Tenerife: The choker-draped Spanish island has Scottish ties beyond the flag
As the familiar flag of St Andrew is hoisted on the mast of the ferry, I gaze up at the highest mountain in these islands and think of the hiking, great seafood and rich culture. It may seem so, but I’m not on CalMac. Scotland is not that I sail to Tenerife, an island massively popular with Scottish tourists that swims in conjunction with the country that shares its flag.
Tenerife is striking in many ways; for Scots, it’s impossible not to be struck by the Saltiers that float across the island, seen on everything from municipal buildings to the jerseys of the island’s football team. Over the years I have heard a number of theories as to why we share the same flag. The first is that its use in Tenerife began as a tribute to the Scots who fought the British in the Battle of Santa Cruz in 1797, the battle that cost Lord Nelson an arm.
Scottish links go back over the years. Many Scots drifted across the north of the island for centuries as trade grew with the ports of Santa Cruz and Puerto de la Cruz. Then, more recently, came tourism, the attraction of an island with an eternal spring climate, obvious to anyone who has experienced a Caledonian winter or a washed-out summer.
I have been to Tenerife over 20 times and feel very comfortable here. In Scotland, I start the day with porridge. In Tenerife, my breakfast cereals are sprinkled with gofio, a similar grain-based staple. Politically, there are also parallels. Tenerife is closer to Morocco than to Madrid and Tenerifos proudly has a distinct identity. We have devolution and they have semi-autonomous status. There is a desire for independence among some people here as well.
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I don’t need to explain to Tenerife my love of the mountains – walking in the hills is ingrained in the very consciousness of the island, as it is in Scotland. We have Ben Nevis and Tenerife at Teide. This active volcano is the star attraction of Spain’s most visited national park, rising nearly three times the height of its Scottish sibling at 3715m, easily Spain’s highest mountain. And that’s where the appeal of Tenerife, beyond year-round sunshine and beaches for me, really comes in. The mountains here are bigger. Everything is bigger and brighter in Macaronesia. There are great theme parks – at Loro Parque, rated the most beautiful zoo in the world, and Siam Park, rated the best water park – but Tenerife is also a true Jurassic Park.
This miniature continent shares pine forests with Scotland, but also tropical forests and the ancient laurisilva. They have heather here, but their Erica arborea can grow up to 10m high!
With each trip to Tenerife, I discover new aspects that make me think of Scotland. This time it’s thanks to Jose Maria, who works with El Cardón NaturExperience. I meet him at one of the island’s bountiful banana plantations and he shows me the “Shepherd’s Leap”, an incredible act of physical prowess used to negotiate this steep island.
My heart is in my mouth as I watch him jump off a high cliff using only the 3m long wooden pole he made himself. “There’s only one other place I’ve heard of people using this,” he smiles as he descends, “and that’s the Scottish Highlands.”
On this trip, I am staying on this remarkable island in four hotels; Scottish connections continue. At the lavish Gran Melia Palacio de Isora (melia.com), I savor Scottish smoked salmon during lunch on the terrace while gazing out over the Rum-esque island of La Gomera. “We get a lot of Scottish guests and our staff really like them because they’re so happy here,” Samantha Hernandez Galand from the hotel tells me.
In another of the best hotels on the island, the Royal Hideaway Corales Beach (barcelo.com), I meet Valentina Hernandez. She laughs: “I’ve heard of a lot of Scottish connections. We even have our own whisky. It is distilled in neighboring La Palma, but we add a smoky, peaty flavor to it. No one knows exactly where our original Guanches came from – it may have been Scotland!
The spacious four-star Marylanza (macaronesianhotels.com) is owned by a local man I’ve known for years. Jorge Marichal tells me: “I love active sports and our island and Scotland share a love for these and, of course, the mountains.”
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My last night is in the simple three-star Aguamar which I booked through Olympic Holidays (olympicholidays.com). Just like Andy from Cupar, whom I met by the pool.
“I wondered about the Saltires, it makes sense now,” Andy says. “My wife and I were talking this morning about how at home we feel here and that so many things remind us of Scotland.”
I am then in good company with Andy. And with the 300,000 Scots who are drawn to this saltire-draped subtropical island every year.
Fact sheet: easyJet (easyjet.com) flies to Tenerife from Edinburgh and Glasgow. For more tourist information see webtenerife.co.uk