Husband and wife team, Terence Carter and Lara Duston are on a one year global tour, Grantourismo. I asked Terence some questions, mainly about the European leg of their tour.
1 How many European countries have you visited? Â Which 3 destinations did you enjoy most and why?
Weâ€™d been to 32 European countries prior to Grantourismo (weâ€™ve been writing on Europe for many years) but so far on our â€˜grand tourâ€™ weâ€™ve visited five European countries â€“ England, Spain, France, Italy and Montenegro â€“ and ten destinations: Madrid, Jerez, Barcelona, Ceret, Perpignan, Paris, Kotor, Puglia, Sardinia, and Venice. Weâ€™ll be returning to Europe in November, first to Istanbul, then to Vienna, Budapest, Krakov, Berlin and Edinburgh, where we finish the project at the end of January 2011. Although Grantourismo officially concludes then, from there we head to Lisbon where weâ€™ve been invited to speak about Grantourismo at an International Wine Tourism Conference.
Our most enjoyable destinations? We really loved Spain (itâ€™s long been one of our favourite places) and while we love Barcelona (currently tied with Tokyo as one of our favourite eating cities in the world) Jerez in the south was fascinating for the flamenco, the feel of the place, and the food. Often there are cities that are not â€˜bigâ€™ tourism destinations, such as Jerez (which for many travellers is generally just a day trip from other more highly-fancied southern Spanish destinations such as Granada etc) that we end up enjoying more than the more famous spots. Mainly because they are not overrun with tourists and they have a fascinating day-to-day life â€“Â like the markets in Jerez, which are simply wonderful and the flamenco we saw, which was extraordinary.
In Italy we loved our two weeks in Venice, which weâ€™ve visited countless times â€“ but this time we stayed like royalty in a palazzo and loved it! We went behind the mask a little (excuse the bad pun) and did more â€˜rootsyâ€™ things with artists and chefs. We both love Venice, however, itâ€™s a city that you have to take work a bit to get to know â€“ we showed one travel writer, â€˜Nomadic Mattâ€™, one of our favourite squares (Santa Margarita) which he didnâ€™t know existed!
But it was perhaps Puglia where we were really grounded. We stayed amongst grape vines and olive groves, made pasta and pizza from scratch â€“ cooked in our own wood-fired oven, attached to our trullo! We learned to cook from a local and had her family over to dinner. Is there anything better than being asked what kind of pizza we fancied and have it coming out of an oven at our own house within a few minutes? Okay, so she cooked the pizza, but it was brilliant all the same! Sadly, pizza will never taste the same againâ€¦
Trullo in Alberobello, Puglia, Italy
We know everyone is meant to love France, but while weâ€™ve always enjoyed it a lot, itâ€™s never topped our list of favourite European destinations, despite having written a book on Paris for Lonely Planet. But our stay in Montmartre this time was a revelation. Because Paris is so big and quite intimidating in terms of being a tourist we decided to keep it local â€“Â the same strategy we employed in New York City recently. Most people think of Montmartre as touristy, but we knew from staying with a Parisian friend a few years ago that Parisâ€™ relationship with tourism was much more complex. We ended up loving our neighbourhood, which wasnâ€™t even a part of Paris proper until the end of the 19th century. Just one or two blocks in either direction of Sacre Coeur and the atmosphere completely changes â€“ on one side itâ€™s multicultural, on the other itâ€™s as old-school Paris and wealthy as you could imagine, and on the other itâ€™s pure bohemia, bursting with artists and students. With the help of some locals (including an artist!), we found some great places to hang out without a tourist in sight. Not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with tourists.
Drinks in Montmartre, France
2 How would you rate Europe in comparison to other regions of the world?
What we love most about Europe is a combination of its rich history and traditions that are so entrenched in its countries and its contemporary life and multiculturalism. Weâ€™ve really been exploring the diversity and multiple layers of the places weâ€™ve been visiting this year. France isnâ€™t just frog legs, Italy isnâ€™t only pasta, and Spain isnâ€™t simply bullfighting â€“ but weâ€™re sure most of your readers know that! Digging deeper, and doing more than simply visiting the Eiffel Tower, is what makes Europe special. In Europe, looking back at who visited when and why is an opportunity to look at how a country and region have ended up with the complex culture it has â€“ and itâ€™s intensely rewarding. Stumbling upon local festivals and markets firmly regionalizes an area. Itâ€™s not just about whatâ€™s in the history books â€“ or guidebooks â€“ but itâ€™s the first hand experiences of cultures and connecting with locals that makes places special. Europe more so than anywhere on this planet.
3 Do you have any suggestions to holiday home owners on how to improve their guests experience?
Demonstrate your passion for your destination! We only have to be in a place for ten minutes and we can easily tell whether the person owns the place purely as a real estate investment or an investment in the destination. Books about the place, relevant music, some local cheese, a bottle of local plonkâ€¦ these kinds of things make a difference â€“ especially when guests have arrived after a 12 hour journey. Owners should, in our opinion, live and cook in the house or apartment before ever handing it over to a guest. It makes a big difference to how they equip the place. Of course it also relates to the level of services the property has pitched itself at. Our best advice is always to exceed guest expectations, regardless of the level! Even if it is just a seasonal fruit bowl, a loaf of fresh local bread, or a local beer or two â€“these things are never not appreciated, put it that way. We do love it when owners say â€œgo here to get basic supplies, such as tea, coffee, sugar, milk etc, head here for organic wines, thereâ€™s a farmerâ€™s market on such and such a day’. Sometimes the places they recommend are just places that are for emergencies only, but other times â€“ especially when theyâ€™re local cafÃ© and bar tips â€“ theyâ€™re absolutely brilliant and really make our stay.
Impromptu flamenco in Jerez, Spain
4 Do you cook in or eat out more? Â Not having to think about shopping and preparing meals is part of what I enjoy when on holiday.
The location determines the ratio. I understand what you mean by not having to shop and prepare meals â€“Â but for us both are a joy and part of the reason why we travel! But because of the nature of our project we want people to do a mix of both. If we didnâ€™t love to shop for local ingredients and cook, then perhaps we would be better off in a hotel! But, regardless of Grantourismo, we prefer to stay longer and â€˜dig inâ€™. A very big part of trying to understand local culture is finding the rhythm of life in a destination and that â€“ more often than not â€“ means a trip to the local markets. A trip to the local markets gives you a great understanding of how important the food culture is in a place, and we love to learn about cultures through their food. We always follow the grandmas around to see what theyâ€™re buying! That in itself can be fun. And because we love to cook, we do cook, simply because itâ€™s something we enjoy doing.
Octopus in Jerez, Spain
5 Do you have enough time to explore the areas that you visit? I find when I’m travelling that sorting and uploading photos/videos, tweeting. writing posts takes up quite a bit of time?
We totally understand what you mean, but remember there are two of us. You canâ€™t imagine how much of a difference that makes! Weâ€™re really trying very hard to produce quality content, so weâ€™re not so obsessed with social media to the point of letting it get in the way of producing that content. Weâ€™d rather look back on a decent story than a flippant tweet (not that weâ€™re immune to those of course â€“ we love Twitter!) But if thereâ€™s silence from @gran_tourismo for a few hours or even a day, that generally means were out photographing someone or interviewing someone or weâ€™re on a walking tour or whatever. That will be more fruitful that â€œIâ€™m at Starbucks having a mocha whateverâ€. Also, even though weâ€™re producing a lot of posts with oodles of photos, we have a streamlined production process, but an in-house quality filterâ€¦
6 Do you think that more travel companies will employ writers and bloggers in the future to promote their brands?
Weâ€™re not industry soothsayers, just a writing and photography team who have been given a wonderful opportunity to embark on a personal project that weâ€™d been developing for a few years but thinking â€œwho the heck is going to give us money to do this?!â€ Weâ€™re lucky in that we found a like-minded partner in HomeAwayUK â€“ although we would spend a couple of hundred days of each year in hotels as travel writers, what we loved most was when we rented places to do a book.
We feel even luckier that we have been given editorial freedom from our partners who appreciate what weâ€™re doing. Many companies probably wouldnâ€™t have the intestinal fortitude to allow a team like us to do what weâ€™re doing. Some publishers and news organizations seem to find it hard to disconnect us from the â€˜brandâ€™, and thatâ€™s been enlightening given the ties they have with certain brands. But for us, this year is more about promoting a lifestyle rather than a brand. We actually only post one review of a HomeAwayUK property about every two weeks â€“ and even then, that review is not subject to editorial approval by anyone. Thatâ€™s a compliment to HomeAwayUK, by the way, not a criticism.