an eye. The main thing was not to get caught too often having to be the parent who ended up playing with the kids. If you started playing with your own ones, the others would all quickly congregate on you and you'd find yourself in a pied piper situation around the pool. The other thing was you had to check with all the parents, who were busy trying to look the other way in case they got caught for duty, if it was OK to do various throwing around of their children, who were begging to be next to be spun around in mid air.

We would spend some recovery time in the room from the lunchtime buffet before hitting the family pool, which was a step up from the pirate pool, and where proper swimming could be done. Ours would tire of that pretty quickly and would want a break from the sun so we would obligingly throw them into the kids' club for an hour or two while we hit the beach or the tidal pools.

Then, feeling all relaxed and day-at-the-beach-y we'd have a couple of Campari and oranges or Aperol spritzes at the sunset chill-out session before hitting dinner. Apart from the buffet there was a choice of fine dining, Asian, tapas, Italian or a la carte Spanish and seafood.

We had been to Sensatori in Turkey before and we loved it. Tenerife reinforced our view that this is a family holiday where the adults get to have an adult experience while the kids are kept happy too, so basically everyone gets to relax without feeling you're in Butlins or some claustrophobic family resort.

Indeed, it's probably telling that we didn't really yearn to escape the place at all and we ended up doing none of the various trips we had planned, contenting ourselves with shuffling into the little port village a couple of nights for a beer and some padron peppers, and to let the kids buy some rubbish in the shops and play in the playgrounds.

It's rare that you zone out on a trip to a family resort, But that's what happened. And all the people with young families seemed to be having the same experience. One couple even told me they left their rental car sitting in the car park for the week. They didn't want to interrupt the zoning out.

Take three: top attractions

Mount Tiede

Counterpoint to the Canarian sunshine are the snow-capped mountains of Tenerife and the volcano, Mount Teide. Teide gives Tenerife's beaches their black volcanic sand and a day trip to the volcano gets you right up close to the crater. Not for the vertigo-prone, a cable-car ride takes you up 1,200ft and offers spectacular views of Tenerife and even across to the neighbouring island of La Gomera. See

Thrills and Spills

If the kids need a break from the beach, a visit to Siam Park is worth a go. Siam Park is a water park, with rides from the lazy-river variety to sheer-drop slides so adrenaline junkies as well as younger families are all catered for. There's even a warm-water wave pool. For when you want to dry off there are bars, restaurants and a Thai-themed floating market. For ticket offers, see


The south of Tenerife is the well-trodden destination for most Irish holidaymakers, but the north is worth exploring. Check out the small town of Garachico, once submerged in lava after an eruption of Mount Teide, and unspoilt by high-rise development. Garachico is like a small seaside town in mainland Spain, with squares, small bars, quirky shops and natural swimming pools dug out of the volcanic rock.

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