The quieter Canary
As far as the Canary Islands are concerned, La Gomera is one of the quieter ones. Covering an area of just 146 square miles, this tiny lozenge of land is often overshadowed by the all-singing all-dancing reputations of the larger Canaries.
Despite appearances, there’s more to La Gomera than meets the eye. For starters, it’s a bit of a rebel when it comes to the mass tourism market. Brit pubs, high-rise hotels and neon strips are as uncommon as cold weather here. Holiday resorts, like Playa de Santiago, are pocket-sized affairs with single-story accommodation and family-run restaurants.
Walking and history
On top of traditional towns, La Gomera offers up tangled rainforest, unexplored beaches and volcanic mountain ridges. As such, walking is the island’s bread-and-butter activity. But there are plenty of other ways to occupy your time. You can follow in the footsteps of Christopher Columbus, who lived here in the 15th century, or dive with barracudas in the island’s unspoilt coral reefs.
Things to See and Do in La Gomera
La Gomera isn’t exactly inundated with sandy stretches, and the beaches that do exist are mostly black. But don’t let this put you off. Compensation for the lack of a Mr Whippy-white shoreline comes in the form of pristinely clean swimming waters, and seaside tavernas, which serve fresh fish.
The big beach
Playa de Santiago is La Gomera’s most popular beach. It’s got a reputation for being the island’s premier suntrap, and the saying goes that the sun shines on this stretch of sand for 360 days a year. The restaurants close to the shore play their part in pulling in the tourists, too. Regular visitors here are no strangers to melt-in-your-mouth meat dishes and plates of paella the size of hub caps.
The secret beach
The only road that leads to Playa de Medio isn’t tarmacked, so most people get there by making the hour’s walk along the coast from Playa de Santiago. As a result, the beach is so private that most visitors wear their birthday suits rather than swimming costumes. There aren’t any restaurants by the sand, so pack a picnic if you plan to stay for the day.
On La Gomera, a good pair of walking boots are more highly prized than the latest Louboutins, so designer boutiques are hard to come by. If you really want to invest in something special, head to Los Telares Craft Centre in Hermigua where you can pick up a handmade rug or traditional musical instrument.
The pint-sized shops that line La Playa Promenade in Valle Gran Rey sell products that really break the mould. You’ll find everything from sparkling banana wine and aloe vera hand cream to palm honey and spicy mojo sauce. If you’re in San Sebastian, you can get your hands on similar products – like the locally-made cheese dip, Almogrote – in the souvenir shops near the port.
You can sniff out the best bargains at San Sebastian’s twice-weekly market, which takes place on Saturdays and Wednesdays in the central square near Customs House. Alongside tables of fruit and veg, you’ll find stalls weighed down with home-made jam, jewellery and pottery.
While other Canary Islands stay wide-eyed until dawn, La Gomera’s lights are firmly out by sun up. Head to Calle Ruiz in San Sebastian and you’ll find several tapas restaurants and paella places. If you fancy something more international, you’ve got an Argentinean restaurant and a Malaysian eatery in Valle Gran Rey.
Valle Gran Rey is probably the liveliest place on La Gomera. You’ll find one of the island’s only discos on La Playa Promenade, hiding between the shop fronts. In San Sebastian harbour, meanwhile, there are a few bars that host live music and flamenco dancing. You’ll also find a cluster of late-night cafés around Plaza de Las Americas.
This swimsuit-friendly soup is a refreshing La Gomeran staple. Traditionally, it’s served in a wooden bowl with a sprinkling of gofio flour on top. You can order it over the counter as a light snack in a bar, or as a starter in restaurants.
This is Canarian soul food at its best. It’s a thick chunky broth made from crumbly chickpeas, silky noodles and huge hulks of fluffy potatoes. Big steaming bowls of the stuff are wolfed down on local dining tables every day.
Be prepared to get your fingers messy when this dense creamy soup appears on the tapas table. Made from tomatoes, vinegar, bread and garlic, salmorejo is La Gomera’s answer to gazpacho. But, rather than using a spoon, islanders tend to scoop it up sloppily with their fingers and a wedge of bread.
When the plates have been scraped and shirt ties loosened, it’s time to bring out the carrajillo. This after-dinner drink is a syrupy mixture of coffee and rum. It was originally drunk by Spanish troops during the occupation of Cuba, as the soldiers believed it would give them courage.
Made locally and sold in corked glass flasks, this strong spirit looks like something from the American prohibition. It’s made from palm honey and figs and it’s passed over chequered table cloths in cafés, as locals chew the fat at the end of the day.