In the 1800s adventurer Sir Robert Burton described San Cristóbal de La Laguna as a mix of buildings which were “tall, grand, solid and stately” and “cat-faced cottages.” Stand on one of the pedestrianised streets in the 21st century and it's apparent that, in architectural terms, not a lot has changed in the intervening century and a half.
La Laguna's streets are still lined by grand mansions, elegant townhouses and humble but pretty cottages with tiled roofs from which house leeks sprout. It is a perfectly preserved historic centre which is a joy to explore. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of two on Tenerife – the other being Teide National Park.
My first port of call whenever I visit La Laguna is the Mercado Municipal, the farmers' market. Food markets have the same effect on me as a particularly well stocked sweetshop did when I was a child; I wander through them wide-eyed. In La Laguna's market the stand-out products are stacks of salted fish, sacks filled with red and ochre spices, gleaming vegetables, exotic fruits and huge rounds of local cheeses with intense flavours. We often make a special trip to stock up on vegetables for our Christmas Day meal.
From the market I make a beeline for Plaza del Adelantado with its Indian bay trees and exquisite marble fountain which was shipped to Tenerife from Marseille in 1869. Bordered by colonial buildings and the closed, latticed tower of Santa Catalina Convent, the plaza is one of the prettiest on Tenerife. I have a soft spot for it as a waiter in a café there introduced me to arepas; delicious fried or grilled Venezuelan cornflour pancakes with savoury fillings.
The plaza leads to my favourite La Laguna street, Calle Obispo Rey. The three pastel-coloured façades of Casa del Corregidor, Casa de la Alhóndiga and Casa de los Capitanés boast the sort of looks which have filmmakers looking for grand, historic locations salivating at the mouth. It's worth popping into the Casa de los Capitanés. Not only does it have an attractive interior courtyard, it's also the tourist office. The street is especially striking during Corpus Christi celebrations in spring when it is covered with vibrant salt and flower carpets.
The old quarter of La Laguna is laid out in grid format; a revolutionary design when the city was expanded in 1588. Since then, the layout has been replicated in numerous other cities, notably in South America. It makes exploration without getting lost relatively easy. Simply head up one street and down another. There is always something interesting to discover.
Walking along Calle Obispo Rey I pass the imposing Cathedral de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios and flamboyant Teatro Leal before arriving at Plaza de la Concepción with its church and iconic tower of the same name (a fabulous spot for enjoying views across the rooftops). Along the way are fashion shops and contemporary and traditional tascas and cafés. It's often worth venturing inside buildings as some historic townhouses in Tenerife have unassuming façades which mask lush and lovely interior courtyards.
I wait until I reach Plaza Dr Olivera, on the opposite side of the Iglesia de la Concepción, before giving in to the magnetic draw of a tasca. This area buzzes with life and there are tapas bars and pavement cafés in abundance at which to sit picking at a 'tabla' of jamón serrano y queso and sipping a glass of Tenerife wine whilst watching lottery ticket vendors sell 'winning' tickets and rows of men smoking plump cigars loudly debating life in general.
From the plaza I make a return journey via the equally interesting Calle San Agustín. As well as being an ecclesiastical city, La Laguna has an artistic side. San Agustín Convent may look like a typical religious building, but the rooms leading from its courtyard display modern art exhibitions rather than religious artefacts. I've seen an eclectic range of exhibitions in old convents and churches in La Laguna, including one which featured shoes from famous movies and TV series.
Further along the street is Tenerife's History and Anthropology Museum which houses many intriguing objects including El Tigre, the cannon responsible for blowing off part of Admiral Nelson's right arm during the Battle of Santa Cruz.
My route ends on Calle Nava y Grimón. Turning left will take me back to the market and my car at Plaza de San Francisco. Turn right and a short walk returns me to Plaza del Adelantado.
Exploring La Laguna has worked up an appetite. It's been a long time since I've eaten an arepa on Plaza del Adelantado. I turn right.