Four of the best rustic retreats in Europe

Camargue horses © iStockphotos
The Camargue in France has an epic quality, a touch of pagan magic

Get away from the bustle of the city at these rustic retreats. Chris Carter reports.

Europe has a wealth of wild and rustic landscapes to explore. One such is to be found on the toe of Italy’s boot, “poking far into the sea” as if “determined that the land would be from the beginning of history an object of desire”, says Frances Mayes in National Geographic Traveller. Many peoples have come to settle here and Calabria’s “tumultuous” history appears to be almost reflected in the landscape. Just outside of the town of Tropea, the sun “drops down beside Stromboli”, an island located about 30 miles offshore. “Streaks of rose gold exactly match my Aperol spritz, and sunset tessellates a path all the way to shore.”

The “super-contemporary” Capovaticano Resort (around €170, sofitel.accorhotels.com) sits on a beach lapped by “clear-to-the-bottom” waters. “Our sleek minimalist room and wraparound balcony don’t even try to compete with the view.” The town of Tropea rises out of the rocks 200 feet below. There are “flowery piazzas”, crumbling palazzi, and shops hung with braids of hot peppers and local onions. This may just be one of the most romantic towns in Italy.

France’s Wild West

To reach Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the capital of the Camargue, you must travel through vineyards and olive groves, orchards of almond trees and ditches filled with yellow irises, says Harry Pearson in Condé Nast Traveller – “past roadside stalls selling asparagus, baby turnips and sacks of the red rice that grows in the puddled paddy fields”. The scenery is “neither lush nor pretty”. The soil is salty, the sun beats down and wind whips in from the south. “Yet the Camargue has an epic quality, an ascetic, pagan magic, even, in its vivid strangeness, a touch of the surreal that is unique and unforgettable.” Owing to the breed of white horses that comes from here, the cattle, and the colourful shirts and neckerchiefs of the guardians, the local mounted herdsmen, romantics have labelled the Camargue as “the Wild West of France”. That might be stretching it. Though the stuccoed houses, with their pastel-blue shutters and pantiled roofs, do “have a certain Sergio Leone quality to them”.

Traditional village life in northern Cyprus

 

cooking classes in Büyükkonuk, northern Cyprus ©
Büyükkonuk is as far off the beaten track as you can get in the Mediterranean

The beautiful, yet rugged coastline of northern Cyprus’s Karpas Peninsula is “as far off the beaten track as you can get” in the Mediterranean, says Brana Vladisavljevic in Lonely Planet magazine. As a result, it receives a fraction of the visitors that descend on the resorts in the south of the island, despite its “unsullied golden beaches”, and the attractions of its wild donkeys and nesting loggerhead turtles.

Stay in Büyükkonuk, a village 25 miles north of Famagusta in the foothills of the Kyrenia Mountains, and home to a pilot eco-tourism project. Here, visitors are invited to experience life in a traditional Cypriot village. You can take craft and cooking classes, as well as sample the island’s traditional cuisine – “a mishmash of Greek and Turkish flavours”. (See ecotourismcyprus.com)

A cathedral in rock

It’s not hard to see how the Playa de las Catedrales, in Galicia, Spain’s northwestern-most region, gets its name. Standing in the sand, “above my head a rock arch soars”, says Helen Ochyra in the Evening Standard. “To the east another arch, made smaller only by perspective, frames a patch of blue sky… the pattern they form reminiscent of a cathedral’s nave.” Its rock formations lend it a name “appropriate not only to its physical silhouette but somehow also to its atmosphere”. The Galicia region feels far removed from the rest of the country – “a dramatic land is wrapped in an embrace with the Atlantic”. The coastline begs you to walk along it. “As the wind whips the hair from my face, I spot cracks that I imagine are the start of arches to come”, says Ochyra.

It’s worth pulling yourself away to explore Galicia’s interior. Casa da Cabaza (€80, casacabaza.com) lies close to the shores of lake Embalse de Vilasouto. This farmhouse has been turned into a “stylish retreat”, where hosts Siets and Tariq show Ochyra to her room in the old hayloft. “It offers a cosy retreat, all wooden floorboards and antique rugs.”