FORGET flamenco and folklore: Spain's westernmost resort island is all about bungy-jumping and go-karting. The largest of the Canaries, Tenerife is a pork chop-shaped island off the coast of Africa. This slab of volcanic rock, 50 miles by 30, is not everyone's idea of a vacation paradise - seekers after culture and history would hardly be thrilled by it. But it is ideal for undemanding indulgence, such as devouring junk novels by the pool in the reliable sunshine.

Getting there: Fares are relatively high because of the long flight. Airtours (0706 260000) is offering flights from Manchester at the end of June for pounds 159 return, and from Gatwick for pounds 169. Fares for Ace Flights (0772 882000) daily charters from Gatwick depend on the day of the week and the time of the flight: Monday and Tuesday night flights cost only pounds 131. Flightclub (0903 231857) has flights from Manchester for pounds 155 (day) or pounds 145 (night).

Car hire: The problem of transport from the airport can be solved if you pick up a hire car there. Avis, Budget and Hertz have representatives at the airport. So does Holiday Autos (071- 491 1111), which charges pounds 102 for a Fiat Panda for a week, inclusive of everything except fuel. Locally hired vehicles may be cheaper still.

Accommodation: The Spanish government owns the best-situated hotel in Tenerife: the state-run Parador de Canadas del Tiede (tel/fax 38 64 15 - see Further Information below) looks out over eerie volcanic scenery towards the 12,000ft Pico del Teide. It is only 20 miles north of the Playa de las Americas development, but the tortuous road journey takes a couple of hours. A double room with breakfast costs pounds 50 per night including tax.

The finest hotel on the seafront in Playa de las Americas is the Jardin Tropical (tel 79 41 11; fax 79 44 51). Built in a kind of Disney-goes-to-Marrakesh style, this fun palace offers a fully equipped gym, massage and even colonic irrigation (less fun than bungy-jumping) at pounds 120 a night.

Renting an apartment is much cheaper. The Bungamerica apartment complex (tel 79 11 64; fax 79 12 11), set in gardens in the heart of Playa de las Americas, is basic but clean, and a fair-sized apartment in July costs pounds 200 per week. (Despite the name, the Bungamerica has nothing to do with bungy-jumping])

Tenerife's other big resort is Puerto de la Cruz, on the north-west coast. Ignore the undisciplined rows of modern hotels along the coast in favour of the quiet and charming Hotel Monopol (tel 38 46 11; fax 37 03 10) opposite the church in the centre of the old town. A double room with breakfast costs pounds 33.

Eating and Drinking: Despite the predominance of burger bars and pizzerias in Playa de las Americas, the sensible visitor to Tenerife sticks to fish.

The old quarter of Puerto de la Cruz has plenty of good restaurants, such as La Papaya (38 28 11), a lovely two-storey house near the main square. The speciality is sole, and the lamb is also good; a full meal with wine is about pounds 22 per person. La Papaya is closed for holidays at present, but reopens on 1 July.

In Santa Cruz itself, the restaurant of the Hotel Mencey (27 67 00) is where Robert Maxwell is reputed to have eaten his last dinner.

Sights to see: Tenerife's autopista, a four-lane highway, runs around the eastern side of the island from Playa de las Americas in the south to Santa Cruz and beyond. Drive or take a bus to this greener and cooler part of the island. Santa Cruz is home to a third of Tenerife's permanent population. It is a working port with a delightful old town and pleasant gardens.

The mass of the Pico del Teide dominates the island. Tour buses run to the cable-car base station, from where the ride to 11,500 feet takes about eight minutes. You have to scramble the last 500 feet from the top station to the summit, but the - on a clear day is magnificent, across to the neighbouring islands, and even to Africa.

Best beaches: The island's most successful impostor as a white-sand beach is Las Teresitas, five miles north-east of Santa Cruz beyond San Andres. Most of the southern beaches are dismal sweeps of grey sand.

Breaking away: From the marina at the northern side of Playa de las Americas you can take a yacht or motorboat to watch dolphins in the Atlantic. A full-day trip costs about pounds 40, including lunch.

The island of Gomera is easy to reach on a day trip from Los Cristianos by boat (one hour) or Jetfoil (30 minutes). Gomera was the last part of the Old World that Columbus saw before going off to discover the New. On 6 September 1492 he set sail from the port of San Sebastian, having spent the previous four days in the company of the Governor's widow - much to the irritation of his crew.

The other Canary Islands are also easily accessible. Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria, is served four times daily from Santa Cruz by boat and Jetfoil.

Whatever you do, don't . . . allow your stay to be disrupted by the platoons of timeshare salespeople, a surprising number of whom will claim that you have won a Maserati. It takes half a day to find out that you have not, and a lot of effort is needed to escape from the hard sell.

Good Guide In a thin field, the best is the Insight Guide to Tenerife and the West Canary Islands ( pounds 11.95).

Further Information The dialling code from the UK for Tenerife is 010 34 22. Spanish Tourist Office, 57 St James's St, London SW1A 1LD (071- 499 0901). Patronato de Turismo de Tenerife, Plaza de Espana, Santa Cruz de Tenerife (60 55 92).

(Photograph and map omitted)

Comments