Santiago del Teide – The gateway to Masca

The eponymous capital of the municipality of Santiago del Teide, which includes Puerto de Santiago and Los Gigantes, is a surprisingly small community located 1000 metres above sea level in the stunning Valle de Santiago below the Teide, Pico Viejo and Chinyero peaks. The town snuggles into the folds of the valley, hemmed to the north by acres of jade pine forest which climb the gorge alongside the TF82 and to the west by a mantle of vibrant yellow broom, purple thistles and wild red poppies which form a vivid backdrop to the rigid, twisted and blackened limbs of rows of vines.

The gateway to Masca, Santiago del Teide still retains a very traditional feel and it’s not unusual to see elderly women of the village clad in their habitual black skirts, black blouses and straw hats, and elderly men in their felt fedoras.

The town consists of little more than the main street and a cluster of residential housing on either side of the road; but for those born here, they inherit a strong Guanche bloodline which endows them with a level of beauty most of us can only gape at; it’s not uncommon for Santiago del Teide’s progeny, male and female, to win prizes for their looks, including the coveted Miss Spain title in the 1990s.

Part of the ancient Menceyate (Kingdom) of Adeje, Santiago del Teide has a strong Guanche heritage. After the Spanish conquest, when land was being distributed to financiers of the war, the land in Valle de Santiago, as it was known right up until the 1950s, was of little importance to the new colonies, being unsuitable for the production of sugar cane, and so it was given to Diego Mencey, the former Guanche King, Pelinor. He married a Guanche girl, María de Lugo and from there the bloodline continued.

In 1663 a feudal system began which was to last for nearly two centuries; Don Fernando del Hoyo y Solórzano was made ‘Lord of the Manor’ after he ‘donated’ 3200 silver ducats to the Crown. His jurisdiction included administration of criminal law and the right to: ‘incarcerate, hang, spike the heads of, garrotte, whip with a cat-o-nine-tails, cut off various extremities or set free’ any and all miscreants adjudged by him to be lawbreakers; clearly not a man to start an argument with.

On the morning of the 18th November 1909, Chinyero erupted; the last volcanic eruption on Tenerife. A river of molten lava crept towards El Tanque and Icod, breaking off into two subsidiaries that threatened to engulf Las Manchas and Valle de Arriba. The two communities were only saved by divine intervention after villagers carried statues of Santa Ana, Christ and the Virgin Mary to the lava flows and stopped them in their tracks.

In 1928 the first car arrived; there had been cars in neighbouring Icod since 1887 but it took another 40 years for one to arrive in Santiago del Teide, a statistic which will come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever driven behind a banana truck on that stretch of road.

What to See

The TF82 which descends from Erjos in a dizzying series of S bends presents viewpoints over the settlement of Valle de Arriba and the vast expanse of the Santiago Valley. A left turn on the outskirts of the town takes you a few hundred metres to Valle de Arriba and the Santiago Ermita which, in various forms, has stood on this site since 1545. It’s here that the importance of the cultivation of vines is most apparent, with row upon row stretched out across the plain and climbing derelict buildings; it’s difficult to know if the buildings support the vines, or vice versa.

At the start of Santiago del Teide, opposite the recreational zone, is the photogenic Casa del Patio; built in 1665 it was home to the Lord of the Manor, Hoyo y Solórzano, and the economic centre of the municipality. This is where smallholders brought their grapes to be pressed and their cereals to be ground. It was also used for spear throwing competitions, one man allegedly managing to send his spear clean over the roof of the church of San Fernando. The Casa is currently being renovated and so is not accessible, but the project was due for completion last year so it could be open any day now…then again.

The charming church of San Fernando Rey offers an unusual domed roof, an impressive triptych altar and some fine art work, while the Town Hall on the other side of the plaza is a traditional Canarian designed building with a tranquil courtyard which is sometimes used to house exhibitions. The imposing Guanche statue opposite the church is of Alonso Diaz, son of Diego Mencey, and the statue is a tribute to his tenacity in petitioning the Crown over many years for the return of 200 goats which he maintained were forcibly taken from him by Alonso de Lugo, the Governor of the islands. He finally received a favourable ruling and the goats were returned to him, as symbolised by the one he carries in his right hand.

What to do
Don’t harry the potter
A few minutes drive from Santiago del Teide, through lava fields of raven coloured rocks covered with emerald bejeques, brings you to the quaint little museum and pottery workshop of ‘Cha Domitila’ in Arguayo. The area was a centre for pottery, made without the use of a wheel, since the time of the Guanches; skills were passed down through generations until modern ceramic manufacturing techniques caused its demise in the 1940s. The determination of a trio of local men, known as ‘the Colectivo Arguayo’ led to the craft being resurrected in 1982 and, in 1986, the opening of the museum, with its exhibits, the opportunity to see craftswomen, and men, at work and tranquil leafy courtyard. Give it your patronage and help preserve an important aspect of the area’s heritage.
(+34) 922 863 465; Carretera General, 34, Arguayo; entrance free; 10.00-13.00 & 16.00-19.00, closed Monday

Upwardly mobile
Spring is an enchanting time to explore the network of old Guanche tracks and donkey trails that crisscross the valley. Wild flowers add a splash of colour to routes that descend to the coast, or cross lava fields linking villages.
The shortest route has a reward which far outweighs the effort put in; on the other side of the pale lemon bridge, follow the ‘Camino de la Virgin de Lourdes’. A short climb past the Stations of the Cross, flanked by scarlet tabaiba shrubs, leads to an open air ermita and fountain set amidst wild roses. It’s a beautifully serene spot to survey the valley’s gentle slopes and to trace the fingers of lava which threatened to engulf the village of Las Manchas, until nature’s vagaries, or divine intervention, halted their progress.

Pic ‘n’ mix
Shaded by eucalyptus trees and with views of pine clad hills and the stately Casa del Patio, Parque Vicente, on the edge of town, is a pleasant spot to meet friends, lay out the gingham table cloth and have a picnic. As barbeques and benches are provided, all you’ve got to do is bring the grub.
Chinyero Bodega
Pick up local produce from the co-operative of smallholders; wines, honey, dried fruits and nuts, all available to try before you buy.
(+34) 922 864 040; Avenida General Franco, 2B; open 08.00-22.30 daily

Santiago del Teide Mercado de Arguayo
At the end of town is the newly refurbished farmers’ market with its immaculate courtyard lined with tables groaning under the weight of fresh produce.
Open every Saturday and Sunday from 08.00-14.00

Centro Alfarero de Arguayo
Take home a genuine piece of history from the museum and pottery centre; a wide range of pots, bowls, strainers and infusers in any colour you like as long as it’s terracotta.
(+34) 922 863 465; Carretera General, 34, Arguayo; entrance free; 10.00-13.00 & 16.00-19.00, closed Monday

Where to Stay
Villa Antonio
In Tamaimo, less than five kilometres away, this rural cottage is full of rustic charm, with low doorways, pitched ceilings and traditional Canarian stonework.
Available through the rural accommodation organisation, Acantur Tenerife.
(+34) 902 215 582; Villa Antonio; Santiago del Teide; from €76 per night, min stay 3 nights

Where to Eat
A life size model horse and antique carriage, outside the restaurant, is an effective method of capturing passing visitors’ attention. Savour the flavour of the countryside with charcoal grilled dishes and traditional fare, complemented by full bodied red wines from small local vineyards.
Generous portions are served either on the wide sunny terrace or inside, where the décor pays homage to the surrounding land and those who tend it.
(+34) 922 864 040; Avenida General Franco, 2B; average cost of a main course €8; open 08.00-22.30 daily

El Patio
Hearty home made stews and broths figure highly on the menu here. The small, pot plant lined patio provides a pleasant spot to enjoy the cornucopia of ingredients that make up Rancho Canario, or carne con papas (meat and potatoes) perked up with slivers of garlic and chillies. Good, wholesome cuisine originally designed to provide sustenance for an afternoon toiling in the terraces; don’t worry that part’s not compulsory now.
(+34) 922 863 204; Carretera General, 4A; average cost of a main course €7; open 05.30-21.00, closed Saturday

The gentle pace of life in town drops a gear in the evening; things liven up a couple of times each month with concerts and theatrical performances at the Centro Cultural Grama in the main square. Pick up a leaflet from the town hall for details of forthcoming events.

The 325 service leaves Puerto de la Cruz for Los Gigantes, via Santiago del Teide, approximately every two hours between 06.20 and 19.15.
From Playa de las Américas, the 460 line to Icod de los Vinos departs nearly every two hours between 05.25 and 20.00.

The nearest taxi firm is based in Los Gigantes, telephone 922 861 627.

Tourist Information
The nearest tourist office is at the coast, in Playa de la Arena, where there are some good leaflets about the area, but it’s a relatively long way to travel just for some information.
The town hall usually has posters and the occasional leaflet, useful for finding out what’s going on in, and around, town.
(+34) 922 860 348; Puerto Santiago, Centro Commercial “Seguro el Sol”, Calle Manuel Ravelo, 20; open 09.00-14.30 Monday to Friday, 09.30-12.30 Saturday, closed Sunday

You won’t have any problems finding parking spaces here; anywhere along the main road is convenient for exploring the town.

Unsurprisingly, the ‘miracle’ that saved the valley’s villages from being buried under Chinyero’s fiery disgorge is the cause of much rejoicing. At the beginning of May, residents re-enact the pilgrimage from the old church in Valle de Arriba to Las Manchas on the edge of the lava fields. Of course, the fact that the village was spared means that it’s a much jollier affair than the original mission impossible.

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