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Inspirational journeys: Drive the long and winding road to inspiration
Take a road trip in the New Vauxhall Signum to follow the paths of many of our creative geniuses and you may just free your own mind in the process...
Saturday 05 November 2005
"They say travel broadens the mind, so I went over the falls in a barrel," boomed Thomas Dolby on his 1992 album Astronauts and Heretics. While that might be putting a rather extreme twist on the old proverb, the idea that the new experiences, flavours and friends that we pick up while travelling can set the mind in motion is hardly a new one.
Think where Richard Branson would be without his hot air balloon or Ellen MacArthur without a sail overhead. Without the space to think, away from the tyranny of the computer or the well-meaning anxieties of friends, it's unlikely many of us would come up with an original thought.
Of course there are other reasons to travel. There's nothing more life-affirming than watching whales swim off-shore or taking your first fork of proper paella after you've arrived in Spain. But, whether you're seeking to split the atom or you just want to write a better tune than Robbie, the truth is that setting out on a trip is one of the best ways of finding inspiration. Stuck for where to start? Here are six journeys that have moved some of Europe's most creative minds.
INSPIRED BY: The Book
SPAIN: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
FOLLOWING IN ITS FOOTSTEPS: Miguel de Cervantes' classic 17th-century novel traces the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza across the plains of Spain, south of Madrid, starting enigmatically from "some village in La Mancha".
Four hundred years on from the book's first publication, picking up its hero's trail has just got easier thanks to a collection of Don Quixote driving itineraries the Spanish tourist board has put together to mark the anniversary. Running from Toledo to Atienza, the trail takes in almost 1500km, though it is handily broken down into 10 bite-size sections for those who don't want to do the whole thing in one go – more detailed descriptions of driving itineraries along the "Ruta de Don Quijote" can be found at www.donquijotedelamancha2005.com.
The most direct way to get to the region by car from the UK is to take the ferry from Plymouth to Santander, in northern Spain, and drive the 400 or so miles to La Mancha from there. The crossing takes just over 20 hours and current return fares start from around £360 for two passengers and a car (08703 665333; www.brittany-ferries.co.uk).
ON THE ROAD: From the wooden-sailed windmills that stand above the town of Consuegra to the Venta del Quijote, a 16th-century inn in Puerto Lapice, and from Villanueva de los Infantes (recently identified by local scholars as Don Quixote's "real" hometown) to pretty El Toboso, mentioned in the novel as the home of the fragrant Dulcinea, there are plenty of sights to stop off at and explore along the way.
THE PERFECT PITSTOP: Historic Almagro makes a sensible base for the tour, with two characterful accommodation options. One is a 16th-century convent turned four-star Parador. Double rooms here start from €100 (£68) (00 34 926 860 100; www.parador.es). Or, for a more boutique feel, try the four-star restaurant with rooms, La Casa Del Rector. Doubles here start from €85 (£67) (00 34 926 261 259; www.lacasadelrector.com).
INSPIRED BY: The Music
FOLLOWING IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS: The band that put Norwegian pop back on the map (though A-Ha will always have a place in our hearts), some might say it's not surprising that Röyksopp came up with such great tunes. What else did they have to do growing up in Tromso, a small city inside the Arctic Circle? Actually, there's more than you might imagine. Especially at this time of year when the darkening skies mean it's one of the best places on earth to see the Northern Lights. To get there, take the ferry from Newcastle to Bergen. Fares start at around £260 return for a car and two passengers, including cabin accommodation, and the crossing takes around 25 hours (0870 143 9669; www.fjordline.co.uk). From here it's a straight but epic journey north, 1130 miles up the E16 and E6 motorways, to Tromso – which should give plenty of scope for inspiration.
ON THE ROAD: If you were to do the drive in one go it would take you around 27 (albeit very scenic) hours. But that would be rushing past some of this Scandinavian country's most dramatic scenery. Instead, take a slower approach, detouring for sights such as the dramatic Geirangerfjord, south of Trondheim, slowing to enter the Arctic Circle (and visit the Svartisen glacier) just north of Mo-i-Rana, or crossing over to the Lofoten and Vesteralen islands further up. For more details on these and other attractions, contact Innovation Norway (020-7389 8800; www.visitnorway.com).
THE PERFECT PITSTOP: For a modern take on an ancient tradition, book into a converted fisherman's cabin in the Lofotens. Some of the cosiest are at Skjaerbrygga, in Outer Stamsund. Dating from 1845 and set right on the quayside, the interiors have been recently modernised and, if you don't fancy cooking, there's also a bar and restaurant on site. Rates start from NOK750 (£68) per night (00 47 7605 4600; www.skjaerbrygga.no). Up in Tromso, the ship-shaped Clarion Hotel Bryggen, right on the harbour, is the city's newest and grooviest hotel, with doubles from NOK1,090 (£100) (00 47 7778 1100; www.choice.no).
INSPIRED BY: The Chef
NORFOLK, EAST ANGLIA: Jamie Oliver
FOLLOWING IN HIS FOOTSTEPS: Norfolk may be Delia Smith territory but, when Jamie Oliver isn't cooking his way through Italy, the nations' favourite chef is often found in this scenic stretch of the country. Over the past few years he's been spotted everywhere from the chi-chi delis of Burnham Market to the deck of a motor cruiser, pootling through the Broads. Which is good news if you don't want to go as far as the Med to pick up some local flavour.
East Anglia may be famous for its boating opportunities but it's also great foodie territory. For a quick trip, work up an appetite with a walk along Holkham Bay and then graze your way east on the A149 stopping off for mussels at Stiffkey, lobsters and shrimps at Sheringham, and crabs at Cromer (pictured) along the way. If you think it'll take more than a morning for inspiration to strike, the East of England Tourist Board's Discovery Tours include a four-day foodthemed drive, Taste of the East, which starts in Norwich, heads out to Great Yarmouth on the A47 and then follows the coast south on the A12 through Norfolk and Suffolk to Leigh-on-Sea.
ON THE ROAD: For more information on the Discovery Tour, which focuses on recognisable names like the Colman's mustard shop in Norwich and Wilkin & Sons jam factory in Tiptree, contact the East of England Tourist Board (0870 225 4800; www.visiteastofengland.com). If it's smaller scale producers you're after, visit www.tasteofanglia.com.
THE PERFECT PITSTOP: Byfords B&B in Holt is attached to a restaurant and deli and has doubles from £130 (01263 711 400; www.byfords.org.uk). Another good option for gourmands (and film stars – Hugh Grant checked in recently) is the Norfolk Mead Hotel, further south in Coltishall. Stylish doubles here start from £86 (01603 737 531; www.norfolkmead.co.uk). Or, there's Morston Hall near Blakeney, a foodie hotspot that's a favourite with Delia Smith. Rates start from £110 per person (01263 741 041; www.morstonhall.com).
INSPIRED BY: The Poet
WALES: Dylan Thomas
FOLLOWING IN HIS FOOTSTEPS: Wales' greatest literary figure may have lived variously in London and America but his roots were planted firmly in west Wales and the region provided his greatest inspiration. To follow the Dylan Thomas trail, start in Swansea, his birthplace, and drive out to explore the beaches of the Gower Peninsula. From there, head north west on the A48 and A40 to Laugharne where the picturesque Boathouse (pictured) sits above the Taf estuary. Itwas the poet's home for most of his later years – and where he wrote Under Milk Wood. Next, continue round the coast, largely along the A40, to Pembrokeshire. Past the pint-sized city of St Davids is Fishguard, where the 1972 film of Under Milk Wood starring Richard Burton, was shot. From here, carry on north on the A487 to finish up at New Quay. The poet lived and wrote in this small seaside town and some argue that New Quay was the inspiration for the fictional Llareggub.
ON THE ROAD: The Boathouse in Laugharne is now a popular heritage centre. As well as Dylan Thomas memorabilia it also houses a bookshop, tea room and viewing platform (01994 427 420; www.dylanthomasboathouse.com). The poet's grave also lies in the village churchyard. Dedicated fans should also make time to visit the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea's marina. This holds a permanent exhibition on the poet (01792 463 980; www.dylanthomas.org).
THE PERFECT PITSTOP: Hurst House, outside Laugharne, is famously partowned by the actor Neil Morrissey. The rooms here (from £85 a double) have created quite a buzz (01994 427 417; www.hurst-house.co.uk). For more low-key but equally comfortable accommodation, locals in-the-know head to Gower golf club. You don't have to be a golfer (or a member) to stay and rates for its four-star rooms start from £60, B&B (01792 872 480; www.gowergolf.co.uk).
INSPIRED BY: The Film
SCOTLAND: Whisky Galore directed by Alexander Mackendrick
FOLLOWING IN ITS FOOTSTEPS: The 1949 film was based on an earlier novel by Compton "Monarch of the Glen" Mackenzie, and is just as iconic as the book. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick and filmed on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, the story was based on a real-life incident, when a cargo ship foundered off nearby Eriskay with thousands of bottles of whisky aboard.
The best way to see the Caribbean-like water and white sand beaches of this low-lying string of islands off the west coast of Scotland is by driving from Barra to Butt, a meandering 130 mile drive and two ferry crossings (four if you count the ones from the mainland) from Barra in the south to the Butt of Lewis (pictured) in the north.
Fortunately the local ferry company, Caledonian MacBrayne, has made the journey easier by covering the route in its "hopscotch" rover fares. The one you'll need, number eight, starts in Oban, takes in the two interisland crossings and finishes up back on the mainland at Ullapool. Fares for a car and two passengers on this route currently start at £216 (08705 650 000; www.calmac.co.uk).
CHECKING OUT: There's nothing like a blast of icy air to get the mind whirring – or a kite soaring. If you're craving adventure, stop off at the Western Isles Kite Company in Lewis and try your hand at powerkiting, kite buggying, kite land boarding or kite surfing (01851 672771; www.extremehebrides.co.uk).
THE PERFECT PITSTOP: It's worth breaking your journey on Harris just to stay at Scarista House. This long-established small fourstar hotel is set right by a beach and has stylish doubles from £150 per night (01859 550 238; www.scaristahouse.com).
Further south, the Orasay Inn on South Uist isn't going to win any design awards but it's friendly, cosy and serves excellent food. Doubles here start from a reasonable £72 (01870 610 298).
INSPIRED BY: The Painting
FRANCE: Café Terrace at Night by Van Gogh
ITS FOOTSTEPS: In 1888 the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh fled Paris for Provence. Over the next 15 months, while living in Arles (pictured), he produced over 200 paintings, many of which are believed to be his best – including The Café Terrace at Night. The classic way to follow suit would be to take the Shuttle from Folkestone to Calais (fares for the 35 minute journey start from around £100 per car: 08705 353535; www.eurotunnel.com) and then drive the infamous Autoroute Du Soleil down through France, along the A6 and A7 motorways.
It's not the most scenic of routes but, at this time of year, it's almost certainly the fastest way to cover the 640 mile journey from Calais to Arles. And, once you've reached your destination, you can follow Van Gogh and seek inspiration in the neighbouring Camargue delta. Of the local sea, the artist wrote "it is difficult to know if it is green or purple, or if it is blue for, a second later, the change in reflection has lent it a pinkish or greyish tinge". Judge for yourself by driving leisurely along the D570 from Arles to Saintes- Maries-de-la-Mer.
ON THE ROAD: In Arles, stop off to follow the Van Gogh walking tour, a series of 10 sites related to the artist and marked by panels representing his works. These include the Trinquetaille bridge, the Rhône River quay, the Place Lamartine, the Rue Mireille, the Espace Van Gogh and the Place du Forum, where the Impressionist artist painted the Café Terrace at Night. For more details, contact the local tourist office (00 33 490 184 120; www.tourisme.ville-arles.fr).
THE PERFECT PITSTOP: Set in Arles' historic Roquette district, the small but chic Hôtel Particulier opened just three years ago. Its seven individually designed bedrooms start from €159 (£108) and it also has a pool and spa (00 33 490 525 140; www.hotel-particuler.com). A cheaper, but still characterful, option is the nearby Hôtel Calendal, which has doubles from €79 (£53) (00 33 490 961 189; www.lecalendal.com).
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