Canary Islands Guide - El Hierro Island
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El Hierro as seen from the air

El Hierro
By Lucy Corne

El Hierro is the Cinderella of the Canary Islands, lacking the golden beaches of the eastern isles and lying too far from Tenerife to get day trippers. Many consider it the most traditional of the islands, though this title would have to be fought out with La Gomera. This is the smallest island and the least visited, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its own appeal.

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Less than a quarter of the island’s 9000 inhabitants live in the quiet capital, Valverde and the town really doesn’t have much to offer visitors either. The main attraction, as with the rest of the island, is the local people, who are always overjoyed to welcome tourists to their island. Something else to sample, along with hospitality are two local delicacies – queso herreño (a divine goat’s cheese) and Vino de Frontera – red, white and rosé wines produced in the west of the island.

The most photographed site on the island is undoubtedly the windswept landscape of El Sabinar. Here strong north-westerly winds contort the juniper trees so much that you can barely believe they are still alive. There is an excellent hike in this part of the island, leading from the town of Sabinosa up to the quaint Ermita de los Reyes (a small whitewashed church) and back. Be warned though, hiking in El Hierro is no easy feat – virtually all hikes involve walking from sea level to the top of the island at 1500m, and then back down again: hell on the knees!

this juniper tree at El Sabinar  has been deformed by the wind

Next on your list should be the Faro de Orchilla, a lighthouse marking the westernmost point of Spain. If you’re seeking a quirky souvenir you can get a certificate from the tourist office in Valverde to prove that you have visited the end of the world. Not far away is another record holder, well, a former one – what was for a long time the smallest hotel in the world perches on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Punta Grande. Not far away are two must-sees: the Ecomuseo de Guinea and the Giant Lizard Recuperation Centre. The former highlights the pre-Hispanic culture of the island, the latter is a research centre to breed the highly endangered Giant Lizard, which grows to lengths of up to 75cm. Long thought to be extinct, there are now around 300 left and your only real chance of seeing one is at the Recuperation Centre.

In the south of the island you’ll find a small pine forest with picnic areas and the freshest of fresh air and on the coast a cute little resort. La Restinga has nothing in common with larger tourist developments on other islands and that’s how locals want it to stay. There’s a small black sand beach, some family-run apartments to rent and some world-class scuba diving just off the coast.

Finally, in the east of the island head to Timijiraque with its wide sandy beach (black sand, of course – there are no man made beaches on this isla). Nearby is another of the island’s emblems, Roque de la Bonanza, an arch that rises 200m straight from the sea bed.

Driving El Hierro’s endlessly winding roads can be tiresome, but you can break up your journey at the numerous miradores (lookout points) dotted around. Placed in all of the prettiest spots, touring between miradores is perhaps the best way to experience El Hierro.

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Canary Island photographs provided by Lucy Corne.
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