On Or Off The Beaten Track?


I’m here in Spain visiting monasteries and vineyards, and should probably not be standing on a rock protruding over a sheer drop when there’s work to be done. Priorat has not yet become a popular region to visit. Like Penedes, it’s home to some of the finest cellars in the world, has fabulous restaurants, walks and scenery, but is under-promoted to visitors – no bad thing.

I once worked for a travel company and learned that most tourists stay within a three mile radius of their destination. We stay where we’re put, and tourist agencies are finding that Millennials are more timid than their parents when it comes to dealing with the locals and negotiating trips to unusual places.

‘Lost Children’ by Christopher Hart is a fascinating ‘English Exotic’ novel (for more about these see ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’) about four students who set out to ‘save the turtles and the ecology’ in Central America, only to find that it involves stepping far outside of their safe zones. It’s a timely read, gently mocking the squeamishness of the British abroad, about whom one travel company said, ‘The average British tourist wants a tropical jungle on a white sand beach with ATM machines.’


Travel has changed dramatically in the time I’ve been taking it more seriously. My parents never went anywhere because it was too expensive. Now my average flight to Europe from London is roughly half the cost of a train ticket to the West Coast of England, and twice as fast – so despite my love of Devon and Cornwall it makes more economic sense to travel abroad, especially since good hotels in England can seriously drain your wallet and have the unforgivable habit of charging you extra at weekends. Sorry, but it’s not my fault if your hotel has no guests on Sunday nights.

Go to Morocco and you’ll find it full of Londoners and Parisians, because cosmopolitan Marrakech is the fastest way to get somewhere extreme from London or Paris. The Med cities are overwhelmed, but the Northern halves of most European countries are filled with barely seen wonders. Barcelona is now reachable from London by train with only one change, while the Nordic countries and even Russia have become suitable for long weekends. (Sadly Russia remains off my agenda thanks to the virulent homophobia of its government.)

Of all our immediate neighbours, I know the least about Germany; all of my trips there, with the exception of the Berlin ones, have been on business, and Italy, because apart from Rome and Lake Como, I’ve only been to over-touristed spots.

What do you want from a holiday? A spot of culture, good food, a way to relax? A beach is a beach wherever you go, but even they become elusive in the long winter. This year I plan to embrace the dark months and use the time to write longer hours, then take off more time in the summer. This idea of ‘chomage’ is a Mediterranean method of dividing your time, whereby you take a summer job and go travelling in the other half of the year.

BTW, today’s papers ran a list of the 20 books most left behind in holiday hotels, and it makes unsurprising reading; Harry Potter, colouring books, ‘The Girl on the Train’, David Williams – the one sector entirely absent (with the exception of Mr Dan Brown) is male reading.

Once the place for spy stories involving ex-pilots back for one last trip to Monte Carlo, male reading has been swallowed up by the iPad – men prefer to skim and surf rather than concentrate, apparently. Even though this sector is in serious need of a makeover, anyone attempting to set up a Male Book Club in the present climate is doomed to failure. I’ll be roaming for a few days yet but will update whenever there’s a connection…

Below, paysanne cuisine; pork, chickpea and spud.


14 comments on “On Or Off The Beaten Track?”

  1. Brooke says:

    T&L’s left behind list includes “All Out War” and the Trump fantasy “Art of the Deal.” Do these qualify as “male reading?”

    Enjoy your holidays.

  2. SteveB says:

    You’re looking very fit 🙂
    Just looking at that first picture make me dizzy!
    And the last picture hungry.

  3. SteveB says:

    Ps What do I want from a holiday? Not to work!! I’m really hoping to visit my sister in El Salvador if I have time for a holiday. So that’s my dream right now.

  4. Richard Burton says:

    I’m surprised about Millennials being cautious travellers, phone adverts suggest the opposite! On reflection it could be because of phones and social media, there’s a lot of pressure to be a good and sophisticated traveller. Whereas we’ve found the secret of a memorable trip is to overcommit, do bugger-all research, turn up, get everything wrong and then throw yourself on the mercy of the locals. Which sounds like a history of the Empire, just without the theft and use of artillery.
    Either we’ve been very lucky, or 99% of people are just helpful and quite proud of where they live.
    It’s a shame that Russia suffers from an admin issue, I really fancy a visit to Moscow.

  5. Jo W says:

    The scenery around there looks fantastic,Chris,with the exception of the meal. Chickpea and spud yes but that pork sausage,no. :-(.
    (Actually it reminds me of the long and strangely shaped sausages sold in Mrs.Miggins pie shop,in Blackadder.)

  6. admin says:

    Don’t knock the sausage! A bit of greenery would have been nice though…

  7. Jo W says:

    I can knock the sausage. I’m a vegetarian.

  8. Denise Treadwell says:

    What sort of sausage is it? Does it have a name eg. Chorizo?

  9. Diane Englot says:

    That second paragraph makes me want to cry.

  10. Ian Luck says:

    The closed-mindedness of a lot of British tourists used to annoy my parents when they went abroad on holiday. Food, especially. Why fly several thousand miles to somewhere new and interesting, and then only eat egg and chips? Dad told me once that the first time they went to (the former) Yugoslavia, they were the only people in a restaurant eating, and greatly enjoying traditional Yugoslav fare. Everyone else was eating variations of British food. People actually came over to my parents and asked them why they were ‘Eating that foreign muck’, which annoyed my father and mother so much, that, for the rest of their holiday, they sought out little places in the middle of nowhere, away from British tourists, to eat. They’d always hire a car, too, to get away from the ‘touristy’ hell-holes. My mum always learned some basic language of whichever country they were visiting – she always thought, quite correctly, that it was rude not to. We have photographs at home of my parents at many a beautiful location, with not another soul in sight.

  11. Peter Tromans says:

    It’s reassuring (slightly) that my non-UK friends and relatives have the same feelings about their fellow countrymen when travelling abroad.

    A newspaper once reported the answers given by young people seeking to participate in a reality TV show.

    Q: You are to be marooned, completely alone, with none of the facilities of civilisation. You are allowed to take three things with you to help your survival. What would they be?
    A: Money, cigarettes, and condoms.

    I realise that special forces can probably improvise a water purification system with such items, but I don’t believe it applies to this individual.

  12. Ian Luck says:

    Oh, and my perfect holiday is simply not having to work, with it’s attendant clock-watching. Give me a comfy chair, outside, under shade, a good book or two, and something nice to eat and drink, and peace and quiet. Bliss.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    Agreed, Ian, since what the normal working person needs is a complete break from work routine.
    Traveling, on the other hand is an adventure into the unknown. A full English breakfast is a rather terrifying sight to someone unused to it. Just the thought of beans in the morning is enough to turn me off. Still, you eat what there is. How can you say you’ve been to a place if you haven’t eaten their food? I think I’d draw the line at fried crickets and I once had some Chinese style fish that was surprisingly the most tasteless thing I’d ever eaten. Can you ease into a place’s cuisine by having small sort of meals in cafes? It’s ordering dinner when you’re unfamiliar with either the food or the terminology and know that if it doesn’t sit well you won’t sleep tonight that may be worrisome.

  14. Ian Luck says:

    I like the idea of the ‘Terrifying’ Full English. Trying to tactfully explain Black Pudding to an American on a cycling holiday once, was amusing. The Full English is one of life’s true pleasures, but not one to be enjoyed every day. I had one recently, where I had no Black Pudding, so I used Haggis instead. It was a great substitution. But was it now a Full English, or had it travelled north of the border?

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