The island of La Palma is a mere 1.5 million years old; one of the youngest of the Canary Islands. In its oldest part, the north east, is the ancient canton of Adeyahamen, meaning “underneath the water”, and referring to the most important springs in the archipelago; the Marcos y Cordero, which feed the deep ravines and fertile soil.
Today, the municipality underneath the water is called San Andrés y Sauces and contains the eponymous twin centres and the Los Tiles UNESCO Biosphere Reserve; an ancient Laurisilva forest teeming with flora and fauna.
Los Sauces is the commercial and farming centre for the area and for the neighbouring municipality of Barlovento. Its terraces are given over to the production of bananas, yams and sugar cane, the latter being to supply the only remaining rum distillery on the island; a legacy of the area’s prosperous beginnings.
San Andrés nestles above the coast; a quaint hamlet with narrow cobbled streets that tumble down to the sea and an impossibly pretty church and square filled with day trippers by day, and the scent of frangipani by night.
The original inhabitants of La Palma, Benahoritas, dwelt in the Barranco de San Juan in a series of caves known as El Tendal, tending their livestock and cultivating cereals from the life-giving source of the Marcos y Cordero Springs. Today, the El Tendal caves are one of the most important archaeological sites on the island.
Following the Spanish conquest, much of the land around San Andrés y Sauces, recognised as being fertile and with an abundant water supply, was planted with sugar cane and two distilleries were constructed in Los Sauces for the production of sugar and honey. The area quickly prospered and continued to do so for much of the sixteenth century, the port of Espíndola thriving through exports of cereals, wine and sugar to Flanders and The Indies. San Andrés in particular grew in importance and wealth, attracting many of the island’s aristocracy.
When the sugar trade collapsed at the end of the sixteenth century, San Andrés began to decline, while paradoxically, Los Sauces grew in importance, becoming a centre for subsistence farming and trade.
The Marcos y Cordero Springs continued to play a major role in the economic development of the archipelago, providing the power source to the first hydro-electric power station to be built in the Canary Islands, constructed in Santa Cruz de La Palma at the end of the nineteenth century.
What to See
Los Sauces is like the set of a Hollywood movie, the main street is simply a façade; take a short stroll behind the shops and you find yourself deep in farming country. When the sugar trade collapsed and La Palma was in economic crisis, it was the subsistence farming in the fertile valley of
Los Sauces that kept the islanders fed. In the smallholdings directly behind the town bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, yams, onions, oranges and lemons vie for attention amongst the palette of wild flowers.
The original hermitage on the site of the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Montserrat was built in the sixteenth century to house the Flemish sculpture of Our Lady of Montserrat; the church was completely renovated last century but still contains its precious image.
Reminiscent of a Cornish fishing village, the picturesque coastal hamlet of San Andrés has white stone cottages, narrow cobbled streets and a chocolate box square where the Church of San Andrés sits amidst a cloud of roses, geraniums and strelitzia. The church was built in 1515 and houses a Baroque retable dating from 1705 and a sculpture of Our Lady of the Rosary dating from 1690.
In the Los Tiles Biosphere Reserve the air is heavy with moisture and the scent of fern spores, the light is luminous green and the cliffs close in above you, dripping with moisture and trailing moss and berries. The well signposted road starts one kilometre south of Los Sauces and takes you up into the forest, gradually reducing to a track before reaching the car park of the Visitor Centre where you can discover how ‘The Sea of
Clouds’ is formed when the Trade Winds collide with the dense vegetation which traps the tiny droplets of water carried by the wind, like a giant green sponge.
(+34) 922 451 246; Centro de Visitantes de Los Tiles; open every day from 08.30-14.00 and 14.30-17.00 (18.30 in summer); www.lapalmabiosfera.com
What to do
Into the blue
On a warm sunny day, the urge to plunge into the crystal clear aquamarine waters at Charco Azul, natural rock pools located at the base of the cliffs near San Andrés, is irresistible. A restaurant and sun terraces make this an all round enjoyable and unique bathing experience. Alternatively, the tranquil fishing hamlet at Puerto Espíndola, a short walk away has a small sheltered beach, a good restaurant and some unusual fishermen’s’ cottages built into the cliffs.
The 19th century water mill, ‘El Regente’ sits amidst fertile terraces overlooking the town. Originally an integral source of irrigation for the surrounding farmlands, flour mill and generator of electricity, it now acts as a small museum where local craftsmen and women demonstrate traditional skills and sell their wares. Incredibly, the machinery still works and every now and again the curators allow its old mechanical heart to burst into life, pumping water just as it did 130 years ago.
(+34) 922 451 727; Calle Los Molinos, 33; open 12.00-17.00, closed Saturday & Sunday
The land that time forgot
A trek from Los Tiles Visitor Centre through ancient Laurisilva woodlands to the source of the Marcos y Cordero Springs is not for the casual walker; however, the six and a half hour round trip, and 1000 metre ascent, will reward intrepid adventurers. Sub-tropical undergrowth that wouldn’t look out of place in Jurassic Park, narrow paths, steep ravines, great views, dark damp tunnels and the springs themselves, flowing from an underground volcanic lake, make the demands on those thigh muscles worthwhile.
San Lupe Artesanía
In Los Sauces, this traditional crafts shop sells everything from matt black earthenware pots to mojo sauces. With free sampling on offer, the locally distilled rum is just the thing to put a fake limp in your stride and an imaginary parrot on your shoulder.
(+34) 922 451 502 ; Calle José Pérez Vidal, 3; open 09.30-13.30, 16.30-20.00 Monday-Friday, 09.30-13.30 Saturday, closed Sunday
Where to Stay
Pensión Las Lonjas
In the very heart of San Andrés, four immaculately clean and simply furnished rooms occupy the lower level of a terrace. So charming, you wouldn’t be too surprised to see Snow White sweeping the floor while two cartoon bluebirds held up the mat for the dust underneath.
(+34) 922 451 621/922 450 736; Calle San Sebastián, 16; €26 per night for 2 persons
Also in San Andrés village, three rooms and an apartment with flower lined balconies and views over the Plaza. Over the road there’s a restaurant with a lovely terrace for breakfast.
(+34) 922 450 539; Calle San Sebastián, 4; €30 per night for the apartment, €23 per night for a double room
Where to Eat
Restaurant San Andrés
Enticing restaurant with a lilac façade which compliments the soft pinks and yellows of the roses in the adjoining picturesque small Plaza de San Andrés; add a terrace in dappled sunlight and a menu specialising in Canarian cuisine and fish dishes and it won’t take a genius to work out why Palmeros flock here at weekends. The perfect spot for Sunday lunch in the sunshine.
(+34) 922 451 725; Plaza de San Andrés; average cost of a main course €9; open12.00-23.00, closed Wednesday
Contemporary chic meets, and gels perfectly with, traditional Canarian design in this attractive restaurant overlooking the plaza. An international menu offers choices between Italian, steak and fish dishes and, as the restaurant’s name suggests, an assortment of montaditos (toasted bread with a variety of delicious toppings).
(+34) 922 450 387; Plaza de San Andrés, 4 & 5; average cost of a main course €15; open 12.00-23.00, closed Monday
The setting may not be as charming as Plaza de San Andrés, but with food this good who needs views? The menu includes plates from ‘del mar’ (seafood dishes) and ‘del monte’ (meat dishes), best enjoyed with one of the restaurant’s extensive selection of excellent local wines. Finish off with something from heaven -‘el cielo’ (puds, of course).
(+34) 922 450 843; Carretera General, 27; average cost of a main course €9; open 13.00-16.00 & 21.00-midnight, closed Sunday
For a night of culture, the ‘Manuel Guardia Roldán’ Cultural Centre and the intimate little theatre, Casa del Quinto stage plays and concerts throughout the year, usually coinciding with fiestas. Every six months the town hall produces a bulletin, ‘El Sauce’, which details forthcoming cultural attractions. Having artistically refreshed your mind, Bar Varadero, near Parque Antonio Herrera, or El Montadito’s stylish bar are welcoming watering holes for some post performance refreshments.
Cultural Centre ‘Manuel Guardia Roldán’; Calle Dr Martín González, 4
Casa del Quinto; Calle Ramón y Cajal, 5; performances usually from 20.00
How to get there
BinterCanarias fly regularly to La Palma throughout the day from Tenerife North airport.
(+34) 902 391 392; www.binternet.com; €100 return
The Fred Olson ferry sails to Santa Cruz de la Palma, departing daily from Los Cristianos at 10.30.
(+34) 902 100 107; www.fredolsen.es/lineas; return per person €80, with car €202
The L11 service from Santa Cruz de la Palma to Los Sauces runs hourly between 07.10 and 21.45. The L12 connects Los Sauces with San Andrés and Puerto Espíndola every two hours from 07.10 until 17.10.
The Taxi rank is beside Parque Antonio Herrera in the centre of Los Sauces; the local number is 922 450 928 or 629 213 435.
The town hall in Los Sauces, opposite the Iglesia de Señora de Montserrat, has a small selection of leaflets and can advise on the cultural agenda; however, it’s probably worthwhile stocking up on information at the main tourist office in Santa Cruz de La Palma beforehand.
(+34) 922 422 106; Casa Salazar, Calle O’Daly, 22; open 09.00-19.30 Monday to Friday, 09.00-15.00 Saturday, 10.00-14.00 Sunday
There are spaces all along Carretera General in Los Sauces and on the main road, Calle San Sebastián, in San Andrés.
A wonderful aspect of fiestas in the Canaries is that each community devises traditions that make their celebrations unique. In San Andrés, the Easter Sunday procession of ‘El Encuentro’, a symbolic re-creation of Mary meeting Jesus after he has risen from his tomb, follows standard patterns; solemn procession through the streets to the church, followed by a service. After that it all goes a bit ‘Father Ted’ as children, armed with ‘gacios’ (yellow flowers), line up outside the church entrance and, in an outrageous display of flower power, scream at the local priest as he leaves, thrashing at him with their ‘gacios’. The poor priest legs it back to his house and, to make matters worse, has to throw money and sweets from his window to get rid of the mini-sized mob.