Embarking on a domestic summer holiday made Anna Hart more creative, intrepid and discerning
It’s normally my nature, and my job, to encourage people to dream big about travel. This year, we’re all having to downsize our daydreams. But this doesn’t mean we should settle for lacklustre holidays. Planning my big summer holiday of 2020, I stuck to three rules.
First, keep holiday plans simple, like an easily assembled piece of Ikea furniture that can be dismantled with minimal injury or breakage. This is no time to pull together a complicated itinerary with multiple bookings – more admin in the planning of a trip means more admin if things get cancelled. Second, keep it local. I decided to stick to the land mass I’m on, because I knew I’d find the changing quarantine rules and local lockdowns stressful. (This turned out to be wise, as pockets of Wales went into local lockdowns around us, adding an extra frisson of excitement to our mini-tour of Ceredigion county. These restrictions have since tightened.) Third, keep it affordable, so that if this holiday does wind up being cancelled or postponed, it’s not a financial blow as well as an emotional kick to the shins.
What this meant, to my surprise, was that I dreamed as big as I could within these smaller confines. I became more creative, intrepid and discerning, not less so. Thinking about holiday companions, I decided to invite my parents, rather than the easy and more affordable option of a compliant friend who would tuck neatly into a twin room. Because, hey, who knows when I’ll see my parents (who live in Belfast) again?!
And even though I was confining myself to mainland Britain, I could still seize this opportunity to explore a nation, Wales, that shamefully I’d never visited before. A four-hour rail journey was nothing compared to the 11-hour trips to LA I used to make. My normal reluctance to spend hours travelling – without arriving somewhere hot and exotic – evaporated, and my intrepid spirit returned.
I wanted to keep costs down, but when it’s a glamping trip in Wales you’re plotting, your pound goes far further than it would in New York, Rio or Paris. So I plumped for Fforest (coldatnight.co.uk) in Cardigan Bay, probably the swishest and most stylish campsite in Britain right now.
Fforest Farm, which opened to guests in 2007, was founded by two Shoreditch dwelling designers, architect and property developer James Lynch and Sian Tucker, a textile designer and illustrator. Thirteen years (and two additional campsites) later, the design credentials show in every single detail, down to the pleasingly retro enamel teapots in each dome’s outdoor bush kitchen, to the handwoven Welsh blanket and cushions tossed artfully on the vintage leather sofas and driftwood beds.
Sian grew up in west Wales and respect for the surroundings and the local community is in Fforest’s DNA, and over the years I’ve observed that the very best hotels, restaurants and other hospitality businesses are often run by returning locals – canny travellers who have flounced off and seen what the rest of the world offers and demands, then come back to elevate and make the most of what we have in our backyard. As a friend, who told me about Fforest, gushed: “It’s a campsite in Wales, but a Welsh campsite that you could bring Danish people to. Perhaps even New Yorkers.”
Traditionally, and weirdly, domestic tourism has been associated with travellers on a lower budget, with lower standards to match. Across most of North America and whole swathes of Asia, “international travellers” have been the demanding and discerning consumers. In Europe the distinctions between domestic tourists and international visitors aren’t quite as sharply delineated, but even so, I’ve stayed in plenty of European hotels where the other guests (of all nationalities) regarded me as a curious novelty.
With British domestic travel looming larger in every traveller’s daydreams than ever before, I suspect, and I hope, we’ll see more places like Fforest – a simple and thoroughly British concept, executed to a high standard. A standard that would once have been lauded as an “international standard”, but with the year we’re having, I think it’s time to bury that term once and for all. High standards are no longer just for international travellers. They’re for us all.