Sunshine, sandy beaches and the ocean are more than likely to be some of the first things that spring to mind when many people think of Tenerife. Because of its well-known picture-perfect beach scenes, the island has become one of the top tourist destinations in the world throughout the whole year.
What may surprise you to learn though, especially if you think you know Tenerife based on a beach holiday or two, or perhaps some photos you've seen online, is that it is also a destination filled with fascinating culture. In fact, contrary to popular belief, rather than just being somewhere to head for a week of tanning on the beach or a cheap getaway for families, it also has a rich historical and cultural heritage just waiting for you to discover, such as in its stunning capital, Santa Cruz.
Tenerife should definitely be considered as somewhere to visit if you enjoy immersing yourself in culture. Of course, this needn't be for your whole time on the island, but it can certainly be combined with other more typical aspects of your holiday such as the year-round warm sunny climate, top-quality excursions and attractions for all ages, excellent hotels, amazing bars and restaurants and the breath-taking beaches. One day might be enjoyed at the beach, then the next experiencing the more cultural side of Tenerife.
To fully appreciate and take in some of the unique aspects of Tenerife's rich history, a perfect option is with a tour company. While there are a number of companies offering tours, for a unique excursion around the stunning city of Santa Cruz, a tour with Living Tenerife Tours could be the perfect choice for you.
This is a company that was a recently founded by Jorge F. Ballesteros, a native of Tenerife who was born and raised on the island. The focus of Living Tenerife Tours is the north of the island which you will discover is very different from the southern half in a number of ways.
These tours are perfect for English speakers looking for something quite different from other more cliched, typical excursions. Jorge speaks impeccable English due to staying a number of times in the UK when he was younger. In addition to this he developed a strong interest in Britain and the historic links between Tenerife and Britain. In fact, these tours will likely be of particular interest to British tourists hoping to find out about the longstanding links between these two places. As you will see, many of these links over the centuries have been friendly, but some much less so!
Living Tenerife Tours offers a number of different exclusive excursions in the north of the island, but this one in particular was a fascinating cultural and culinary trip around Tenerife's stunning capital, Santa Cruz. While there is certainly some interesting history and culture across all parts of the island, to truly experience a taste of the real Tenerife, then you should definitely take a trip around Santa Cruz. Even if you have already been before, this particular excursion offers a unique opportunity to visit some real hidden gems.
One of the most immediately noticeable things about Santa Cruz is how different it seems from the modern tourist resorts of the south such as Costa Adeje or Playa de Las Americas. It feels much more like an authentic Spanish city such as Madrid or Malaga which makes it ironic in a way to head there to learn about Tenerife's historic connection with Britain.
What you will find out during this tour is that despite what many people might believe, it wasn't the advent of package tours and cheap flights merely decades ago that led to the arrival of British people in Tenerife (and the Canary Islands). Instead they have been heading here for hundreds of years, albeit for alternative reasons to now.
After meeting Jorge in the morning outside the impressive Real Casino de Tenerife, located close to the beautiful Plaza de España, we then headed to the nearby brand-new luxury mini-van which we would be transported around on. This was the perfect way to see the city in style, with air-conditioning and spacious, comfortable leather seats. It was also an interesting contrast between the historical and cultural views of the city, compared with the modern, luxurious vehicle.
During our tour of Santa Cruz, we were told a lot of interesting historical and cultural information about the city and Tenerife from Jorge, that he had acquired and studied over many years. This included many unique locations throughout the city that many locals probably don't even know about.
We found out how this fascinating and vibrant port city was founded by the Kingdom of Castille in 1494, initially being merely a small fishing village, but over time becoming transformed into the most important and fortified port in the Canary Islands, also becoming the primary sea route between Spain and the West Indies.
What you notice when you take this tour around Santa Cruz is that there is a splendour and grandeur throughout the city not found in much of the rest of the island. In part this is owing to it being the capital of Tenerife since 1723, after taking over this position from La Laguna, and co-capital of all the Canary Islands, a shared title with Las Palmas de Gran Canarias since 1927.
The city has an impressive level of architecture and now, perhaps surprisingly has the sixth highest building level height of all Spanish cities, due to both its historical and modern importance. In addition to this, in an article written for The Guardian newspaper in 2012, Santa Cruz was judged to be one of “The five best places to live in the world"!
This is certainly not the Tenerife you think you know, as mentioned earlier, and also rather humorously pointed out in The Guardian article. Santa Cruz actually feels like you're in a truly Spanish city.
As you will find out on this tour though, this beautiful city of around 200,000 inhabitants (538,000 within the total urban zone) is more than merely a fantastic place to live, or for enjoying a sightseeing wander to explore the impressive buildings, parks and other features, it is also a destination with a rich culture and history to discover. This includes the centuries old connections between Britain and Tenerife, that have existed long before the modern influx of British holidaymakers.
We discovered during our tour about the peaceful and fruitful connections that grew between Britain and Tenerife, such as with agricultural produce like bananas and tomatoes exported from Tenerife to Britain, plus the more aggressive history that preceded that when Santa Cruz was attacked by British naval forces, including two attempts to conquer the island.
Many people probably don't realise, but one of these attacks was led by the famous Admiral Nelson and is in fact where he lost his arm during his failed attempt to take over Tenerife. Despite these various invasion attempts from Britain several centuries ago, the city was able to remain undefeated, a fact that that the inhabitants are understandably still proud of.
As part of the excursion we took in many fascinating sights and hidden gems such a beautiful palatial building constructed by a successful British entrepreneur and resident of Tenerife named Henry Wolfson back in the 19th century which subsequently became used as a hotel, the wonderful Saint George Church that was constructed back in the mid 19th Century to serve as a place of worship for the significant British population living in Santa Cruz at that time, the Regional Military Museum of the Canary Islands (Museo Militar Regional de Canarias) where we learned about the various invasion attempts of Santa Cruz, and the absolutely stunning Auditorio de Tenerife (Tenerife Opera House) which bears more than a passing resemblance to The Sydney Opera House.
To top off this unique and fascinating cultural and historical exploration of Santa Cruz in style, we returned to the exclusive Real Casino de Tenerife. From here we were treated to beautiful views across the iconic Plaza de España and an absolutely delicious meal of Canarian food and wine. The meal was truly a culinary delight and was the perfect conclusion to this unique and fascinating excursion.
To find out more about Living Tenerife Tours see their website: www.livingtenerifetours.com