The way we travel: summertime's travel tribes

In the 1950s, there was the wealthy and fashionable jet set - and the rest of us. No more. Whether you're heading for a far-flung island or going local, John Walsh has got your ticket
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The Independent Travel

The Debrett Set

We used to look to minor royalty for inspiration about where to take our vacations. The Queen and the Duke, invariably bound for a couple of months striding the heather and shooting things in the grounds of Balmoral, were obviously hopeless when it came to stylish suggestions.

But when Princess Margaret held court in Colin Tennant's classy Cotton House on Mustique, in the Grenadines, you could say, now that's a genuine, 24-carat Set.

The haven she built herself, Les Jolies Eaux, on a piece of land given to her by Tennant, was left to her son David, who sold it, but the island's still popular with her former courtiers, as is Barbados, where Johnny Kidd and his slender model daughters still produce tropical-night operas. Nowadays, according to Sarah Miller of Condé Nast Traveller: "The posh crew, the Linleys and so on, are more likely to be found summering in the Hamptons, or else in Scotland.

"Colin Tennant has a hunting-shooting-fishing lodge there, and John Dumfries (far left) is a popular host on the Isle of Bute. It's hard to generalise about trendy summer places, but I'd say the Caribbean, after being unfashionable for ages, is getting cool again. Central and South America are popular with the well-born, ever since Prince William (left) spent his gap year there, but now it's winter in the south. So think Costa Rica, Mexico, Belize..."

The Lest We Forget Set

The 90th anniversary of the Somme, the most iniquitous battle of the First World War, has led to a vogue for "Battlefield Holidays" - a slightly grisly concept, yoking together high jinks and low tragedy among the flat meadows and endless rows of white war graves across France and Belgium.

You can visit the Somme and its deeply ironic flower gardens, you can take in Vimy Ridge, Arras (where the allies built the underground tunnels you read about in Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong), and you must see Ypres, the Menin Gate memorial and Amiens. Very popular with fathers taking their 11- or 12-year-old sons for gruff bonding sessions, and explaining how, during the battle of the Somme, the captains kicked footballs out of the trenches to encourage the men over the top into the mouths of the German guns.

A sub-set of this group is The Exocet Set, who enjoy the feel of holidaying in a former war zone, such as Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. All of these now boast booming resorts, especially Croatia, though the tour guides do not go out of their way to remind you about ethnic cleansing, nor feature reconstructions of massacres. Those with happy memories of Michael Caine in Zulu can enjoy David Rattray's tour of Rorke's Drift in South Africa. And there's a new river cruise through rural Bengal taking in the battlefield of Plassey where Robert Clive gave an early demonstration of British imperial supremacy.

The Baguette Set

There are, of course, plenty of people who still enjoy the traditional Mediterranean experience - who head for the south of France in late July and cruise around Eze and Villefranche in a rented Citroën, or who disappear, like the prime minister, into the warm Chianti-scented bath of Tuscany and Umbria. They may not seem terribly adventurous, but dammit, they are on holiday.

Recent fine-tunings of these old-fashioned excursions indicate a new interest in Puglia, the wild, wide-open plains of southernmost Italy where Lord McAlpine, the former sidekick of Baroness Thatcher, entertains old-style Tories to agreeable long stays. The Beckhams (left) have bought a huge country estate in Var et Provence, in the south of France, where Shirley Conran (right) also has a home. They haven't yet rescued it from neglect, - apparently because it's haunted. They still tend to crash in the hills behind Nice at Elton John's modest pad.

The novelist Raffaella Barker and thriller writer Nigel West (aka Rupert Allyson) are two of the thousands of British people who make a pilgrimage every summer to La Colombe d'Or, the restaurant in St Paul de Vence where original Picassos, Klees and Miros hang on the wall and nothing (including the menu) has changed since the 1970s - when the Baguette Set were taking their first faltering steps into the heady world of Abroad.

The I Couldn't Possibly Go By Jet Set

What do you do if you really are concerned about the environment, and you believe that airplanes should be taxed for polluting the skies and car manufacturers penalised for fuel- inefficiency. Where the hell do you go on holiday? Your local park?

Perhaps we should ask David Cameron, whose recent commitment to ecological matters has been so well received. At a meeting last Tuesday, he announced that taxing airplanes wasn't a necessity, but that "modest steps" should be made towards eco-friendly vacations. These seem to involve not actually leaving the country, but holidaying in Cornwall (left).

Padstow is a popular haven for ozone-sniffers, while its neighbouring village, Rock, has long been a haven of drunken young aristocrats on the rampage. Cameron himself is keen on Newquay, home of an energetic surfing community (and also a shocking recent epidemic of HIV).

Other ecologically sound destinations (mostly eschewing hotels) are tented safaris in Botswana and hill-tribe lodges in northern Thailand. As every member of the Green Set will tell you, the key travel agent is responsibletravel.com.

The Don't Mention Tibet Set

China can claim the prize as the most urgently-sought new holiday destination of the 21st century. Drive around Portland Place in the heart of London and marvel at the visa queues that stretch round the block from the Chinese Embassy.

It's the destination that attracts the most eclectic set of travellers - from 80-year-olds taking a late-in-the-day adventure holiday, to sentimentalists anxious to clap eyes on the "old China" (especially Shanghai and Beijing) before it disappears in the frenzy of Olympic-city building, to bona-fide tourists anxious to gawp at the Three Gorges Dam, one of the biggest construction projects in the world since the Great Wall.

China is also attracting a glossy-magazine set. "There are lots of groovy British designers out there at the moment," says Sarah Miller of Condé Nast Traveller, "helping to build airports and shops. Paul Smith is going there, after his success in Japan, and Chanel, Armani and Louis Vuitton too."

Expect a slew of expensively tanned young fashion plates hanging out in the Forbidden City (above) and shopping for 50p frocks in downtown warehouses. Reports have also been coming in that Burma, once closed to western tourists, is becoming a big draw for English public schoolboys, who refer to it (pompously) as "Myanmar" and seem have no objections to the repressive regime.

The Film Set Set

Call it sad, call it shallow, but more and more people visit places that have been featured in a book or film they enjoyed. The phenomenon was first spotted in 1953 when hordes of me-too Americans descended on Rome after seeing Gregory Peck romancing Audrey Hepburn on location, and riding a Vespa through the actual streets, in Roman Holiday.

The New Zealand tourist industry has skyrocketed in the past four years as thousands of would-be Frodos and Gimlins have flown in to walk on the epic landscape they saw in Lord of The Rings. Meanwhile, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, Durham Cathedral and Goathland Station in North Yorkshire found a huge, unexpected new public in Harry Potter fans, and you couldn't move in the Yorkshire Dales for tourists looking for the landscape shots (or indeed the unclad WI matrons) in Calendar Girls.

This summer, the FS Set can be found milling about at Waterloo Station, where a Da Vinci Code Special trip is available on the Eurostar. You too can visit La Grande Galerie in the Louvre where the curator is shot and Castelgandolfo where Bishop Aringarosa is taken after he gets to Rome; you may even contemplate a visit to Lexington Avenue, New York, the Opus Dei power centre, though that may be going a little far.

But don't underestimate the power of the Film Set Set. They're a formidable gang. Before Dan Brown's book was published, numbers visiting Rosslyn Chapel (where the bones of Mary Magdalene are supposedly interred) were fewer than 1,000 a year. After publication, they were 68,000 a year, and that number has gone up since the film came out.

Stand by for a another rush to Paris when Marie Antoinette opens ...

The EasyJet Set

Cut-price airlines were regarded with suspicion when they first took off. Then horror stories began to swirl around - rumours of eight-hour delays, cancellations, passenger mutinies at the departure gates.

Now, as Ryanair and EasyJet battle for supremacy, cut their rates back to seemingly ludicrous levels (how can an air fare to Berlin cost less than a train ride to York?) and bag ever more obscure destinations, punters have learned to trust them.

The new jet set differs from its 1950s counterpart by seeing no reason to pay over the odds for a ticket to a popular destination in Europe. The prime minister's recent trip home from Rome Ciampino to Stansted on Ryanair (cost: £49 per head) brought some necessary kudos for a man whose use of the Queen's Flight once cost the taxpayer £16,000 per family trip.

Today, among the luminaries prepared to take the "no-frills" route are David and Victoria Beckham, Hugh Grant, Roger Moore, Lulu, Jordan and husband Peter Andre, Ricky Tomlinson and Denise van Outen.

Not perhaps a set you'd see dining together in a fashionable restaurant, nor perhaps a set you'd rush to join, but ... The blinding wisdom they share is that, if you keep the air fares down, you can afford to splash a little on the villa, meals, entertainment, paparazzi-avoidance, plastic surgery, abbreviated swimwear etc.

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