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Keep Palm' and carry on

Spectacular scenery, beautiful walking trails and delicious food, the island of La Palma is truly a holiday paradise, writes Jim Gallagher

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One of La Palma’s many breathtaking views.

One of La Palma’s many breathtaking views.

One of La Palma’s many breathtaking views.

At just 708 sq km and smaller than Co Louth, the island of La Palma in the Canaries has a history more riveting than many countries 100 times its size.

Pirates, adventurers, soldiers, natives with their own unique language and even Irish traders once settled on these sun-baked shores.

La Palma is only the fifth largest of the seven main Canary Islands, but as it was the very last stop between Europe and the New World it became a massively important trading station from the 15th century onwards.

Ships heading to or from South America and Cuba stopped here to take on board supplies for their arduous journey or to trade some of the exotic goods they had acquired in the new-found lands.

One of the main pedestrian streets in the capital Santa Cruz, Calle O'Daly, is named after the island's first democratically elected mayor from 1767, Cork man Dennis O'Daly who set up a trading empire.

Today La Palma - known as La Isla Bonita, or Beautiful Island because of its spectacular scenery - has lost its strategic importance but still pulls in enthusiastic international visitors, only now they come for the sunshine and scenic wonders.

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A balcony house in Santa Cruz.

A balcony house in Santa Cruz.

Dolphins off Tenerife.

Dolphins off Tenerife.

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A balcony house in Santa Cruz.

The island is a holiday paradise with spectacular volcanic mountains, pristine forests, sandy beaches and 15 different micro-climates.

It is one of the least known of the Canary Islands with just 300,000 visitors a year compared to the six million that pour into Gran Canaria or Tenerife, which have more traditional mass holiday resorts.

But it is not a secret to everyone. The Germans have long been the number one tourist market with direct flights from Germany bringing waves of keen hikers and cyclists to try out the island's stunning trails. Their numbers equal most other nationalities combined.

Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from Ireland to La Palma but it is just a two to three-hour ferry crossing from Tenerife (depending on whether the boat stops at the island of La Gomera) or half-hour plane ride. We combined both islands on a recent trip and saw the very best of what they had to offer.

Nature lovers will be blown away by the spectacular national park right at the centre of La Palma, the Caldera de Taburiente, a giant hollow in the earth left behind when the surrounding volcanoes erupted and the ground collapsed into the empty magma chambers millions of years ago.

It is overlooked by the island's highest peak, the Roque de los Muchachos, which stands at an impressive 2,423m or a little short of 8,000ft.

The mountain top is home to some of the world's largest telescopes in a famous observatory. The clear skies and lack of light pollution makes La Palma one of the best star-gazing places on the planet.

We tried it out ourselves one night when a guide from Isla Bonita Tours took us to a mountain spot above the clouds where he zoned in on the stars Vega, Antares and the double star of Albireo with a GPS-controlled telescope.

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Jim Gallagher exploring Tenerife.

Jim Gallagher exploring Tenerife.

Jim Gallagher exploring Tenerife.

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Albireo is 430 light years away from Earth, meaning what we were seeing was the star 430 years ago and it has taken the light that long to reach here.

When you discover that one light year equals six trillion miles or over nine trillion kilometres, the wonder of what we were seeing begins to sink in.

And never have I seen so many satellites shooting across space, so visible because of the clear night sky. La Palma really is a window on the universe.

More down-to-earth attractions in La Palma include its beautiful capital, Santa Cruz, particularly the harbour area famous for its wonderful array of balcony houses festooned with brightly coloured flowers on Avenida Maritima.

We stayed in the four-star Hotel H10 Taburiente Playa on the seafront near the Playa de los Cancajos, just south of the capital. It is one of the island's five large hotels and has spectacular views of the coast from the bedrooms.

If you want a fun afternoon, don't miss the natural sea water pool in Charco Azul in San Andres in the north east of the island.

The adults have as much fun as the kids being tossed by the waves which crash into the pool every few minutes.

Nearby we did a tour of the rum distillery, Destilerias Aldea in San Andres, which sells everything from traditional dark and clear rum at €10 a bottle to a delicious banana rum for just €8.

We also visited a banana factory cooperative - La Palma's main industry - to see the fruit being prepared for export to Spain, its only market.

Unlike most of the other Canary Islands, La Palma is not solely dependent on tourism but has a thriving fruit industry, including grapes for its famous wines.

If you want to get up close and personal to the volcanic terrain head for the Los Canos de Fuego (Tubes of Fire), a new 1,400 sq metre park in the drier western half of the island which opened in April 2019.

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One of the many beauty spots around the island.

One of the many beauty spots around the island.

Beautiful Tenerife.

Beautiful Tenerife.

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One of the many beauty spots around the island.

You get to walk in some of the 29 volcanic tunnels left empty when the lava flowed away following an eruption of the San Juan Volcano in 1949.

We also did a beautiful walk across volcanic terrain on the south of the island where a 7km trail leads from the town of Fuencaliante, past Volcano San Antonio which erupted in 1677, down to the coast.

But few volcanic landscapes are as impressive as Mount Teide in the centre of Tenerife, Europe's most visited national park with three million visitors annually and a World Heritage Site.

We visited the park during the second half of our two-island trip and hiked in the stunning caldera that surrounds the majestic volcano. We also stayed in the lovely parador at the foot of the spectacular 3,715m (12,188ft) mountain.

Another highlight of Tenerife was whale watching and swimming with the company Maritima Acantilados based in Los Gigantes on the west coast, who take tourists out for a two-hour trip for just €20. They even throw in a beer on the way home after an invigorating swim in a tiny bay.

The beautiful town of La Laguna was our base for a couple of nights where we stayed in the chic La Laguna Gran Hotel which is right in the heart of the old town.

La Oratava is another stunning town just up the road and well worth a visit.

And if you want to try your hand at windsurfing or kitesurfing there is no better place than El Medano, a laid back, surfer-dude town considered one of the best places in the world for the sports because of its sea winds.

Travel factfile

LOCATION: See visitlapalma.es and webtenerife.com

  • Ryanair fly direct to Tenerife from Dublin.  Aer Lingus fly direct from Dublin and Cork.
  • For hikes and road trips on Tenerife check out mayamtravel.com
  • Star gazing and road trips are available fromislabonitatours.com
  • Fun for all the family whale watching with maritimaacantilados.com

Late deals:

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Harbour Hotel, Galway City

Harbour Hotel, Galway City

Harbour Hotel, Galway City

 

The Harbour Hotel in Galway City has an incredible Autumn Package offer at the moment. For only €442 (per room) you get two nights in a luxurious, refurbished Executive Room, afternoon tea on the day of your choice, a three-course dinner on an evening of choice and á la carte brekkie on both mornings. With an enviable waterfront location in the heart of Galway City, just a three-minute stroll will take you to Eyre Square and the city centre, Quay Street and the Latin Quarter. See harbour.ie.

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IT's amazing to see foreign travel back on the radar, and Irish travel agent TUI has some incredible offers if you are willing to travel at short notice. If you book with the agent you can expect 24/7 support while you're away and they have comprehensive Covid Cover benefits to put your mind at ease.

You can save an extra €100 on holidays departing up until October 31st by using the code: Summer. You can also avail of fee-free changes to your holiday.

Current deals include 14 nights in Bulgaria staying at the 3-star Aparthotel Rose Village, €479, 2+1 from €1,249, 2+2 from €1,589, leaving August 16. Also seven nights in Kos staying at the 2-star self-catering Harriets Apartments from €429, leaving September 8. Or seven nights in Majorca's 3-star Hotel Son Baulo, half board, from €569pps (leaving October 2).For more details check out tuiholidays.ie

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