Once deemed a winter haven for the retired, Tenerife has now become a paradise for sport lovers, says HANNAH STEPHENSON.
With the Tour de France and an Olympic gold medal under his belt from London 2012, life is looking sunny for British hero Bradley Wiggins.
Yet he has the unlikely training ground of the holiday island of Tenerife to thank, at least in part, for his victories.
While we were all suffering the incessant spring rain, you could find him at The Parador in Teide National Park.
This desert of solidified igneous rock provided the high altitude and thin air Wiggins needed to train.
While the largest of the Canary Islands, off the north-west coast of Africa, has long been branded a summer party island and a winter haven for the retired, it’s now taken on a sporting edge.
Culture vultures may venture to Santa Cruz, the island’s capital in the north-east of the island, to take in the museums, Tenerife Opera House and the impressive harbour.
But the weather up there can be unreliable so sports nuts may be better off expending their energy in the sunshine in the south.
We travel to Playa de la Arena, near to Los Gigantes, a relatively unspoilt resort on the west coast.
There, the sports can begin. From Los Gigantes we catch a taxi to Masca, a picturesque village whose houses perch precariously on narrow ridges of dramatic rock formations.
Reputed to have been a pirate hideaway, it has become the well-trodden starting point for serious walkers making their way down the barranco (ravine) on the two-hour journey through dramatic scenery to the sea.
The hike proves an ideal way to avoid piling on the pounds on our return to the substantial buffet at the all-inclusive Holiday Village Tenerife, where we’re staying nearby.
After eating, the only activity we’re fit for is splashing around in the beautiful heated pools, but swimming teams and individuals including Team GB’s Olympic medallist Rebecca Adlington do more intense training at the two Olympic-sized pools on the south west of the island.
‘What makes Tenerife special is the weather – you have year-round sunshine – and the facilities, which are among the best in Europe,’ says Steven Mellor, former Olympic swimming finalist who runs Sports Abroad, which arranges sports training camps for clubs and groups throughout Europe.
The T3 sports centre in La Caleta provides the winter training ground for rugby teams including Warrington Wolves and London Irish, while the island has also hosted training for Premiership football clubs Everton and Manchester City.
Hotels are also encouraging youngsters to become more active.
At our Holiday Village, my 13-year-old son took part in a football camp.
Scuba diving has also become big in Tenerife, but we are happy to take the bus to Alcala, a few miles down the coast, to an out-of-the-way cove.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see sea turtles and can snorkel to spot giant sea snails, dorada, barracuda and other interesting aquatic life.
Hardcore surfers head for the windy resort of El Medano, while other water-bound sport can be found at the island’s newest water park, Siam Park, which boasts the biggest artificial wave pool in the world.
So, Tenerife isn’t just a party paradise or haven for the retired.
It’s a sunny stop-over for the sporty set too.
Hannah Stephenson was a guest of Thomson Holidays, which offers seven nights’ all-inclusive at four star Holiday Village Tenerife, a summer-only resort, from £569, with return flights ex-Gatwick in mid-October. Regular departures include Manchester (£699) and East Midlands (£804). For reservations call 0871 230 2555 or visit thomson.co.uk
KEY FACTS - Tenerife
BEST FOR: Escaping the British rain to indulge in sports including hiking, biking and windsurfing.
DON’T MISS: The fantastic views from the top of the cable car at Mount Teide.
NEED TO KNOW: There can be snow on Teide in winter so check weather reports to ensure roads are open.
DON’T FORGET: A water bottle, sunscreen and your fleece if you’re doing high-altitude exercise.