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The Route of San Mateo

I welcome you to the island of Gran Canaria and will accompany you on the route you have chosen to take today. The municipality of La Vega de San Mateo is only a distance of 22 kilometres from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, where we will also visit the highest peak on the island, El Pico de Las Nieves, 1,949 metres above sea level. If you are ready, we can leave immediately.

 

History of the place

Until well into the eighteenth century, Tinamár was the name by which the Canarians knew the region that later would be called La Vega de Matos, in reference to the surname of the owner who founded the estate, Juan de Matos. La Vega de San Mateo was once a neighbourhood, "La Vega Alta" (roughly translated as the High Fertile Plains) of the neighbouring municipality of Santa Brigida, becoming segregated in the early nineteenth century from "La Vega Baja" (the Low Fertile Plains). With administrative independence, the new municipality would be renamed San Mateo (or Saint Mathew), because the local parish was under the patronage of Matthew the Apostle.

Don't lose out on the views. A fabulous vegetation covers the ground on either side of the road, as the humidity and the climate in the area make this one of the most fertile lands on the island. The different shades of green that paint the landscape, and the ochre colours that are drawn in the autumn, alternating with the bright colours of nature during other seasons, make the trip to the municipality one of the most attractive and beautiful on the island.

 

The Village of San Mateo

Once we reach the village, the road on which we have arrived, the GC-15, becomes Tinamár Avenue (previously mentioned prehispanic name by which this place was known). We could cross the municipality from northwest to west along this road and end up in Tejeda. But let's not hurry, or we'll miss out on some of the best places in the municipality.

Let's make a stop, leave the car parked, and I will walk you through this village full of surprises.

 

The Church of San Mateo

Among its emblematic buildings and presiding the village, is the church of St. Matthew the Apostle, built in 1800 and located on the High Street. A two nave building whose two stage construction is separated by nearly a century. While the first nave was built in the year 1800, the most recent began construction in 1895. The top central part of the church is topped by a bell tower designed by José Luján Pérez (a great religious artist from Gran Canaria). The church bell was sent from Cuba by migrants from the island, who also raised money for the bell. This church has a predominantly eclectic style with neoclassical influences where you can see a statue of St. Matthew from the seventeenth century, which is also attributed to Luján Pérez.

Pay attention to the references we are giving on the migrant population, as it will help you to complete and understand the information that we will give as we travel through the municipality.

Allow me to tell you the relationship of this church with the independence of San Mateo. At the beginnings of the nineteenth century, on October 25th, 1800, the Chapel of St. Matthew became the Parish church, by the decree of bishop Verdugo. One of the reasons given at the time, was that the chapel attended to a sufficiently large congregation to have its own parish church, without having to rely on the one in Santa Brigida. Another reason was the distance between the villages and the state of the roads, which made it difficult for the parishioners of San Mateo to attend the neighbouring village in order to satisfy their holy obligations.

As in so many other municipalities on the island, the gaining of parish independence meant the first step towards municipal autonomy. Therefore, once religious segregation was achieved, the inhabitants claimed full independence from the neighbouring Santa Brigida. So, on December 22nd, 1800, the corresponding initial documentation was presented before the Royal Court. This documentation requested the appointment of public jobs, a mayor, parliamentary representatives, and so on. Soon after, San Mateo ahieved administrative independence from the neighbouring village. It is now the 16th December 1801.

But let's get back to the 21st century.

 

Alameda de Santa Ana

Leaving the church and walking down the High Street towards the lower end of the village, we have to our left La Alameda de Santa Ana (an Alameda is a tree lined avenue or boulevard), a former meeting point and place of celebration of the Vegueros, as the people from San Mateo are known.

The bandstand, a pretty construction supported by the presence of the “consistorial houses”, the present day town hall, completes this historic group of buildings dating from 1943.

Wouldn't it be interesting to imagine the atmosphere existing in this Alameda over half a century ago? Well, I'll give you some information to help you recreate the period when this place began its existence. Nowadays, the livestock market fair continues representing the municipality. In fact, every 21st September the fair takes place and it is certainly worth a visit. The fair showcases the best livestock in the region. However, this is a very old tradition and in the past this was the place where the best animals which aspired to a prize were paraded, accompanied by dealers and farmers. When the animals paraded, the band played from the bandstand and the audience cheered to the “pasodobles”.

Let's pick up the step and continue down the high road, this time to the beat of another type of “pasodoble”, yours and mine.

 

The Shrine of Lourdes

Let's walk down the left sidewalk and enter Lourdes Street. Here there is a beautiful chapel.

The Chapel of Lourdes, with a capacity for around 30 people, houses a miniature image of the Virgin. In 1973 the festivity in honor of Our Lady of Lourdes was recovered, where year after year in the month of February, the Chapel regains its splendor to celebrate this event. I recommend that before we continue, we walk down Calle Calvario street and peek at the gully, which is called the Barranco del Retiro or Barranco de Los Chorros in these parts. Can you smell of wet earth, the citrus blossoms or listen to the twitter of birdsong in this corner of nature? Content your senses, you will be thankful. I'll wait for you on the high street.

 

The High Street

Continuing down the High Street, at number 9, we find a house which is over 100 years old. However, this is not the most important thing. What is really interesting is that it was the home of Dr. Negrin and his family. Negrin, doctor and politician, born in Gran Canaria, was the Spanish Prime Minister of the Second Republic between 1937 and 1945. Today, one of the largest hospitals on the island bears the name of University of Gran Canaria Dr. Negrin Hospital, in his honour. This house was the birthplace of one of the most famous sons of the island.

 

Dr. Fleming Park

If we leave the house of Dr. Negrin, to our right we enter what is known as "La Vuelta or Curva del Chorrillo", another delightful little corner where Dr. Fleming Park is located, or as the Vegueros call it, the Lovers' Park. A small space where we can relax and enjoy the silence.

How about taking a last walk around the back of the Town Hall before crossing to the other side of Tinamar Avenue; this is not a whim, wait and you'll see. Here there is a small entrance leading to the present day Caldereta Street, a small pedestrian alleyway that reminds us of how the streets of yesteryear looked.

 

La Caldereta

Here there is a “mirador” with panoramic views of the municipality's mountain peaks, from the village of San Mateo and the bed of Los Chorros Gully, towards the basin of the Guiniguada Gully.

The area of La Caldereta, foundational nucleus of the village of San Mateo, whose name refers to a small volcanic crater located in this place, shows representative examples of Canarian style architecture: two-storey houses with gabbled and hipped roofs, integrated in the landscape. La Caldereta retains in its streets a varied representation of prominent buildings, such as the old cinema, the House of Youth and Music, the Old Town Hall or La Caldereta Exhibition Hall (an old Canarian type house restored and adapted for this purpose). Furthermore, in this building, you can ask for tourist information, since the San Mateo Tourist Information Office is found here. I recommend that you enter and have a look around.

Okay, before going back to the car, how about crossing to the other side of the road and visiting the busiest street market on the island. The Agricultural and Artisan Market of La Vega de San Mateo. Can you read the sign on the the building opposite? Come on, let's cross.

 

The Agricultural and Artisan Market

La Vega de San Mateo invites the public to buy fresh produce in this local municipal market every weekend of the year. The cheese, wine, fruit and vegetables are recommended products. One must also point out the different medicinal plants that can be found here. The craft show is varied and original, offering handmade items such as wicker baskets, Canarian knives or leather and wood articles, that might mean a lovely gift or a handy souvenir of this place.

Whilst you are shopping or enjoying the varied products of this market, I will wait for you having a coffee and thinking of where we can make our next stop.

 

The Village of Utiaca

With the intention of continuing our drive to the mountain summits and covering the greater part of the municipality (which has a surface area of 37.89 kilometres square, that's to say, approximately 2.5% of the surface of the island) we will now go towards Utiaca. What is Utiaca?

Utiaca is a picturesque village located in the north of the municipality just 4 kilometres away from here, at an altitude of 850 metres. Its mill and outdoor washing areas are valuable ethnographic pieces. Follow the central road and when we reach the crossing we take the direction towards Teror by way of the GC-42 road.

On arriving to Utiaca, we continue through this neighborhood to the sign marking the end of the village, here there is a parking lot where we can park the car and go for an easy walk. As you can see there are no great distance here. In this land we can see the dedication of its farmers and recognize the origin of the products we saw in the market. The water from both the galleries and the springs is an abundant resource in this area, where we can see how it flows along the bed of El Barranco de La Mina gully.

 

Barranco de la Mina

One consequence of the conquest of Gran Canaria, between 1477 and 1483, was the distribution of land and water in the mountain top areas of the island. For a better water use, mines were built to capture it, long ditches and canals for transport it to the lowlands, as well as other elements for its distribution.

The Barranco is named after a mine that transports water from the basin of Tejeda to the basin of the Guiniguada, and which at the same time maintains a permanent watercourse. In this area there are various footpaths of the network of trails (which connect, cover and cross the gullies and different parts of the island). I remind you that trekking is a very recommendable practice throughout the island and especially in the mountain peak areas and midlands, where it is common to find waterfalls, constructions with their own livestock and striking local plants. Of all the pathways and hiking trails, we must highlight El Barranco de la Mina gully for its beauty. It is better that you experience it for yourself, you now know where it is, so you can return anytime.

We will now go back to the car and continue our visit. As we depart we leave behind, on the road side, the country houses that form the second most important urban nucleus of the municipality after La Vega de San Mateo. From here we take with us the traditional flavour of the drystone houses with canarian tiled gable roofs.

With these wonderful views that accompany us I have no hurry in getting to our next destination, but the truth is that we are close. We return back the way we came by way of the GC-42 road returning to the GC-15 road and continue in an upwards direction until we reach a roundabout; then we head towards Tejeda. We're entering further and further into the mountain peak summit area. This area forms the head of the Guiniguada basin, consisting of different gullies, where the gully of La Mina with its waterways and tributaries, stands out .

These waterways make deep incisions in the terrain, where the scarce plains and mountainside terraces are exploided for crop growing.

We are just a few minutes from reaching Lagunetas. Here you will see the greatest number of cultivation terraces on the island.

 

Las Lagunetas

This is a hamlet located at 1,100 metres of altitude. That is why we can frequently see mist during certain times of the year, which is the protagonist of one of the most beautiful images on the island; the sea of clouds. You may have the opportunity in our next stops to see how the mist fills the space, transforming the landscape, exposing only some of the cliff faces, that seem to be floating in the air. Sometimes the villages also remain hidden by the dense fog. If you've been lucky enough to enjoy this cloud landscape, don't forget to turn the car lights on.

We are now in Las Lagunetas, a place which has always welcomed its emigrating people with a festive atmosphere. This land on which you are now walking, has bore witness to the many comings and goings to the Americas. Today the hamlet reflects the migration experienced by many of its people. This is not a legend, and it is for this reason that one of the distinguishing features of this village is La Fiesta de los Indianos (an Indiano, was a spanish migrant who usually returned wealthy from South America), a festivity which seems to date back to 1909.

This is a simple festivity, rooted in the rich history that this mountain borough once lived, which annually recalls its Indiano ancestry and shows the importance emigrating has had on local history. Interest in preserving this party has led the Town Hall of La Vega de San Mateo, to start a report in order to seek official recognition of the Lagunetas Indiano Celebrations, as a Cultural Heritage.

Eating a watercress or wall-rocket soup accompanied by “gofio” (powdered corn flour) or local cheese can be a pleasure and a restoring energy source to continue our route. The fried pork is also a dish to bear in mind in this place. I recommend more timidly, by the fact that you have to drive, the rich wine which is a good ally for this cool weather. However, there is a better alternative to the consumption of the latter. In any of the local restaurants they will sell you a bottle of local red or dry white wine, very consumed by the islanders; which you can then try at your leisure.

After lunch there is no better walk than along the mountain summits. And because of this, we will make our way there.

We again continue on the GC-15 road forward, to visit one of the most recommended sights of the municipality: La Cruz de Tejeda.

 

La Cruz de Tejeda

This place offers one of the most relaxing views of the island. A large stone cross dominates the entrance to the National Parador and in the surrounding market stalls we have find typical local products, amongst which are the “traperas” (handwoven blankets with fabric remains), “bienmesabe” (an almond, lemon and cinnamon syrup) and the Tejeda mazipan.

This place, because of its location in the geographical centre of the island, was once a crossroads. Even at the end of the 1930's this location was not a consolidated entity, although there were some abandoned agricultural plots and a cross in the vicinity. This place was also the gathering point for sheep and goat herds that grazed in the area during the summer months. However, after 1938, when the mountain lodge was built, designed by the Grand Canarian artist Nestor Martin Fernandez de la Torre, this enclave became a tourist reference point for the whole island.

Nowadays roads from San Mateo, Tejeda and Artenara reach this place. And from here there also leave a good number of trails, old rehabilitated footpaths, whose task was to communicate the areas, which today comfortably bring us by road.

The place takes the name of the sculptured green stone cross that comes to mark the epicentre of the island.

If you want, we can enter the Parador of La Cruz de Tejeda and drink some hot cocoa in its cafeteria, whilst I tell you about the history of this building.

Go ahead.

The north side of the Parador occupies part of the ground of the municipality of La Vega de San Mateo, while the southern part does the same with that of the municipality of Tejeda. The building, an old mountain lodge, was built in 1937 by the Island Council, following Nestor's design, becoming later, in 1968, a National Parador until the year 1980 when it lost this status; with only the restaurant and viewing balcony operational. After its refurbishment it rejoined the Spanish network of National Paradors.

Would you like something else?

If not, let's visit the highest peak on the island, where the sea of clouds becomes a real sight to see, and of course, photograph.

 

Pico de las Nieves

El Pico de las Nieves (literally, the Snow Peak) is the highest mountain on the island of Gran Canaria. It reaches a height of 1,949 metres above sea level being the highest mountain in the province of Las Palmas. The province is formed by the islands of Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria.

The peak's summit is located in the geographical centre of the island, forming the boundary of the municipalities of San Bartolome de Tirajana, La Vega de San Mateo and Tejeda. It crowns the southern edge of the central peak summits of Gran Canaria, with its northern, eastern and western sides offering gentle slopes, in contrast to its southern side, which is abruptly cut by precipices with hundred metre falls, forming the escarpments of La Caldera or Depression of Tirajana. The Caldera or crater is covered with canarian pine, replanted in the 1950s, to which one must add, amid the pine forest and rocky areas, plants such as the yellow broom and species adapted to the high altitude and severe weather, such as the summit “magarza” (whose flower looks like a daisy) , the summit thyme or the white sage. The Peak itself is a rocky and inaccessible protrusion a few meters from the “mirador” or viewpoint of the same name, accessed by the GC-150 road towards the Pico de las Nieves, just 5 kilometres from La Cruz de Tejeda.

Look, we can see the first pines. This pine forested area signals that we are in the recreational area of Los Llanos de Ana Lopez: located on the heights of Cueva Grande. This wooded area alive with vegetation of the high areas of Gran Canaria and equipped with barbecue zones, has a recreational park within it. We leave behind Los Llanos and a short distance away, after a few ascending road curves wrapped in enigmatic beauty, you arrive at the viewpoint of El Pico de Las Nieves. Here you can leave the car.

Virtually all of the land surrounding El Pico de las Nieves at its summit is owned by the Spanish armed forces, which has various radar and telecommunications systems here. You can enjoy the scenery while I take photographs.

As a final stop on our visit, where I'll say goodbye to you, we can go to the Pozos de las Nieves.

 

Pozo de las Nieves

Situated at 1,961 metres of altitude. This was the place where snow was stored for transport to the capital. Men piled the snow into the well, then to be transfered to the Hospital of St. Martin for therapeutic purposes. Later it began to be used for making ice cream and today helps our knowledge of the customs and ways people once lived. Walking along these peaks is a luxury, if we have the necessay clothes to keep warm. I hope the cold will serve to freeze these beautiful images that you have found today so that they remain in your retina forever. Have a good trip back.

Thanks and see you soon.

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