Spain receives about 12.5 million visitors a year. More than half of flights come through only four airports: Palma de Mallorca, Malaga, Alicante and Reina Sofia in Tenerife - the gateways to the beaches. But, as true adventurers know, these areas have much more to offer than the average package tours to overcrowded beaches and high-rise Tenerife apartments and hotels.
If you think of Tenerife as a haven for hedonistic yoofs to get drunk, sweaty and lecherous, then you're half right.
The south of the island, with the notorious package holiday wet dream of Playa de las Americas at its not so cultural heart ('Tenegrief', as one traveling companion muttered when he came in to land), is not exactly sophisticated. But, thankfully, in Tenerife the north is totally different, a little gem of history and varied scenery, with an authentic Spanish feel.
Occupying the base of the immense and startlingly pretty snow-capped Mount Teide - the highest point in Tenerife - Puerto de la Cruz is the north's major town, made more accessible by Thomson's decision to provide flights to Tenerife to its modernized airport. The town, which rises sharply from volcanic black-sand beach, to its cobbled old streets, over built-up rocky outcrops, across banana plantations and then up through some of the lushes fields you will ever see, is majestic.
If you book one of the low-cost airline flights to Tenerife and hire a car, you can have a totally different experience to that of the package holidaymaker living in his Tenerife apartments, often for less than the price of a package.
The scenery in Tenerife encourages visitors to get a car and explore the area. As well as being home to beautiful, unspoiled vistas of the Atlantic Ocean, Puerto de la Cruz boasts botanical gardens, a top-notch casino, myriad boutiques and authentic handicraft shops, the swanky Abaco cocktail bar and the brilliant Loro ('parrot') Parque, where you'll find the world's largest and most diverse collection of parrots. Wildlife presents a massive assortment of animals, ranging from dolphins and seals to gorillas and a single white tiger.
You'll also find an atmospheric shark tunnel, the world's largest penguin house in amazingly realistic habitats, complete with snow, and the world's largest Perspex cylinder, behind which swim thousands of sardine-like fish on a never ending clockwise course.
But the real beauty of Loro Parque is the sterling work it does behind the scenes. Not a single one of its inhabitants was taken from the wild; they have all come to the park from other zoos and conservation projects or rescued from unscrupulous profiteers - Elvis the shark was found in someone's hand-luggage at Heathrow.
No visit to Tenerife's northern coast would be complete without tackling Mount Teide. Actually a series of six volcanoes, Teide - the Spanish word for terror - has been quiet for nearly a century - its last major eruption took place in the 18th century. But the resulting landscape is an incredible array of contrasts: its icy peak divides volcanic plateaux and lunar, red-tinged rock formations that give you some idea of what the surface of Mars must look like. They did, after all, film parts of Planet Of The Apes here. Further down, at around
2.5km above sea level, is lush laurisilva forest that for much of the time sits in the north's regular low cloud cover. It rarely rains in Tenerife, but each tree acts as a sponge, soaking up the moisture, providing seven litres of fresh water daily that is channelled down to the towns below.
The drive up is scary, exhilarating and surreal all at the same time, but well worth it if just to see the sunset above the clouds or indulge in some star-gazing. And you'll quite shocked to find a cosy open-air bar up here with a great restaurant. But then again, surprise is what north Tenerife is all about. You can dine here, finely, in the evening.
Full British Menu available - isn't that the beginning and the end of Canarian cuisine? In fact, the food is one of the reasons for coming here. Canarian potatoes are one of the unsung wonders of world food, flowery beyond all imagining and sweeter than your dreams. And mojo, the indispensable garlic accompaniment - red or green, depending on whether it has pounded paprika or coriander in it, but best red AND green - mojo . . . but mojo defies description. You might have eaten all over rural France, there might not be a Michelin star you haven't evaluated, not even in California's Napa Valley, but until you've spooned mojo onto Canarian potatoes, you know nothing of the pleasures of the mouth.
Other upmarket accommodation on the north of the island ranges from the five-star Hotel Botanico in Puerto de la Cruz, with its state-of-the-art Oriental Spa, to groovy boutique establishments such as the Hotel San Roque and Hotel la Quinta Roja in Garachico. More traditional, but full of character, is the type of inn known as a "hotel rural" or "tasca", consisting of half-a-dozen apartments over a small restaurant. The one in La Orotava dates from the 16th century and is set - like all Canarian townhouses - around a balconied courtyard; it has high-ceilinged rooms, antique-lined corridors, and a suit of armour as a night porter.
Balconies, either of delicately carved wood or of wrought iron, are the great glory of La Orotava: indeed, its finest building is known as La Casa de Los Balcones. But many of its elegant houses have equally splendid carved wooden ceilings, and there are other intriguing details, such as the revolving hatch in the door of the Hospital de la Sant'sima Trinidad, through which unwanted babies could be safely posted. Just as unexpected are the fine masonic gardens of the Marques de Quinta Roja, and the hardy atermill, which still grinds out flour as it did in Cervantes's day.
Historians should also visit Santa Cruz (the naval museum contains relics of the eponymous battle, in which Nelson lost his arm) and the island's original capital, La Laguna - a charming university town painted in bright ochres, purples and blues. Beyond it lies the Anaga Peninsula, with its thick laurel forests (excellent for walking) and its dramatic coastline.
The roads on Tenerife - largely built by Franco's prisoners after the Spanish Civil War - are well maintained, but once you leave the dual carriageway along the coast they tend to arrange themselves in hairpin bends of varying degrees of terror.
If you turn off at Buenavista and head south along a twisting road. It will take you to Masca, a tiny village of red-roofed houses and neatly terraced fields that was until the 1970s accessible only by foot or mule. Perched on the edge of a spectacular, wooded ravine stretching down to the Atlantic, it is as far as you can imagine from the Tenerife of the holiday brochures. Gazing out over the valley, you won't believe how anyone could prefer a beach. As you drive on over the mountains towards the massed time-shares of Los Gigantes, it feels like an expulsion from Eden.