Off the Beaten Path

· Eschewing a city break for an authentic experience out of the way ·

It’s easy to get caught up in the allure of honeypot city breaks. It certainly ensures an easier, and sometimes cheaper, itinerary. But there’s something to be said about getting off the beaten path and discovering some lesser known places while traveling. In fact, their charm and uniqueness can often result in a more memorable trip.

Take for instance Sintra, Portugal. Just a 47-minute train ride and €2.25 one way, it’s an easily accessible alternative destination to Lisbon. While Lisbon has its own beautiful sights and perhaps more to do in a concentrated area, Sintra outstrips it for charm by miles. The winding, hilly town has inspiration around every corner and there’s an authenticity that is lacking in the bigger cities.

Another example is in Morocco. There is no shortage of places to visit in the North African country, so how do you decide? Marrakech, being one of the cheapest to fly into from London, is a natural option. But it has that cosmopolitan city-feeling, though with substantial Moroccan flair. Just a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride away, however, is the much quieter, much cooler city of Essaouira. Again, giving you a more authentic feel, this city isn’t quite overrun with tourists like Marrakech is. Instead you’ll find a charming old Medina in shades of white and blue, a stunning view out over the Atlantic Ocean, the opportunity to visit Argan cooperatives where local women turn the oil out of the indigenous Argan leaves, and a much slower pace.

Being on the coast, there’s a bevy of blue fishing boats that are a hallmark of the town and you can wander the fish market as fishermen sell that morning’s haul. Go back at night for a quieter experience to take in the eighteenth century ramparts set against the sunset. Bargaining in the market stalls in Essaouira is a much friendlier, less cutthroat experience than that of Marrakech. You’ll come away feeling as though you’ve had a more authentic experience, made a friend, and the culture shock is more manageable. Besides, who can beat those views of the Portuguese ramparts that were used as Slaver’s Bay in Game of Thrones?

And that’s what’s key about traveling a little further afield. Cities, especially in Europe, begin to feel a little redundant. Sure, they’ll have their own cultural features, but at the end of the day, there’s a similar feel to many of them. However, when you get outside the city, you get to see more of the authentic culture and interact with more locals. It could lead to adventures – like almost getting stuck in an Italian seaside town because you didn’t buy a return ticket – or the discovery of places you’ve never heard of – like the charming town of Wirksworth, England and its quirky bars and top-notch French restaurant.

Don’t get me wrong – cities are certainly worth exploring and if you only have a few nights, they’re the perfect way to get away and see the world. But if you have the time – and do try to make the time sometimes – getting even just a short way out of the city will result in a much richer experience. Maybe it won’t have the most talked about bars and restaurants, or the most Instagrammed attraction, but it will be that much more memorable for it. 

So, on your next holiday, follow Robert Frost’s advice and take the road less traveled. It really will make all the difference.


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