Small but oho! – El Hierro

El Hierro – many people say it would be the most beautiful of all Canary Islands. As in the meantime we have visited all other islands for at least one time, it’s now time to finally visit the sevenths and smallest island of the archipelago.

Booking El Hierro as package tour is difficult and so we prepare our travel package ourselves. Flight to Tenerife, ferry from Tenerife to El Hierro, vacational home on El Hierro, rental car – everything can be bookoed easily over the internet. El Hierro has a small airport, which can be approached with the small island planes of the airline Binter Canarias. A direct flight to El Hierrro from Germany is not possible. We decide to take the connection via ferry as the ferry port is quite close to the airport of Tenerife South.

Arrival via ferry from Tenerife

After arrival at the Airport of Tenerife at midday and takeover of our luggage we are leaving the airport. Directly in front of us is the busstop of the Tenerife transport company TITSA. It’s not difficult to chose the correct bus which heads to Los Cristianos, where the ferry port is located. The journey takes about 20 minutes. Price 3,10 EUR per person. From the bus station in Los Cristianos it takes a 20 minute walk to the port (we have to carry our luggage…). However until the ferry leaves for El Hierro we have sufficient time. The more convenient way is taking a taxi from the airport to Los Cristianos.

Los Cristianos – what can I say about this town? Let’s say it this way: Tenerife offers quite a lot of places which are more attractive than Los Cristianos, however from Los Cristianos ferries start to the smaller islands La Gomera, La Palma and last but not least our destination: El Hierro. We receive the tickets at the desk of the ferry company Naviera Armas. I had booked the tickets already in advance via internet. Per person and way the ticket costs round about 50 EUR. Now we still have two hours left until the ferry starts. Great that the harbour building has a nice terrace including cafe. We use the time to have a snack and enjoy a Barraquito, a Canarian coffee speciality with a shot of Liquor 43. After the winter in Germany we soak up the sun and warmth on the terrace. We love it. The waiting time is over soon as finally the huge and modern catamaran “Volcan de Tirajana” approaches to the pier. Right in time on 5:30 pm the ferry takes course to El Hierro. Just following the sun.

As we reach the harbour of El Hierro 2 hours later it’s already dark. We leave the ferry take our luggage and take over the rental car from the Canarian car rental company of our trust. We start in direction of El Pinar, where we have booked a vacation home for the next 12 nights.

Casa Viges, El Pinar

When we started to look for a vacation home for El Hierro Casa Viges was our favourite. Pictures of the accommodation looked amazing, furthermore it has one important competitive advantage: it has a dishwasher. I generally like self catering holidays in vacation homes, but washing up by hand? This has not to be. So the dish washer was the decisive criteria on our accomodation.

We arrive at 9 pm. The accomodation is much more beatiful than on the prictures seen on the booking site in the internet. The Casa Viges is an old Canarian building which has been extensively renovated. It is bright, friendly, very modern and lovingly furnished. Everything seems to be very new. A place to feel good.

The kitchen is very well equipped. Only a coffee machine, as we know it, does not exist. We prepare the coffee in a small espresso maker, which is heated on the stove. We know this way of preparing coffee from previous vacations. Even though it is not the most convenient method, it usually turns out very tasty coffee. The open kitchen with cooking island merges into a small living area with a comfortable couch, armchair, TV and fireplace. There is no German TV programm, but via YouTube we can receive most important news – and finally we are not on holidays for watching TV. In the TV cabinet is various literature about El Hierro in Spanish, English and even German. From the living area you enter a small corridor leading to a bedroom with a double bed, a bathroom and another guest room with a single bed. From the bathroom you reach a room with a washing machine. Detergents are available. If something is missing, you can get it in the supermarket in El Pinar.

Casa Viges in the village Las Casas / El Pinar is surrounded by many  gardens with almond, fig and lemon trees. Due to the height of the town the view reaches to the sea. It’s very tranquil, you just hear the twittering of the birds, humming of the bees, cackling of the chicken, from time to time the crowing of a rooster and barking of dogs. Absolutely typical in farming areas. Very seldom a car passes the road.

As welcome present we receive Quesadillas, the typical pastry of El Hierro,  a bottle of wine from own production as well as drinking water, fruits, butter, marmelade and bread. So we are well equipped for the first day. What a service! We feel like home.

El Pinar

El Pinar is located in the south of El Hierro. The municipality of El Pinar consists of the towns of Las Casas, where our accomodation is located, Taibique and La Restinga, the fishing village the very South.  The name El Pinar is based on the large areas of pine forests. Otherwise the region is very agricultural. Many of the houses have a garden which is used for cultivation of own vegetables and fruits like lemons, almonds, figs, grapes, onions, lettuce, potatoes and many more. In a larger scale the cultivation of almonds and figs as well as grapes takes place in the surrounding fields. The fields are also used as pasture for sheep and goats. There are beautiful roads with little traffic whgich are perfectly for hiking through this landskape, e. g. the hiking trail from Las Casas to the Mirador Las Playas.

A hike trough the pine forests is also highly recommended. The scent, the springy ground, always some shade – I love hiking through pine forests. The Canary pine is very special. Its exisctence on a volcanin island has endowed it with a special resistance to fire. Even after a fire, the Canary pine is able to sprout again from the charred trunk. Therefore in the forest there are some very bizarre shapes to discover.

Plateau Nisdafe

Our first hike of the vacation takes us to the Nisdafe plateau in the northwest of the island. It is a huge area with meadows, which is used as pasture land. The pastures are separated by dry stone walls. Agriculture, especially cattly farming, is an important economic activity on El Hierro. We pass pastures with cattle, cows, horses and goats.  Red poppies and purple viper’s buglosses blooming brightly on empty pastures. Clouds are slowly rising up and spill over onto the plateau. Soon everything is wrapped in dense fog.

We continue our tour along the edge of the plateau within a dense cloud cover. Towards the north the plateau descends steeply. The path between stone wall and abyss is partly so narrow that we climb over the wall and walk inside the pasture, to have sufficient distance to the abyss. The clouds are so dense that we can hardly see downwards – maybe better. We pass huge tree heaths until we finally reach the point where the path parts. One path leads to the Mirador de la Peña. We decide to visit the MIrador on a day less cloudy and take the other path back to our car.

Faro Punta Orchilla / Zero Meridian

Today we are visiting the most western point of El Hierro, which offers not only a magnificient volcanic landscape but also the visit of two interesting monuments. The barren southwest of El Hierro is not populated. The landscape is characterized by lava stone and scree. We drive kilometers of serpentines until we come to a paved parking place and continue on foot. We follow a sign with the inscription Meridiano O. After about 2 km we stand in front of the former zero meridian, which was very common in Europe until the last 19th century, until the zero meridian was finally fixed in Greenwich. Many former sea and land maps are based on the El Hierro meridian.

From the zero meridian we can already see the lighthouse Faro Punta Orchilla, which is the westernmost lighthouse in Europe.  The route to the lighthouse marked in the hiking guide turns out in reality to be a cross-country hike through a rutted lava field. In the blazing sun, this is a bit of a challenge. We are happy when the light house finally rises in full size in front of us. Nowadays there is no lighthouse keeper anymore, the control runs automatically, but it still welcomes ships from the “New World”.

A little further on is the Muelle Punta Orchilla, a small harbor pier. Except for a few tourists, the place is quite deserted. We leave the place now also. Again cross-country over lava scree and interestingly formed lava flows, uphill through the barren landscape, until we – good that we have GPS – reach our car.

Valverde

The town of Valverde is located in the northeast of El Hierro and is the capital of the island. Valverde has round about 5.000 inhabitants (Total population of El Hierro 11.000). In Valverde is the town hall, court and hospital. Every Saturday is farmer’s market in Valverde, which we want to visit. With round about five stalls it’s very small. So we stroll through the town, buy country typical Quesadillas, small sweet cakes with goat cheese, which taste very delicious, and go back to the car. Valverde is located at an altitude of about 600 m. Depending on the weather conditions it can be much cooler there than on the coast. To have a jacket with you is highly recommended.

Charco Manso

We head on to the northernmost point of the Island. At the bathing place of Charco Manso very intersting rock formations can be seen. And indeed. The bathing place is not suitable for bathing at this day. The waves are very strong and form a spray, which washes over the black rocks like milk froth. In the crevices of the rocks waves rise up like high fountains. What a spectacle! But for us it ends rather in a debacle, when Sören is caught and knocked down by a sudden and especially high fountain. So be careful: don’t go too close to the crevices and don’t step on lava areas which are already wet. This is a clear indication of how far such a fountain can reach.

Sören’s foot hit the hard lava rocks very unfortunate during his fall. The foot turns blue and swells. We decide to consult a doctor as a precaution. The doctor in El Pinar gives us a referral for the island hospital in Valverde, where the foot is x-rayed. Here it is finally determined that the lateral bone of his foot is broken. With plaster and crutches he comes out of the emergency room again. Not a good condition for a hiking vacation, but you have to take life as it comes.

When we picked up the rental car, we had me signed up as the second driver, even though I hadn’t originally intended to drive. However now it turned out that it was a good idea and makes generally sense for emergencies. We also now know that medical care works well and uncomplicated on El Hierro.

Malpaso

In the afternoon I get into the car again and drive into the centre of the island. I wnat to do a  short tour to the highest point of El Hierro, the summit of the 1501 m high Malpaso. I park at the parking lot at Cruz de Los Reyes and start an appr. 5 km long round trip, which leads to the summit of Malpaso. The trails are very well for hiking . The hike leads through a barren volcanic landscape. Green shining heather bushes and pine trees form a nice contrast to the gray lava gravel. The afternoon sun wraps everything in a warm light. I have to fight with strong winds. After 45 minutes I stand on the summit. The view into the El Golfo valley is spectacular.  I enjoy the views until I walk back to the car.

The route is short and easy to walk, you start already at an altitude  of 1360 m.

Mirador de la Peña

Today we drive by car again to the north of the island, to the Mirador de la Peña. The Mirador not only offers a magnificent viewover the El Golfo valley, it was also designed by the Canarian artist and architect César Manrique, who has left his distinctive artistic footprint on all the Canary Islands. The result is a stone house in typical Canarian style with huge window fronts that blend beautifully into the rock face. The interior of the building is very bright and airy. Here is a restaurant, which offers a very high quality Canarian cuisine. Most of the ingredients come directly from the island.

We don’t miss the opportunity to test the restaurant and take a seat in front of the large window front. We had no reservation, but it seems that this is not absolutey necessary at lunchtime. At the beginning we get a fresh still warm roll with a homemade herb aioli, which tastes really outstanding. We order a portion of Papas Arrugadas with Mojo as an appetizer. The little wrinkled potatoes are a must on any visit to the Canary Islands. A mojo verde tasting intensely of parsley and a nice creamy mojo rojo tasting of fine paprika are served. That is already a good start. For the main course, I get the pork tenderloin medallions, stuffed with a kind of dried fig chutney, served with vegetables and roasted potato slices. Sören chooses the milk lamb, as a side dish there are vegetables and potatoes. Both dishes taste very good. Actually, we are now full, but on the menu is a selection of desserts that we absolutely have to try, so we take a portion of gofio mousse with ground almonds and honey, and a flan with pickled dried figs. Both very sweet, but incredibly tasty. Gofio, by the way, is a typical Canarian flour made from roasted grain.  We end our lunch with a café con leche.

The Mirador de la Peña is open every day from 9:00 – 22:30. The restaurant is open at lunchtime from 12:30 – 15:30 and then again in the evening from 19:00.

Cloud Forest / Caldera Hoya de Fireba

Today I want to discover the spectacular cloud forest on the north side of El Hierro. It is called cloud forest because at this altitude the trade wind clouds cover the forest there, which is mainly composed of laurel, heather and gale trees, in mist. Humidity and shade in this zone create a perfect condition for growth of different mosses, lichens and ferns that make up the mystical image of this forest.

I start at the parking lot of the Mirador de Las Llanias at an altitude of 1335 meters and follow the Camino San Salvador, which leads through  the cloud forest towards the El Golfo valley. It goes over almost 5 km about 800 meters altitude downhill. Walking sticks are very helpful here and provide good grip on the dusty ground. The forest provides pleasant shade. Unfortunately, there is no sign of moisture. The mossy trunks seem very dry, so that I wonder how long ago this forest has taken its last cloud bath. There is a rustling in the bushes: lizards and birds are hiding there.

After two hours marching through the forest I come out in the wine-growing district of the El Golfo valley. I walk between the vineyards and have a great view of the villages of the El Golfo Valley as well as the extraordinary bell tower of the Ermita de Nuestra Senora de Candelaria, which is built on the middle of a volcanic cone. After a few kilometers in the blazing sun, I am glad for a short moment that it now goes back up into the shady forest. I make another short rest and eat a sandwich with peanut butter and banana and avocado. Superfood for hikers. Now I should have enough energy to start the way up.

The climb is steep and exhausting. I have to take breaks again and again, and drink to gather strength for the further meter. Giving up? No option. It’s not possible anyway, because there is no alternative option to get back to the car. And so it is a matter of gritting my teeth and getting through. After a very exhausting passage, I pass a small mirador with an inviting picnic bench. Lucky me! I put my backpack down and make myself comfortable at the table. Again I get out my packed lunch and eat a sandwich and a delicious juicy orange. I sit for a while to gather new strength. Final spurt. The forest clears slowly and I recognize more and more the blue sky between the foliage of the trees. The summit can not be far away, after the next curve I am certainly there… Same thought at the next six curvy sections of the way, but finally I leave the forest – arrived at the Hoya de Fireba, one of the most impressive volcanic crater of the island.

Now it is only a few hundred meters to the car. I make a short detour to the Mirador de La Llania and can watch from there how paragliders take off towards the El Golfo valley. Magical. a nice finish for an interesting, but also very exhausting tour.

Distance according to GPS about 13 km. Altitude meters downhill and uphill each appr. 1000 m. Including breaks, enjoying the views and photo stops I was on the way for around 6 hours.

El Sabinar

One special landmark of El Hierro are the bony juniper trees, bent to the ground, in the El Sabinar forest in the west of the island. In this area are beautiful hiking routes. But it is also possible to drive directly to the trees by car, which makes us happy, because Sören with his plaster foot can not walk long distances at the moment.

On the way to El Sabinar we pass the Ermita de Nuestra Senora Los Reyes. Here I make a short stop and enter the small church. Here is the patron saint of the island which is carried every four years in a large procession – the Bajada – across the island to Valverde. The Bajada also plays a small role in the El Hierro crime thriller, which was shown some time ago on TV, so I found it even more interesting to see the Virgen de Los Reyes live.

Afterwards we drive  over a dusty dirt road until we finally reach the area with the bizarre juniper trees. Old bony specimens deserving protection. They look like creatures ducking to protect themselves from the wind. And, in fact, it is also the continuous falling winds in this region that are responsible for the unusual growth of these trees. A magical place.

La Restinga

La Restinga is the most southern place of El Hierro and therefore also the most southern place of Europe. La Restinga is a small fishing village with a harbor and a beach and today probably the place on the island with the highest number of tourists. There are several diving schools in La Restinga. The diving grounds in the region are said to be unique, therefore La Restinga is a mecca for divers.

Of course, a fishing village should not be without fish restaurants, and La Restinga offers a wide selection of them. Best opportunity for us to eat fresh fish. We decide for the Tasca Laja. There we have fresh salad, very fresh tuna and parrot fish as catch of the day, in addition papas arrugadas with tasty mojos. Plain – but enormously tasty prepared. The small restaurant directly on the beach promenade is really worth a recommendation.

On the way back we make a small detour to the beach of Tacoron. It is located in the middle of impressive lava formations. There are shady picnic areas here and there is also a toilet.

Charco Azul

The Charco Azul swimming area in the north of El Hierro is one of the most popular on the island. Natural pools and lava caves make it possible to go into the water even when the surf is a bit stronger. It is a beautiful place. From the parking lot, some steep steps lead down to the beach. Sturdy shoes are recommended in any case.

Departure from El Hierro

With many great impressions our vacation is coming to an end. Today we say goodbye to El Hierro. We pack our stuff, drop by at the hospital in Valverde, where we have to return Sören’s crutches and finally park our rental car where we picked it up 12 days ago, at Puerto de la Estacas, the ferry port of El Hierro. Nice to see the harbour again, this time in daylight. Next to the port, there is a small beach, that looks really nice and very inviting. There are bathing jetties with ladders to get into the water, bathing islands, sun loungers and even showers. You can certainly have a good swim and snorkel here.

The harbor building is very modern and offers plenty of seats for waiting passengers. The office of Naviera Armas and a small bar are also located here. At the bar we are also supposed to hand in the car key of our rental car provider, but for this we have to look for another option, because the bar is closed. Spain is in a state of emergency from now on.

In the last few days, COVID-19 has spread strongly in Spain, especially the mainland is affected, but also on Canary Islands cases were registered. The fact is that shortly before the end of our vacation, comprehensive measures were imposed by the government to contain the virus. Spain is in a state of alert. On El Hierro, we haven’t noticed much of this yet. On the day of our departure, however, there is a very big rush at the ferry port. Many tourists try to get the ferry before the measures of the Spanish government take effect the following day, which include a curfew in addition to closures of various facilities. It’s only allowed to leave your home with important reason and only alone. The measures are controlled by the police and punished with high fines.

Even on the ferry, various safety measures are taken, for example, seats may only be occupied in such a way that there is at least a one-meter distance between the seat and the neighbor. From the carefree El Hierro idyll we now arrive in the nightmarish COVID-19 reality.

Once again briefly idyll, as next to our large ferry catamaran a swarm of dolphins appears and dives next to us through the waves. Beautiful.

From the ferry port Los Cristianos we have booked a transfer to Playa Paraiso. The driver is already waiting for us and takes us within 20 minutes to the Hardrock Hotel Tenerife, where we want to spend our last three days of vacation.

Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife, Playa Paraiso

Spending a few nights in the Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife, which opened in 2016, has been a dream of mine for quite some time. And I would also like to write a comprehensive report about it, but since our arrival on 15.03.2020, the hotel operation has almost come to a standstill. The facilities of the hotel, such as pools, spa and sports area, bars, restaurants were closed. The guests are supposed to stay in the rooms as far as possible.

Well, we had imagined the stay differently, but okay, until our return flight on 18.03. we will make vacation in the room. The hotel has its origins in a large concrete hotel, which was extensively renovated. Architecturally, however, the 70s character of Oasis and Nirvana Tower is clearly recognizable, so it’s no highlight form the outside. Only the illumination of the complex by night makes it better.

The inner values of the hotel rock! The interior designers have done a good job. Stylish furniture and many showcases with relics of famous rock superstars, as it is common for this chain. Over loudspeakers we are treated with music: classic rock, alternative rock, Britpop. That’s the way – ah ha ah ha – I like it.

Our room is in the Oasis Tower. When we open the elevator on the eighth floor, we look at a picture of Alice Cooper. Directly next to it is a showcase with his denim jacket. “School’s Out”- this song matches to the current situation. The door of the hotel room needs to be opened with a wristband, which reminds of a typical festival wristband. Here we will now spend the next 3 nights and also days.

The room can be described with the song Paint It Black by the Stones. The interior is rather dark, a lot of glass and glamour. The room provides a Bose speaker which can be connected via Bluetooth to your own devices. The entertainment system via TV does not work very well. The room has a small balcony with seat and small table.

Room and balcony are not designed to spend the whole day there, as we now unfortunately have to do. Due to the restrictions, only the buffet restaurant is available, where we can take breakfast and dinner. The quality and selection of the food is absolutely top notch. However, I wonder if a buffet is really the right thing to do in times of a spreading virus? We arrange ourselves with the situation, but also look forward to the upcoming return flight.

On 17.03. we get bad news: SWISS has cancelled our flight on 18.03.20. We are rebooked to a flight on 20.03.2020. We inform our colleagues respectively employers about the situation. When checking the booking data again on the SWISS website, suddenly no flight is shown for us from Tenerife. We make countless attempts to reach someone at the SWISS hotline, without success. Only when we decide to call the English-speaking service, we immediately have someone on the line. The person notes that there must have been problems with the rebooking and rebooks us again, this time on a Condor flight directly to Hanover, which, however, should not leave until the evening of 22.03.20. He says he can do nothing more for us. I feel a certain helplessness. We are now stranded on Tenerife.

The situation on the Canary Islands is getting worse and worse, I don’t mean the cases of infection, but the restrictive regulations of the government. All hotels are going to close in the next few days and tourists should start their journey home as soon as possible. It’s clear that we can not stay in the hotel until our departure flight.

As a precaution, we register on the crisis precaution list of the German Foreign Office. This ensures that we are kept up to date by the German Consulate. Thanks to the internet we find a small apartment in the small village of El Medano, close to the airport. Here we will spend the next four nights.

El Medano – in times of curfew

El Medano is a small town in the south of Tenerife. In the past we have made detours to El Medano from time to time when we had some time left on the way to the airport. It is a very touristy place with many apartment complexes. Shallow sandy beaches invite (usually) to swim. Since there is often a stiff breeze, El Medano is a hotspot for windsurfers and kitesurfers. Disadvantage is the continuous noise of landing or starting airplanes.

When we arrive by cab in El Medano there is no trace of tourism. Beaches and streets are deserted. An employee of the administration of our apartment hands us the keys and explains the most important things. The apartment is big enough for two with a small kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom and a spacious balcony with view to the beach of El Medano. This is absolutely fine for the next four nights. Furthermore, the apartment has a washing machine, so we can at least use the time to do the laundry.

The curfew in Spain allows us to go only individually for short and necessary ways on the street. Shopping is part of it and since we are urgently in need of some food I make my way to the supermarket. The streets are more or less empty. A queue has formed in front of the supermarket. The people stand with prescribed distance to each other and wait for admission. Many are wearing face masks. Only a limited crowd is allowed ti enter the supermarket. Disposable gloves must be put on when entering, otherwise shopping is relatively normal. There is no sign of hoarding purchases as we have heard it from Germany. I do the shopping and go back to the apartment.

Sören has the great fortune to be able to telework from the apartment, which works very well. I spend the days on the balcony reading, listening to podcasts and digital socializing. Further, I have developed an online Scrabble addiction in recent days. What would the world be like without the possibilities of the internet? I relax on the balcony to the sound of waves, which is occasionally interrupted by the takeoff of an airplane. But I am happy to notice that still flights take off. In the evening, when the sun arrives at our balcony, we eat together, fade out the crisis situation for a moment and enjoy the atmosphere.

At 7 pm there is a daily collective clap as a thank for the medical staff, the people who provide food and take care for others during this difficult crisis.  Everyone comes to their balconies for this. This is touching and a very motivating gesture of solidarity.

Within the next week all tourists are supposed to leave the Canary Islands. We can start our journey home today. The closure of hotels, restaurants, stores and tourist attractions is an economic disaster for the Canary Islands. The fact that the Spanish government is taking such draconian measures shows that the situation is really serious.

We hope that the crisis will soon be over and then we will come back – to the place with the best climate in the world.

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