Let’s boycott the homogeneous, all-inclusive holiday this summer

Patrick Leigh Fermor is probably turning in his grave. More than half of all summer holidays booked this year are all-inclusive packages. You know the shape: you’re zipped up, fed, watered, and entertained. Before you leave, you argue about the extras, and then you arrive home, virtually oblivious to the country you’ve just been to, hoping you won’t hear from the new friends you’ve made after posting on Facebook.

Paddy, as Leigh Fermor was known, was the antithesis of the modern traveler. Okay, so his circumstances gave him a little more time than we would ever afford today, but delve into his writing and you get a very different idea of ​​what going abroad entails.

A time of giftsfor example published in 1977, while it feels like a lost era of experiences, can make you realize that it is still possible to go on holiday and have conversations with strangers (if only using hand gestures, facial expressions and animal sounds) , to hear unusual music, to drink strange drinks.

And few of us have the courage to travel and explore like he did. For example, in the 1930s he traveled alone through Europe, living off his wits, his knowledge of languages ​​and his conversation. He was adept at appearing at grand castles and palaces – not always with a letter of introduction – charming and occasionally robbing his hosts (of everything, including his money and notebooks). But whether he ate with farmers or lay with a countess, had a four-poster bed or a bale of straw under the stars, he immersed himself in the country and culture in which he found himself.

Thus, he viewed the sight of the modern all-inclusive package holiday with a mixture of sadness and contempt. He would be surprised if we saw how willingly we submit to these experiences, or rather to the lack of experience.

Especially how these packages now ensnare all corners of society, for every budget. There’s a place like that just down the road from me. Butlin’s Minehead is the model for everyone to follow.

You get there, they take down the barrier and you are not expected to leave the building. And why would you? You’ll be fed, watered, drunk to your hilt (depending on your package), entertained, hang out on “land paddle boats,” eat ice cream and waddle around in the gigantic indoor pool. There’s a convenience store on site, so you can buy some rolling papers or some cigarettes (sorry, vape refills). And ask a Redcoat the way to Minehead and they will answer: “Mine what?” Like I said, the idea is not to leave.

And the concept is the same if you book on an island in the Maldives, for example. Except that in the Maldives you are really trapped. At Butlin’s, to escape you have to sneak through the front car park, duck under the barrier, then turn left and it’s a short walk along the bleak coastline road into town.

Rent an overwater villa and you can’t even get on land without calling for the launch. As in all these resorts, although the food and service is amazingly good, there is no resemblance to what is local. Although there are some locals, most of the senior staff and the chefs are flown in from India, Japan, Europe or other parts of Asia, and after even two weeks you leave the country without even having an idea of ​​what the local population eats or drinks (non-alc, I understand that…) or what the traditions, customs or even languages ​​of the country are.

And this is how it should be. The all-encompassing package, developed from the 1950s onwards from the so-called ‘alchemy of happiness’, was Club Med.

I remember seeing it for the first time. We were on holiday in Corfu in the 1970s and from the next bay, where some monstrosity of a hotel had been built, there was wakey-wakey music every morning, followed by a water ski show. We felt happily entrenched in our own version of a Corfu holiday: Greek salad, retsina, old men in the village squares drinking coffee and playing with their beads, old women dressed in black sweeping the steps of their houses, and a single mangy dog ​​that walked with a limp. Through.

Every January my parents went on holiday alone and followed a brutal journey. The results are firmly recorded in the family albums: the markets of Aleppo, the temples of Angkor Wat.

This spirit carried through to most of our vacations. A holiday to Bodrum, in Turkey, includes the beach, but not without being whisked away to Ephesus or the ruins of an ancient amphitheater at Termessos. At the back of our hotel, Motel Turtel, I looked at the wildflowers growing among the ruins of ancient Greek columns. In a cafe across the street I played (and got beaten) backgammon with the locals.

And thank God. We went on vacation and we also traveled. That makes today’s slide toward all-inclusive all the more painful. I even unknowingly got caught up in it when I thought we were on holiday in Crete. I thought the bay we were staying in would be just that: a bay. But no, it was a hip resort. Past the car park, off the main coast road, through a barrier and a locker, and it’s a replica of a Cretan village – albeit beautifully designed – with bars, restaurants, shops and a “taverna”, as well as golden buggies to get you near.

One day I managed to rent a car and escape. Escaped across the island to a real village, with real shops and a real taverna (with calamari, Greek salad and a bottle of retsina). The resort didn’t even sell retsina. It was his job to coddle us from such horrors. And it is the horror of the real world that drives us to the all-encompassing. Travel through the real world and there are horrors everywhere. Foreigners who don’t speak the language, foreign dirt acting like it’s breakfast, foreign heat, foreign mosquitoes, foreign currency, foreign drinks and foreigners trying to rip you off, be it with a dodgy carpet or an overpriced water ski session.

At the international all-inclusive package resort, these fears are all banished. Your international staff, who have been trained to within an inch of their lives at catering schools, will guide you to the breakfast buffet in impeccable English (Sashimi? Dosa? Pain au chocolat? Bacon and eggs?); secure untold quantities of Provençal rosé; guaranteed Wi-Fi in the villa, at the bar and on the beach; air conditioning in all central areas and private areas until it snows if necessary; fumigating the resort and rooms (mosquito repellents, which mosquito repellents?); introduce you to the internal ski/tennis professional; and suggest you visit their own boutiques and carpet stores.

All this socializing teaches you nothing about the culture of your host country, undoubtedly deprives the local economy – the bars, shops and restaurants – of your spending, and turns you into a tanned ignoramus.

There is, of course, one tiny, tiny exception to this: small children and the other half who must be kept happy at all costs. For which an exemption is granted, provided you pack Leigh Fermor promises that you will escape the camp at least once to get bitten, venture into the market and talk to the locals.

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