The village of San Juan de la Rambla is like an uncut diamond; its old quarter is crammed with seventeenth and eighteenth century buildings, many in need of investment and renovation. In its uncut state, wandering its narrow lanes is like discovering an abandoned museum, a surprise repository of art galleries and antiquities, tucked away on the old road to the north, half way between Icod de los Vinos and Puerto de la Cruz.
Bordered to the east by the Mazapé and Tigaiga mountains which form the protected area of Barranco de Ruiz, the municipality is home to a prolific accumulation of plant and tree species set in areas of outstanding natural beauty where agriculture is still the mainstay of the economy.
Many visitors currently know San Juan de la Rambla for its Barranco de Ruiz picnic area and its pretty coastal town and excellent restaurants of Las Aguas; the village which sits on the old road has yet to make an impact on the tourism industry. But given the necessary investment in restoring its cultural heritage, the attraction of its traditional streets combined with its penchant for fine dining and fine art could polish up this diamond to an incandescent shine.
The ravine of Mazapé, which sits above the hamlet on the road to San José, is an archaeological testament to the importance of this area to the
Guanche (original inhabitants of Tenerife) who used the valley as a seasonal migratory route; moving to higher ground in the summer to maintain their water supply. The ravine is named after the clay found here and which the Guanche used to make vessels, beads and small idols, all of which have been excavated from the site.
Following the Spanish conquest, the municipality is credited with being founded by Martín Rodríguez, who in 1530, built the first church here, dedicated to San Juan.
In the sixteenth century the lowlands were used to cultivate vines, the highlands to cultivate wheat; both these crops were so important to the economy that wills written here often included a clause requiring an offering of one or both at the funeral.
The conquistadores named the dry, volcanic land around the San Juan Ermita in the north of the zone San Juan del Malpaís (badlands) and the undulating coastal land Rambla de los Caballos (avenue of the horses); when the areas gained independence from Los Realejos at the end of the sixteenth century to form a single municipality, they became known as San Juan de la Rambla.
What to See
As you enter the village, Plaza Rosario Aramas, with its distinctive church with the pieces missing from its clock face, denotes the beginning of the old quarter. Many of the buildings around the plaza and surrounding streets contain sixteenth and seventeenth century houses with carved balconies and engraved stonework. The church of San Juan de Bautista has some beautiful Baroque reredos panels and a sculpture of the Virgin Mary in alabaster and you can climb the narrow staircase to the clock and bell tower, a rare treat in Canarian churches.
Leaving the plaza along Calle Estrecha, you come to Los Roques, formerly known as Callejón de las Brujas (Witches Alley), allegedly so named because courting couples used sheets under which to hide their activities from the prying eyes of their families; ostriches and sand come to mind.
Turning left onto La Ladera, you reach the small Ermita de la Cruz and two seventeenth century houses with carved panel doors and flagstone courtyards. The small footbridge takes you to La Ladera with good views back over the orange tiles of the old quarter.
Along the main Avenida José Antonio, new housing pays homage to the town’s architectural heritage by emulating the traditional carved balconies and wooden shutters of the old quarter. The original cemetery at the end of the Avenida contains the family vaults of San Juan’s most wealthy families from the early nineteenth century.
The road down the hill at the start of the village takes you to Las Aguas where whitewashed cottages perch on a volcanic lava outcrop overlooking dramatic coastal views, and where the locals fish from the rocks and dine sumptuously in its fine restaurants. At the end of the pier, take the steps up to an old cottage with an overhanging balcony, a cobbled front yard and wooden barrels baking in the sun; someone’s own private Jamaica Inn.
What to do
A hidden gem
The absence of signposts means that many visitors miss out on this delightful old merchant’s coastal highway. From the swimming pool at Los Aguas, a well defined cliff top path meanders past sugar cane, banana plantations and some curious old houses before it reaches the unexpectedly enchanting hamlet of El Rosario. Its old chapel, quaint buildings and narrow streets, reminiscent of old Cornish fishing villages, feel as though they belong in a bygone era; all that’s missing is an Inn with a creaking wooden sign.
Bird’s eye view
From the road leading uphill from the town towards San José, follow the road past the municipal cemetery to reach the mirador of El Mazapé; a viewpoint so new that it’s almost shiny. Completed last year, the mirador has a restaurant, viewing platforms and a landscaped area linked by paths; all of which have spectacular panoramic views along the coast.
The only way is up
On the left side of the bridge which leads to the San José road is the barely discernible track of Risco de El Mazapé. The first stages of the path are quite uneven and steep, but persevere and you’ll soon be rewarded with great views over the town. If you’ve got the thigh muscles of a Russian shot-putter you might even make it to the small cross that lies beyond the rock roses, caves, water galleries and line of black charcoal circles left by little bonfires during the San Juan fiestas.
Take the plunge
The rock pool of Charco de la Laja is a wonderful example of how to turn an inhospitable rocky coastline into an imaginative bathing area without spoiling its rugged natural beauty. From two wooden thrones, a slate grey path, matching the surrounding rocks, leads to the sapphire pool at the base of the cliffs. With a design that has an attractive medieval quality, it would be easy to imagine it as the private pool of a princess; however, even if you’re not romantically inclined, it’s a wonderfully enchanting spot for a dip.
The small selection of shops in the village is geared solely towards the provision of basic foodstuffs and household maintenance so you’re unlikely to find any treasures to buy. On the up side, you can save your money for that delicious calduset lunch.
Where to Stay
Finca San Juan Rural Hotel
Set in the hills above San Juan and Las Aguas, an idyllic location offering beauty, tranquillity, style and a sumptuous breakfast including smoked salmon and cava; the perfect start to another perfect day by the pool. Choose from an entire house to a studio, all meticulous in their presentation.
(+34) 922 694 078; Mazapé, 3; www.finca-san-juan.com; rooms from €68.00 per night for 2 persons
Taking pole position at the end of the promenade in Las Aguas, the ground floor of this 200 year old traditional Canarian house has its own entrance, an impossibly picturesque inner courtyard surrounded by an elegant dining room and stylishly romantic bedroom.
(+34) 922 360 639; Las Aguas; www.casacantito.com; €55 per day for 2 persons
Where to Eat
Las Palmeras Arte
Treat both your eyes and stomach at this sophisticated restaurant in the centre of the old town. Artistry abounds in the stylishly modern ground floor, whilst the first floor offers immaculate, traditional décor and a leafy terrace to enjoy Catalan cuisine or rice and fish dishes.
(+34) 922 350 332; Calle Estrecha, 15; average cost of a main course €10; open 13.00-16.30 & 20.00-23.30, 13.00-21.30 Sunday, closed Tuesday evening and all day Wednesday
The owners of Las Aguas believe that a table without rice is like a mass without a sermon, or a woman without love. That should tell you how much care they put into their signature dish of calduset (rice with seafood). It’s earned them a reputation for great food which has brought customers flocking to them for twenty years.
(+34) 922 360 428; Calle La Destila, 20; www.sanjuandelarambla.com; average cost of a main course €17; open 13.00-15.30 & 20.00-22.30 Tuesday to Saturday, 13.00-15.30 Sunday, closed Monday
Elegant restaurant in impeccably restored old schoolhouse with richly polished wooden furnishings, intimate corners and a charming terrace complete with trickling fountain. The speciality is fish which is usually arranged for display in a large model fishing boat.
(+34) 922 360 438; Camino Real, 1; average cost of a main course €10; open 13.00-16.30 & 19.30-22.30, closed Tuesday
Mirador El Mazapé
The floor to ceiling glass panes of the new restaurant at the mirador makes eating here a ‘wow’ experience. Try some savoury arepas, Venezuelan pancakes or tapas with a side serving of some of the best views of the north coast.
(+34) 661 235 967/ 628 070 408; Calle El Mazapé, 5; average cost of tapas €2.50; open 10.30-23.00, closed Monday
Nighttime social activities are distinctly low key. Apart from the town’s handful of first-rate restaurants, there are a few local bars which liven up when Real Madrid are on television. If they don’t appeal, there’s always Witches Alley.
From Puerto de la Cruz, the 363 service departs at least hourly between 06.00 and 22.15.
From Las Americas and Los Cristianos catch the 110 service to Santa Cruz, departing half hourly between 06.15 and 20.45, then transfer to the 107 or 108 service which will provide the option of hourly departures between 06.15 and 20.15.
There isn’t a rank in town, but you can call the local firm on 922 360 134.
With the tourist sector still being developed, as yet there isn’t a tourist office in the municipality; however, there’s street map opposite the church and many of the historically important old houses have information plaques outside them.
There’s a small car park on the right as you enter town from the Puerto de la Cruz direction and plenty of spaces on the seafront at Las Aguas.
The town’s big celebrations are during the fiesta de San Juan Bautista towards the end of June. Houses are decorated in preparation for the week long festivities which include the usual processions accompanied by local bands. The end of the fiesta is marked by the ‘Papada’s day’, when all the townspeople get together in the main square for a grand community feast. The most magical feature of the fiesta is when little bonfires are lit all the way along the path leading up the hill behind the town.