Your Lifebelt is Under Your Seat
By NIGEL BUXTON
TN Capri there are two beaches, the Marina 'Grande and the Marina Piccola: in summer, for the ungregarious, both of them are hell.
The sea, however, is accessible at one or two other points, but only by steep paths where— unlike the beaches—no wheeled traffic can go. Summer in Capri is hot. The gardens, terraces and balconies of pensions and hotels are often themselves very attractive; there is also Gracie Fields's swimming pool as well as excursions to Axel Munthe's villa, Tiberius's palace and the Blue Grotto to occupy time left over from cold drinks and ice-cream in the village square.
Thus, the cliff-side paths are never crowded. One of them leads to a small cove from where, for 10s. or so, a fisherman (or, a least, a man with a boat) will take you round the headland to a large shelf of rocks which can be reached by no other way. Here are deep, clear waters; silence except for the lapping of the water and the cicadas; sun until about half past four, when the boatman comes back again. I have never seen more than three other people there.
Though the spoliation of the coasts of Europe has been and is being conducted with profligate stupidity by private and public interests alike, though 'holiday' is fast becoming a nasty word, all is not yet lost.
For years Majorca has been an obvious example of the process of destruction by development. One after another the small seaside places have been overrun. Most distressing of all to those who knew it even ten years ago, the loveliest and hitherto 'unspoilt' village on the north coast has come within the tour operators' grasp. Comparatively, for those who remember it.as it used to be, and absolutely for those who dislike massed beards, blue jeans, white bodies (new batches arrive each weekend) and day trip- pers from a neighbouring resort, the single beach has become little short of intolerable.
One day a road will be built right to the cala; its ruin will then be complete. Nevertheless, it will be some years before this and many another popular stretch of the shores of Europe have been quite lost to the irresistible —or at least unresisted--demands of mass travel. In this instance the coast on either side of the beach consists of cliffs and tumbled rocks. To the beach itself there are well-known, well-trodden paths. Elsewhere are only sheep and goat tracks. Though some of them are discovered by casual visitors, most are not. By exploring them, adven- turing a little, clambering over obstacles, one may get to places where, even in August, only personal modesty demands a bathing dress and the sun stays long after the beach is in the shade.
Undeniably, the affluent society and night tourist flights have brought brown ale and braces to most of the costa bravas within the return fare of £50, yet even within this reach the traveller who wants them enough may still find solitude, or a fair measure of privacy for himself and his nearest and dearest beside a warm sea. Only, the old ideal of an effortless summer seaside holiday must largely be abandoned. With scarcity, the price of privacy has risen; it now demands plan- ning, foresight, physical exertion and the appro- priate tools.
Common sense is a prerequisite, of course. It is no good dreaming of secluded picnics for two and then going to Viareggio. It is no good longing for days on quiet sands overlooked by nothing but olive-covered terraces and then booking at full pension terms in Tossa de Mar.
The determined seeker after unsophisticated peace and quiet must arm himself with maps of sufficient scale and study the nature of a coast before choosing a resort, let alone an hotel. Generally speaking, hills close to the sea spell chance:4 of places that are accessible by boat alone or by an overland approach exacting enough to deter any but the well equipped and stout-hearted. Alternatively, a shore like that of the Bay of Biscay between the Gironde and Bayonne, though flat and straight, is for many miles backed by dunes and served by few roads, thus having a measure of inaccessibility of another kind.
If the gregariousness of the great majority of tourists and—paradoxically--difficulties of access are our allies in the quest for privacy, mobility is essential to success. We must be ready to trust to the weather and, if necessary, regard our hotel merely as little more than our operational base. We must be very well equipped and very carefully organised. Apart from maps, this means ruck- sacks and carrying frames, not straw baskets and string bags. It means good picnic things and a realistic appraisal of what is likely to be needed during the day. Footwear must be right for rough walking. Light rubber shoes or espadrilles must be taken for safe rock bathing. A valuable accessory might be-a rubber boat.
For although good fortune may make nonsense of all such calculation we ought never to be at the mercy of circumstances. We must be ready to take to the fields or the woods where a road ends. We must be prepared for toil and sweat and a' little rock climbing. (Agile parents should even consider carrying very small children Indian- fashion, on the back.) Besides such drastic measures, those of us who Want the sea without the scent of other men's sun-tan lotion and the sounds of their entertain- ments ought not to forget that escape by boat is not restricted to Capri. It may not be a practicable possibility at Nice, or at Blankenberge. I doubt if it is feasible at Rimini. But it can be done at Venice and most of the resorts of Brittany. It can be done on most of the Mediterranean islands and even on the costas Brava, Blanca and del Sol.
In, this context each new swimming pool at a seaside hotel is a moment of reprieve for the un- spoilt, but condemned, places; each million invested in an existing seaside urbanisation is to be welcomed as a million that will not be put to work where yet there are neither fresh water nor roads. Ideally we may not admire the laziness of the great majority of our fellow travellers, and their dislike of being alone. Selfishly we should thank our lucky stars and look to our boots.