Bouteco’s co-founder Juliet Kinsman welcomed members of Shoreditch House for an hour of travel inspiration care of an expert panel who were sharing their insider knowledge.
- Francisca Kellett, travel editor at Tatler, previously digital editor at the Telegraph, she describes her two young daughters as too-well travelled already.
- Jonny Bealby, founder of Wild Frontiers adventure travel company, and perhaps the only person in the world with small houses in both India and Pakistan…
- Roxane Gergaud, one half of Doris and Dicky, recommending the best budget boutique hotels for around £100 a night
- Xerxes Cook, writer, adventurer and founding editor of digital magazine Amuse, nowadays travelling with his two-year-old daughter in tow.
Juliet: What destinations should we be trying to visit this winter and why?
Fran: It’s on the expensive side, but then again I do work for Tatler — my choice is Bhutan. Six Senses is opening in five locations around the country [pictured above]. You can visit these as a circuit, using them as bases for exploring the country’s mountains and temples. They have lovely spas, and each has a unique theme and feel. And with Bhutan, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a reason for the expense, which is a daily tourist tax.
Jonny: It’s $250 a day. But this has stayed the same for a decade or so, in fact, it seemed much more of a cost than in the 90s. You also get a lot included for that money, such as guides. It was a measure by the government to deter backpackers and restrict tourism to exclusive, high-end clients.
Juliet: I saw some proper NatGeo-style images from my aunt's trip recently, and the scene looked so authentic and rich. It’s firmly on my hit list now.
Jonny: If I might say something negative for a moment, Bhutan does feel strictly controlled. It’s harder to feel like a ‘real traveller’ and potter around freely. This might make the experience feel artificial for some. Although being within the Six Senses bubble may protect you from this feeling anyway.
Audience member: In a way that can make it sound quite appealing. They’re pushing against the natural tide of mass tourism, and they don’t have things like social media or Airbnb…
Roxanne: My choice is Dominica – not to be confused with the Dominican Republic. Dominica isn’t your typical Caribbean island of white-sand beaches. In fact, the only beach we visited had an extremely rough sea. But it’s known as the nature island, with a river for every day of the year. We stayed in huts along the riverbanks, and there was this insane peacefulness. It’s somewhere that hasn’t really hit the tourist trail and offers an exciting, lower-key and affordable Caribbean, away from the resorts.
Xerxes: My tip is Nicaragua. It has two contrasting coastlines, the Pacific and the Caribbean, offers great surfing (although I don’t surf) and has volcanoes with flowing magma lakes. All at so much less cost than Costa Rica. Little Corn Island is hard to reach but sounds well worth the journey, with an untouched feel and $20 a night beach huts. Plus the island’s main protein is lobster!
Juliet: How would we get there?
Xerxes: You could plan a great route if you fly direct to Costa Rica and work your way.
Audience member: But is Nicaragua safe?
Jonny: We run trips there and have never had any problems. The worst thing that happened to me when travelling was a kid pinching my sunglasses right off my face! But as far as I know, the FCO advice is fine.
Xerxes: Another pick for me would be the untouched Canary Islands. Particularly La Gomera. It holds Europe’s only rainforest and it is covered with a mossy surface that feels like you’ve stepped back to the Ice Age. German hippies live wild in cave communes, alongside the one hotel on the island. You get there by flying to Tenerife, then all low-cost airlines will fly on there.
Roxane: The Canaries are underrated. Lanzarote is one of my favourite all-time destinations and is very well protected due to artists such as Cézar Manrique. It’s a special place with amazing wineries.
Xerxes: American travel blogs often describe the Canaries as ‘the Hawaii of Europe’ for the lush nature they possess.
Jonny: My pick is India, a country I simply couldn’t live without. The rupee still offers relatively good value and you get fabulous weather through autumn and into winter. There are some wonderful new hotels opening. Haveli Dharampura finally offers somewhere to stay in the heart of Delhi’s Old Town. It’s such an amazing building; I used to take groups into it as a ruin to imagine how Moghuls used to live. Just allow time to reach the airport from here. You also can’t drive straight up, staff will meet you with a wheelbarrow and wind through the streets to reach the door. Much more exciting than New Delhi, though that still has its beauty. Delhi is a fascinating place to spend a few days — people shouldn’t treat it as a ‘get in, get out’ type of place.
Then there’s The Penthouse Calcutta which overlooks the Victoria Memorial and a new Orange Country hotel in Hampi. Central India is often overlooked, but one of our trips there visits something like nine Unesco sites in 14 days. Finally, the Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad.
Any exciting new services on the market that this audience would love to hear about?
Jonny: I’ve seen a device which you plug into your ear and it translates instantly across languages, so you can talk to anyone. I imagine we’ll all be travelling with these soon.
Juliet: So you can feel like you’re in the UN…
Roxane: The Plum Guide. They do curated offerings of Airbnb options, where the choice can often be overwhelming. It helps narrow down your search and offers quality control. It’s only for London at the moment but will hopefully expand soon.
Xerxes: I love the app Hotel Tonight for city breaks. I never pre-book a bed anymore. Bargain websites such as Holiday Pirates offer incredible offers by taking advantage of mistakes that airlines have made. They can put together multi-flight itineraries at crazy prices. You also see Facebook and Instagram targeting you based on places your friends have been now.
Fran: Timbuktu is a site where you can curate your own safari (sorry Jonny!). It brings up all the different info on lodges.
Jonny: That’s alright, this is just the reality of what tour operators will have to contend with more and more.
Juliet: Yes, but at a certain price point there’s a trend of turning back towards human beings. Reliable people, you build relationships with who crucially, know your travel taste and what you’re looking for.
Jonny: What we’re selling are knowledge and trust.
Juliet: Discounts are all well and good, but you may find you face different service levels in hotels depending on what you’ve booked through.
If someone was looking to go away last minute in August, where should they head?
Roxane: ROSA ET AL Townhouse in Porto is a heavenly place to stay in the Bohemian part of this Portuguese town. Even the cheapest room on offer has a freestanding bath in it! Porto has concrete brutalist swimming pools, filled by the sea, designed by Alvaro Siza and built low to give an uninterrupted view of the sea. The other place for August is Paris, as almost the whole city ships out to go on holiday, but there are rooftop cafes and lidos to make use of, as well as Paris Plages.
Jonny: People should be making the most of the newly direct flights to Tbilisi, Georgia. A country with it all — beauty, culture, history and activities. Rooms is a stunning design hotel there, with one in the Kazbegi and the other in Tbilisi. As a five-hour flight away it’s pretty feasible as an alternative city break.
Juliet: Tblisi looks like a city with so much history.
Xerxes: And it’s the world’s oldest wine-producing country.
Juliet: You even get given free wine at the airport, I've heard.
Fran: Moving later to shoulder season, you could also go to Saint-Tropez. It might not be the place you want to hang out over summer, but in September or October it can be perfect. Le Yaca is an old-fashioned and romantic place to stay.
Juliet: Travelling towards off-season is sustainable too, as you support the tourism industry and provide employment at less busy times. Your images of Saint-Tropez are so different from how I picture it, it’s nice to see this side of it.
Fran: Another choice is Oman. Here is a photo of me paragliding above the dunes at Zighy Bay. Some of the landscapes on our journey here looked like Mars. Oman is best to visit between December and February.
Jonny: Personally I think we should all be travelling to Islamic countries right now, to get a counter-perspective on what we read and hear. Oman’s history is fascinating; they had an Empire which ruled right down to Zanzibar. They’re also experts at tourism and great value.
Xerxes: Are you able to do wild camping on these beaches?
Jonny: Yes, there is quite literally nobody else around.
Audience question: Do you have any trips for where to travel in the UK?
Xerxes: I just went to Suffolk for the weekend, and it’s a really old part of the country, with its little butchers and traditional feel. It has heathlands and forests, beautiful flat landscapes and you can swim in the North Sea.
Juliet: Fforest in Wales is top of my list. Glamping vibe but in a good way — and I like the genuine mix of people.
Roxane: Penzance, there’s another great lido there — I sound obsessed. Also, Artist Residence, which started in Brighton and then Pimlico, and now Oxfordshire, too. You can catch the sleeper train down, which is both a sustainable way to travel and maximises holiday time. You have the Scilly Isles just across the water and the open-air opera at the Minack Theatre just down the coast.
Juliet: The Scilly Isles have azure waters identical to the Caribbean… but every friend that goes seems to get stranded there in bad fog, so beware.
Fran: Luskentyre Sands on the west coast of South Harris in Scotland's Outer Hebrides is the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen (weather permitting). Truly wild.
The Instagram accounts of people we know are guiding are journeys more and more now…
Roxane: The Travel Project is a couple proving just that — they’re travelling using only Instagram recommendations and, so far, they have done things like helping open up a bakery in India at 5am.
Xerxes: I’d say never plan out your whole itinerary. Have the freedom to ask people along the way. Not knowing what’s going to happen is an experience in its own right. You should also move up in comfort — end somewhere nice so you come home feeling rested.
I’ve never planned an August holiday in advance and always get a dilemma of what to do this time of year. £1000 might cover a week’s holiday in the Med, but for the same cost, you could get a ticket to Zanzibar and backpack for $40 a night.
Or go and travel the Dodecanese islands, known as the Polynesia of Greece. There’s a small island called Leipsoi with only a few hundred people on it; it’s very eccentric. Others are smaller with just one taverna. It’s right next to the bigger, quite glam island of Patmos, and further on, two other tiny islands with just one taverna with rooms above are Arki and Marathi. Another place is the ancient city of Olympos in Turkey, where you can stay in treehouses by a bay, with an open-air museum telling amazing history, for £20 a night.
Juliet: Turkey really needs our tourism right now. Will insurance policies cover all our travel there?
Jonny: Istanbul is still fine on FCO, so there are no insurance problems.
Audience question: I’m going to spend some time in LA for work, any interesting places I can travel to from there? I don’t mind a small flight, I just don’t want to be lazy…
Fran: Sante Fe, New Mexico. You can fly with Southwestern. Drive north to small pueblo towns with artist communities, live music and incredible food.
Juliet: It’s not exactly close by, but if I could travel anywhere in the US right now it’d be to Marfa, Texas. Also, an artist community and the Bunkhouse group is a collection of hotels all offering something unique.
Xerxes: You should go to Baja California.
Juliet: I’ve seen incredible eco pods there Encuentro Guadalupe, Baja, Mexico Scattered on a hillside in Mexico’s Wine Country these 20 low-impact ‘EcoLofts’ in Baja California. With mixed TripAdvisor reviews it has to be said, perhaps form over function, but I’d still like to trial them.
Jonny: Regarding travelling sustainably, can I just show off my favourite gadget? The LifeStraw. I don’t go anywhere without it now and never use plastic bottles. I’ve filled it from rivers, lakes, hotel rooms. We’ve all been there, trying to avoid drinking the £4 bottle of water in our hotel. Or on a flight — you could fill this up in the loo! There’s one chap walking from north to south India using it right now, which is putting it to the ultimate test. Another brand option is Water-to-Go.
Juliet: Refusing plastic straws is something else that’s important.
Audience members: You can carry a copper or a glass straw, which also makes a great gift.
Juliet: Waves for Water is a great initiative I wanted to bring attention to — guerilla humanitarianism creating clean water for whole villages.
To wrap it up, I’d like to ask my Bouteco co-founder and sustainability expert Holly to give us three ways to travel sustainably…
Holly: Well, that water filter can be used at home too. Refuse water bottles in meetings in London. Make it cool. The same with coffee cups, you can carry a bamboo one or just take the five minutes to sit down with a mug.
Juliet: I’ve just spent three months in Bali, and I must have saved hundreds of cups. Now I’m home it’s about breaking a habit.
Holly: My final plea is that you ask questions, be curious. Ask your hotel where something came from, or if there’s a way to visit the township down the road. Talk to people and take responsibility. A lot of the time we’re told that we can have it all, but sometimes you do have to compromise, and that’s okay, and it will help to improve our world.