On The Road
The Best Places To Book Off-Season
Avoid the crowds and have a grander time with MR PORTER’s guide to the places that shine brightest this side of summer
Venice, Italy. Photograph by Frankie and Marília/Offset
The rain swept into Venice like a cavalry charge and I was pleased. The taverna in Dorsoduro had a yellow plastic awning that stretched itself into the thin road in front, just covering the round table, which had just now been laid with cured ham and a chipped glass jug of red wine. We sat and ate in our coats as the rain fell still harder. A little stream bubbled down the gutter of the slate-stone street. It didn’t matter. We were dry, and I’d never had such a nice time in the city.
The thing about Venice, apart from its waterways, its Titians and its many and nice restaurants, is the people. People are everywhere. There is no avoiding them, no matter what you do or when you go. They fret its streets and each other’s tempers. Its 55,000 inhabitants endure about 20 million tourists a year. And if you visit in summer, you will feel like you are sharing the city with the other 19,999,999.
As the means to cross the world have become quicker and cheaper, so people travel in greater numbers and with greater frequency. So, the beauty spots fill up until they can be filled no more. Crowds, into which we sink, obscure the place we have gone to see in the first instance. The howl and clamour of the crowd render us tiny, a grain of sand on a beach. To visit and enjoy a place such as Venice is to indulge in imaginative invention, to put yourself as a player in its Renaissance set. And if you can’t get on the stage, what’s the point in going?
That is why Venice and so many places like it, from Cornwall to New England, are so much finer and nicer when there are fewer people, when the weather may be less perfect, but the setting becomes even more so. Being alone can be invigorating, bracing even, rather than lonely. Sometimes humans aren’t all that great. So, here are the places to visit before the high season starts and the crowds throttle your fun.
Pradollano, Granada, Spain. Photograph by Mr Antonio Luis Martinez Cano/Getty Images
In the summer, Granada reaches 40°C and all the Spaniards leave. This is an iron rule. Only mad tourists arrive then. And for that they suffer. Oh, how they suffer! Sweat, sunburn and dehydration as they troop round the beautiful ninth-century Alhambra palace and the other startling remnants of Moorish Europe. Visit in February, though, and you have an extraordinary choice. You can spend a day exploring the city in light-jacket weather. And then, if you wish, you can take a short car journey to the Sierra Nevada mountain range and spend the next day skiing. It is a beautiful compromise and one to be enjoyed while you are based at the Parador De Granada hotel, which is sort of a mini Moorish palace in itself. The 15th-century convent now has 40 rooms and is a testament to Spanish good taste and restrained design, with beautiful gardens and a restaurant serving the city’s very nice garlic and almond ajo blanco soup.
What to wear
Nantucket, Massachusetts, US
The White Elephant hotel, Nantucket. Photograph courtesy of The White Elephant
Unplug, curl up, switch off. Nantucket is as quiet as the sepulchre in the early spring, and all the better for it. You can walk up and down deserted beaches or sit in front of a fire and enjoy that great privilege – not having to speak to anyone. It is the perfect time and place for jaded New Yorkers looking for a breather. Being low-slung, polite and quiet, it is all the things New York is not. The thing to do at this time of year is to choose a hotel that is impossibly Nantuckety. This means the White Elephant. The wood-clad hotel sits happily among the boutiques and galleries of the waterfront and is but a short walk from innumerable beaches and the Brant Point Lighthouse. Then when you are done moving, or reclining, you can enjoy a steak dinner at the Brant Point Grill.
What to wear
Aspen, Colorado, US
Aspen, Colorado. Photograph by Cavan Images/Getty Images
During ski season, which sprints along from December to March, Aspen is like the American St Tropez – glitzy, full of celebrities and packed to the rafters, then a bit beyond. At Christmas, it seems a statutory requirement that you will see a mega-watt American star. The scene sizzles. While all that is lovely, Aspen is more than a background hum to celeb-spotting. It is an extraordinarily beautiful landscape, green fields etched by grey mountains, and it is best seen on foot, when the snow has melted. You can walk for miles and not bump into a Kardashian. You can, however, stay in a hotel favoured by them and the rest of the celebocracy. The Little Nell is big, brash and beautiful in a full-blooded American way, with fine-dining restaurants, bars, sundecks and spas all over. It’s like a beached cruise ship and we like it, especially given that it slashes the rates during the off season.
What to wear
Can Bordoy Grand House & Garden, Mallorca. Photograph by Ms Lucia Moreno, courtesy of Can Bordoy Grand House & Garden
Most of us are animated by a coward’s sense of adventure, which is good, for the body count on Everest does not need to be increased by the glib and reckless among us. We just want the thing we like to be a bit nicer. We will move out of our comfort zone a smidgen to get it, but we won’t be donning rapelling harnesses. If you have been to Mallorca in the summer, you will know the feeling, the sense of “This is nice, but, my god, the traffic! The people! The noise!” Go now and you will have late-teens temperatures and space. The capital Palma is largely overlooked by travellers to Mallorca, it being a mere stop before the airport, and that is a shame because it has culture – the cathedral, the royal castle, galleries aplenty – as well as good restaurants, shops and pretty boats bobbing in the harbour. If you want to stay there but would like to retain the general feeling of a pleasant, airy resort hotel, then go to Can Bordoy Grand House & Garden in the Old Quarter. It has the echoing quiet of a private house replete with the biggest garden in the city, a pool and a world-class spa.
What to wear
Devon, England, UK
Gara Rock hotel, Salcombe, Devon. Photograph courtesy of Gara Rock
Devon in February is wet. The rain comes down in sheets. Walk along the coast and you will be wet from sea, land and air. But you can’t have the palm without the dust. All that rain means barely anyone is around. What you get, then, is this extraordinary thing: an absence of people along with their noise, pollution and fractiousness. You can hear the boom of the sea, the thousand little frictions of leaves in the wind. It is silent but for the sound of the place itself. Gara Rock hotel is the best place to experience this. Sit on top of endless jutting cliffs that look out to the sea, from which little paths unfurl down the coast like ribbons. Then, when you have walked yourself happy, you can retreat to the hotel’s cinema room to watch movies, or dive into the spa or the bar, as you so wish.
What to wear
Pack it in
Fabbrica Pelletterie Milano Spinner 53cm Aluminium Carry-On Suitcase
Ermenegildo Zegna Leather-Trimmed Polycarbonate Carry-On Suitcase
Berluti Formula 1004 Scritto Leather Rolling Suitcase
Bleu de Chauffe Jules Leather Holdall
Filson Leather-Trimmed Twill Duffle Bag
Brunello Cucinelli Suede and Full-Grain Leather Holdall