The Weird and Wonderful Side of Tenerife

| January 31, 2011 | 2 Comments

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When considering a visit to Spain, most head to the Iberian Peninsula. But Spain also boasts over a dozen islands. Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Island archipelago, found off the northwestern coast of Africa. It’s also one the most interesting—and weirdest!

santa cruz de tenerife The Weird and Wonderful Side of Tenerife

Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Photo by Carlos SM.

The islands are famous for their nightlife—excursions, hiking and their sunny beaches. In fact, the Canary Islands are blessed with a temperate climate and are pleasant all year round. That makes them a popular tourist destination. In the past, the majority of flights to Tenerife were charters serving the needs of the package-holiday industry, but with the destination’s increasing popularity, there are a greater number of scheduled flights available. In light of this growth, it comes as no surprise that over one in six people on Tenerife is employed in the tourist industry.

But, in ancient times, little was known about the Canary Islands—or the waters surrounding them. In a bid to protect trade routes, however, the Phoenicians (skilful sailors in their own right) deliberately spread misinformation about the archipelago. Thus began a campaign that described the Canary Islands and the ocean surrounding them as home to sea monsters, treacherous storms and sudden whirlpools. This negative campaign was enough to ensure that the Canary Islands would remain relatively isolated until the Spanish Conquest. This began an interesting history!

No doubt that Tenerife has a long history, beautiful scenery and a great cultural heritage. But it’s also home to some very weird, unusual and downright interesting things. Here are three of the more unusual tourist draws on the island.

Canary wine—The Bard’s favourite

canary wine grapes The Weird and Wonderful Side of Tenerife

Canary wine—the Bard's favourite beverage!

During Shakespeare’s time wine from the Canary Islands proved quite popular in the inns and courts of Europe. And, indeed, the Bard hardly remained silent on the subject of wine. As a result, the famous playwright made many different references to it. Similar to Malmsey (a rich and sweet wine brought to England from Greece in the sixteenth century), Canary wine is a sweet white variety that boasts a yellow tint. Shakespeare refers to canary wine in ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’. And in Henry IV, the titular character observes: “You have drunk too much canaries and that’s a marvellous searching wine”. Shakespeare indeed loved his Canary wine!

Observatorio del Teide at Izaña

observatorio del teide at izana The Weird and Wonderful Side of Tenerife

Observatorio del Teide at Izaña. Photo by Cestamano.

You might recall Freddie Mercury crooning: “Get your party gown and get your pigtail down/And get your heart beatin’ baby” on Queen’s hit single “Tie Your Mother Down”. Interestingly, the song has a connection to Tenerife. It’s rumoured that Queen guitarist Brian May began writing the song here while he was working toward his doctorate in astronomy. Legend has it that he composed the riff on a Spanish guitar at the Observatorio del Teide at Izaña (at an altitude of 7,770 feet—don’t forget, rock stars like to get high) while working on his grad thesis. He woke up early one morning and played it while singing the throwaway line “tie your mother down,” a line he considered a joke.

The Dragon Tree at Icod de los Vinos

dragon tree tenerife The Weird and Wonderful Side of Tenerife

The Dragon Tree at Icod de los Vinos. Photo by Florian Knorn.

Situated in the northern Tenerife town of Icod de los Vinos, this tree is purported to be over 1,000 years old and has grown into a major tourist attraction. Voyagers to the Canary Islands in the 15th century were most interested in obtaining its resin, which was dubbed ‘Dragon’s Blood’. The resin was used as dye, incense and medicine. In fact, it’s sometimes dubbed ‘red rock opium’ and sold to unsuspecting drug buyers. However, the truth is that it contains no opiates and has only a slight psychoactive effect—and is more likely to give you a headache than a buzz!


For rucksack-toting travellers or sun worshippers, the island of Tenerife is a great—and cheap—holiday destination with regular flight. Tenerife is, indeed, a multidimensional vacation spot—a lively and well balanced destination that caters to everyone—both the weird and the wonderful!

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Comments (2)

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  1. Ian Meyer says:

    This is a great article on Tenerife and some superb photos.

  2. Oliver says:

    Having been to tenerife on a number of occasions, I have stayed in most of the resorts, however, for some reason it is Los Cristianos that gets my vote everytime. It is great for families and young couples, if you are looking for a good drink then Playa de las Americas will be more your bag.

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