Magazine article The Spectator

Places That Suck

Magazine article The Spectator

Places That Suck

Article excerpt

Another summer over and, once again, the question forms in my mind: where not to go on holiday next year? It seems a silly question - for the list, surely, is endless. There are all those places which have simply nothing worth seeing. The homes of light industry and flyovers, with no distinguishing architecture, scenery or climate. The Midwest, and its English equivalent, the East Midlands. The industrial towns of the German plains, the grim squalor that is the urban Third World.

However, there is another - rather smaller - list of places that, although they are very much on the tourist circuit, have absolutely no appeal. This is not just because they arc likely to be overcrowded or overpriced. The sights of Greece, Rome and Egypt can be both, yet arc wonderful must-sees that never disappoint. The Great Barrier Reef and Grand Canyon both do what they say on the tin, and France - most of it, anyway (see below) - is Valhalla.

No, I am talking about another list, an itinerary of destinations that hold no appeal, not for any concrete reason but simply because it is almost impossible to imagine having a good time there. This may be because of over-popularity or cost, but for the most part it is because a certain kind of over-familiarity has bred a certain kind of contempt. These are places to which I have never travelled, and which I harbour no desire to visit. Their familiarity comes not from personal experience, but (in a few cases) from the experience of friends or, mostly, from the related experience of the multitudes who have decided, in the most lazy way, that these are places to go. These spots crop up time and again in the lazy travel supplements, in the litany of destinations favoured by the well-heeled and/or the under-imaginationed. Prime ministers, spin doctors and newspaper editors go there, as do successful holistic therapists and owners of leisure centres. When posh they are the haunts of Eurotrash, and when dowdy of just plain trash.

Just as I believe it is perfectly OK to judge a person by first appearances, a book by its cover and a bar by its name, it is surely just as all right to judge a place by its entry in the scruffy, ever-growing, hugely prejudiced and no doubt wholly inaccurate guidebook to the world that lodges in my brain.

Take Barbados, for example. You can take most of the Caribbean with it - those fancy French islands and that dreadfulsounding place Princess Margaret used to go to. I have never been to Barbados and never will. Blair goes there on his holidays, as do successful car dealers from Greater Manchester, and retired comedians, media executives and tit-girls. Cliff Richard has a house there, for heaven's sake. Having written off most of the West Indies, I would make an exception for Jamaica, which legend says is crack-den-horrible, yet which, I have a sneaking suspicion, is actually quite jolly. Ditto Cuba and the one with the volcano.

Moving up the scale of horribleness comes Gstaad. I have no real idea what or where Gstaad is. It sounds like something corrective and sexual, but I assume it is one of those eye-wateringly nasty Swiss or Austrian ski resorts lull of braying toffs trying to get laid. The common rich are a dreadful sight.

The next two are controversial: Tuscany and Provence. I have actually been to Tuscany, albeit very briefly, and didn't see the point. I was poor, mind, and had no friends from whom to borrow a villa (why don't the rich and powerful own or rent their own bloody villas?), but even so. The place resembled a hot Surrey with even more traffic. …

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