The maze of Venice’s rooftops. iStock.com/Dovapi
Directions are good but if you never get lost you miss out on a world of undiscovered finds, says UV Editorial Director Ramsay Short
When you’ve been travelling (and writing) as long as I have, often planning every trip well in advance, there comes a time when you realise that the only way to truly get under the skin of a destination is to throw away your map, your itinerary and get lost.
Take random turns, wander up dead-ends, observe, interact with people you meet… I am not saying avoid the world famous sights or exclusive experiences – do them and do them with gusto. But if you also open yourself to the unknown, unexpected and amazing things will happen.
Getting lost works best in cities. In fact some are positively made for going missing. Anywhere with a good marketplace – Marrakesh, Rome, Barcelona, London, Venice – is an invitation to wander off and drop into shops you’d never have found if you hadn’t taken that wrong turn. In Marrakesh you’ll enjoy more cups of mint tea than if you’d stayed on the straight and narrow. On my last trip I adopted a little boy as my guide who led me through souks to discover all manner of wonders I wouldn’t have otherwise. A hidden apothecary through an unmarked door with hundreds of jars containing everything under the sun; a random weaver’s shop far away from the tourist trail; a hammam that only locals visited next to a bakery full of freshly rising bread.
In Venice’s web of narrow streets and passageways between buildings, where every other turn leads you to an unknown waterway I found hidden churches, deserted squares and sleepy bars frequented by gondoliers. In Paris I became a flâneur, indulging in the city’s famous art of wandering and was rewarded by cobbled streets I’d never seen before, foamy coffees in alternative cafés and quirky second hand shops around Avenue Trudaine.
Once in Beirut, I jumped in a hop-on/hop-off taxi thinking I was going downtown but pitched up in a little street with a tiny bakery selling man’oushe (flatbread pizza-like snacks) into which, attracted by the smell, I couldn’t fail to enter. The baker told me that the fresh zaatar or thyme on my pizza was grown in his village in the mountains – which later I ended up visiting. As I strolled round the corner from the bakery I found what looked like a junk shop, walked in and… kept walking in, deeper and deeper, discovering an Aladdin’s cave of Middle Eastern furniture and antiques.
Simply put, this stuff happens when you set yourself adrift.
During your next stay in an UltraVilla property, wherever you are, let the experts point out the must-dos, join in one of their exclusive experiences but then take a day and follow the get lost commandment – incredible adventures await.