Some best-kept secrets are meant to be shared and lovely Vilaflor is one of them.
Turismo de Tenerife and the Tenerife Cabildo have recently been extolling the virtues of towns and villages which tourists, and even local residents, might not think of instantly exploring.
Los Realejos, Icod de los Vinos, La Matanza de Acentejo, La Victoria de Acentejo, all have their very own special charm and character.
But is Vilaflor the best-kept secret of all? Huge placards in the centre of this charming declare it is el secreto major guardado de Tenerife. While no-one would want to see its natural beauty ruined by thousands of tourists, it’s a place everyone should visit to blow away the cobwebs.
Not for nothing do people in the know head for a well-deserved break in Vilaflor. It is celebrated for its tranquility, healthy air and crystal water. You come here to relax, to walk in the green countryside, to smell the pines, to search out one of its lovely restaurants, to sit outside the church and admire the views. In short, you head for Vilaflor to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and the vibrancy of the traditional tourist locations.
Ironically, many people may well have travelled past Vilaflor on their way to Mount Teide which is only about 30km away. However, to enjoy its charms, you have to turn off the main mountain road which, although a little twisting, is surprisingly well-maintained with excellent tarmac and a noticeable absence of potholes. A definite bonus for nervous drivers or passengers!
Early on a sunny Tuesday morning, we took a trip up to Vilafor, turning off the TF-1 and taking the route past Chayofa, Arona, Escalona and Trevejos. It takes less than half an hour from Los Cristianos and the scenery 1,400m above sea level is spectacular, showing you just how green Tenerife can be. The ocean glistens beneath you as you rise above the clouds and you are full of expectation for what lies ahead.
Your first view of Vilaflor, which has a population of less than 2,000, will not disappoint. Little houses come into view, dotted together on the hillside, with a dramatic backdrop of thousands of pine trees and unusual lava rock formations. If there was snow, you might think you were in Switzerland.
Although just as pretty, Vilaflor isn’t like Masca which is smaller, more spread out and more isolated. Here in Vilafor you will find a number of traditional bars and restaurants, a town hall, a post office, a few artisan shops, a church, plaza and a market held every Sunday from 9am to 3pm. There are flowers and plant pots everywhere and although the main square is currently roped off for major renovation work, it does not spoil your enjoyment. There are side streets to explore and properties to marvel at, both restored and empty, many with traditional balconies. It’s just the place where you would fall in love with a tiny house and want to restore it.
The air here is cooler and fresher so, if visiting at night, do take a long a coat or cardigan, especially as the winter months approach. But you can literally smell the pines which cover the mountainside behind Vilaflor and offer guided walk opportunities.
Vilaflor is one of the highest boroughs in Spain and it has attracted travellers since the 18th century. Today, cars can access it with ease and there are plenty of places to park but modernity has failed to spoil its original charm.
We spent a really pleasant 45 minutes chatting to Gabriel Rodríguez whose family have owned and run the restaurant and hotel Casa Chico for more than 60 years. Our attention had been drawn to the premises because of the ‘museum’ sign and inside we found hundreds of antiquities adorning the walls and rooms. Old sewing machines, irons, tools, presses, bottles, brooms, old photographs and so much more.
Gabriel speaks no English but using our best Spanish, we were able to decipher that he runs 20 bedrooms, always full of visitors aged from 40 upwards who come for the peace and quiet that Vilaflor offers. “No young people,” he tells us. “They go to Playa de las Américas!”
We spotted other beautiful restaurants along the way, as well as a few tiny cafes but Vilaflor has not been infiltrated by commercialism. It’s obvious that many people have discovered its hidden secrets over the years but perhaps have shared them only with friends and relatives.
If you love nature and wildlife, this is also the place to come. You can hike, bike or climb. You can admire and identify a host of flaura and fauna, some exclusive to Vilaflor only. If you are lucky, you will see a blue chaffinch or a woodpecker and wonder at the Vilafor pines which represent one of the best preserved nature reserves in the Canary Islands of this kind of woodland. Higher up, the landscape becomes unique, with unusual shrubs which bloom into a blaze of pink in the spring.
Agriculture and wine continue to play a huge part in the fortunes of Vilaflor and you will find a number of bodegas in the area to pop in to and sample the tipple. But it is the medical waters which have gained a reputation too and Vilaflor is home to the factories of El Pinalto and Fuente Alta, well-known bottled water suppliers.
Part of our travels took us up to one of the highest points of Vilaflor, the Hotel Spa VillaAlba where water also plays a major role. Described as “your paradise in nature”, it nestles amongst the pines in all directions and is a total haven for health, peace and undisturbed rest. The spa offers every conceivable treatment, including therapeutic massages and the usual circuit and gym.
You don’t have to spend a few days in Vilaflor although you will want to. A morning or afternoon is equally as refreshing. Once again, it shows the hidden side of Tenerife, an island which turns up surprise after surprise if you shake yourself out of your comfort zone and explore. But when you visit, do pass on the secret.