Nestling at the mouth of the Barranco de Santiago on the south coast, Playa Santiago is La Gomera’s second largest resort and the sunniest spot on the island.
The village has a picturesque harbour where the wooden hulls of old fishing boats sit alongside the shiny fibreglass of newer vessels and a selection of apartments and restaurants line the bay; their balconies and tables looking out over the sea.
For many years visitors predominantly came here to the Fred Olsen hotel, Jardín Tecina, which sits on the headland; but recent developments such as the establishment of a three times daily ferry service linking it with the neighbouring resorts of Valle Gran Rey and San Sebastián and the completion of the island’s airport on the cliffs above the resort, have made the small fishing village far more accessible and an influx of visitors, many of them British, have found their way to the sunny promenade and pebbly beaches of Santiago.
Traditionally, the municipality of Alajeró, in which Santiago sits, grew subsistence crops such as cereals and potatoes, and was known as the ‘Land of Bread’.
But all that changed in 1917 when the Norwegian company Fred Olsen established itself in the village under the Directorship of Álvaro Rodríguez López, known locally as Don Álvaro.
Within ten years, Don Álvaro had left to set up his own rival business and between them, the two companies invested heavily in the area, creating a series of dams and reservoirs to bring water down from the Imada and Benchijigua springs to irrigate terraces and cultivate tomatoes.
From that time, Playa Santiago’s growth came from fishing and tomatoes.
Don Álvaro built a fish canning factory called Santa Rosalía where he employed the wives of fishermen from the village. Most of the rest of the women he employed on his terraces in the cultivation of tomatoes and in his tomato packaging factory, La Roseta, he employed people from across the municipality.
A decline in world markets coincided with Don Álvaro’s death in the 1970s and the factories closed; unsurprisingly, most of the population of the municipality found themselves unemployed, emigrating from La Gomera to Cuba to seek work.
The Rosalía factory was eventually demolished to be replaced by an apartment block and only the old Indian laurel tree which stood beside it now remains in the small square, witnessing the new growth which the advent of tourism is bringing.
What to See
A pleasant amble along the esplanade will take you at one end to a small port anchored below the cliffs where a stroll along the quay to the Garajonay Express terminal offers the best views back over the village and the barranco which divides it. Retracing your steps to the far end of the village, Avenida Marítima rounds the corner and over a bridge crossing the gushing barranco to a series of pebble sculptures on the beach and two pleasant beach bars. The path continues past Club Laurel to some steps, at the top of which, feeling like an extra from a Bond movie, you can take the cliffside lift to the Tecina Hotel on the headland above.
You don’t have to book a flight to enjoy La Gomera’s new airport, located just a ten minute drive out of the village on the Alajeró road. This facility has been a long time coming and the passenger terminal didn’t open its doors for business until 1999. The design of the interior combines elements of the island, placing water, trees and traditional Canarian architecture in a modern, light, expanse of space. The main entrance is a replica of the door of La Asunción Church in San Sebastián where, it’s believed, Christopher Columbus prayed before embarking on his first voyage in the discovery of America. Although anyone passing through the door today can only voyage as far as Tenerife or Gran Canaria, it’s still a great space in which to drink a coffee. You can even have a guided tour of the facilities and navigational technology; contact the Airport Secretary on (+34) 922 873 004 to arrange.
The wonderful logo of La Roseta Cultural Club, just a couple of minutes further along the road from the airport, dates back to the 1930s when the building was a tomato packaging factory. Today it houses an open air amphitheatre which stages plays and concerts during the summer and an art gallery with monthly exhibitions. Posters in the village advertise forthcoming events.
(+34) 639 837 944; open Thursday and Friday from 17.00, Saturday and Sunday from 12.00; www.laroseta.org
What to do
Golf courses are invariably described as having stunning locations; however, with greens rising above a vast, shimmering Atlantic interrupted only by the majestic silhouette of Mount Teide, the par 71 Tecina Golf can truly boast spectacular vistas. Descending 175 metres from 1st to 18th hole, the greens are flanked by tropical plants and fruit trees, creating a challenging course that can be enjoyed by both golfers and horticulturists.
(+34) 922 145 950; www.tecinagolf.com; green fees €81 for 18 holes (until April 2006)
It’s all downhill from here
Even Lance Armstrong would think twice about exploring La Gomera’s undulating landscape and deep valleys by pedal power alone, but Primera Bicicleta has designed a route which allows novices to soak up its dramatic scenery on two wheels without ending up in an oxygen tent. A bus transports cyclists to 1340 metres. After a short 140 metre ascent to Alto de Garajonay, the island’s highest point, it’s downhill on forest tracks through rainforest and verdant valleys to Valle Gran Rey and a bit of R&R before catching the ferry back to Playa Santiago.
(+34) 690 187 100; located next to supermarket Tecina; open 10.00-13.00 & 17.00-19.00, closed Saturday & Sunday; cost €31, includes bus, ferry, equipment and guide
Calm, clear water and the absence of currents make Playa Santiago an ideal place for new divers to become acquainted with the island’s undersea inhabitants. Gomera Travel and Dive, located in the Club Laurel, provide courses from basic discovery to open water diver. A morning’s tuition in the club’s salt water pool is followed by an afternoon sea dive and the chance to explore small caves and spot tuna, stingray, groupers and much more.
(+34) 922 895 902/ 922 145 887; www.gomera-dive-resort.com; open 10.00-18.00, closed Saturday & Sunday; courses from €119 for basic discovery to €398 for open water diver
An excursion on the Tina Tercera from the Alajeró cliffs to the famous Los Órganos rock formations in the north presents a completely different perspective of La Gomera’s captivating terrain. Dolphins which regularly accompany the Tina provide the icing on the cake.
(+34) 922 805 885/ 608 645 226; departs Playa Santiago harbour at 09.00 on Tuesday & Sunday; cost €40
La Roseta Cultural Club holds a small market of local crafts and organic fruit and vegetables on Saturday afternoons from 3pm.
Where to Stay
Hotel Jardín Tecina
The Fred Olsen Company have been a dominating force in the development of Playa Santiago since 1917 and show no signs of abating; currently occupying the entire headland of Laguna de Santiago, further developments are in the pipeline.
For the last word in elegance, luxury and gastronomic delectability surrounded by lush tropical gardens and fabulous views; spoil yourself in this island paradise.
(+34) 902 222 140; double rooms from €142 per night; www.jardin-tecina.com
Santa Ana Apartments
On the opposite headland from Fred Olsen World, these delightfully intimate and friendly apartments are constructed entirely of wood and have large, traditional balconies overlooking the pool and the ocean.
(+34) 922 895 166; Finca Santa Ana; www.gomerarural.com; apartments from €57 per night
If you don’t have a head for the heights, the Tapahuga Apartments are right on the sea front in the village by the harbour; immaculately presented with oodles of floor space and lovely balconies facing the sea.
(+34) 922 895 159; Avenida Marítima; www.tapahuga.com; apartments from €50 per night
Where to Eat
Eating fish in a cave may seem like a re-creation of the lifestyle of the archipelago’s original inhabitants, the Guanche Indians; cave interior design has come a long way in the last 500 years and the popular La Cuevita, built into the cliffs at the entrance to the harbour, is a unique setting to try out some wonderful fresh seafood from local waters. Escaldón with gofio is a reliable choice.
(+34) 922 895 568; Avenida Marítima; average cost of a main course €10; open 11.00-23.00, closed Sunday (and June & July)
With a name that gives a nod to the village’s heritage, Don Tomate is a stylish alternative to the mainly traditional fare available in Playa Santiago; colour wash walls, black chairs contrasting against yellow tablecloths and light Latin jazz background music create an air of relaxed sophistication to enjoy sumptuous pasta and pizza dishes.
(+34) 922 895 545; Avenida Marítima, 56; average cost of a main course €7; open 08.00-23.30, closed Monday
Restaurant à la carte Club Laurel
Part of the Hotel Jardín Tecina, this intimate and elegant restaurant is set in the lush grounds of the Club Laurel at the eastern end of the bay. The international “Chaine des Rotisseurs” menu guarantees a classic dining experience.
(+34) 922 145 850; Lomada de Tecina; average cost of a main course €13; open 19.00-22.00, closed Sunday
Apart from some locals strumming away on timples in the main square, the only nighttime diversions, outside of the hotels, are provided by the occasional concerts and shows at the Club Cultural La Roseta, or at the village’s new Latino Disco pub beside the square.
How to get there
BinterCanarias airlines fly twice daily (09.40 & 16.45) from Tenerife North airport to La Gomera, connecting with the island’s Line 3 service to San Sebastián, via Playa Santiago.
(+34) 902 391 392; www.binternet.com; €112.74 return (€72.82 for residents)
The Garajonay Express sails from Los Cristianos to Playa Santiago, via San Sebastián, three times daily at 08.40, 14.15 and 18.30.
(+34) 902 343 450; www.garajonayexpres.com; €36.90 return (€22.88 for residents)
The rank is opposite the main square in the centre of village; taxis also meet ferries. The local number is 922 895 022.
There’s a small office at the eastern end of the village.
(+34) 922 895 650; Edificio Las Vistas, local 8, Avenida Marítima; 08.00-14.30 Monday to Friday, 08.00-13.00 Saturday
Free parking can usually be found along the main road, Avenida Marítima which runs the length of the seafront.
Playa Santiago celebrates the fiestas of Virgen del Carmen and Santiago Apóstol in July, but the biggest celebrations in the area take place on 14th and 15th September with a procession in honour of the Virgen de El Paso. Drummers, dancers and bands recounting romantic ballads accompany a statue of the “Virgen” from her idyllic sanctuary, in the hills above Playa Santiago, to the Church of El Salvador in Alajeró.