In search of sunshine

Image of Tyler Brûlé

You may or may not have noticed but this columnist has been away from base for a little over three weeks.

My dispatch from Istanbul from a few Saturdays ago saw me jump down to Bangkok and Hua Hin and then on to Jakarta followed by Singapore, Manila, Taipei, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Three weeks in Asia (where business is booming, travel is a breeze and service is impeccable) fills your head with all kinds of crazy and conflicting ideas. Should I move to the region for half the year? Would I be happy in a modernist villa on a cosy soi in Bangkok? Where should I base myself? Does Tokyo make sense over Hong Kong? Would I be able to endure the humidity of Singapore?

I think I passed out on the British Airways flight back to London early Tuesday morning with all of these thoughts swirling in my head. They became even more amplified when the Aussie first officer came over the public address system to announce the following:

“Well, we’ve been flying through 12 hours of solid sunshine but I’m afraid it’s now time to drop into the clouds as we approach Heathrow. I can’t make this look any better, so I’ll just say it’s murky, it’s dark and the clouds are hovering at around 900ft above the airport. Oh and it’s just nine degrees. Cabin crew, that’s 20 minutes to landing.”

Having already endured the worst spring in recent history, I was wondering if the same aircraft was going to be turning around for the flight back to Haneda and whether I could stay in my seat.

As I peered through the mist and low-hanging clouds, I would have been more than happy to trade the March-like weather for the humidity of southeast Asia. By the time I was in the taxi and rumbling along the motorway towards central London, I was thinking about when I might see the sun and how the summer holidays were going to shape up.

As I passed the GSK building, a Fast Lane reader was having similar thoughts. While scanning my emails, I opened up a letter requesting thoughts on summer hotspots – I’ll give you the abridged version.

“I hope you don’t mind me using you as a travel agent but I’ve sampled some of your suggestions before and I’m hoping you might help. I’m thinking of the Med some time in late June or early July and I don’t want anything too complicated – beach, walking distance to some good shops and cafés, maybe hire a boat some days and good restaurants. All thoughts welcome.”

Having written on and off (a one-year absence at another newspaper) for this page for more than a decade now (can you believe we’ve been together this long?), it’s almost like clockwork that these summer holiday requests start filling up the mailbag.

I’ve yet to respond to this particular gentleman directly (after suffering massive email meltdown issues with Entourage) and have decided to give it my best shot with a few thoughts about summer on the sea in southern Europe.

The first thing you need to decide is whether you’re more fond of the French, Greeks or Italians. You might want to add the Lebanese and the Turks to the mix as well.

I decided some time ago that summer is best lived in Italy, so apologies in advance to all those readers and hotel/restaurant/beach club operators in other markets.

The second thing you need to figure out is how dependent you want to be on a car. Do you really want village life and all that goes with it? Or do you want the luxury of being slightly removed, knowing that you can dip in and out at your leisure and also being aware that traffic will be a nightmare at the weekend when you want to head out for dinner?

The third thing you’ll need to come to terms with is your pool/beachside partners and whether you’ll get along. You need to think long and hard about this and choose wisely. Do you want leathery, bronzed, animated Italian families next door? Would you like to be parked alongside people who hail from the same city as you do?

How do you feel about being boxed in by massive Russian men and their mistresses, tottering around in Roberto Cavalli heels? You need to choose very, very carefully and this demands considerable research.

Finally, do you want sand or do you want rock? This is absolutely crucial. I tend to vote for the coast of Liguria as I can find more bathing clubs that don’t involve sand but rather have stretches of smooth and jagged rock so you needn’t wade out to take a dip and can emerge from the sea without having to worry about sand in all the wrong places.

Of course there are many other places that offer similar set-ups (Amalfi and Capri come to mind), but come early July I’ll be setting my sights on a tiny stretch of coastline just east of Genoa.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

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