It’s mid January, the sun is shining, and we’re sharing a chicken and black pork tosta (toastie) on the terrace of a cafe located in the grounds of a 12th century castle where a profusion of sunburst yellow wild flowers is trying to convince us spring is already in the air. We reached our lofty position by following a trail along a ridge which rose from the fishing town of Sesimbra on Portugal’s Costa Azul. A week earlier we’d stood on a headland about 14 kilometres to the west of this point searching for dinosaur footprints in the cliffs below an outpost of a religious sanctuary.
“Do you think people will get it?” Andy asks, referring to a new Slow Travel holiday we’ve been putting together in the area.
I take a slow look around my surroundings before answering – classic castle walls with views to Lisbon; a sculpted mermaid, boat, fish, and dolphins all of which reflect aspects of the town and the oh-so-blue sea which earned the coastline its name; the old church opposite the cafe, decorated with ancient azulejos (traditional blue tiles).
“There’s history as rich as anywhere, Roman ruins, golden beaches, forests, plains, scenic ridges, Moorish castles, traditional towns, sprawling vineyards, more gastronomic specialities than you’d find in a trendy London deli, the people are exceedingly friendly, and there’s the Virgin Mary on a giant mule. If anything, there are too many ingredients. If people don’t like this, then…” I let the sentence trail off on its own, distracted by one of the many ‘ingredients’.
The harsh reality is not everyone has the same travel preferences. We know this only too well. We started our travel writing careers specialising on a Canary Island which many people sneered down their noses at.
I recently had a conversation which someone who was taken aback when I mentioned we deliberately keep the numbers of our Real Tenerife facebook page low. In an arena where achieving big numbers of followers on social media platforms has been the Holy Grail for many years, this was unthinkable. We have our reasons. We don’t attempt to try to write for everyone. We want to appeal to people who like the same things as us. On Tenerife we called them the “ten percenters” – the people who were interested in the Tenerife that exists beyond the brochures rather than just the fact it’s warm and sunny (mostly) for 12 months of the year. We’ve managed mainstream travel facebook pages in the past, and boosting numbers in an non-selective manner is a relatively easy business once you know the techniques.
There’s a clear division between holidaymakers who only like to lie around the pool of an all inclusive hotel all day and those who like to get out and about to learn more about the place they’re visiting. But once you clear the hotel boundaries those distinctions become less sharp. To put it simplistically, there are those who like to go full-on authentic, there are those who prefer a mix of authenticity combined with tourist destination trappings and there are folk who like to give the impression they seek authenticity but in reality want a sanitised version of it. Some folk in the latter category are probably not going to like all the same things as us.
We’ve witnessed these divisions in numerous locations over the years, sometimes relating to places which have thrilled us and sometimes ones which have left us cold. I can think of at least one example in the Canaries which ticks the latter box, a place regularly referred to as a Canarian town even though it didn’t exist before the 1970s.
A couple of years ago we were captivated by the whole experience of visiting the Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria. The dark past was palpable throughout, starting with a bus ride from the Dokumentation Centre way below, more of a white knuckle fairground ride really, and continuing with an atmospheric ascent by lift through the centre of a rock to reach the lair and its bird of prey views. It was exceedingly busy, but also one of those places where the sense of history in the air made the crowd around us dissipate. It was a literal and metaphoric highlight. But not everyone gets it.
“They have made Hitler’s mountain retreat, where he planned atrocities, into a restaurant and beer garden. If you are expecting any historical insights, forget it…” Tripadvisor review.
Not everyone ‘feels’ the past or the sense of a place. A lot of destinations we like we do so because they exude something that extends beyond bricks, mortar and information boards. We call it ‘soul’.
Being able to get a sense of the past isn’t always a good thing. We have a friend who dislikes visiting castles because she is troubled by the weighty air of oppression inside some.
Varying expectations can be especially exposed when it comes to rural accommodation. It might seem obvious but if staying in rural accommodation, which is often not much more than an extended family home, I don’t expect to be treated the same was as I would in a resort or city hotel. I expect to lug my own cases up and down narrow staircases and I don’t think there’s going to be someone around to tend to me at all times. However, some people seem to expect resort hotel facilities and their dissatisfaction when they don’t get those can manifest itself in various ways.
As an example, one review regarding the Tamahuche Rural Hotel in Vallehermoso on La Gomera moans about the ‘urban sprawl’ of a view from its windows. See our photo of this ‘urban sprawl’.
These are often the people I think of as wanting a sanitised version of authenticity, people who don’t appreciate those delicious differences which come when you encounter the real thing in the raw.
I am, however, guilty of taking it personally when I read criticism of places we like, especially the smaller family hotels where it’s all about individuality. “They just don’t get it. Should have stuck to purpose-built resorts.” J’accusé, throwing in the purpose-built resort jibe to deliberately be provocative.
Once my judgemental outbursts subside, rationality reminds me we simply don’t all like the same things.
“Do you think people will like it here?” I ask.
It’s four days after our Sesimbra Castle tosta and we’re in another cafe beside yet another castle eating a colourful selection of petiscos – stuffed mushrooms, prawns in a sweet and savoury sauce, crunchy chicken salad, and sweet potato chips.
“The hotel is inside a Moorish castle. There are five good restaurants within strolling distance, one with views across to Lisbon, whilst this one overlooks the Sado Estuary. How could anyone not like it?” Andy replies.
There are no guarantees anyone is going to like the same places we like. But in this case I feel quietly confident.