Travel: World Cup travel with a non-footballing goal of the penalty

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sick of soccer? You probably will be, by the time the World Cup ends in Paris on 12 July next year. But the draw for the tournament focuses attention on some much-underrated holiday destinations. In this round- up of the rivals, the linesmen are Simon Calder and Jon Glover, while Harriet O'Brien referees.

In the Horse and Groom on Thursday evening, while waiting for the World Cup draw to be made, we played fantasy travel: exploring the possible 30 rivals for England and Scotland in terms of travel potential. The dream holiday group was Spain, Mexico and Colombia, while the nightmare travel draw comprised Romania, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

The fantasy groups for both danger and beaches contained two of the teams the home countries will face: Brazil and Colombia. Tunisia was deemed one of the boring holiday trio (apologies, too, to Holland and Belgium). Neither England nor Scotland benefits from being in the fantasy gourmet group - France, Mexico and Japan - nor the optimum cultural draw (Italy, Mexico and Iran).

On the night, though, the draw produced an intriguing selection of countries. Included in our survey are those essential alternatives: to lager, to soccer and to World Cup frenzy.

English expectations

Colombia: drug-crazed, violent criminals? Some of the England fans may indeed be, but most Colombians are purely friendly, welcoming hosts to South America's most splendid country.

Whatever you want out of a holiday, Colombia will provide - exquisite pre-Columbian jewellery at the Gold Museum in Bogota, serene Spanish colonialism in Cartagena, robustly excellent food in Medellin, and scenery from the graceful Caribbean coast to spectacular mountain ranges.

Best local alternative to lager: coffee, though more exotic substances are available.

Best alternative activity to soccer: swimming .

Best place to avoid all mention of the W**** C**: the Darien Gap, the jungle wilderness in which Colombia merges with Panama.

Romania: this country earned its place in the nightmare fantasy group because it was the only one of the competing countries where one of us had been arrested (not counting England and Scotland).

But if you can evade the police, then the Transylvanian mountains and Moldavian monasteries provide ample reward for the traveller.

Best local alternative to lager: some Romanian wine, particularly the red, is outstanding. Unfortunately, this is the stuff that is exported. But what remains is cheap and cheeky.

Best alternative activity to soccer: skiing in the resort of Poiana Brasov.

Best place to avoid all mention of the W**** C**: try to find a monastery run by a silent order.

Tunisia: a location designed for the get-away-from-it-all holiday, but with little to get away to. Most packages are designed for the unadventurous, with tourists generally expected to do little else than lie by the hotel pool and occasionally saunter around the local markets. For those needing to escape from the sunlounger, trips to the ruins of Cathage, to the so- called "sugar-box city" of Sidi Bou Said, and to the desert, are welcome diversions.

Best local alternative to lager: the local red wine is cheap and not at all disagreeable.

Best alternative activity to soccer: the camel touts on the beach will try to persuade you to take a ride along the sands.

Best place to avoid all mention of the W**** C**: the cave where Kristin Scott Thomas met her demise in The English Patient, which was filmed in Tunisia - as was Star Wars.

Scottish suggestions

Brazil: South America's largest country recently set out to scare off tourists. Not content with an urban crime level of alarming proportions, it imposed a tax of pounds 55 just to leave the country.

But it's worth stumping up for the most exuberant nation on earth, which also has the finest city beaches of anywhere in the world: Copacabana and Ipanema may have inspired some dismal songs, but they are superb strands fringing this huge, ungainly city.

But watch your belongings: the reason the bikinis are so brief is probably because everything else has been stolen.

Best local alternative to lager: aguadente, a rougher version of rum.

Best alternative activity to soccer: if pressed, most Brazilians would suggest only death.

Best place to avoid all mention of the W**** C**: camping in the forgotten wilderness of the Pantanal. The South American Handbook warns, though, of piranhas and killer bees: "The inexperienced are cautioned not to strike out on their own".

Morocco: camels, peppermint tea, labyrinthine souks: images of Morocco tend to crowd in on each other, a reverberation of one of northern Africa's most colourful countries.

Relax into the place (which, it has to be said, is easier in the south - tourists tend to get hassled in the north) and find an appealing sense of warmth and generosity.

Best local alternative to lager: peppermint tea, though some tourists prefer to smoke the produce of one of Morocco's leading cash (or should that be hash?) crops.

Best alternative activity to soccer: show a Moroccan some water, and he or she will likely start fishing. The Atlantic coast of the Western Sahara is reckoned to be the optimum location.

Best place to avoid all mention of the W**** C**: Football is a national obsession, as befits a country where half the population is under 20. But the Sahara should escape the uproar.

Norway: in any "Lakes and Mountains" fantasy group, Norway would be right up there with Chile. You wouldn't go there for its cities, though Bergen has one of the finest harbour settings in the world. You would go there for its scenery, a constantly astonishing series of encounters between steely waters and shattered rock.

Best local alternative to lager: Glogg, a non-alcoholic (and therefore non-ruinous) cordial.

Best alternative activity to soccer: some of the greatest outdoors in Europe, for hiking, cycling or sailing.

Best place to avoid all mention of the W**** C**: Spitzbergen, the northernmost inhabited island on earth. It is split between Norway and Russia; the latter half is unlikely to show much interest, since they failed to qualify.