Bradley Wiggins cycled up Mount Teide in preparation for Le Tour and London 2012. Tenerife’s steep volcanic terrain and warm climate offer athletes and serious walkers hundreds of miles of spectacular trails but mere mortals can take the cable car, writes Lesley Bellew.
“Giant steps are what you take, walking on the moon.
"I hope my legs don’t break, walking on the moon.”
Some may say it was the thin air at 2,000m above sea level that brought on the light-headed Sting-song, but no, Mount Teide’s lunar landscape makes any visitor feel like they have just landed on another planet.
It is difficult, almost unearthly, to resist a Neil Armstrong-style moonwalk moment.
George Lucas filmed Star Wars in this eerie wilderness where statues of lava defy the laws of gravity on the desert plain.
Mount Teide National Park’s dry climate attracts top athletes all year round, including the Olympic medal-winning Brownlee brothers and swimmer Joanne Jackson.
It is well documented that Bradley Wiggins struggled in the 2010 Tour whenever the race hit high altitude and the 2011 race also included some of Europe's highest passes. Tenerife provided everything he needed to be a real contender for 2012; heat, altitude, 20-mile mountain climbs, peace from the media and place of quiet.
Ok, so not everyone is guaranteed to wear the Yellow Jersey or grab a gold medal by preparing for challenges in Tenerife but you can put on your walking shoes and explore trails through this ancient land.
You will also need plenty of layers as the island almost always enjoys at least 20 degrees of sunshine but once you are at the top of Teide the temperature drops to 0 degrees.
The road from the coast to the volcano zig-zags through vineyards and into laurel woodlands. Higher still, the robust Canary Island pine trees, which can grow new shoots after being charred by forest fires, catch the clouds as you start to travel through the swirling mist at 1,500m.
It’s a heavenly experience to climb to 1,750m and re-emerge above the clouds to be welcomed by a burst of sunshine and clear blue skies.
Now you are in the Valley of Ucanca, a volcanic plain, dry and dusty with cactus hanging on to life where lava has formed into freakish shapes over the last seven million years.
Not surprisingly, this a vast, primitive landscape is a Unesco World Heritage site and to keep visitor numbers at a sensible level permits must be pre-booked to take the Telefonica cable car to the volcano’s crust (see factfile).
It takes under 10 minutes to ascend to 3,500m and once you have got your head round looking into 18km diameter Las Canadas crater you can choose one of three paths to climb another 200m to the peak.
Take a breather on these walks to really appreciate the 360-degree panorama and reflect on the fact that only 10 per cent of Tenerife is above sea level.
The descent is no anti-climax as the desert plain offers plenty more walking (and some scrambling) around the rock formations. The Roques de Garcia, in the shape of melted candles (and one definitely looking like a silhouette of Bart Simpson) are survivors of the cataclysmic landslip that created the Las Canadas caldera.
Don’t be tempted to take the bus past these volcanic wonders – build in an hour or two or a wander over the glistening black, blue and green lava.
Then, bang in the middle of this shimmering wonderland is a building that looks like it has just fallen out of the sky.
It’s a hotel that sits alone among the solidified igneous rocks - the one where Mr Wiggins stayed.
The Hotel Parador mainly attracts walkers and cyclists (there’s a properly appointed bike room) but stargazers, too, descend on this lonely place to take advantage of the clear night skies.
We did not stop over but grabbed an hour’s astronomy lesson to complete our 'out of this world' day. We saw Jupiter, the North Star, Seven Sisters and a shooting star – or was it Bradley Wiggins?
Factfile Tourist information: www.webtenerifeuk.co.uk Flights: Monarch operates year round flights to Tenerife from Birmingham, East Midlands, Leeds Bradford, London Gatwick, London Luton and Manchester airports with fares, including taxes, from £99.99 return.
www.monarch.co.uk Guided tour around Mount Teide with Gaiatour - www.gaiatours.es Group of 15 people, from £30 per person (cost of cable car not included) For a cable car permit visit www.reservasparquenacional.es Stargazing: £120 for a group of six visit www.teideastro.com