Most people look to a vacation as an opportunity to relax, a respite from the speed, demands and familiarity of our daily lives. Yet often, especially if we’re traveling to big cities or a broad destination such as Europe or Alaska, we end up driving too many miles, cramming our days too full, and ticking off a too-long checklist of “must sees.” We come home needing a vacation from our vacation, struggling with a disconcerting feeling that we only glossed the surface of what we hoped to discover during our time away.
The week we spent in an Italian country villa was a different sort of vacation experience that allowed us to explore a limited location calmly and in more detail. Our choice fit within an approach called “Slow Travel,” the notion that spending a week in a self-catering rental in a single place offers a richer level of discovery than staying in a hotel and racing to hit a host of far-flung attractions.
The idea is to live like a local: find a favorite café for your morning coffee. Buy fresh bread at the local bakery and chat with the owner. Frequent the farmers market, go to a community concert, attend a church service, pet the dogs that walk in the park each day. Discover that culture resides not just in museums and cathedrals, and nature’s treasures are not limited to crowded national parks.
Slow Travel is an online resource committed to this philosophy. It functions not just as a clearinghouse for week-long rentals of villas, farmhouses, cottages and apartments around the world, but a place to share tips, reports, evaluations and recommendations by like-minded travelers.
Another perk of the Slow Travel approach is that it’s more economical. With the dollar flagging, it’s harder to find the means for an overseas trip. But when you do your own cooking and share the cost of a place with friends, you can save a great deal. We found that cooking in Italy was also an immersion in a related movement: Slow Food. Slow Food describes itself as “a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization that was founded in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”
I was amazed at Italians’ passion for local food that tastes good – and this commitment is not just on the part of well-heeled foodies. Even the motorway convenience counters offered wood-fired pizza, caprese sandwiches made with crusty bread, fresh bufala mozzarella and ripe tomatoes, or speck (a thin cured ham from Italy’s German-speaking North) and pungent Gruyere cheese. Coffee at these most practical of eateries is individually pulled shots of espresso, and the orange juice is fresh-squeezed to order. Corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oil have no place in Italian cooking, and everywhere, local home cooking prevails over industrial production when it comes to creating healthy, fine-tasting meals.
It’s really no surprise that what’s best for the earth, and best for us, also tastes best. Eating well requires that we slow down and savor. So does traveling well. You don’t need to go to Italy to try it: how about renting a cabin for a week at Cannon Beach on the northern Oregon Coast? Buy local produce, pick up some sharp cheddar at the Tillamook cheese factory, sample Tualatin Valley wines. Walk among the old-growth firs and hemlocks in the coastal forest. Spend a whole day reading at the beach. Roast marshmallows over a driftwood fire. You can travel, and eat, slowly anywhere – it’s just a matter of reorienting our perspective.
I’d love to hear about your own experiences in this vein – please share!