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.