Game, set and match – how Dad became my new holiday bestie

As the Spanish sun descended into a pink skyline fringed with palm trees, I savoured that most satisfying of sips – a cold beer when still hot from competitive sport. It tasted almost as good as the victory I’d just enjoyed in a set of tennis. I toasted the occasion with my defeated opponent – my dad. We were on our first father-daughter bonding trip, and his decision to give me a 30-0 advantage had backfired.

From spas to city breaks, a weekend in a French chateau to a week in Jamaica, I’ve been away with my mum and sister countless times, and built up a repository of travel memories with them both together and separately. There have been plenty of family holidays over the years, too, but I was somewhat startled earlier this year to realise that the only times I’d ever spent a night away somewhere with my dad was when his services as a removal man were required to ferry me and a car full of my possessions to and from university.

Anecdotally, father-daughter and mother-son trips seem to be unusual, not least for reasons of practicality – they’re more comfortable with two separate rooms, which increases the price of accommodation. Before retiring last year, my dad also travelled a lot for work, so being the plus-one of a travel journalist had limited appeal for him. Now though, it was a different story. He had no time to travel, because what used to be an occasional weekend occupation had become a full-time volunteering role: on-call handyman for me. After a gruelling stint that saw him install not one, but two cat flaps, a new radiator and a kitchen tap, I decided that Dad, once described by one of my friends as “the longest-suffering man in Britain”, deserved a break.

I decided the best fit for us would be somewhere that balanced the active with the relaxing. I’d recently returned to playing tennis – a long-time hobby of both my parents for which, much to their delight, I could now muster the same enthusiasm – and my dad had got into golf. The Ritz-Carlton, Abama, in Tenerife, a Moorish-style pink palace home to a championship golf course and tennis academy – as well as no fewer than seven pools, a beach, and well-appointed spa, across its vast grounds – looked a good bet.

After weeks of excited build-up, I admit to having felt some trepidation as we met at Gatwick. This was to be the longest we’d ever spent on our own together, except perhaps for a camping trip in 1991 when my mum was heavily pregnant with my sister, so the stakes were high.

The Ritz-Carlton Abama, Tenerife

The hotel has its own beach, accessed most excitingly by train or funicular

Credit:
Roger Méndez

The first hurdle proved to be the car journey from the airport. Gone were the days when I could sit in the back chomping on sweets, blissfully unaware of the constant drifting towards the hard shoulder. Instead, I had to navigate – my least favourite job; my poor skills leading to a telling-off (I wasn’t too old for that). Childhood nostalgia continued when we stopped at the supermarket and I insisted on stocking up on Fanta Limón (why is it so much more delicious abroad?)

“So, have you ever been to Tenerife before?” Dad asked once we were back on the road. “Yes, with you.” Good to know he has fond memories of that trip. Fresher in his mind were recent walking holidays in the north of the island with my mum, which we discussed over natural Canarian wine at the hotel’s Spanish restaurant Txoko that night. I reflected on the differences in the respective ways we travel. A walking holiday in a single, rural destination is exactly the kind of “slow”, mindful experience millennials aspire to, yet I would never think to book such a trip. 

The Ritz-Carlton Abama, Tenerife

Palm trees aplenty against verdant greens and blues

The next morning, it was down to business – coaching; golf for him, tennis for me. My coach, Hegoi, was excellent, and could well be credited for my being victorious in the match later. His exclamations of woe at my errors and humorous impressions of me would’ve gone down like a ton of bricks coming from my dad, as evidenced when he arrived later and we started playing together, only for him to offer me a friendly tip almost immediately, to my annoyance. Having flashbacks to GCSE statistics revision, I had a stern word with myself. Just like back then, he was genuinely trying to help (not ruin my life, as teenage me thought at the time). And I could take it! I even asked questions; several.

That night, we ventured out into the small fishing village of Playa San Juan for tapas in a bar full of locals feasting on everything from crispy baby squid to sweet black pudding. Too sweet, in fact; a classic criticism from Dad, who, despite being an adventurous eater, has standards so exacting they impose limitations of their own. The good thing is he’s predictable, and you can tell a mile off what he will or won’t like. So I had been alarmed at his decision earlier that day to order a pink mocktail at lunch. “Are you sure you want that? It doesn’t sound like something you’d like…” I said. Fortunately, it passed muster and wasn’t deemed “mediocre”, his most crushingly damning indictment.

Rachel and her father

Rachel and her father

One of the pleasures of doing a mix of separate and joint activities was we could discuss what we’d been doing over meals, to minimise any risk of cabin fever setting in. I know nothing about golf, but was delighted to hear how impressed Dad, a notoriously diligent student in everything from Mandarin (highly successful – he is fluent) to windsurfing (less successful – we don’t talk about that short-lived hobby) had been with his coaching. This really is what adult parental bonding is all about – deepening your appreciation of one another as individuals with a place in the world outside of your own familial unit. With weaknesses (backhands, in my case) and strengths (diligence, stoicism, integrity and eternal wisdom to name but a few in his).

By the next morning, I was stiff, aching and blistered, and, with Dad out on the golf course, relieved to avail myself of a lie-in and leisurely breakfast, before an outdoor stretching class, deep-tissue massage and visit to the spa, complete with herbal steam bath, Turkish hammam, cold plunge pool, cold cabin, heated beds and more. The hotel very kindly offered to host Dad in the spa, too. It’s hard to explain why this is such a funny thought, other than to say that his idea of exfoliating is using a pan scourer and white spirit on his skin after decorating.

The Ritz-Carlton Abama, Tenerife

A relief to escape to the spa, complete with herbal steam bath, Turkish hammam, cold plunge pool, cold cabin, heated beds and more

Credit:
Roger Méndez

The hotel has its own beach, accessed most excitingly by train or funicular, transportation methods usually deemed to be for “lazy tourists” (yes, hello, that’s me), but a necessary evil (read – delight) as it turned out because of our busy schedule – after a couple of hours on the sand it was back for more tennis. As I limped on to the court, feet taped up, I remarked on how much more sympathetic Dad was to my injuries than my friends would ever be.

I also noticed how patient he was with me (more so than I remember when I was younger), as I kept him waiting constantly to go out. Having separate rooms (and huge ones – these are the largest standard rooms on the island) meant the luxury of our own space – but also that there was no one hammering on the bathroom door to hurry me along.

Late Spanish eating doesn’t extend to the Canary Islands, but fortunately El Mirador, set on high with stellar views out to sea, was still lively when we eventually rolled up (my fault, obviously). It was only once there, feasting together on a seafood paella, that I realised how strongly I associate this dish with convivial familial sharing – on holiday in Spain, made by Dad himself at home in a huge dish lugged all the way back as a culinary souvenir, and later (most impressively) on camping trips in France.

The Ritz-Carlton, Abama, Tenerife

These are the largest standard rooms on the island – so there was plenty of space

On the return home the next morning, I felt a vague sense of dread; that telltale indicator of a hangover. I had been under the impression I was capable of keeping up with the drinking, but it occurred to me after a couple of days that Dad doesn’t seem to suffer from hangovers. Despite my fuzzy head, thinking back over the past few days, I was struck by how it is often the minutiae of holiday life that engender bonding, as much as the scheduled experiences – whom we’d met and what their stories were; whether to get a five- or a 10-minute boiled egg at breakfast; how to go about getting a decent coffee. How to get off the motorway to the supermarket? Ah, that reminds me. Next time, I’ll drive; he can navigate.

Read the full review: The Ritz-Carlton, Abama

EasyJet flies to Tenerife from London, from £87 return (easyjet.com). Double rooms at The Ritz-Carlton, Abama, cost from £227, including breakfast (00 34 922 12 60 00; telegraph.co.uk/tt-ritzcarltonabama). Golf course access from £77, coaching from £69. Tennis court hire from £19, private coaching from £51.

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