Has the costly Euro persuaded you to ‘staycation’ in Britain this year, but secretly you’re still pining for Palma or longing for Lake Garda? Don’t worry, Paul Murphy knows plenty of ways to get that Mediterranean vibe without leaving the UK.
A Greek-style village
The waves crash 122m (400ft) below the picturesque little village perched vertiginously on the cliff top. A donkey laden with luggage eases past holidaymakers who pause for breath as they negotiate the one-in-four steep steps, passing little white houses decked with geraniums. Santorini perhaps? Clovelly actually. No kebabs here but the Red Lion pub will be pleased to rustle you up Clovelly lobster, cooked to order.
La dolce vita
For a slice of picture-perfect Italy without crossing the Alps (though you may pass Snowdon en route), visit Clough Ellis William’s fabulous fantasy village of Portmeirion, built in the 1920s. The eccentric architect claimed it was “to serve no useful purpose except that of looking both jolly and handsome”. Jolly handsome it looks too, with its pastel-washed buildings focusing on a charming piazza with campanile and shops and restaurants – kick back with a gelato or cappuccino at Caffi Glas – offering views to the Pantheon and Bristol Colonnade. The biggest surprise is why The Prisoner, as played by Patrick McGoohan in the eponymous cult 1960s TV series, ever wanted to leave.
White sandy beaches
Who needs the sugar-white strands of Corsica or Sardinia when you have the fine pale powder of Scotland‘s west coast passing between your toes? Try Camusdarach (between Arisaig and Morar); with dazzling white sands, brilliant blue waters and a backdrop of the Cuillin hills on Skye, it’s no wonder they chose it as a setting for Local Hero. A bit chilly? Then try the Scilly Isles, at the other end of the UK, where the beaches are also natural blondes. Here the weather’s balmy and exotic palms grow large, particularly in the world-famous gardens of Tresco.
Remains of empires
Life is full of surprises. One minute you’re strolling around the lake in leafy Virginia Water, adjacent to Windsor Great Park, then, before you can say Colonel Gaddafi, you’re staring at a 2,000-year-old temple from Leptis Magna, which, as far as you were aware, is actually 130km (80 miles) east of Tripoli. The Libyan site is one of the most spectacular and unspoiled Roman ruins in the Mediterranean, while the Virginia Water site is certainly the most spectacular Roman site in Berkshire. The columns and lintels arrived here around 200 years ago, ‘borrowed’ from Libya and given as a present to the Prince Regent. They were initially on show in the British Museum, until the Windsor Great Park architect saw them and thought they would make a nice garden feature.
Yachts and marinas
St Tropez or Puerto Banus are all very well but frankly when you’ve seen one jaw-dropping, eye-popping millionaire’s yacht you’ve seen them all. So put the airfare towards your own yacht fund and visit Torquay instead (even if it doesn’t quite have the same caché). Stroll the famous palm-lined promenade then drool over the yachts in Torquay Marina. Or pop along the coast to Poole where they make luxury Sunseeker motor yachts for the mega-rich (as featured in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace). If wind power is more your bag, swop flotillas in Turkey or Greece this year for messing about in Salcombe or Cowes, where the sailing expertise (remember who won all those Olympic gold medals?) and the scenery is second to none.
One of the simpler pleasures of a holiday in the Med is seeing ‘exotic’ foods such as aubergines, grape vines, olives and peppers growing wild. The Eden Project, near St Austell, Cornwall, replicates this climate in its Mediterranean Biome and grows all these crops and much more.
Perhaps the finest example of Mediterranean landscaped garden in Britain is at Trentham in Staffordshire, whose historic Italian Gardens is one of the most impressive and important garden projects in Europe. Their £1 million Italian Garden Tea Room opened in May 2009. Compton Acres in Poole also has a fine Italian Garden plus the acclaimed Sorridi Restaurant & Delicatessen.
And a few more summer suggestions…
• Stroll across Bath’s Pulteney Bridge and pretend you’re in Florence.
• Enjoy a deliciously custardy pastel de nata at the Lisboa Patisserie in Notting Hill and think you’re in Lisbon.
• If you want the buzz, people-watching and human statues of Barcelona’s Las Ramblas, try London’s Covent Garden.
• Instead of Café del Mar in Mallorca, chill out on a beanbag or in a three-man hammock at the funky Blue Tomato Café at Rock (Cornwall), watching the surf dudes at sunset.