On the road more travelled

By Anthony Peregrine

Skip the Louvre, ignore the locals and strick to the beaten track - you may well enjoy it, writes Anthony Peregrine.

Don't feel compelled to see the 'Mona Lisa'. Photo / Getty Images
Don't feel compelled to see the 'Mona Lisa'. Photo / Getty Images

It's about time some truths were told about travel. Here, I am addressing mature people of all nations: from now on, we should do what we want on holiday. This is more radical than it sounds. Presently we are under two-pronged pressure.

On the one hand, we are urged towards faster, smarter, top-class travel. The thrust is to get to places quickly, tick off "must-sees" at a canter, ski glaciers, spot rhinos, hike along Peruvian trails and see the Van Gogh exhibition.

On the other hand, and in reaction to the above, we have the "slow travel" movement, son of the "slow food" thing, developed in Italy and now worldwide. Initially tempting - calm down, relax - it turns out to be as prescriptive as all the rushing about "must-do" glamour directives.

Slow travel websites and publications are all in the hands of ideologues hectoring people about carbon footprints, interacting with communities, eating local organic food, travelling by yak and wearing only natural materials.

Nothing specifically evil about any of that. It's just unbelievably irritating. So today we launch a third category - "tranquil travel" - which avoids the pitfalls of both fast and slow travel.

This involves binning directives and instructions in order to follow your own fancy.

Its starting point is the fact that holidays should be for enjoyment, not for impressing people. And it has a manifesto (below) which you are free - indeed, encouraged - to ignore.

There is no obligation to visit big-hitter sites. There are no must-sees. Or, to put it another way, if you're not interested in art don't go to the Louvre (Prado, Hermitage, Uffizi). These places are full of people trooping around whose sole desire is to get out.

They'd be happier, and richer if they'd never made the decision to join the masses gawping at the Mona Lisa.

You could go instead for a beer, to a soccer match or, in Paris, the Musee de l'Erotisme (72 Blvd Clichy, entry costs about $10).

We are ceaselessly encouraged to get off the beaten track. There's no need. The track is beaten for a reason. Wherever it leads, lots of people want to go. There will be bars, shops and things to do - whether it be Torremolinos, Stratford, Florence or Dubai.

Those who say that they prefer holidays "well off the beaten track" are making a geographical statement, not a moral or aesthetic one.

"Because it's there" is also a good reason not to climb a mountain. By all means, clamber over Mt Blanc or cycle up the Himalayas. This doesn't make you a better person, merely one with holiday tastes different from those whose mountaineering needs are satisfied from the hotel terrace. When you return, invigorated, and ask why I have spent all day on a sun lounger, the reply will be: "Because it was there."

Locals are much overrated. They are simply people who happen to live where you happen to be. This doesn't endow them with special powers, charm or interest. Nor does it ensure that the cafes and restaurants they frequent are particularly noteworthy. Locals will eat some dreadful muck.

Bars full of locals (as recommended in guidebooks) are also useless, unless you speak their language well. You'll be far better off in the nearest Irish-themed pub chatting properly with anglophones who have heard of West Bromwich Albion, Strictly Come Dancing and a place with clean toilets up the road.

Group travel is not to be sniffed at. Yes, I know. "Group travel is not for the likes of me, thank you very much."

Well, okay, but consider this: organised group trips take most of the worry out of holidays. All you do is show up at the right place, bung your bags on the train, plane or coach and that's it. Someone else shoulders responsibility for almost everything else.
And, the enormous plus: it comes with built-in company. I recently joined a coach tour on the Cote-d'Azur, and couldn't possibly have been more content.

Your evenings are your own. How tired I am of being told where to find the coolest places in town. These are invariably behind unmarked doors overseen by XXXL clowns, with electro-lounge-latino-funk music and cocktails at astronomical prices.

So let's make a few things clear:

(a) establishments where entry is filtered by the clowns mentioned above before we can spend our money to pay their wages are having us on. Every single one of them.

(b) There's bound to be a cheerful, cheaper bar nearby where they're actually pleased to see us.

(c) "Tourist trap" cafes and bars - on ports, in old towns, near popular sites - are usually jollier, serve recognisable food, and are equipped with people who speak English.

There's no shame in being a tourist. We all are, the moment we leave home on holiday. Those who pretend otherwise are fooling themselves. So embrace tourism full on. Ride that dinky little visitor train. Drink sangria. Buy that pottery mollusc from the souvenir shop. Eat at restaurants with photos on the menu.

Don't be cowed by techno-tourism. If you love your smartphone, that's great. If you don't, or don't even have one - so no access to apps guiding you to Baroque churches, water taxis or a nearby Korean restaurant - this is not a failing. Guidebooks still exist. They also ensure that, in Granada when you should be contemplating the Reconquista, you don't get tempted away by online porn.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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