IN Tenerife’s south, I often hear people asking the same question: “What is that island over there?”. The rugged Hebridean-like hulk of La Gomera is impossible to miss; indeed Columbus couldn’t resist making it his last landfall on his journey across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. It’s a mysterious hideaway today that still swirls in legends and romance, a real-life Treasure Island.

Sailing over from Los Cristianos you are not so much just leaving the resorts behind, but the modern world. Make sure you take one of Armas’s older ferries so you have loads of space to stand outside and look out for our marine mammal cousins, who are beguiled by La Gomera too. On my most recent trip across I spotted more than a dozen dolphins and two pods of pilot whales.

On arrival the first thing you must do is swap your shoes for sandals, physically or mentally. Preferably both. Life slows down several notches in the seriously sleepy capital of San Sebastian de la Gomera, as you move into the old town along pedestrianised streets.

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You won’t find chain shops here and there’s no McDonald’s, just old gents whiling away the day on benches and cafes serving tapas and fortifying cafe con leche. Many of the tumble of old buildings recline in pastel hues, giving the town a fairy-tale appeal.

There are, of course, difficulties with the idea of Columbus as an “explorer” for us today, but his shadow still hangs over the town. There is a statue of Columbus, the Plaza de las Americas, the Columbus House and an information plaque on the waterfront. The most striking reminder is the Torre del Conde. This whitewashed 15th-century military tower presides over a palm-strewn park and remarkably stood right here when Columbus arrived in search of provisions before setting off across the horizon on August 3, 1492.

The story of the less heralded Juan de la Cosa is entwined with La Gomera too. This Spanish cartographer sailed with Columbus and visited La Gomera. He was shortly to create the first European map to include the American continent. He returned to La Gomera again in 1493, and then again without Columbus in 1499.

I prefer to linger longer than both Christopher Columbus and Juan de la Cosa on La Gomera – not least in the capital where the soporific pace of life is infectious.

As is the insanely delicious local speciality almogrote. This spicy paste is made from ground down hard cheese spiced with pepper, garlic and chilli. It’s best enjoyed on toast with a glass of La Gomera wine and best savoured at the Parador de la Gomera, a lovely old hotel that presides on a clifftop overlooking the town, with views over it and back towards Tenerife.

You must push on from the capital, though, no matter how daunting the roads look up into a mountainous hinterland. It’s a landscape draped in ancient laurel forests, where swirling mists and jagged peaks help make it look more tropical than anywhere in mainland Spain.

The National: San Sebastian de la GomeraSan Sebastian de la Gomera

The most scenic core of the island is protected as the Unesco World Heritage-listed Garajonay National Park, which covers around 10% of the island. I’ve spent a week hiking from village to village on La Gomera and while every walk was spectacular, the trails in the national park were undoubtedly the highlight.

The literal highlight is Alto de Garajonay, which soars higher than Ben Nevis at 1487m and offers sweeping views over the island and across to the towering peak of Teide on Tenerife.

In the remote villages in the mountains traditions and culture survive in a way I’ve rarely seen in Europe. The most fascinating is Silbo Gomero. This is a language that uses whistling rather than words.

It is a handy way to communicate across a wilderness savaged by deep ravines and crags, where getting around is arduous. This traditional way of making announcements is now registered with Unesco and it is quite a phenomenon as the whistlers can carry their messages up to 5km.

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Mention the Canaries to many people and the first thing they think of is beaches. La Gomera does not have the lovely white sand of holiday brochures. The beaches here are of the black sand variety. The plus side is that you’ll often have many of them to yourself, as I did for a morning swim on this trip in Playa de la Cueva in the capital.

Playa Santiago in the south is meant to be a favourite of Angela Merkel, while the biggest resort as such lies at the foot of the verdant Valle Gran Rey.

Back in San Sebastian de la Gomera it’s sadly time to board the ferry back to Los Cristianos, back to the modern world. I’m determined to return again. I’m not the only one. Columbus himself came right back in 1493 and again in 1498 – sail across from Tenerife and you’ll see exactly why.

easyJet ( fly to Tenerife from Edinburgh. It’s an hour sailing from Los Cristianos across to La Gomera with Armas (