A couple of years ago when our friends at UK slow travel specialists Inntravel spoke to us about developing a new holiday on Tenerife which was completely different from their north Tenerife based holiday, we didn’t have to take long to think about the location we suggested as a starting point.
By San Miguel de Abona I mean the town, not the municipality, or Golf del Sur on the coast which some travel companies refer to as San Miguel de Abona, confusing visitors.
Our first big Tenerife writing commission in 2004 was to explore San Miguel de Abona in depth and write about it. We hadn’t been on the island long and our perception of the south of Tenerife had been formed by countless travel articles in British newspapers as well as brief flirtations with Los Cristianos en route to visit our friend on La Gomera. No offence meant to Los Cristianos but experiencing it after a week on La Gomera made it seem big, brash and harsh.
So San Miguel was a revelation; an awakening that made us realise for the first time the world outside of the main resorts was very different.
The town has a mix of ingredients which still make it stand out from most other hill towns above the south and south east coasts.
The restaurant scene
San Miguel punches above its weight when it comes to restaurants. Thanks to a smaller local population on the southern side of the island, there isn’t the same rich choice of restaurants in traditional parts as there is in Tenerife’s northern side. But San Miguel bucks that trend. Our first meal there was at Tasquita de Nino, a former tobacco warehouse. It was quaint, historic and the traditional food with a bit of flair was fab. A rematch over a decade later showed it hadn’t changed. Nearby La Bodega de San Miguel is another restaurant set in an old, traditional building where the food has more panache than the norm.
There’s one very easy way to tell if a place is ‘traditional’ or not; look for the colonial buildings. The main street through San Miguel is very typical of a modern Canarian town, so not picturesque. But take a step back and you find a cobbled street lined by old cottages and townhouses.
Good rural hotels and accommodation
Some of the bigger colonial buildings make for perfect rural hotels. Again, San Miguel has more of these than most southern towns. Last time we were there we stayed in the Hotel Rural San Miguel, a characterful 17th century building where rooms are in what was the hen house, cheese larder etc. and which has an unusual underground thermal bath.
Good for walking
Because San Miguel lies on what was once a relatively busy trading route, there are a few former merchants’ trails which make for interesting walking routes. One links the town with Granadilla de Abona whilst another winds past an old lime kiln, an abandoned hamlet and springs, one of which was a place where local women washed clothes. Some paths can still take some finding. On our first visit we asked the postman where one old trail started in the town. He didn’t have a clue. Last visit we asked a local hotel owner about another. Again, he didn’t know. And this was the old camino real which had once been a vital link between the towns in the hills.
Places of interest
An explore of San Miguel on foot reveals small attractions visitors would completely miss if they just drove through in a car. One of these is the Church of San Miguel whose plaza has good views over the coast. Another is the Captain’s house, Casa del Capitán, which is a small museum. It’s not exactly the sort of place to go out of your way to visit, but it does give an insight into what life in the south Tenerife hills was once like.
There are nearly always quirks to find in traditional Canarian towns; those little things which are just a little bit different. On one approach to San Miguel is the Salto de Pastor, a modern sculpture showing how shepherds used to cross ravines using a long pole. Some still do. On the other end of town is a flamboyant old truck that looks as though it belongs in a South American pueblo.
Ultimately there’s nothing exceptional about San Miguel de Abona. It’s simply a nice little place with a lot of qualities which makes it worth exploring for those visitors who enjoy a satisfying taste of the real Tenerife.
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+