Vallehermoso and Roque Cano
Vallehermoso and Roque Cano

La Gomera, Canary Islands: Whistle while you walk

Communication once took an unusual form on little La Gomera. Today, paths make things easier, says Steve Richards

Steve Richards
Friday 13 February 2015 12:03

Minutes before we leave home on a dark, cold morning in January I hear a BBC political correspondent declare on the radio that "the general election campaign starts today". If I were a rational political journalist I would immediately feel a sense of relieved excitement. Ah, yes, the election campaign might be starting with predictable tedium more than four months before polling day, but for the moment, I am heading for some sun and walking. The long campaign can wait.

But I am a political addict who feels uneasy about leaving the fray. I want to be right in there, following every twist and turn. So much so, that as I wait for the plane to take off I tune in to The World at One to hear Ed Balls explain why the Tories' allegations about Labour's spending plans are false. Everyone else is reading thrillers or leafing through holiday packs. I am listening to the Shadow Chancellor.

So the threshold for a winter's holiday is high. By instinct, I would prefer to be working. We are heading towards La Gomera, one of the smallest of the Canary Islands with a population of 23,000, for a week-long walking holiday.

We fly first to Tenerife and sail for an hour to La Gomera, where we arrive in the dark and drive through what I can only assume is mountainous scenery. The following morning, the steep peaks outside are bathed in sunshine. We are in Vallehermoso – the "Beautiful Valley". The walk we plan to follow is intoxicatingly entitled "The Enchanted Lake".

We begin a steep ascent. Such is the focus on walking on La Gomera, there are footpaths everywhere – all punctuated with sign posts. This is an island for walkers without a well-developed sense of direction, which suits us fine. We have chosen a walk that involves a very steep climb on rocky goat tracks for two hours, skirting round the glowering Roque Cano. The descent is harder than the long climb up, but we're rewarded with a walk around a lakeside, the sea sparkling in the distance. The island recently drew the attention of director Ron Howard, who filmed In the Heart of the Sea, a forthcoming film about the sinking of the whaling ship Essex on the island – a true story that inspired Moby Dick.

The following day, we are driven, as part of an elegantly choreographed sequence, to the start of our next walk. We start close to Garajonay, the highest point of the island, with a five-hour walk to complete. The long descent begins, through sub-tropical evergreen laurel forest that makes up a large part of Garajonay National Park. The forest acts as a kind of sponge, soaking up water from the mists that hang over the island. The abundance of flowers and plants makes La Gomera a pleasure.

The final descent is long and testing, our destination tantalisingly visible but way, way down in the valley bottom. I start to think again longingly of the more familiar comforts of an election campaign. But our hotel in Hermigua is a welcoming manor house, 150 years old with views of the ocean. We feel a sense of fulfilment and comfort. The election can wait.

Indeed, Hermigua is a turning point. A taxi is poised to take us into the town, a most welcome surprise after the day's walking. I am normally the awkward vegetarian, but here, honey-glazed aubergine chips are almost an art form. We consume lots of full-bodied and drinkable local rioja and suddenly I don't give a damn about Ed Balls.

The following day's walk is billed as a gentle stroll and, in comparison with some of the others, it is. Hermigua is a tiny coastal town. Bananas are grown in the deep ravines that are a hallmark of the island. In this case the ravines stretch out to the sea. We walk to the coastal path, surrounded by bananas, in sunshine, and climb up the steep coastal path to the next village, tiny Agulo.

La Gomera is tiny, only 13.6 miles long. But before a modern road was engineered from one side to the other islanders used to communicate down the valleys in a unique whistling language, in use until the last century, el silbo gomero. The road has replaced the whistle as a way of linking the tiny villages, meaning that we walkers have the satisfaction of starting at one end of the island and completing the holiday at the other. Ramón, the local taxi driver, takes us around the winding road, dropping us near the end where we walk towards San Sebastian, the port where we arrived a few days earlier.

The hotel here is like the third act of a play, the great climax. The holiday choreographers are like Shakespeare's Prospero, waving their powerful wands while we holidaying mortals follow their suggested steps towards a mesmerising denouement. In this case the final act takes the form of a parador, a vast manor house, on the edge of a cliff above the harbour. We rest after the long walks, read, and I check Twitter where the talk is still of "tax and spend". I do not want to go back.

Steve Richards is The Independent's Chief Political Columnist.

Getting there

Inntravel (01653 617001; offers a week's self-guided hotel-to-hotel walking on La Gomera from £798pp, including B&B, three dinners, two picnic lunches, transfers in Tenerife, onward ferry travel to La Gomera, luggage transfers, walking maps and route notes. Flights not included. The holiday is available until 31 May and again from 1 September to 14 December.

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