From stargazing and sailing, to whale watching and water parks, the Macaronesian island provides the ultimate family holiday, writes Robin McKelvie
I have been set a daunting task. The toughest mission possible as a dad – putting together the ultimate family holiday, not just a beach flop. I have planned it meticulously. The island in Macaronesia I have chosen offers superb stargazing, boat-fresh seafood, the world’s top-rated water park and is the best place on the planet to see pilot whales. Still, on the Edinburgh runway, I take in the expectant faces of my wife and two young daughters and feel the pressure.
Macaronesia sounds exotic. Tenerife perhaps less so. We quickly push past the snobbishness that sometimes unfairly blights the isle. A good start helps. That comes with a limo to the airport, fast track and lounge access through No 1 Traveller (www.no1traveller.com) and easyJet, as we have pre-booked seats and board first. The car hire is a relief too. We pick up our spacious people carrier with a minimum of hassle and breeze out of the airport before we are meant to have landed – our flight is an hour early.
We gun away from the beaches – if my plan works Tara and Emma will be too busy for sandcastles. We make our way up through the pine forests that lead towards the volcanic plateau that lies at Tenerife’s heart. Our destination is the Parador de Las Cañadas del Teide (www.parador.es), named after the mountain Teide, at 3,718m Spain’s highest. After introducing the girls to dishes of traditional papas arrugadas (or “wrinkly potato heads” as they dub them), we are off stargazing. Tenerife offers some of the finest night skies in the world. Our guide is Jose Fraga (www.starexcursions.com). Tara and Emma explore the moon’s craters and then I share a smile with Jose as their eyes light up when they clap eyes on “twinkle twinkle little star”. You probably know it better as the North Star.
It is time to roll down back through the pines to the southern resorts. We have rented an apartment through Holiday Lettings (www.holidaylettings.com) which has sweeping views of the neighbouring isle of La Gomera. It also has a hot tub and access to a large communal swimming pool.
With a large kitchen and expansive living area we eat in a lot, but are also keen to dine out. At Molino Blanco (www.molino-blanco.com) we share lobster rice and more of those wrinkly potato heads. The waiters know what they are doing, treating our girls like the wee ladies they are quickly becoming. We move up a notch in sophistication at Restaurante Lucas Maes (www.restaurantelucasmaes.com). Tara and Emma enjoy their tuna, but are not as enamoured as mum Jenny by the delicious slow-cooked rabbit.
I have no worries about the girls enjoying the next day, as Loro Parque (www.loroparque.com) has been voted the finest zoo in Europe. This leafy oasis is so much more than just a zoo, with lush subtropical gardens alive with all manner of flora and fauna. We go through a shark tunnel, watch a colony of emperor penguins enjoying the snow and meet the park’s latest arrivals, red pandas. Our “Premium” and “Discovery” tours reserve us seats at all the shows, cover lunch and reveal behind the scenes. The highlight for Emma is that I have organised for her to be in a boat pulled by dolphins in the aquatic show. Her face is priceless as the cetaceans skip her along.
This long day is not over as I have two more surprises. The first is dinner at Brunelli’s Steakhouse (www.brunellis.com). Owned by the same people as Loro Parque it is similarly impressive. Just as we settle down to a feast of 28-day aged steak the glass wall descends to open up the Atlantic breezes and an epic sunset. The second surprise is that we are not going back to the apartment, but spend the night wrapped in the charms of the nearby Hotel Botanico (hotelbotanico.com), for me the best hotel in Tenerife’s north.
After a morning exploring the hotel’s famous gardens and a dip in its palm-fringed pool, it is time to drive back south. Our last base is the Ritz Carlton Abama (www.ritzcarlton.com). Its dedicated Ritz Kids programme is designed for parents, as much as children, as it keeps the youngsters happy while we slip off to their private beach and check out one of its Michelin-star restaurants.
On our penultimate day we discover what TripAdvisor rates as the world’s premier water park. Spend time at Siam Park (www.siampark.net) and it is hard to disagree. It is worth splashing out on one of its private cabanas, or even its new VIP villa with its own hot tub. When it is not available a private island is offered. We enjoy this, having our own shady base for exploring the multitude of rides. What Siam Park does so well is cater for all ages, with small pools for toddlers, through to more challenging rides for older children and terrifying thrillers for teenagers and adults.
Our last day is a packed one. In the morning we venture up into the hills to La Casona del Patio (www.ginestarhotels.com). Tara loves being back in the saddle, while Emma is startled, then delighted, by her first horse ride. They finish off the experience grooming a Shetland pony.
Whether you spend a week in a five-star hotel or a B&B, the highlight of any family holiday is proper family time. Our last afternoon trip with Lina Yacht (www.linayacht.com) provides that, as we have our own yacht. Dolphins skip around us as we push out of Puerto Colon. We reach the deeper waters where we hope to find pilot whales. Tara and Emma scream that they can see a dark shape under the water and a pod of whales bursts the surface all around, undeterred by the girls’ whoops.
It is hard to define what makes the ultimate family holiday, but this escape to Macaronesia proved perfect for us. Job done.