Long considered the finest and most important example of traditional, hand carved wooden balconies in the Canary Islands, the Casas de Los Balconies in La Orotava are a popular day trip from the Playa de Las Américas, Los Cristianos and Costa Adeje resorts of the south. But what exactly are they, and are they worth visiting?
The ‘Casas’ or houses referred to get their name from the largest of the buildings located at the top of Calle de San Francisco, Casa Mendez-Fonseca, whose three storey frontage has a beautiful balcony which spreads the length of the building. Hand carved by the finest carpenters of their day, the balconies are constructed from tea wood, the hard central core of the pine tree.
Apart from admiring the beauty of the house itself which was built in 1670, Casa Mendez-Fonseca has a small museum at the top of a narrow, spiral staircase which showcases the rooms exactly as they were when the industrialist Antonio Díaz Flores y Cartaya and his wife lived there in the 1880s. Apart from the furnishings and antiques, it’s great to be able to wander down corridors peering into even the smallest room in the house to see how they lived. There’s a small entrance fee of around €4 which is good value.
Outside, the courtyard is a cool and leafy place to take a rest and there’s a large ‘lagar’ or wine press and the opportunity to try and buy a large selection of local wines – always worth doing in my book. Inside you’ll find lots of hand embroidered tablecloths, napkins and handkerchiefs (does anyone use a handkerchief any more?) made by real craftsmen and women. The house is a school for handicrafts in honour of the legacy of a master craftswoman named Eladia Machado whose 1940s workshop was considered the best there was. Today’s traditional costumes for La Orotava are still based on her designs. You can also buy cigars, fans and items of traditional dress. My brother picked up a wonderful felt fedora here last summer.
Across the street is the Casa Del Turista, a rather unfortunate name which conjures up an image of what it more or less is, a tourist shop. Inside you’ll find every type of souvenir you could possibly want and a whole lot you probably won’t. From mojos to oven gloves in traditional Canarian dress (I kid you not) it’s here. However, get through the cigars and banana liqueur and you emerge onto a balcony overlooking the La Orotava Valley and down to Puerto de la Cruz. Here you can also see images of the famous flower carpets and you can buy some lovely, hand thrown pottery. You can also have your photo taken with a model of a guanche who looks vaguely like Peter Stringfellow, but let’s not go there.
Finally, break free from the tour if you can and head down the street, passing the gofio mill, and you’ll come to the lovely Casa Lercaro where you’ll find a great little café set in a beautiful courtyard and upstairs, one of those ‘I want to buy everything‘ shops that easyJet and Ryanair hand luggage restrictions are trying to put out of business. Come to think of it, there was an end of stock sale last time I was there…
Category : days out
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