On each childhood vacation, Tim Wittenbecher would ask his mother and father the identical factor. “My first query was at all times, when can we go to see the lighthouse?”
As he grew up, finally changing into chief government of a German on-line playing firm, he fantasised about proudly owning his personal lighthouse. “It was only a dream, like having a Ferrari or no matter, however then the possibility got here as much as truly purchase one.” Along with his architect spouse he took a big gamble on a disused lighthouse on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom, planning to show it right into a tiny resort however considering that if it failed, they’d not less than have a singular vacation residence.
The truth is it was successful. 200 individuals made bookings on the day it launched, in 2008; even at this time there’s a two-year ready checklist. “That inspired us to proceed,” he says. In 2013, he stop his day job to focus full time on lighthouses, bringing in buyers to open extra — two have already launched and one other 10 are in growth, together with one within the Venice lagoon.
Wittenbecher’s most up-to-date opening is the Faro de Punta Cumplida, on La Palma. A distant volcanic island within the Canaries may appear an unlikely selection for a Berlin-based entrepreneur, however Wittenbecher discovered convincing arguments within the island’s favour.
“We checked out lighthouses in Mallorca, El Hierro too,” he says. “However ultimately we thought La Palma is ideal to be our first one in Spain. It’s inexperienced, stunning, genuine, quiet, doesn’t have the ruins of huge tourism. And I can see that it’s developing as a vacation spot.”
I arrived there on the finish of final month to search out the lighthouse on a darkish volcanic spur jutting into the Atlantic. From the surface it had the stable, four-square look all lighthouses ought to, with green-painted window frames and a tall spherical tower staring into the horizon. On the within had been three cool city-style suites with each conceivable fashionable consolation, a cellarful of native wines, and a fire for stormy winter nights.
I’d be alone that night time within the lighthouse, and was primed to indulge my “lonely lighthouse-keeper” fantasies. A chilly entrance blew in from the north-west, whipping up waves that thudded in opposition to the rocks across the constructing. I battened down the shutters, lit the hearth, cracked open a type of native wines.
And as night time fell I climbed the 150 steps of charcoal-grey stone to the highest of the tower, watching because the highly effective beam rolled across the sky, choosing out the clouds, the dramatic shoreline and the banana plantations racked up the slopes like paddy fields. Lengthy overshadowed by its greater, busier island neighbours, La Palma certainly deserves a spell within the highlight.
The second smallest of the seven Canaries, La Palma hangs off the archipelago’s western edge (its form on the map suggests an inverted teardrop, a barely wonky coronary heart, or an extracted tooth). Even many Spaniards have solely a imprecise concept of its whereabouts, ceaselessly complicated it both with Las Palmas (the capital of Gran Canaria) or with Palma de Mallorca, and it stays the little-visited “unsung Canary”. As an alternative of mass tourism, it lives comfortably from an agricultural sector specialising in bananas, avocados and different unique fruit.
I flew in from Madrid for a three-day go to because the island was rising from the Covid tunnel, with a trickle of arrivals coming in largely from Germany. The pandemic has handed flippantly over La Palma, with 574 circumstances and about 70 per cent of the island’s almost 85,000 residents totally vaccinated by early June.
Earlier than heading to the lighthouse, I stayed on the Hacienda de Abajo, a seventeenth century former sugar cane property within the coastal city of Tazacorte, transformed by its aristocratic house owners right into a delightfully old style 32-room resort.
At dinner I sat by an open window and seemed out westwards over a sea of banana palms and, past them, to the calm Atlantic basking within the night glow. Night time fell instantly and utterly, like a black velvet cape flung over the panorama.
The Hacienda was an excellent place to get the measure of La Palma’s quirky character. My room, which gave on to a romantic backyard planted with towering palms and tree ferns, had an vintage Castilian mattress so excessive off the bottom that library steps had been offered. The home and its outbuildings, immaculately restored, had been painted within the sizzling pinks and pastel yellows of conventional palmero structure and had been full of Spanish non secular work, Flemish tapestries, English clocks, Chinese language porcelain and different objects from the household’s 1,300-strong assortment.
At breakfast I sat with Enrique Luis Larroque del Castillo-Olivares, one of many Hacienda’s house owners, who crammed me in on a few of his island’s extra stunning cultural sides — such because the Masonic and cosmological societies, the Sixteenth-century church buildings with their mudéjar ceilings, and the pocket-sized Renaissance capital Santa Cruz de la Palma. “That is an island for travellers who’re fascinated about artwork, nature, good meals, the quiet life,” declared my host. “You’ve got heard about gradual tradition? We invented it.”
Setting out from Tazacorte, I roamed the island in my rental automotive. Sleepy cities comparable to San Andrés and Garafía had been collections of outdated palmero homes with sash home windows and clay-tiled roofs, lovingly preserved and gaily painted in a fruit salad of apricot, plum-red and apple-green. (Even the bus-stops on La Palma had been miniature pavilions with slender wood columns and pitched roofs.)
Santa Cruz, the tiny capital, had cobbled squares with dribbling fountains and a important road, the Calle Actual, flanked with grand colonial mansions. A salty breeze blew up from the seafront. If in its Sixteenth-century heyday Santa Cruz was the Spanish empire’s third most vital harbour (after Seville and Antwerp), it appeared to have sunk right into a placid provincial doze.
Few islands mix low-key pleasures with big-screen thrills over such a modest floor space. Botanists and horticulturalists, ramblers and stargazers, will discover a lot to get pleasure from right here. Meals lovers too can have a area day, for La Palma’s gastro-culture is stunning in its variety and high quality.
Edible highlights of my tour included the long-simmered goat stew at Pino de la Virgen in Puntagorda, the potatoes filled with rabbit at Casa Osmunda in Breña Alta, and the tartare, sashimi and ceviche of native purple tuna on the seaside restaurant La Gaviota beside the pure bathing swimming pools of La Fajana.
Fragrant wines are constituted of pre-phylloxera grape varieties comparable to Vijariego and Listán, indigenous to the island. La Palma’s cheeses are additionally price investigating, and I had enjoyable monitoring down the excellent queso palmero made by 33-year-old Brenda Rodríguez at Granja Los Tumbitos close to Barlovento. Rodríguez retains 400 goats of a uncommon native long-horned selection at her farm on a hillside overlooking the ocean.
To make the temporary journey from one facet of the island to the opposite was to traverse a sequence of numerous ecosystems. The north-east, the place the commerce winds make landfall bearing moisture, was lush and fertile. The deep south round Fuencaliente was dry, black and spooky: vines sprawled over the darkish volcanic soil as if in desperation.
In the meantime, the western coast had a wild Atlantic vibe, palms and cacti clinging to cliffs that plunged right into a wine-dark sea. Often a drago, often known as the dragon tree, whose surrealistic kind may need been dreamt up by Edward Lear, may very well be seen standing sentinel on a stony outcrop.
One morning I made my manner down a dangerous observe in direction of Poris de Candelaria, a fisherman’s village in an enormous sea cave. The village, whose identify apparently derives from the Portuguese phrase for “prow”, was busy till a number of years in the past with the comings and goings of boats however is now used primarily as a summer season retreat by locals from close by Tijarafe. Within the shelter of the cave the ocean shaped a quiet inlet; exterior its gaping mouth, the ocean roared and boiled.
If the island has been little developed it’s partly due to the topographical challenges concerned. Inland from the gently sloping coastal fringes the panorama rumples into deep barrancos (gorges) topped with the mighty Caldera de Taburiente, a collapsed volcanic crater some 8km vast.
Wonderful hikes might be taken alongside La Palma’s signposted footpaths — officers declare they stretch nearly 1,000km. Probably the most demanding, the 24km Ruta de los Volcanes, follows the island’s central backbone from north to south.
Onward and upward on the winding roads I drove, by means of forests of Canary Island pine, chestnut and laurel. Down on the coast the solar had blazed from a cloudless sky; up right here the damp had me reaching for a sweater.
Arriving on the lookout level of La Cumbrecita (La Palma turns you right into a Nineteenth-century grand vacationer, ceaselessly gazing at picturesque views), I peered over the crater rim on the caldera in all its majesty, a thick soup of mist swirling across the green-clad folds and furrows of its teetering partitions.
But a number of miles additional up the panorama and the climate instantly modified once more. At 2,000 metres above sea degree the sky opened into a stunning readability, whereas the forest gave option to scrub and brooding crags. Ranks of big pink tajinastes, the weird mountain flower of the Canaries, leaned over the street in drooping, comical shapes. Within the close to distance, Mount Teide (3,715 metres), Tenerife’s very personal Fuji, loomed up by means of the billowing waves of cloud.
These clear-skied uplands had been dotted with the silvery pepper-pot shapes of observatories — I counted 14 in all. With its close to complete absence of atmospheric and light-weight air pollution, La Palma has develop into a hub for astronomers. Vacationers can go to the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, at 2,396 metres above sea degree, residence to the world’s largest single-aperture optical telescope.
Again on the lighthouse I swam within the infinity pool, Atlantic breakers smashing the rocks under me, and seemed up on the stone tower that was my non permanent residence. What had initially appeared an eccentric place to remain now appeared nearly becoming, on an island crammed with a lot that was uncommon, distinctive and sudden.
Vacationers at the moment are allowed to go to Spain from the EU and Schengen space in addition to different international locations, together with the UK, Australia, China and Japan. Absolutely vaccinated travellers from all international locations besides Brazil and South Africa at the moment are additionally allowed to go to (these from India should quarantine for 10 days). See travelsafe.spain.info and hellocanaryislands.com for extra.
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