In Praise Of Travel Lists

travel listsTravel lists get a lot of grief. I’ve overheard many fellow travel writers offer the opinion that lists of various sorts are deeply inferior to any and all narrative travel writing. Others have suggested that lists are slowly crowding out real travel writing entirely.

C’mon now.

Let’s agree for a few provisional minutes that the purpose of travel writing is, very generally, to inspire people to think about travel. (Why not? This is a good goal, all things considered.) Few genres of writing are better suited to achieving this goal than travel lists – lists of destinations, hotels, beaches, restaurants and so on. A list written by an expert can feel like an extended secret, like an invitation to experience the world differently.

Lists at their best are efficient. They cover key territory and reduce unnecessary noise. They reveal their writers’ passions directly. Are they the ticket to cross-cultural understanding? Not usually, but then very few traditional travel stories, no matter how drenched they may be in self-importance, ever accomplish this end.

Let’s take this past Saturday’s print edition of Guardian Travel as an example of the value of travel lists. The section was full of inspiring ideas in list form – summer holiday recommendations, adventures in south-west England, and cool accommodations on the Isle of Wight. There’s a more bullet-point-like list of upcoming holiday festivals in the UK as well.

The summer holiday recommendations kick off with some exciting suggestions about corners of France slightly off the beaten path, written by Jacqueline Mirtelli of Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency. Mirtelli suggests Cap Corse, the little-visited peninsula on the northern coast of Corsica, and finishes off her tip list with the inland villages of the Var, a region in Provence. Elsewhere Michael Cullen of i-escape tips the Greek island of Kastellorizo, Simon Wrench of Inntravel suggests the Danish Riviera, and Lucy Kane of Rough Guides lists Tbilisi, Palma and Montenegro as her summer travel recommendations.

In this short round-up piece the excitement of summer travel is infectious and inspiring. There is information here, and more importantly there are multiple jumping-off points for research. Could this sort of generalized excitement be achieved by one longer piece on, say, the Amalfi Coast? I’m doubtful that it could.

Like many absolutist stands that we travel writers get sidetracked into on occasion, the resistance to lists is misplaced. The wholesale replacement of narrative by lists would be a terrible development for sure; shy of that, there’s no need to attack the humble list. There is, however, as always, a need across genres for high-quality versions of all types of writing.

[Image of Cap Corse: Flickr | cremona daniel]

Could We Please Allow The Former Kate Middleton, Duchess Of Cambridge To Sunbathe Topless In Peace?

william and kate royals duke and duchess of cambridgeA French magazine owned by Silvio Berlusconi has published grainy photos of the former Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, sunbathing topless in a thong bikini while on holiday in Provence, prompting a lawsuit. Various websites, including Gawker and Egotastic, and newspapers, such as Ireland’s Daily Star, have reproduced the photos, which appear to have been taken by paparazzi staking their villa out from a neighboring property.

Surprisingly, the British tabloids have so far refrained from republishing the voyeur shots according to a story in Saturday’s New York Times. Let’s hope they’ve learned a lesson from the way they harassed Princess Diana. But it’s a shame that William and Kate can’t enjoy even a bit of privacy while on vacation. One of the great joys of travel is the opportunity to reinvent oneself and to do things that you might not do at home. The royals and other celebrities don’t have that luxury but I don’t think many will be shedding tears for them.How many women around the world would gladly trade places with Kate, even if it meant that they’d have to be a bit more careful while sunbathing topless? I’m also a bit surprised that William and Kate wouldn’t be a bit more paranoid knowing how the paparazzi are. But according to the story in the New York Times, the villa they stayed in advertised itself as a very private secluded hideaway.

“The villa complex, built around a 19th-century hunting lodge called the Château d’Autet, is set in 640 acres of woodland and can house up to 17 people at four main properties. Apart from being a vacation retreat for Lord Linley and his family, it has also been rented out for thousands of dollars a week, offering guests a variety of recreational options including a tennis court, a swimming pool and an area to play the French bowling game called boule.”

In any case, they’ll certainly be more guarded moving forward after this incident, which comes on the heels of Prince Harry getting caught with his pants down while on holiday in Vegas. The British press also got scooped on that debacle and CNN called their restrained coverage of the story a “watershed moment for the UK press.” But in the Internet age, it almost doesn’t matter what the print publications do, because there’s always going to be some website that will satisfy the public’s curiosity.

That’s the downside to fame but I wish that everyone had the ability to cut loose while on vacation, because everyone deserves the right to let their hair, or bathing suit top, down now and then.

[Photo by UK Repsome on Flickr]

Photo of the day – Mediterranean minimalism

Mediterranean minimalism

What simple beauty there is in today’s Photo of the Day! It was taken by Genoa-based Flickr user Giovanni Fusco in Provence. The nearly monochromatic paint job, the light, and the battered shutters all create a classic sort of image, something out of a 1960s French film. The aesthetic here is plain and workaday, a kind of Mediterranean minimalism; as such, Fusco’s image depicts a less obviously charming side of Provence.

Looking to share your work with a wider audience? Upload some images to the Flickr Gadling Group pool and one of your photos might end as a future Photo of the Day.

Marseille’s Noailles quarter: a taste of Africa, in Provence

The Provencal port city of Marseille has historically been associated with bouillabaisse, and, to a lesser extent, whores, thieves, and the usual debauchery that goes with being a sea port. Things started to turn around about a decade ago, and today it’s a safe, vibrant, thoroughly charming city whose cuisine and culture reflect its past as a colonial trading port with North Africa.

When France acquired Algeria in 1830, Marseille, the second largest port in Europe, saw a major influx of immigrants from North and West Africa that continues to this day. You can even take a ferry to Tunisia, 550 nautical miles away.

I was in Marseille researching a bouillabaisse story when I serendipitously discovered the Noailles, the city’s Arab quarter. It’s located a short walk from the Vieux Port, Marseille’s bustling, bar-and-restaurant-lined waterfront, off of the main artery of La Canebiere. It was like stumbling upon a Moroccan souk: narrow, cobbled streets lead away from a central square that is home to a daily outdoor produce market. Small, dark, cluttered shops sell tea sets and spices; markets carry everything from meat and seafood to Middle Eastern pastries, dates, pistachios, glass-like, crystallized whole fruits, and tubs of olives and harissa, a fiery red North African chile paste. It’s the ideal place to pick up edible souvenirs or picnic fixings.

Men in djellabahs sit at outdoor cafes, talking loudly over bracingly strong demitasse’s of coffee, while women draped in sifsaris paw through bins of vegetables. The quarter is a kaleidoscopic mélange of colors, sounds, and smells: rotting produce, incense, sizzling kebabs of chicken and lamb, and the comforting aroma of baking flatbreads and sugary almond cookies. My favorite part of this untouristed neighorhood, however, are the tiny Egyptian, Tunisian, and Algerian food stalls and bake shops that specialize in mahjouba–giant, rectangular-folded crepes filled with sautéed tomato, red pepper, onion, and harissa.

The takeaway shop Le Soleil d’Egypte makes a particularly delicious version, as well as selling a variety of North African flatbreads that are baked fresh throughout the morning. Mahjouba are a satisfying, inexpensive (under two dollars) snack–I was so besotted, I even took a couple on the train to Cassis with me. But they’re also special in that they’re a nod to the Marseillaise love of street foods.

All over the city, particularly near the port, street food vendors sell everything from croque monsieur and pissaladiere, to panisses–delicate, fried chickpea flour cakes. I love them all, yet visiting the Noailles for mahjouba is my pick. They’re a quintessential–if little known–Marseillaise treat: a melding of sunny Mediterranean vegetables, classic French cuisine, and North African culture.

For a harissa recipe, click here.

[Photo credits: man shopping, Flickr user Trilli Bagus; buildings, Flickr user Marind is waiting for les tambours de la pluie; rooftops, Flickr user cercamon]

Daily Pampering: Fall cooking vacation in Provence

If you’ve ever wondered why French women don’t get fat, this trip is for you.

The Hotel Crillon le Brave in Provence is hosting all-inclusive package of a five-day (six-night) cooking program this October, meant to give even the most discerning palates a mouth-watering vacation.

Spend a week in the French countryside at a hotel lead by head chef Philippe Monti. You’ll learn to cook authentic Provençal fare during daily classes, enjoy excursions through the local area, and dine at the hotel’s restaurant on chef Monti’s own savory regional dishes, such as filet de rougets (fresh wild sea bass) and confit de canard (duck). If you want to remove your chef’s hat for the day, you can enjoy a treatment at the hotel’s open-air spa, tour the historic village on complimentary bikes or play on the nearby tennis and boules courts.

Where: Hotel Crillon le Brave, Provence, France

When: October 10 – 16 | October 17 – 23

What:

  • Six nights of accommodation
  • All meals included, as well as wine and cocktails upon arrival
  • Five intensive half-day cooking classes, with recipes for five complete menus to take home
  • Afternoon excursions to meet with local purveyors, including truffle hunters, winemakers, cheese makers, bakers and more
  • Tour of Carpentras Market, which has been in existence since 1155. Situated at the foothills of Mount Ventoux, this weekly market is known as being one of the best in France
  • Fine wine tastings
  • Transportation and entry fees for all excursions included

Price: €2900 per person (roughly US$632 per person per night) based on double occupancy; €400 single supplement fee. For “non-cooking” companion, the cost is €1400 if sharing a room with a “cooker”. “Non-cookers” may participate in all events and meals outside of the cooking classes.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.