Toby Sawday takes a look at the year ahead and what we can expect from travel in 2016.
1. Beating your own path
Peruse the travel aisles of one of our last remaining bookshops and the shelves are dominated by rehashed guides to places that need no introduction. Tuscany, Provence, Cornwall, London, New York are overwhelmed by the unadventurous bumping into each other as they methodically tick off the Top Ten lists of ‘classics’, eat at the same restaurants and ogle the same sights. Gone is the sense of adventure, of discovery and serendipity that so drove the travel writing giants such as Patrick Leigh Fermor, Chatwin and Newby to explore where others would only dare follow from an armchair.
Yet, beyond the European Top Ten listicles (sorry!) lie areas barely pencilled on the tourist map. Here’s my little listicle, to encourage you to discover again:
Picos de Europa, Northern Spain
The relatively small national park 20km south of Spain’s northern coast has some of Europe’s most impressive scenery. Mountain streams tumble, shepherds drive their sheep to grassy plateaus and flint-shaped shards reach for the skies. For nature lovers the eagles, wolves and vultures are just amuses bouches. And walkers will be overwhelmed.
Explore the dazzling scenery from the perfectly simple B&B, Posada Molino del Canto, a real gem with sky windows for stargazing, delicious seasonal cooking and a heavenly valley setting.
Or Casa Zalama for brilliant birdwatching, heavenly countryside, a generous welcome and lovely furnishings.
The toe of Italy’s boot, Calabria has been largely ignored by Brits. Mountains run its length, beaches stretch for mile upon mile and hill roads snake through olive groves, past ancient Norman fortresses and abandoned villages. Gloriously, you’re unlikely to hear another British voice. For the moment, at least.
Try out the snazzy Agriturismo Calabrialcubo, a foodie haven in central Calabria that brings together Slow Food and warm southern Italian hospitality in gorgeous surroundings.
Western Loire Valley, France
70kms downstream from the famous Loire Valley, the region is a rich mix of vibrant small towns, UNESCO protected countryside, wine-making and artisan villages. Plus culturally buzzing cities like Nantes and the coves and cliffs of the Atlantic coast.
There’s no better introduction to the area than from the polyglot host of the eclectic riverfront B&B, La Sterne de Loire, the lovely owner has lived all over the world, the deliciously eclectic house has stood for six centuries, she knows how to welcome you.
Many only see this area as it passes quickly by on a journey to the crowded coasts of Devon and Cornwall. But stop and you’ll find an explosion of creativity (Hauser and Wirth recently arrived, so it must be true), fabulous walks, ancient monuments, lively pubs and the world-famous Wells Cathedral.
Stay at Studio Farrows, a whacky, stylish, utterly unique garden retreat (complete with vintage car in the kitchen).
2. Food production
Everyone seems to be at it. Raising chickens on apartment balconies, tending ‘flower pot allotments’, begging friends for sourdough starters with illustrious lineage. Making, growing and rearing your own is one of the few trends I’m happy to see gathering pace.
It is, arguably, a movement – a subtle campaign to rediscover our connection to food and its provenance, to the joy of taking time to tend to the important things in life. The dominance (and convenience) of supermarkets in the UK and our harried lives leave little room to cook, meaning that there are some kids who grow up thinking milk comes from factories, not from cows.
Well, a band of our passionate owners across Europe are determinedly reconnecting with the land, with the food that rises from it and with the deep sense of place and community that comes from breaking bread with others. They are, you might say, slow food heroes – all the more so because of their passion for sharing this with those lucky enough to come and stay.
Even the Italians, long vaunted as serious foodies, are up to great new things. The agriturismo (‘stay on a farm’) movement is thriving, with food and cooking at its heart. And less popular areas such as Sicily and Puglia are putting themselves on the gastro-map. Knead mozzarella, raise bread and churn ricotta high up in Piedmont at the Rifugio Salvin, cow bells are the only thing you hear, mountains the only thing you see, the air is pure, the living simple and the food truly delicious.
Agriturismo Tarantola is another worthy visit; a relaxed getaway on a vineyard deep amid the vine-clothed hills of western Sicily.
Never as celebrated for its food as its French and Italian neighbours, Spain is now a firm foodie favourite with some of the world’s most celebrated chefs. But, beyond the pomp and glitz of international restaurant and wine scene, there lie some quiet custodians of Spain’s simpler cuisine who open their doors, and kitchen tables, to guests. At Finca Buen Vino, you can join in the owners’ olive harvest before cooling off in your own pool with views of the bucolic valley all around.
Or Feast on delicious homemade meals at the elegant Sa Rota d’en Palerm.
Though France is McDonald’s biggest market outside the USA (true!), there is still a fiercely proud gastro-streak in this famously foodie nation. And our owners are tireless champions for the critical role food places in a visitor’s experience of ‘place’.
At Le Bourdil Blanc, welcoming Jane is a perfectionist, and that extends to her chef’s ‘îles flottantes’, should you be inspired to book dinner one night.
Wine connoisseurs should stay at Château La Villatade, near Cathar castles and Carcassonne. Sup an organic glass of minervois wine on your own charming terrace.
3. The younger generation
The terms ‘Bed and Breakfast’ and ‘Self-Catering’ once conjured up lace curtains, doilies, lists of do’s and don’ts and a sense of being stuck in a more formal, sepia era. How times have changed. Part of this shift is down to a new generation of owners who’ve brought a sense of play, informality, style and entrepreneurialism to their ventures.
They’re breaking the rules, blurring the lines between the old classifications of B&Bs, self-catering and hotels, and offering so much more than just a bed for the night. The result? Fabulous places, buzzing with energy and ideas and a far richer experience for guests.
Take a visit to Solar Egas Moniz Charming House for the nail in the coffin to any B&B preconceptions. Recent graduate Filipa has taken the reins from her father at this delightful family home where all 20 of the rooms promise quirky, colourful and playful touches at every turn.
At Drover’s Rest, Kesri and her young family’s labour of love really has paid off. The Shepherd’s Shack, Drover’s Cottage and a collection of souped up safari tentsare super getaways in the Black Mountains. Get involved on the farm or hang out at one of the convivial pizza nights in the communal barn.