The farthest of the Canary Islands from the coast of Africa has just 80,000 inhabitants, and 150,000 visitors per year. Unlike its rocky neighbours, there is enormous variety on the island, with mountains above the clouds, black sand beaches and a night sky that has made it a must see for astrology lovers the world over. La Palma is only just opening itself up to the outside world; and with new flights opening up from Gatwick, now is the time to discover a place that stands out from its surroundings.
Where? I stayed at Hotel Hacienda de Abajo, situated on the preferable western side of the island which enjoys year-round high temperatures. Walking in is like wandering into a gallery, with artwork on the walls of the reception and in the rooms which reflects its history as a former 17th century villa. Facilities include a jacuzzi, tropical pool and a reading room, and it’s a short distance from the beautifully quiet beach at Puerto De Tazacorte (cabs or a hire car are advisable given the island’s hilly terrain).
The Sights: There’s a surprising amount for those interested in something other than sun worshipping. You can go up above the clouds and visit the many observatories at over 2,000m above sea level. Hikers are in for a treat, as the national park offers incredible views with practically no other tourists to disturb your trip, as well as little hidden gems like a waterfall within the island’s tropical rain forest, which feels like you’ve walked into another world.
The Food: The island’s restaurants are perhaps its greatest surprise, with top notch food and prices that haven’t been inflated for tourists. A sirloin steak will set you back around €13, while beer starts at under €2, competitive even with the current poor exchange rates. A ‘must-eat’ is Bodegon Tamanca, a restaurant housed inside a cave boasting some of the best food and wine on the island. Also, tucked away in a side street of Los Llanos is Restaurante Duente Del Fuego, serving experimental twists on traditional Spanish dishes, adhering to a strict ‘Zero km’ policy on local produce.
And After That? Keen not to be seen as a ‘party island’, La Palma doesn’t have a great variety of nightlife. However, there are activities to enjoy when the sun goes down. It’s highly advisable to book one of the many whale-watching expeditions, which doesn’t stray too far from the coast and promises good odds on seeing both whales and dolphins from the glass bottomed catamaran. A trip at the end of the day has the added bonus of watching the sunset with a glass of champagne. A little more rustic but no less grand is a stargazing evening, taking advantage of one of the clearest skies in Europe to view the galaxies.