“The valley of the scented breezes”
The origins and development of tourism in Puerto de la Cruz.
Tourism in the Canary Islands has its origins in Puerto de la Cruz on a specific date, namely the year of 1886.
Over the decades that followed, it has been visited by many travellers, including a long list of illustrious figures.
In this context, we have to mention names such as Alexander von Humboldt in 1799, Tsar Alexander III, George V in 1879, Alfonso XIII in 1906, Andrés Bretón in 1926, Bertrand Russell in 1927, Agatha Christie in 1929, Winston Churchill in 1959, The Beatles (Paul, George and Ringo, without John) in 1963, etc.
Here, we will reflect through a series of travel testimonies how they regarded the town and what they observed and highlighted. Travellers who arrived in these early days when visits were motivated by the climate of Puerto de la Cruz and the effects of the Industrial Revolution, with weather the English felt mitigated the effects of diseases such as tuberculosis.
This early tourism based on health went on to see developments such as the construction of the “specialist society” (1885: “Societies Hotels and sanatoriums”) and the opening of flagship hotels (1886: “Great Hotel-Sanatorio Taoro”; 1888: “Hotel Santa Catalina”) which confirmed Puerto’s leading position in this field in the archipelago.
One of the travellers who came to Puerto de la Cruz was Jules Leclercq. He left us with his own impressions, from which we learn “from the height of the terraces shaded by bananas, which is the favourite walk of those from Orotava, you can contemplate the grandiose landscape that extends from the top of Mount Teide to the sides of the Atlantic and, at the bottom of the valley, at a distance of six kilometres, a little village of sparkling white, perched on the edge of the ocean. This port in miniature, which seems to be specifically made for this landscape, is called the Port of La Orotava. As soon as I saw it from far away, I thought it was so seductive that I immediately wanted to approach it.”
Constanza (Constance) Carnochan Hodgson (1870-1944) was another English visitor to reach Tenerife following her marriage to a doctor, Jorge Pérez Ventoso (a great aficiando of la Botánico). Following their marriage in England, they moved to live on the island.
Constance devoted a few lines to describe how she found Puerto de la Cruz and tells us that: “The Port of La Orotava, or to use its full name, Puerto de la Cruz of the Orotava, is situated in the north of the island, on a small area of land formed by a stream of lava that flowed toward the sea in 1430; a little further up, on the same lava flow, is the Hotel Taoro, the English church and a considerable amount of houses with gardens; it is wonderful to see how the hand of man has recovered the earth by the laborious process of breaking and relocating the volcanic threads that have been there for centuries, bringing back to the surface the earth which was hidden and then replacing the volcanic remnants with the rich soil.”
She went on to talk about the good climate and spoke about what we know as the “donkey’s belly” or the “panza de burro” (a layer of cloud which hangs low over the mountains). She also notes how, on some days, the cloud was so low that it turned the otherwise colourful landscape into a sea of grey but notes this didn’t happen any more frequently than anywhere else.
The mild Puerto climate was also noted by the professor, Gabriel de Belcastel (1821-1890), a student of the law in Paris, but a person of whom we have very little information.
We know Gabriel arrived in Puerto in 1859 to find a favourable climate for the recovery of his sick daughter. She was treated during her stay by Victor Pérez González, who at the time was the doctor at the Orotava Grand Hotel. Afterwards, Gabriel de Belcastel wrote about their stay in Puerto in case it could help anyone who found themselves in the same situation.
Gabriel advocated the of benefits of climate to treat lung diseases, finding in the Orotava Valley the perfect remedy and saying that out of every ten patients, at least eight would find relief, if not a total cure. Even those with a very serious condition would gain months or years on their life.
We also gain some information about Puerto de la Cruz from the travellers Louis Proust and Charles Joseph Pitard, both from France. Their observations are brief but very interesting.
The first was a botanist and the second studied law before entering politics, becoming a member of the National Assembly. They left a description of their visit to the Canary Islands between 1905 and 1906 which revealed what the visitor coming down from La Orotava to Puerto de la Cruz would find.
They made special mention of the Hotel Taoro and expressed surprise at finding such an establishment of this type which they felt competed in all aspects with the best European hotels.
Strangely, even in this era, they spoke about the port and lamented its size. They noted some efforts had been made to build a small breakwater to try and make it more accessible but it would still only cater for smaller boats carrying bananas or tomatoes.
Jean Mascart (1872-1935) participated in a scientific expedition to the island of Tenerife in the year 1910 and was another visitor to devote some lines to the hotel Humboldt-Kurhaus (it acquired its name after being purchased by a German company in 1905).
He noted how the valley of Taoro was a destination for many who arrived from distant lands to recover from sickness, to recover from ill health, to convalesce or to regain their vitality from tiredness “in the valley of the scented breezes”. In general, their hopes were not dashed.
André-Pierre Ledrú, a naturalist born in France, came to Tenerife after he was commissioned to carry out a scientific mission in the West Indies. However, due to a storm, he was forced to take refuge in Tenerife. He too devoted lines to what he found in Puerto de la Cruz, telling us: “In the Port of La Orotava, you find the customs and the taste of good societies of Europe. This city, the most commercial after Santa Cruz, is the best built and the most pleasant located on the island, with a population in 1789 of 4,465 inhabitants. Today, there are 5,000. From seven to eight foreign traders dominate almost all trade and quickly made a considerable fortune.”
William R. Wilde described Puerto de la Cruz as “a small town, well-built, clean, and where the breeze blows.”
Olivia M. Stone was in the Puerto de la Cruz in 1883 and highlighted a whole series of observations, such as the mild climate, indicating that “the temperature in the shade of the Villa at 7 a.m. was 64º F (17.7º C), a very moderate heat.” He also mentions the water at Martianez, noting it was transparent and clear water “and the purest and the best on the entire island. We found the temperature was 63º F (17.3º C) and the air, of 69º F (20.5 C).”
These examples serve to show the motives of the first arrivals in Puerto and the factors which encouraged arrivals during these early times.