Moving Out of the Fast Lane

John Carter – former presenter of television’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ has dropped down a gear or two since his frenetic globetrotting days and is now happy to enjoy life at a more leisurely pace…

At this time of year – this time of “mists and mellow fruitfulness” – I’m inclined to look back on past journeys, rather than contemplate journeys yet to come. Age may have something to do with that, though age is not the sole reason, as I have, from my earliest years, taken much pleasure in the recollection of people I’ve met and places I’ve visited. If anything is responsible for this rush of nostalgia, it is mainly the season.

Not only are the leaves starting to turn as evidence that summer has gone, but every morning’s post brings a new crop of holiday brochures. And it is in their pages that the memories lurk. A single photograph is enough to spark a train of thought. A paragraph or two of descriptive prose opens the floodgates.

Which means that instead of getting on with work in hand, I spend my mornings browsing those brochures, occasionally using them to assess possibilities for next year’s journeys, but more often than not finding they are unintended memory aids.

Though it is meant to whet my appetite for the summer of 2017, the new Adagio brochure is a perfect example of what I mean. (And, by the way, when I write “new”, I mean just that, as this edition looks quite unlike its predecessors, peppered with evocative line drawings).

A while ago, at the behest, and in the company, of an old friend, I visited the Algarve region of Portugal and stayed at Quinta Bonita, a small boutique hotel converted from a farmhouse, then newly opened. Its owners were enthusiastic and eager and, I suspect, a little apprehensive. They had no need to be, for the place is an absolute jewel and perfect for “exploring the world at a gentle pace”, which is Adagio’s raison d’etre.

Yet, though that new brochure is meant to whet my appetite for holidays to that very hotel next summer, it served to stir memories of the pleasant days I spent in that part of the Algarve, and the convivial company in which I spent them.

Another slow-paced Adagio offering triggered more memories. This time they were of Sicily, and of a working (filming) trip many years ago which took us all over that island. More often than not we got lost, but always seemed to end up at out-of-the-way places with restaurants that served fine seafood, usually with views of the sea which had provided it that very morning.

Having read the detective stories of Andrea Camilleri, I thought the television adaptations of those stories were absolutely on the button, and that Lucca Zingaretti was a perfect “Inspector Montalbano”. Those programmes, too, reminded me of my time on the island, and when we were in Italy recently, our guide told us that their popularity had led to Montalbano-themed holidays.

And what do I find in this new brochure? You’ve guessed it – “Montalbano’s Sicily”. The photograph of Ragusa Ibla brought the memories rushing back – mixed memories of a fictional detective, and real life experiences on an island which has many delightful, and occasionally amazing, surprises.

In similar vein, an Adagio holiday to Tallin and Riga, the respective capitals of Estonia and Latvia, brought specific memories. In Tallin, of losing two members of an excursion group for which I was partly responsible when lecturing on a cruise ship. (They turned up that evening, back on board, having no idea of the chaos they had caused.) And in Riga – on the same journey – of setting out to track down a watch repairer, with the help of half a dozen random pedestrians, a lot of arm-waving, but a total language barrier. I found the shop, had my watch fixed, and returned to the ship in triumph, having enjoyed Riga immensely.

A couple of years ago, in the company of a feisty Public Relations lady, I sampled “slow food” as we motored around the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia. In first class restaurants I listened as experts debated the merits of different olive oils, much as wines are compared and assessed all over the world. It was a super trip. And it all came back to me when I delved into the brochure, to read details of “Istria – A Gastronomic Adventure”.

A crop of Spanish holidays performed the same magic, transporting me back to Andalucia, to the gardens of the Alhambra, to Catalonia, to Seville. By coincidence one of the holidays features a most unusual hotel – the four-star Parador de Cardona – in which I stayed with my colleagues some years ago. It began life in the 9th century as a castle built by a chap named Wilfred the Hairy.

Now anybody with a name like that is bound to be interesting, and when I first came across Wilfred – around 40 years ago – I did some research and discovered that he not only killed the man who assassinated his father, but came up with the idea that a son should automatically inherit his father’s title. How they managed before this, I have no idea, as I had always assumed the inheritance system was the obvious way to go. But apparently not.

My apologies for that little diversion. I hadn’t intended to write about Wilfred the Hairy, but that just goes to show what happens when you open a travel brochure and let your memories envelop you in the most languishing manner.

Adagio – guided walking specialists in ambling rather than rambling – is offering Montalbano’s Sicily – a 7 night leisurely adventure meandering around South East Sicily in the region made famous by the ‘Inspector Montalbano’ television series. Price from £1,245 per person includes return flights, transfers, half-board accommodation, entrance fees and the services of a dedicated tour leader. Departures from 22 October 2016. 01707 386700