Rediscovering a love for the familiar destination

A pastel sea with a pier

As we begin to explore travel options for the remainder of 2020, writer Francesca Babb makes the case for returning to the reliable

By Francesca Babb    Above image: Kim Frewin Clarke (Unsplash)      Saturday 18 September, 2020    Short read

Perhaps it’s a Stockholm Syndrome of sorts – my brain being reconditioned by months of forced falling in love with familiarity while accepting the unpredictability of a pandemic – but now more than ever, I want what I know. It applies to every aspect of my life really, from the restaurants I want to eat in, to the woods I want to walk, but nowhere more so than when it comes to travel. 

With relaxation desperately needed and escapism essential for keeping sanity levels in check, there is more riding on location choices than ever. The thought of booking a week away and finding myself in an Airbnb, complete with cockroaches and views onto a building site, makes me deeply uneasy. The idea of making it through the dramas of a COVID-safe airport and ending up in Fawlty Towers is all too much. 

It might not be a particularly chic thing to admit, but to me, there is an exquisite beauty in the known; a delight in not being surprised. When I decided we should get away for my daughter’s birthday, given that the usual frenzy of friends and E numbers wasn’t on the cards this year, I booked into our home from home in Whitstable – Tides Cottage, an Airbnb so familiar that I won’t need to spend the first two hours trying to locate a mug and a teaspoon. When we booked a two-week break for October, the last thing I wanted was something new and exciting. I wanted the comfort blanket of a Devon beach, whose rock pools would probably still contain the pound coin treasure I hid for my niece last year.
A pub on the beach at night
Essentially, I want safety, I want comfort, and I want to know that when I get where I’m going, I’ll get exactly what I expect. Do I want to be the first in the queue to the hottest new opening, which may or may not be hideously over-hyped? No. Do I want to post my brand-new discovery on Instagram before I’ve even stepped foot out of the car? Not really. Do I care about seeming cooler than everyone else I know? Hell no. Does that make me boring? Well, yes, a little bit. But I’m ok with that. 

In 2020, too many other things are up in the air, too many plates spinning their ‘what if?’ whispers at my already peaking anxiety. I want a place where everyone knows my name. This year’s already been enough of a ride. 

And with that in mind, these are some of my personal favourite spots that I’d more than happily return to.
Rolling green hills at sunset
A classic car on a tree lined road
Rolling green hills at sunset
My mum first went to Ischia when she was 21, and as a family we’ve been coming here for as long as I can remember. It’s the Amalfi Coast, but better. Rather than coach loads of socks and sandals, the majority of tourists have headed over from Napoli, so the passeggiata is as authentic as it gets. The classic Punta Molino hotel has always been my safe space; beautiful gardens on one side, a perfect view of the sea and its gently bobbing boats on the other, with a bruschetta and Aperol chaser sandwiched on its terrace in the middle. Heaven. 

Right on the seafront, opposite the Old Neptune pub, is Tides Cottage – my sanctuary on many a weekend’s escape from the frenzy of London life. Cosy reading nooks, roaring fires and a garden buzzing with lavender-drunk bees in the summer, it’s exquisitely furnished by its set designer owner to feel like your own home, only better. 

Every time I’ve been to Tuscany, it has poured with rain. Fontelunga Hotel has always brought the sunshine. Gardens with hammocks strung through the olive trees, tennis courts and a swimming pool, it is a nightmare to find on the sat nav, but so worth it when you make your way up the winding road to your slice of Tuscan paradise.
Palm trees on the beach
Santa Monica 
I hated Los Angeles until I found Santa Monica. Sea, bikes, shops you can actually walk to, the dreamy restaurants of Abbot Kinney, and a Trader Joe’s – there is nothing more I need in life. My first stay at Palihouse down there, in its beautiful rooms – complete with (shock, horror) character – accompanied by my first sample of the delicious Paliscramble at breakfast on the terrace, and I knew I was hooked. 

Bantham, Devon 
I’ve written for House Notes about Bantham before, so I won’t waste your time trying to sell it to you again. One pub, one shop, one glorious windswept beach – my ultimate happy place. Best enjoyed when nobody else is there.
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