When it comes to matters of travelling, I encourage pure, unadulterated exploration. Whilst travelling promises new experiences, a personal vendetta of mine is towards the more commercialised holiday destinations. A chance to flee your home town for a while should be an exhilarating adventure, not a time in which to be subject to the control of a holiday guide. Despite the buzzing energy of a luxurious destination, the beauty of an almost anonymous location is seemingly the only place where the surroundings and traditions are unaffected by overpriced and manufactured ‘culture’. It disappoints me that the ‘hidden gem’ locations of the world are ignored by so many and it’s high-time that they be uncovered from the dirt coughed over them by the holiday-making industry.
Local cuisine is undoubtedly the best part of a new location; with the surprise of new flavours and combinations of locally sourced dishes, every meal is an adventure. In the evenings of the hidden town of Fuengirola, southern Spain, the streets would ignite with the ritual of the evening meal, spilling out onto the beach strip. Real, honest steaks were served fresh with a grilled vegetable, complimented by local musicians and glorious Sangria. At the end of a long day, a real sense of joy is taken from dining with family or friends, something that I rarely find at home. I found the same passion for food in Tralee, county Kerry, in southern Ireland. I finished my last day in a local brewery of uneven stone-floors and old wooden ceilings. Whilst a pre-arranged holiday may be easy to organise, I can’t buy the smell of fresh burning peat over a crystal-rock beach, in the land of the ‘real’ Guinness, whist feasting on an incredible steak pie. What most consider a necessity is revered as an indulgence in these hidden locations, with an explosion of intense flavour and colour to match.
Whilst hospitality and traditional values may be waning in the commercial holiday destination, they’re alive and thriving elsewhere. Firsthand experience came from the more-than-often anonymous island of Sardinia, off the eastern coast of Italy. Learning how to salsa dance with a young man at a traditional music festival was hugely entertaining, even more so when I was hounded with complimentary wine at his mother’s restaurant the next day, in honour of “welcoming guests and a beautiful girl”. In an unfamiliar place as a complete outsider, I was welcomed and included in the local crowd, and such an emotionally warm environment was truly refreshing.
Back in Spain, my most cherished memory is feasting on paella and churro for lunch, whilst watching a leather craftsman make me a belt and a handbag. After an exceptionally hot day in this relatively unknown stretch of Spain, the craftsman offered me iced lemonade and a spot to sit in the shade when I was feeling the sunstroke. Even a small gesture such as this made all the difference and I’ll never forget his kindness. Small hidden towns, unaffected by commercial holiday makers are able to preserve their values and evidently, are willing to pass them onto guests, making my experience all the more worth-while.
Finally, there is no denying that a place free from the burdens of the holiday-making industry is bound to be visually rewarding. Amongst the grey cobble-stone streets and Celtic cathedrals of Tralee, my sister joined numerous noted writers and anonymous readers before her, in the corner of a ninetheenth century book shop with a cup of classic Irish coffee. Sitting amongst the creaking bookshelves, hosting some of the world’s most precious stories alongside local Irish folk tales; it was priceless to watch her mind reeling from ideas. In contrast, I hailed down a pony and trap, and indulged my senses in the natural beauty, so often ignored in packaged holidays. I went east and sat in a national park in Killarney, with a century’s worth of trees forming a canopy and moss smothering the rocks. Alongside mountains and castle ruins that date back to the 1500’s, the honest, organic scenery that I indulged in that day put any brochure to shame. To my surprise, Sardinia was also one of the more decorative locations I’d discovered. This town had ornate framed mirrors lining the white-washed walls of the public buildings, with water fountains falling through, beautifully decorating this modest little town. An art gallery, filled with renowned sculptures may be an attraction to a destination, but Sardinia’s natural appreciation for visual presentation was undeniable. A local craftswoman, whose little cottage-front was covered in a mosaic of broken coloured china plates, sold me turquoise chandelier earrings; clearly, her working inspiration spawned from her habitual environment and rightly so.
My concluding notes are these; whilst the allure of a glitzy holiday destination may ignite an unwarranted desire to visit, do yourself a favour and resist such unnecessary temptations. Be brave, prepare yourself with light research, and book a flight and a room in a local hotel on an island in the middle of nowhere. Whilst unknown terrain may be daunting, your slate can remain empty of first impressions and judgements of others. As a result, it can be filled with your own, pure and untainted experiences of somewhere new, without an expensive price tag or less than relaxing holiday. With safety in mind and a curious thirst for knowledge, follow your feet somewhere different and dust clean, a hidden gem of your own.