It's common knowledge that if you want to spend your time hiking on a Canary Island, La Gomera is the island to head for. What's still not commonly known is all the Canary Islands offer exceptional and diverse walking. But there's no denying there is something extra special about exploring La Gomera on two feet.
My favourite La Gomera walking route is one that runs from the hills above the south west coast to Vallehermoso in the north.
Walking to Vallehermoso
We arrange for a taxi to drop us beside the mirador (viewpoint) at Igualero. Bruma (low cloud) cloaks the mirador, obscuring views of the surrounding area. It's early morning and the sun has just started burning off the mist. As we set off along the path the fog begins to clear, as if curtains were being drawn apart in time for a performance to begin.
Within minutes the misty cloud is a memory, ahead is a landscape of deep ravines and flat plateaus, the most impressive of which is the table top shaped La Fortaleza; a natural fortress considered a sacred site by the aborigines who inhabited the island prior to its conquest.
Our path snakes easily across the hillside towards the base of La Fortaleza. On one side we skirt pine trees, on the other the hills slope gently down to the blue Atlantic. Views across the rugged landscape are panoramic and dramatic.
As we reach the sacred mountain our route veers inland, passing agricultural hamlets and stone cottages whose terracotta roof tiles are held in place by rocks and, occasionally, pumpkins. The terrain softens in appearance as we cross shallow valleys with narrow terraces cut into their sides. In some, farmers bend double harvesting potatoes.
The path climbs and descends across an undulating agricultural terrain, taking us through the village of Chipude, where there's a couple of bars and a small supermarket, and then El Cercado; a centre for traditional pottery.
At El Cercado, La Gomera's landscape changes again as our path descends into a ravine whose slopes fall sharply away into a deep abyss. As the path curves around the hillside we're treated to views into the palm studded valley of the great king - Valle Gran Rey.
With perfect timing we reach an avenue of eucalyptus trees whose perfume fills our lungs with sweet air. The line of scented trees leads to a La Gomera institution and lunch.
Casa Efigenia is a rarity on the Canary Islands; a traditional restaurant which doesn't serve meat. At Efigenia's the food is as fresh as you get, straight from her allotments to the table.
Eating lunch at Casa Efigenia is more like sitting down to a family meal than eating in a restaurant. We're shown to a long table where a small group of Spanish hikers tuck enthusiastically into mountainous bowls of food. There's no menu, what's on offer never really changes. We start with almogrote (strong cheese pate which is seriously addictive) and a pint of homemade lemonade. This is followed by a sweet and tangy tomato, carrot and papaya salad and a hearty puchero (stew) of potatoes, sweet potato, onion, tomato, spinach, carrots, pumpkin and chickpeas. As if that wasn't enough, a bowl of escaldón (a savoury, filling paste made from gofio flour flavoured by stock) accompanies the feast. Even then it's not over, a dessert of leche asada completes lunch. Thankfully the lemon and cinnamon flavoured milk pudding is as light as air.
The generous banquet provides more than enough fuel for the onward journey, although the idea of a short siesta before taking to the trail is extremely tempting.
We step from Efigenia's door and into Garajonay National Park. Within yards we're enveloped in a forest of tree heath, myrtle and laurisilva. Twisted trees with moss-covered barks lean across the path ahead like an enchanted scene from a fairy tale. Every so often the forest opens up and we're treated to vistas over an emerald world carpeted by dense woodlands.
The path climbs to a ridge high above valleys where small settlements surrounded by palm groves line the fertile floor. We descend steeply to one of these hamlets, arriving at a road just before the Presa de la Encantadora. Although la Encantadora is a man-made reservoir, it looks more like a natural lake. A row of palm trees line one bank, ducks waddle along the shoreline and a heron stands still as a statue near the water's edge. It's idyllic.
From the lake we follow the road into Vallehermoso. It's lined by palm trees with metal bands around their trunks and with buckets on string dangling from the upper fronds. Both are signs the trees are being tapped for guarapo, palm sap used to produce miel de palma (palm honey) a sweet, smoky syrup which adds oomph to almost anything. Ahead of us, dominating the skyline above the town, is the imposing bust-like Roque Cano, Vallehermoso's eye-catching centrepiece.
Finally we reach the outskirts of the town where we follow a street lined by modest colonial townhouses to arrive at the plaza in the heart of Vallehermoso. There is a conveniently placed bar in the bustling square, we grab a seat in the sunshine and order a couple of ice cold cervezas with which to toast what has been an exceptional route.
All great walks should end with a reward.