Lifestyle feature: Travel memories with John Carter

Former Wish You Were Here presenter John Carter PHOTO BY MATTHEW TOMKINSON
Former Wish You Were Here presenter John Carter PHOTO BY MATTHEW TOMKINSON

At this time of year, in the lull between travelling seasons, I cast my mind back to memories of past journeys.

The best of these involve events, incidents and encounters that could not possibly have been anticipated. Serendipities.

This was certainly true in Dubrovnik, now in Croatia but, in 1964, part of Yugoslavia.

I arrived by bus from Sarayevo, via Mostar. Hot, dirty, hungry, thirsty and in a foul mood. It was my own fault for trying to cram too much into the time available, but I relished the prospect of a hot shower, a meal and a chance to recover before getting down to work the following morning.

I did not know my visit coincided with the city’s arts festival.

So, unexpectedly, I spent that evening watching Hamlet, performed on the city ramparts by the Young Vic Company from Bristol. And the following evening, sat beside Margaret Truman, daughter of the former US president, at an orchestral concert.


Portugal holds similar memories, though I never established the identity of the English family I met on my first visit to the Algarve.

This was long before Faro airport was built, so I had driven from Lisbon, staying overnight en route. At the time, there were probably half a dozen hotels in the entire region, a few restaurants, no tourists, indifferent roads and an overwhelming air of lethargy.

When I drove down farm tracks to reach the seashore, people would come to their cottage doors because the sound and sight of a car was so unusual. When I mentioned tourism to the owners of small restaurants and bars, they had no idea what I was talking about.

Then, on one of those wide and empty beaches, I encountered two little fair-haired girls playing on an upturned boat. Their mother sat nearby.

They were English. Her husband was based in Lisbon and would be driving down to join the family the following day.

“We absolutely love it here,” she said. “So peaceful and safe and empty. I hope it never changes.”

I still have the photograph of those two little girls who, by now, must be in their 60s. The empty land and beach behind them is the resort of Carvoeiro.


There was a sort of serendipity, too, in a long-ago visit to Crete which had become popular as a result of a 1977 television drama called Who Pays the Ferryman?, filmed in and around Elounda on the north coast.

We rented a villa in the nearby resort of Aghios Nikolaos.

My three children, then in their teens, enjoyed the sunshine, the restaurants and lively evenings in and around the harbour restaurants and bars.

I did not want to forcefeed the children a heavy dose of local culture or history, but had hoped to encounter more of the ‘real’ Greece.

Then someone suggested an excursion to the island of Spinalonga.

We clambered into a small boat, with a dozen others of various nationalities, and sped off, being treated to a commentary in doubtful English by our bearded skipper.

When he mentioned the island had been a leper colony, the adults looked grim.

My three, and the other youngsters in the group, were delighted. To them, the site of a leper colony was not macabre, but adventurous and even ‘cool’.

So we walked around the island, peering into ruined buildings and stepping over broken tombstones. The adults weren’t happy. The kids had the time of their lives.


There was a time when, for me, Austria meant ski resorts. But I grew older, less fit and inclined to enjoy Austria outside winter – discovering in the process the pleasures afforded by many of those resorts when the snow had gone.

Walking wasn’t the sole objective, but walking took me from one small community to another by way of meadows and woodland tracks.

The wild flowers were staggering in their variety and profusion; the air was so fresh as to be intoxicating. And it amused me to take the ski lift to the plateau above whichever resort happened to be my base, and descend gradually in contrast to the downhill speed of former years.

Though travelling solo, I never lacked for pleasurable company which, especially at the end of an energetic day, is one of the treasures of travel.

I recall, in particular, a small guesthouse in the Tyrol, a group of English and German students, and the evening I realised I was not so young as I used to be – but that it didn’t matter because life was richer for its experiences and, in any case, the future was in good hands.

Not exactly serendipitous, but an unexpected and pleasant discovery nonetheless.

Getting there

Guided walking specialist operator, Ramblers Worldwide Holidays, offers inclusive holidays to Dubrovnik, the Algarve, Crete and the Austrian Tyrol.

A Week Around Dubrovnik costs from £715, depending when you travel between early April and late October. The price includes return flights between Gatwick and Dubrovnik and seven nights’ half-board accommodation in the Grand Hotel Park.

Along the Algarve Way is an eight-day (seven nights) holiday from £899, available between May and October. It is a two-centre arrangement with half-board accommodation in the four-star Porta Nova at Tariva, near the Spanish border, and the four-star Balaia Atlantico in Albufeira. The price covers return flights between Gatwick and Faro, with some holidays offering the option of Manchester and Birmingham departures.

A Week in Crete, from May 13 until early November, costs from £785 and is based on half-board in the hotel Falassarna at Nea Chora, on the outskirts of Chania. Return flights are between Gatwick and either Chania or Heraklion, with a Heathrow option in November.

Hiking from Alpbach is a seven-night holiday based at the three-star Haus Andreas on half-board terms. Departures are between July 7 and August 4 and the £727 price covers return flights between Heathrow and Munich. Flights from Manchester or Birmingham available at a supplement.

For bookings visit or call 01707 331133.