5 unknown destinations for a different kind of summer holiday
Summer is the time when most people enjoy their holidays; this is the general rule that allows us to enjoy the good weather in the company of friends and family, but which has another less desirable consequence, which is the mass tourism. Queues to enter the museums, crammed beaches, traffic jams and other problems condition the traveller’s experience at the busy tourist destinations. The seasonal increase in demand also pushes up the prices of accommodation and services.
These negative experiences are not unnoticed by experienced travellers, who venture more and more off the hard-trodden paths to organise their own, different kind of holidays, away from the masses and having a different experience. The new technologies have boosted the chance to look for new destinations and to personalise and organise the trip right down to the last detail.
Along these lines, we suggest five possible destinations that follow this new way of travelling, each accompanied by a literary recommendation, because it is always better with a travel book.
An affordable trip
Alentejana Coast. Portugal has long become one of the favourite European tourist destinations, and especially its two largest and most attractive cities: its capital Lisbon, and Oporto. The coastal Algarve region in the south of the country is also well-known and visited by millions of summer travellers every year, but Portugal still has hundreds of kilometres of almost pristine beaches in areas like the Alentejana Coast. From the tourist peninsula of Tróia to the south to Cape Sines there is a continuous strip of sand that has hardly been built on and exploited.
Villages like Comporta and Melides, or Grândola further inland, are some of the scarce centres of population in a landscape dominated by marshlands, rice paddies, pine and cork oak forests. South of Cape Sines, from Vilanova de Milfontes, and especially around Odeceixe, the Vicentina Coast offers an abrupt, wild backdrop to the southern tourist area of the Algarve. The summer fairs, the way the Portuguese understand and make themselves understood and the gastronomic delights of the region, such as the porco à alentejana, a dish of pork and clams accompanied by fried potatoes, will make the traveller’s experience unbeatable.
A book: Jesucristo bebía cerveza [Jesus Christ drank beer] (Alfaguara) by Afonso Cruz. A granddaughter makes the trip of her grandmother’s dreams, a trip to the holy land, but without leaving her village in Alentejo. Magic realism and contemporary sensitivity in the novel that consecrated one of the leading contemporary Portuguese authors.
A trip to the sun and the sea
Vis Island. Croatia is one of the Mediterranean destinations that has most recently come on, turning historical cities like Dubrovnik and Split into sites overflowing with tourists in the summer. Also the Adriatic islands like Hvar, the Croatian Ibiza.
But there are insular enclaves along the Dalmatian coast that are protected from the crowds and the busy stopovers of catamarans rented by the Scandinavian tourists. One of these is Vis. A former Yugoslav military base, it remained protected from building and speculation until the country dissolved in 1991, Vis remains almost pristine, white stone beaches and crystal clear waters, its urban area being limited to two original centres hardly 10 kilometres apart, the village of the same name of Vis, and Komiža. A place to enjoy the original Mediterranean scenery of pines, olives and vines and of, some would say, the improved Croatian version of the Italian pizza. You get there by ferry from Split, so travellers in one trip can both the popular and the select versions of tourism in Croatia.
A book: Peregrinos de la belleza. Viajeros por Italia y Grecia [Pilgrims of beauty. Travellers in Italy and Greece] (Acantilado) by María Belmonte. The trip to the south, the grand tour, has been a constant in European culture since the 18th century. María Belmonte in this book chooses a handful of illustrious travellers seduced by the beauty of the Mediterranean and the treasures of Western culture.
A trip with Friends
León. A stopover place for thousands of pilgrims on their way to Santiago, and a jewel of heritage thanks to monuments like the Cathedral , San Isidoro and the Casa Botines by Gaudí, this year it is also the Spanish capital of gastronomy. From the referred tapas bars of the Barrio Húmedo, like El Gaucho and El Besugo in the Barrio Romántico, passing through one of the top Spanish craft beer houses, the Four Lions Brewery, and why not finishing off with an affordable Michelin star at Cocinandos, León is always celebrating, but this year more than ever. And other cities of the Spanish ‘meseta’ like Zamora, Palencia and Valladolid can offer a leading gastronomic and cultural route away from the large summer destinations. This is an ideal time to explore the excellent ‘paradores’ hotels of the area, such as the Hostal de San Marcos in León.
A book: Guía Espiritual de Castilla [Spiritual guide to Castile] (Ámbito Ediciones) by José Jiménez Lozano. In this essay enriched by the photographs of Miguel Martín, the Premio Cervantes 2002 offers a way into unknown corners of Castile, villages and villas of the great routes with monuments whose simplicity treasures the best of the spirit and art of these ancient lands.
To get away from the heat
San Martín de los Andes. In the Argentine province of Neuquén, San Martín de los Andes, one of the prettiest and most prosperous towns of Patagonia, lives in the shadow of the Lanín National Park around the volcano of the same name, a biosphere reserve and “a great cathedral of wild nature” as Pablo Neruda said.
On the shores of Lake Lácar, this little Switzerland in the southern hemisphere offers a picture of exuberant nature, and in its winter, our summer, a snowy print worthy of the best Alpine scenery. This is an excellent complement to an always recommendable visit to Buenos Aires, on a flight of a little over two hours from the cosmopolitan Argentinian capital.
A book: En la Patagonia [In Patagonia] (Península), by Bruce Chatwin. An expert in art and archaeology, a star signature of the ‘Sunday Times Magazine’, one day in the mid-1970s, in the Parisian salon of the ninety-year-old artist Eileen Gray saw a map of Patagonia painted by her. “I always wanted to go there”, said Chatwin. “I did too. Go for me”, Gray answered. And he did, he dropped everything and went. His six months in the region brought forth this fascinating book that consecrated him as a travel autor.
Madrid. A paradox as great as the city itself: the asphalt jungle can be the best holiday oasis. The 19th-century politician Francisco Silvela can be attributed the phrase “Madrid, in August and with money, Baden-Baden”, comparing the Spanish capital, which is vacated of politicians and crown officials in the summer, with the famous German spa city. The truth is that today Madrid is still one of the European capitals where this human dryness is most noticed, and this makes it enormously more enjoyable.
The popular fiestas of San Lorenzo, San Cayetano and La Paloma, which have risen again in recent years, have been consolidated as an attraction for those who, previously obliged but now pleasurably, stay in the city. The fact is that, contrary to what it might seem, it is less hot in Madrid in August and in July. However, the best way to get away from the canicula is to explore the worldwide-known museums like El Prado, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen, with an exhibition devoted to Vasarely and Op Art to cool the spectators’ retinas.
A book: La Gran Vía es Nueva York [The Gran Vía is New York] (Alianza Editorial), by Raúl Guerra Garrido. The Gran Vía, which in the successive chapters of this love letter to Madrid and its main avenue, Guerra Garrido says no longer exists. But the spirit of Chicote, of the cinemas and festival halls, of the human types from cinema stars to prostitutes who walked the streets remains. One of the most beautiful narrative exercises around the capital of Spain.
By Claudio Tornamira