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We’ve all felt it this year: the yearning for travel. We’ve missed the thrill of discovering new places, tasting unfamiliar foods and experiencing different ways of life.

But, 2020 has also shown us a new way of exploring that can be just as rewarding. That could be learning to appreciate places closer to our own front door, swapping crowded sights for fresh air and open space, or falling in love with somewhere that wasn’t even on our radar. Here, Audley travelers Erika and David, and Southeast Asia specialist Mat, share their joy of getting back to travel and where they are dreaming of heading next.

A trip closer to home: escaping to a beachside cottage in Maine

View from Portland lighthouse, Maine — © Erika
View from Portland lighthouse, Maine — © Erika

After having to cancel a family trip to Italy in late March and a summer in France, Audley traveler Erika was looking for a secluded escape closer to home this summer.

New England specialist Katie arranged for the New Jersey family to spend a week at a small beachside cottage in Saco, Maine. On their trip, the family of five hiked among mountains, relaxed on the beach and watched the sunrise over the ocean. Erika talks a little about the pleasures of getting away, especially during this complicated time.

We’d wanted to go to Maine for some years, but never had the opportunity. We were tired of being stuck at home for six months, so I was looking for a chance to get away to somewhere that wasn’t too crowded, but was close to the beach. When we thought of Maine, we didn’t imagine a sandy beach, but Saco has a long stretch of sand and our cottage was close to the water. Some nights, I can still hear the ocean as I go to sleep.

We were really grateful — we know not everyone can get away for a week, especially during a pandemic, and we felt very fortunate to be able to drive and travel again. We took a lot of precautions — it felt kind of like the new normal, not at all the sort of travel we’d done before. We wanted to be isolated and not mingle too much. 

I was surprised at how easy it was. I was more concerned than usual; because of Covid, everything was going to be harder to figure out on the fly. Katie made it effortless: she suggested the cottage, the hikes we could go on, even the restaurants we could dine in. Which was nice — we’d really missed getting away and having new adventures.

While we were there, we did several hikes, including a climb up Mount Major that took seven hours. We also really enjoyed walks on the beach. The water was so close we could go to the beach whenever we wanted, for five minutes or the whole afternoon, to watch the sunrise or at sundown.

On one of the walks, we found a beach covered in sand dollars (flat burrowing sea urchins). My husband and one of my kids had never heard of sand dollars and the rest of us had only seen them bleached and dead. These were brownish purple, which meant they were still alive, so we spent a few minutes talking with the kids about how they are protected, and we need to be careful with them. It was a fantastic view, with the water receding and the flat sand full of living sand dollars.

Where next?

Well, we just got back from Vermont a few weeks ago, but after Covid… it’s a long list. We are a family who travels and we’re thinking about an African safari, Australia, Japan or Machu Picchu.

An unplanned honeymoon in Portugal

Mat and Harriet, Lisbon
Mat and Harriet, Lisbon
Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra
Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra

After being forced to postpone their South Africa honeymoon to next year, Southeast Asia specialists and newlyweds Mat and Harriet took it as an opportunity to enjoy an alternative honeymoon closer to their London home.

Spending 12 nights in Portugal, they discovered recipe-worthy food, near-deserted castles and, most surprising of all to the Asia-enthusiasts, their new number one beach. Here, Mat shares the unexpected highlights of their trip and how it felt to be out exploring again.

As we got off the plane in Lisbon, I felt a huge sense of relief and excitement. We were finally on our honeymoon and nothing had got in our way (other than the prospect of quarantine on our return home, which we decided was worth the reward). We couldn’t wait to explore, meet new people, taste different foods…

Neither of us had been to Portugal before, so we had few expectations and were happy to wander Lisbon freely. The city was quiet enough for us to ride the renowned Tram 28 and hop between attractions like the 11th-century Castelo de São Jorge and the Elevador de Santa Justa without waiting in line, but there were still enough people around for there to be an atmosphere in restaurants and bars.

We relished getting lost in the steep, winding lanes of the Alfama district, where we came across an elderly lady selling small bottles of ginja (a sweet cherry liqueur native to Lisbon) from her doorstep. Each café we ducked into sold creamy pasteis de nata I found impossible to resist, and we were even able to stroll right into Pastéis de Belém, the birthplace of the beloved custard tarts, without the usual long wait.

Being accustomed to Asian travel means we’re both used to tasting our way through a destination, so it felt amazing to explore new foods again. As well as dining at the Michelin-starred Mini Bar, set inside a former theater, we enjoyed sampling street-food dishes at the city’s markets. I particularly liked pica pau (sautéed beef with pickled vegetables), which I’m planning to cook in my own kitchen.

We spent the second half of our honeymoon on the coast. Hiring a convertible Fiat 500, we drove west (with the top down, of course) to Azenhas do Mar. Our apartment was cut right into a cliff overlooking the ocean, so it was like having front-row seats to the sunset. From here, we headed out to explore the palaces and castles of Sintra, hiking through jungle-like gardens that had me reminiscing about my treks through Borneo.

Our final stop was in the Algarve. It was here, in Camilo, that we discovered a new contender for our ‘world’s best beach’ list. Praia do Camilo is a sheltered cove dotted with caves and rock arches, its gold-tinged sand lapped by glass-clear water. A sunset stroll here had me struggling to think of a beach I’d been to that had felt more perfect.

Where next?

Having recently cycled from London to Turkey, we’d love to cycle the EuroVelo route along France’s west coast.

A quieter trip through Italy

Street overlooking Vesuvius, Pompeii
Street in Pompeii

Audley traveler David and his wife were looking for an early October escape that combined cultural exploration with time to relax in some late-season sunshine.

Italy specialist Ruth created a nine-night trip through southern Italy. They spent time exploring Naples, enjoyed Pompeii without the crowds and soaked up the scenery along the Amalfi Coast. David shares some highlights of his trip and how it felt to travel again.

It was lovely to get away. The travel experience was a lot calmer than I thought, and everyone was respectful of wearing masks and keeping themselves safe — it was just wonderful to be somewhere different. We only had a certain amount of time and wanted somewhere that, in early October, still had a chance of relatively nice weather, but we didn’t just want to lie on the beach. Southern Italy gave us the combination of wonderful scenery, beautiful hotels and things we could actively do.

The people we met were super friendly and seemed grateful, in many ways, to have some visitors. I'd never been to southern Italy before and kept feeling very lucky to be there.

I think we got an enhanced experience of the places we visited. Firstly, because everyone was so friendly and excited to see us. And secondly, because there weren’t many crowds wherever we went. It felt like a very personal experience. For example, I expected Pompeii to be super crowded, but instead, there were whole streets without a single person there.

Lockdown was challenging as you could only go around your local area, so just being in a different culture was refreshing. Especially one that’s very focused around the outdoors, with people sitting in alfresco cafés and connecting with each other outside — it was a welcome change.

We had a fantastic guide in Naples, who took us on a tour sampling local Neapolitan street food. It was particularly interesting to learn about the local culture and the region’s Arabic influences. The scenery around Positano was breath-taking too, but a particular highlight was a lemon-themed tour along the Amalfi Coast.

We visited a traditional lemon farm perched right on the mountainside, run by an incredible 85-year-old couple. Lemon farming is not as lucrative as it used to be, so they supplement their income with tours of their farm. We were shown everything from the cows (kept for their manure) to clusters of walnut trees grown to make frames that support the lemon trees.

Before we left, they led us into a small square to sample their produce, which is used in everything from sauces to lemon-soaked cakes. This was followed by a tour of a local limoncello distillery, where we enjoyed a tasting (it went so well, we purchased quite a lot to take back) before heading to the coast for a four-course lemon-infused meal.

Where next?

We’re going on a five-day tour at the end of January to Sweden, to stay in the IceHotel and hopefully see the northern lights.

Read more about trips to New England, Portugal and Italy

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They're just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

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