Valle Gran Rey
Ferries arrive in San Sebastian, where you can pick up a hire car. (Ferries no longer arrive directly to Valle Gran Rey) It takes about an hour to drive across Gomera, not including stops at the many miradors to look at the stunning views.
Public transport is limited, with four buses a day (two on Sunday) taking an hour and three-quarters from San Sebastian.
Distances are walkable between the three main centres - La Calera, Vueltas and Playa. La Calera is slightly uphill and 1km inland along the main road across the island. If you're staying further up the valley (e.g. Las Hayas), you may need a car. The buses now travel in a loop around the three centres in Valle Gran Rey and terminate at the bus station near the centre of La Calera, also taxis are available.
There is so much to see in Valle Gran Rey, a stroll is never boring. Starting at the top of the valley there is the stunning terracing, sadly, not as cultivated as much as it was. There are great views of this from the Mirador Cesar Manrique. Coming down the valley, each part has its own character and is best explored on foot. It's worth getting a good map and using the paths that criss cross the valley. About half way down is the Virgen de Los Reyes church, a great place to rest and savour the view.
Further down we come to the lower valley and La Calera, the administrative capital. Set on the side of the cliff, it has some lovely alleyways, as well as a few bars and shops. This is a great place to stay if you want peace and quiet.
A short stroll down to the sea brings us to La Playa. Compact, but rapidly expanding, it has a real holiday feel to it. Heading east along the seafront takes us past the new statue of the last Guanche king of the valley to the largish tourist development around El Charco beach. From here we arrive at Vueltas, an old fishing village, hippy enclave and port. A new marina is being built, but progress in completing it seems rather slow.
The real pleasure, though, is in the small things; looking at the different stages that bananas grow through; seeing a myriad of interesting plants, watching the cliff-face change with the light; hearing the shearwater birds making their strange sounds as they fly up the valley at night; taking a moonlit stroll on a balmy evening. And above all, just slowing down to the Gomera pace of life.
Walking - Whether an easy stroll around the three villages, up the valley or more challenging stuff, like up the cliff walk of La Merica to Arure, it's all beautiful and fascinating. Organised walking tours are also available from a small range of companies in the valley.
Look for the rare giant lizard of La Gomera, until recently thought extinct.
Biking - either on guided mountain bike tours or on your own with a rented bike. There are three bike rentals and tour operators in Valle Gran Rey, one in La Playa (www.gomera-bikes.com), one in La Puntilla (www.bike-station-gomera.com) and one in Vueltas (www.bikers-inn.eu). They offer as well taxi transfer services into the national park.
Go on a whale and dolphin watching trip. There is currently a large motor cruiser - the Tina - operating most days but the itinerary varies. Some days the boat takes tourists around the island to view the famous basalt rock formations, Los Organos, which are only visible from the sea but other shorter trips are dedicated solely to finding whales and dolphins. There is usually someone selling tickets on the quayside. The longer trips include food and drink.
Alternatively you can go out on very small motorised open boats holding six to ten people with an experienced cetacean researcher. The costs are very similar but obviously the small boats do not have any facilities. You do potentially get much closer to the whales and dolphins though and see them at eye level. Book a place on these boats at the Club de Mar in Vueltas on the street behind the harbour.
All these trips seem to be well run with respect for the welfare of the animals. Their success rate is remarkably high and the larger boats are in radio contact with fishing vessels and other boats. However there is of course no guarantee you will spot anything. Even so the trip is a good way to spend a few hours and to view the island from the sea. Take warm clothes and sunscreen and water and food if lunch is not included.
The idea is to get away from commercial pressures to buy, buy, buy! There are a few shops, but do you really need more stuff? However, there certainly are a lot of interesting quirky little shops in the harbour area !
Gomeran cuisine is tasty, unsophisticated and based on local ingredients. Being an island, fish is popular, especially varieties of tuna.
Typical dishes include:
Potaje de Berros - Watercress soup
Atún en mojo - Tuna in mojo sauce
Leche asada - 'Baked milk' A kind of solid blancmange, served with Miel de Palma - delicious palm-tree honey
Gofio, a milled grain dating from Guanche times, is also a staple and is very popular for breakfast.
Plenty of excellent fresh juices and milk-shakes.
Good coffee - try 'cortado leche y leche' - small coffee with both warm and condensed milk.
Gomeran wines - Garajonay has recently obtained DOC status.
Parra - Local firewater.
Gomerón - Firewater mixed with Miel de Palma.
As the main tourist destination on Gomera, there is a plentiful supply of accommodation.
There are several large apartment complexes based around pools and with receptions. These seem to be used by all the tour groups. Expecially if you speak a little Spanish, you can just turn up and try the places saying 'aparatmento' or 'alojamiento', often with a mobile number. However, this can be very hit and miss.
Valle Gran Rey divides roughly into four areas with different characters and it's worth thinking which suits you best:
Upper valley - Everything above La Calera. Really get away from it all. Stunning views, terracing, walking, but you'll probably need a car as there are very few bars, restaurants and shops. It gets cooler the higher you go, meaning it can be nippy in winter.
La Calera - Pretty back lanes, several bars/restaurants/shops, quiet. Good for walkers and strolling distance to the beach. Nominal capital of Valle Gran Rey, with the bijou Town Hall (Ayuntamiento). Less humid than the seafront in summer.
Vueltas - The port. Nice, safe beach in the harbour. The old village has a hippy feel to it, a bit ragged in places. Plenty of bars/restaurants, more nightlife.
La Playa - Open pebbly beach area for confident swimmers. More modern than Vueltas. Has plenty of bars/restaurants and more nightlife (although nowhere on Gomera has that much).
Many tourists come for the excellent walking. There are great walks all over the island, several of which start in Valle Gran Rey. You don't have to be a mountain goat, many walks are relatively flat and with little traffic, may even be on tarmac at times. Buy a good map and get out there. If you're feeling fit you can walk right up the valley to Chipude and get the bus/taxi back.