Busman’s holiday. I had it figured that was going to be my life’s lot. Of course, traipsing around the globe in pursuit of yet another holiday story, there was a certain inevitability associated with taking a long weekend break in Prague, Bruges, Paris, or
Berlin. Flying to New York, Sydney, or Rio would always provide some long-haul thrills. However, my dread fear was revisiting the ever-popular haunts of the Mediterranean. Okay. I shall admit it. I was getting bored of travelling. I needed to take some positive action, or else my entire career would simply evaporate.

Thanks to tlm, I have just returned from what I can only describe as the most magnificent voyage of discovery of my entire working life. You see, it is all very well for normal people, who work hard for 48, or 49 weeks of the year, to take an annual two or three weeks’ break somewhere, frequently to precisely the same place they have visited, for the past few decades. In some ways, it would be easy to point an accusatory finger and beg them to look elsewhere. However, holidays can mean different things to different people and familiarity might be a comfort zone to many travellers.

The sight of familiar surroundings can be restful and less stressful to some people. The fact that a Greek hotel owner, whose English has never extended beyond ‘Ello, Meester and Meeses Smeeth!’, greets the holidaymaker with ecstatic warmth and a warm bottle of ouzo, supports the same theory. My younger brother and his wife have stayed at the same farmhouse in Brittany that they have visited since their honeymoon, more than a Silver Anniversary’s worth ago, on the exact same arrival and departure days, year after year, provides them with a renewal of their fondness for each other and each visit is like having another honeymoon. They are happy. Who am I to complain?

Dipping toes in the Med

From Spain, to Italy, taking in the Camargue in France, the various costas, rivieras and spiaggia blend from sandy to rocky, cliff-edged to sheer, mostly beautiful, mostly packed (at specific times of the season, if they can be accessed at all) and all are connected to the Mediterranean, which conditions its peoples, defines their lifestyles, grows their bounteous crops that feed
the teeming millions and can provide a tropical allenveloping warmth every summer and most winters. It is part of the Med guarantee.

Much the same applies to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, the Holy Land, Turkey and Greece. The coastline is varied, of course, but the same allpervading ‘Mediterranean-ness’ reigns supreme. The problem for me is that every nationality, as well as the Brits, heads for the Med each summer and crowds out the place. While sharing beach space with 10,000 others,
having scored your two metres pitch, might be reassuring in some ways, I know that I am not alone in wanting something else. Perhaps a little bit of exclusivity. It does not have to be expensive but I am prepared to pay a little premium to get to that special place, a place less busy, less flustered, less public, less impersonal.

I still want to dip my toes in the Med. I like that inland ocean, surrounded as it is by so many nations, so many cultures, so many riches, such an abundance of life and vitality, all influencing each other. It is just that I would prefer to explore it at my pace and not along with the thousands of others. Of course, an island holiday does introduce many elements of what I seek. Therefore, before the ‘gems’, let us explore some of the heavyweight jewellery.

Larger islands of the Med

Sardinia is an Italian dependency, although it is actually closer to the North African coast than that of Italy. Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s media baron and political personality is not alone in possessing a holiday home on this magnificent island. Its eastern shoreline is also known as the Emerald Coast, or Costa Smeralda, for the stunning greeny-blue of its waters, their remarkable
cleanliness and the multitude of bays and beaches, many of which are totally secluded, many of which are private, or tied to hotels in the area.

From my very first landing at Olbia airport, having flown over the mountainous west coast, I was able to see why this island should be regarded with such wonder. Typically Italian, some of the graffiti daubed on underpass walls will remind you of that fact. I have been fortunate to spend some time on the north-east coast, which is simply so spectacular. My first stopover was at the luxurious Hotel Cala Di Volpe.

Styled to look like an old village, with its differently Spring 2013 tlm n the travel & leisure magazine www.tlm-magazine.co.uk 7
get to know n gems of the med pitched roofs, towers, walkways and terraces, it has a claim to fame of being the last holiday resort of the former Princess of Wales. From its piano bar to its immaculate swimming pool and the nearby private harbour, this place not only oozes quality but also acts as a superb base from which to explore the spectacular Sardinian countryside. Having access to a vehicle is strongly recommended.

Not far from the Cala Di Volpe is Hotel Romazzino, also on the Porto Cervo coastal route. Again, taking a local style, the cluster of white buildings that make up this hotel are all designed to gain the maximum view of the stunning turquoise waters and white sandy beaches. Naturally, the diet is based strongly on fish but, with access to some of the best tomatoes, Mediterranean
herbs and pasta on the island, whether snacking in a local café, or dining in the restaurant, you can be certain that it will be an enjoyable culinary experience. I have to admit to falling in love with Sardinia and its rugged geography and, while I have not explored Cagliari and the south, or west, of the island, I intend to leave that pleasure for another opportunity and a return visit.

Of course, Sicily is renowned for many things, not least its troubled past with the Mafioso (and, yes, you can visit the town of Corleone). Again, it is an Italian dependency and offers the expected combination of a stunning coastline, wondrous mountains and the perpetual rumblings of Mount Etna, one of Europe’s most active volcanoes. While there is a lot to consider, I started out at the beautiful mountain-top retreat of Erice, which is on the north-west coast.

Having deposited the rental Fiat at the dedicated car park, outside the village walls, the walk uphill into the town, where only specially authorised vehicles are allowed access, can be an endurance test in the height of summer. However, the choice of small, private hotels, very few of which cost more than £35 per night, plus a vibrant nightlife in the village centre, allied to the most spectacular views from almost any location on the mountain make it a charming place to which you will want to return. The multiple hairpin drive up there is memorable enough.

Personally, I love the northern coast, which continues around to the bustling island capital of Palermo, although it is the east coast that is so well geared towards serving the needs of holidaymakers and tourists. From Messina, past Taormina, to Catania and Siracusa, there is a fabulous mix of hotels to suit all budgets and all types of traveller, from beach resort to adventurer and explorer. Naturally, Etna is an attraction but so is the seaside and with some of the better hotels clinging to cliff top locations, finding one to suit your holiday mood is not difficult.

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