Weekly Travel Scorecard [11.21.10]
As print newspapers fight to stay alive, travel sections lose pages and steadily increase service journalism while operating under more scrutiny than ever. In support of our paper/e-ink colleagues, here’s the Sunday print travel news that’s fit to post about.
What I loved most about this week’s travel sections was the constant surprise factor. You can see the art the Nazis stole at a museum in Paris? Wild. The grottoes that housed many of Italy’s poorest families during the 1940s have been turned into swanky hotels. Who knew? Roquefort is referred to as the “king of cheeses.” Really? Croatia, not Italy, is the new cool truffle-hunting spot. Hunh. And St. Andrews is closed to golfers on Sundays, but open to the public, who can tromp around the course (within reason) for free. Fantastic!
Of course, it wasn’t all surprises. The New York Times’ tales of stolen art in Paris and gentrified caves in Italy were balanced out by yet another story on Argentina’s wine country and the expats who are making Panama cool. I don’t know if American newspapers are read by anyone but the expats in Panama, but if I were Panamanian, I’d be getting pretty annoyed by now at the inference that my country sucked until a bunch of Euros and Yanks showed up.
That mix of stories made the section a great read, regardless. I loved how writer Gisela Williams told the story of the grottoes-turned-boutiqe hotels in Italy’s southern Basilicata region through the story of an elderly man she saw in the town of Matera, heading up the stairs at her swanky new hotel to see the grotto he was born in.
“Suite 10 had been transformed into a magical version of Plato’s Cave, glowing with golden artificial light that filtered in through small windows, and from recessed lighting in the walls,” she writes of the man’s birthplace. “The minimal space was simply decorated, with an artfully worn wooden desk, a large bed with a white crocheted cover, arched ceilings and a floor of packed earth and patinaed stone tiles.”
“‘I grew up here with my seven brothers and sisters,’ Mr. Di Cecce said, and pointed to the luxurious bathroom with an egg-shaped Philippe Starck bathtub. ‘And the animals lived back there.”
She paints a great picture, and I can’t deny that the idea of a new Coppola hotel in nearby Bernalda, where his grandfather was raised, is pretty appealing.
SCORE: 9/10 carry-ons
The LA Times section focused on France this week–geographically themed issues seem to be a new thing with the paper, and I’m actually digging it; with ever-diminishing column space devoted to travel coverage, it gives them a way to cover at least one region in-depth. Actually, to be more precise, this week’s section was focused on French food–Roquefort cheese, caviar, and chocolate to be exact.
A bleu cheese fan heading to Roquefort wouldn’t normally be a great story, but the fact that the U.S. has announced a tariff on the cheese gave the story a great hook. “My love affair with Roquefort possibly began in the womb,” writes Mary Ellen Monahan. “My mother loved all things French, especially pungent cheeses. So I panicked last year when I saw a newspaper headline declaring: ‘U.S. Punishes France With Roquefort Tariff.’ A small wedge would skyrocket from $20 a pound to $60 or even higher in a matter of weeks. Quelle horreur! Who would bother to sell? Bigfoot might soon be easier to find. My lifelong desire to visit became a mission to secure my stash at the source.”
Heidi Fuller-Love’s story on finding “ethical caviar” in France was equally appealing, and strangely also linked to a newspaper article. “‘Ethical caviar’ might sound like an oxymoron, but as a lover of ‘black pearls’ who hates that years of overfishing have seriously depleted the Caspian Sea’s sturgeon population, I was fascinated by a story in a local French newspaper,” she writes. “‘British Man Brings Politically Correct Caviar Back to France,’ said the headline, next to a photo of Alan Jones cradling what looked like an emaciated shark.”
When she investigates, Fuller-Love finds that Jones has a thriving caviar farm in the Gironde estuary, where he has become the largest producer of French caviar, which may not be as well-known as Russian or Iranian caviar, but is equally tasty and is also cheaper. The lingering question in my mind, which Fuller-Love didn’t investigate at all, is the environmental impact of Jones’s fish farms. Aquaculture isn’t generally known for its environmental sustainability, and I wonder how all those farms affect the estuary, what Jones feeds his sturgeon, how often they get out and affect the surrounding ecosystem, and what exactly he does about the poop problem. Nonetheless, I suppose “ethical” is a start.
SCORE: 8/10 carry-ons
The first thing I said when I opened up the Washington Post’s travel section this week was “Dammit!” I had been hoping to make it to Medellin before it got too much coverage, and now I’m worried time may have run out. Still, bravo to WaPo for showing Medellin some love, and with a subhed like “from drug violence to tourist destination,” run-of-the-mill tourists are still likely to stay away.
“Not long ago the mayhem on Medellin’s streets was controlled by notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar,” writes WaPo staffer Nancy Trejos. “In the 1980s and ’90s, Medellin was the largest cocaine producer in the world, and Escobar guarded his empire so ferociously that the city became one of the most dangerous in Latin America.”
“Escobar is long gone, brought down by police in a 1993 gun battle as dramatic as his life. In the past decade, new parks, museums, libraries and hotels have opened in Colombia’s second-largest city. Cable cars have been extended up to a mountain with a new nature preserve. Famed sculptor and painter Fernando Botero, a Medellin native, donated more than 1,000 of his works, plus pieces from his personal collection of contemporary art, to the Museo de Antioquia. Last year, Spirit Airlines launched nonstop flights from Fort Lauderdale to Medellin.”
The other feature in the section is equally unexpected: a story on learning to love truffles in Croatia. After a somewhat disturbing account of the lust inspired by eating a sweet tartufone in Istria (a potato dumpling filled with chocolate, covered with a bechamel-chocolate sauce and topped with shavings of fresh white truffle), writer Anja Mutic explains why one might want to venture to Croatia to try these earthy wonders.
“I’ve never cared for truffles, the smelly subterranean fungus that grows in the dark forests here,” she writes. “I just didn’t get what all those people have raved about for centuries, describing truffles as “black diamonds,” putting them on gastronomic pedestals, paying astronomical prices for a handful of these gnarly wrinkled tubers. Their taste left me cold. Until my first taste of tartufone, my moment of conversion.”
SCORE: 8/10 carry-ons
A little over a year ago my husband and I were in St. Andrews. We stayed at the hotel at the Old Course, but since there wasn’t a tee time available, he played at one of the many other great courses nearby. We had a great time, but left feeling a bit cheated for not having set foot on golf’s oldest course. Next time, thanks to the Detroit Free Press, I’m going on a Sunday. The Scots have a great law on the books called “the right to roam,” which essentially states that all land is a collective good. If someone’s walking on your property, and not causing any trouble, you can’t do anything about it. So it is that when St. Andrews closes to golfers on Sunday “to rest,” it opens to the public to gawk. “On a sunshiny fall afternoon, I even saw people lying down on the fairway, soaking in the brief Scotland sun as if they were on the beach,” writes Ellen Creager. Brilliant!
SCORE: 7/10 carry-ons
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