La Palma & Teneguía Princess Hotel in La Palma

PERFECT POSITION: The well-appointed La Palma & Teneguía Princess Hotel in La Palma (Image: NC)

It’s just one of the delightful surprises of this diamond-shaped island, the most northwesterly of the Canary archipelago.

Stretching 10 miles wide and 18 miles long, La Palma is littered with volcanoes, lush banana plantations and clusters of ochre, cerulean and custard-hued houses, giving it a relaxed, Caribbean vibe.

Last year, easyJet launched direct flights to the island twice a week, offering a budget alternative to charter flights and package tours.

Unlike its larger and more well-known siblings, La Palma is blissfully un-touristy.

Designated a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in 2002, it’s renowned for stargazing, seafood and spectacular festivals.

It’s also a popular hiking destination, with more than 600 miles of routes.

Fuencaliente

UNIVERSAL APPEAL: Fuencaliente (Image:
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La Palma was the first place in the world to be designated a Starlight Reserve and there are astral viewing points scattered across the island.

Topographically speaking, the island is split into two halves; the verdant rainforests of the north and the volcanic ridges and black-sand beaches of the south.

I’m staying at the La Palma & Teneguía Princess, a sprawling all-inclusive resort in Fuencaliente on the southwestern coast.

Set among acres of banana groves, the resort boasts 11 swimming pools, restaurants, kids’ clubs et al, and largely attracts a fly-and-flop crowd.

However, for those looking to explore more than the island’s soot-coloured beaches, it’s also well placed for both northern and southern reaches.

The hotel is a 10-minute drive from the San Antonio volcano, which has a visitors’ centre with a projection room, seismographs and aerial photographs of the island.

Even though it’s only 7pm, the darkening sky is beginning to shimmer with starlight.

La Palma was the first place in the world to be designated a Starlight Reserve and there are astral viewing points scattered across the island.

Placeta de Borrero in Santa Cruz de La Palma

IDYLLIC: Old Town in Santa Cruz de La Palma (Image:
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After dinner at nearby Casa del Volcan, I meet up with Antonio, a local astrologer from Cielo de La Palma.

Shining his laser skywards, Antonio points out the different constellations, stars punching out of the coal-black sky like backlit crystals.

“There you can see the bear, Ursa Major, Orion’s Belt, and the North Star, which is not the brightest in the sky, as you can see,” chuckles Antonio, as he guides me through the galaxy.

The next morning, en route to the national park, I stop briefly at Mercadillo de Argual, a bustling weekend market in Los Llanos de Argual.

The shady, tree-lined square is awash with incense-infused stalls, live Cuban music, rum shacks and tie-dye merchants, and feels more Caribbean than European.

The Caldera de Taburiente National Park is one of the highlights of the island.

A five-mile-wide volcanic crater surrounded by jagged, granite figers and fragrant Canarian pine trees.

Although dominated by the serious hiking set there are plenty of shorter routes for fairweather walkers like me, all offering magnificent views.

San Andres La Palma

UNSPOILT: The charming old town of San Andres is in the north of La Palma (Image:
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Lunch is a short drive away at Duende del Fuego in Los Llanos de Aridane.

Acclaimed chef Pedro Hernandez woos me with his hyper-local dishes, including a creamy, puce-hued prickly pear and goat’s cheese risotto.

The next morning I stop off for a breakfast barraquito, a Canarian speciality made with espresso, condensed milk and Licor 43.

It’s fuel for embarking on a stretch of Ruta de los Volcanes, an 11-mile hiking route which runs along the southern spine of the island.

Tramping down the volcano’s rippling, iron-grey flanks, dotted with green tufts like teenage bumfluff, this side of La Palma feels stark and raw.

Gazing out over the Atlantic’s rippling navy blanket, I consider the fact the earth beneath my feet did not even exist when I was born.

In 1971 the Teneguia Volcano erupted and lava flowed down to the sea, creating several square kilometres of new land – meaning I’m standing on the youngest part of Europe.

From century-old traditions to new, uncharted lands, La Palma has been a starry-eyed surprise.

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THE KNOWLEDGE

La Palma & Teneguía Princess Hotel (0203 499 5042/princesshotels.com) offers doubles from £83, B&B.

easyJet (0330 365 5000/ easyJet.com) flights from Gatwick to La Palma from £46.

La Palma tourism: visitlapalma.es

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