The Complete Guide to: Retro travel

If modern holidays just don't have enough elegance for you, Belinda Archer has the answer. Take your pick from Thirties-style safaris, Sixties-themed hotels, sailing ships and more

Saturday 30 August 2008 00:00 BST

Can I travel back in time?

Maybe not in a Dr Who kind of way, but a vast array of retro retreats are on offer, from old-fashioned British seaside holidays to kitsch Fifties-themed hotels in Mykonos to hiring a Harley-Davidson and heading off down Route 66 in the US.

Finnair (0870 241 4411; has just introduced a retro plane known as Silver Bird to celebrate its 85th anniversary. The airline has kitted out a modern Airbus A319 to look like the national carrier's old Convair from the 1950s, the age of first-class-only air travel. Everything has been themed, from the air hostesses' – sorry, flight attendants' – uniforms, to the 1950s on-board duty-free. Flights are out of Finland, but they go to a range of major European destinations such as Paris and Amsterdam as well as other Finnish destinations. Check for price and timetables. A return flight to Helsinki from London, leaving on 13 September, flying on the Silver Bird and returning on the 15th (on a standard aircraft) is from £297.

Ooh la la Vintage (00 33 684 765 865; is a new company that specialises in vintage weekends to Paris, taking in tours of vintage fashion shops, a night of classic cabaret glamour at the Moulin Rouge, visits to old brasseries and cafés and staying in a choice of three retro hotels offering genuine old-style attention to detail. Oh, and you get to drive round in a vintage Citroë*2CV too. Priced from £300 per person based on two sharing including return train fares, one night at the Asiatique Hotel, "vintage master class".

You might like to recreate the days of the British Raj by staying in an elegant colonial bungalow on a 19th-century tea plantation in the scenic hills of Sri Lanka. The bungalows, once managers' homes on working plantations, have been restored to their former glory and each comes with its own chef, butler and houseboys. Premier Prestige (08444 937 554; has a five-night break with all meals/drinks starting at £1,299 per person (twin share) with return flights from Heathrow or Gatwick and private transfers.

The website is a source of "all things hip and retro". As well as vintage fashion tips and advice on where to get retro gadgetry, it has a useful travel section detailing a wide selection of vintage vacations.

Grand UK Holidays (01603 619933; is another company that specialises in nostalgia-themed breaks for the over-55s, which range from reliving the swinging Sixties on a Merseybeat tour of Liverpool, to visiting key sites of the Battle of Britain. Breaks are called things like "The Way We Were" and "Times Gone By", so you get the picture.

Travel in style?

Travelling by a vintage mode of transport is a popular way of capturing a bygone age. How about hiring a Morris Traveller for the weekend – top speed 60 mph – or something a little more racy, like a Jaguar E Type roadster or Jensen? Great Escape Cars (01527 893733; has numerous vintage vehicles and classic cars.

Or you could book a 1970s VW camper van and tour round the Isle of Wight through Isle of Wight Campers (01983 852089; The company supplies a full list of recommended campsites and places of interest, as well as full breakdown-cover and insurance.

Alternatively, don your leathers and head out of town on a gleaming Harley-Davidson. Camper-van rental company Britz (020-7569 3075; rents out retro-style Heritage Softail Classics, complete with traditional leathers, from Melbourne, Australia and Christchurch, New Zealand.

Perhaps the best Harley adventure is in California, the heartland of the American Dream. California Motorcycle Adventures (001 650 969 6198; has Harleys of all description, including Road Kings, from as little as $99 (£52) per day. It will put together a customised self-guided tour for you, including trip routing with maps and recommended hotels en route, as well as offer fully guided tour packages.

But maybe the sea is more your thing: join the crew of a tall ship for a voyage round the Mediterranean, the Caribbean or even across the Atlantic. Tall Ships (023 9283 2055; runs trips for adults on its fabulous 60-metre square-rigged u o brig, the Stavros S Niarchos, built in 2000, with a traditional 18th-century rig. Perhaps surprisingly, no sailing experience is required.

A classic train ride?

You are spoilt for choice. There are several classic trains and train journeys to choose between. Online travel-experiences company Isango (020-7631 0109; offers a number of retro rail-journeys such as the Georgetown Loop Railroad, a genuine old-style 19th-century steam locomotive which passes for nine hours through the Rockies in Colorado, reliving memories of the Gold Rush, from £52.30 per person.

Or you could climb aboard the Danube Express (01462 441 400;, a stunning recreation of the beautiful carriages of the 1950s. This deluxe hotel on wheels, which was used by Hungarian officials and dignitaries on state visits, tours Eastern and Central Europe from Budapest. A two-night all-inclusive trip, excluding flights, from Budapest to Istanbul costs from £990 per person.

Perhaps nothing can quite match the antique carriages of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, however (0845 077 2222; for a whiff of the golden age of luxury rail travel. Be transported in style to the likes of Venice, Istanbul and Rome, a one-way journey from Rome to Venice costing from £415 per person. Alternatively, take off to any number of UK destinations on its British sister trains, the British Pullman and Northern Belle. A one-day return trip to Bath from London including gourmet brunch, dinner and guided tour costs from £310 per person.

I'm a fan of the 1950s

How about "doing" Route 66, the road of legends that crosses the continent, from Chicago to Los Angeles? Fifties-style diners, motels and museums dot the historic journey, and you can even stop for frozen custard and a drive-in movie. Do the whole route or just a part – packages through Bon Voyage (0800 316 0194; start from £899 per person for 14 nights including return flights to Chicago and home from Los Angeles (or vice versa), all-inclusive compact car hire and 14 nights' three-star accommodation.

Alternatively, you could stay in a classic 1950s aluminium Airstream trailer. Vintage Vacations (07802 758113; is based on the Isle of Wight and rents out 10 shiny, gorgeously refurbished Airstreams on a farm. There are also Airstreams available for hire in the Pyrenees via Responsible Travel (01273 600 030;; these vehicles are run – rather oddly – by ex-circus performers. They come with different names and themed decors, while the site also welcomes other vintage vehicles, caravans and campers, and has pitches available for these. Or you could go to Arizona for some genuine mid-century American kitsch, and stay in an Airstream there, at Shady Dell (001 520 432 3567; near Bisbee, where the nine fully restored travel-trailers are kitted with martini glasses, 78rpm Rat Pack records and diner-style breakfast booths.

Finally, why not visit the king of rock'n'roll's own hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, staying at Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel (001 877 777 0606;, just across the road from Graceland? This has everything, from Elvis-inspired rooms and suites to a cinema where you can watch reruns of Elvis movies, and nearby themed shops such as Love Me Tender Boutique, where you can pick up an Elvis-inspired jumpsuit, should you so wish. You can even renew your vows in the Elvis Wedding Chapel or savour a deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. Thomson Worldwide (0871 230 2770; offers three-nights from £599 per person based on two sharing, including flights and accommodation.

A retro retreat?

There are plenty of themed hotels styled on different decades from the past century. If the Sixties is your thing, then head to Hotel Theoxenia on Mykonos (00 30 22890 22230; www. This is a hotel that once hosted the likes of Jackie and Aristotle Onassis. Now a five-star boutique property, it has Sixties features such as primary-coloured retro furniture, Pop Art canvases, moulded white seats around a pool and American-style buffet breakfasts. Doubles from €140 (£116) per night.

Or you could try the Hard Days Night Hotel, Liverpool (0151-236 1964;, a surprisingly smart four-star Beatles-themed hotel in the heart of the "Beatles Quarter" next to the Cavern Club. Decorated with photos of the Fab Four and specially commissioned work by Shannon, the highly regarded Beatles artist, the hotel has a bar where you can sip Honey Can't Buy Me Love cocktails, as well as a deluxe McCartney suite that comes complete with a white grand piano. Doubles start from £130 per night, room only.

For the Fifties, you shouldn't miss the Fontainebleau, Miami Beach (001 866 548 5670; This legendary hotel opened its doors to the public in 1954, when the A-list celebs of the time – Elvis, Sinatra and the Rat Pack – were frequent visitors. It was the setting for James Bond and Goldfinger's legendary game of gin rummy. A $1bn investment has seen the property reopening this summer. Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3875; offers three nights including flights and car hire from £722.

Closer to home, there is the Hotel Pelirocco in Brighton (01273 327 055;, dubbed England's "most rock'n'roll hotel", which offers authentically retro seaside fun with a naughty twist right on Brighton Beach. Its traditional Georgian exterior conceals funky themed rooms inspired by pop culture, maverick musicians and sexy sirens like Diana Dors. Doubles start at £90, including breakfast.

An authentic 1920s Safari?

If you fancy a White Mischief-style luxury safari experience, then Cottars Camp in Kenya's Masai Mara is the place for you ( Here there are tents elegantly furnished with 1920s antiques, wind-up gramophones and Persian carpets. You are offered old-style sundowners, and you get your own dedicated butler who silver-serves you dinner. Original Travel (020-7978 7333; has a four-night stay from £2,010 per person based on two sharing, and including international flights to Nairobi, flights to the Masai Mara, transfers and full board accommodation.

A good old Enid Blyton-style seaside holiday?

Corfe Castle, which rises majestically over the Isle of Purbeck, is the historic location that provided the inspiration for Blyton's best-selling Famous Five series featuring the magical Kirrin Island. Stock up on lashings of ginger beer at the Ginger Pop Shop in the village, explore the castle ruins and recreate your very own seaside adventures. Dorset Coastal Cottages (0800 980 4070; has a range of perfect family- and Timmy-the-Dog-friendly places to stay such as Viviers Cottage, a four-bedroom Grade II-listed thatch costing from £590 for a week.

A Yuletide vintage break?

You could spend Christmas "just like it used to be" with carols around a giant tree, mulled wine, frosted woodland walks, cocktails in the drawing room and a day of country pursuits. One place offering such treats is Lake Vyrnwy Hotel (01691 870 692; in Powys, which has a "Three-days of old-fashioned Christmas" package starting at £585 per person.

Star in your own golden-age movie

Period films and television series provide rich inspiration for a host of bygone breaks. Fancy donning a little black dress and a string of pearls and checking into a New York apartment to recreate Breakfast at Tiffany's? Book a retro suite in downtown Manhattan through then visit the exclusive jewellery store at 727 Fifth Avenue at 57th Street.

Why not travel back to the time of Brideshead Revisited, as brought to life in both the classic Granada TV production and the recent movie? Each was filmed at Castle Howard (01653 648444; in Yorkshire, which doubled as Brideshead Castle. The fine historic house has a new exhibition, Brideshead Restored, which looks behind the scenes of the making of the movie, set in the Twenties, and tells the story of the TV production. Stay at the camping site beside the Castle Howard lake (01653 648316).

Or how about Gone with the Wind? Travelsphere (0800 19 14 18;, one UK operator is giving fans the chance to visit the southern states where much of the action takes place. The 15-day Deep South tour from £1,324 per person begins in Atlanta, Georgia – scene of Rhett and Scarlett's famous escape.

The Waltons, the TV tale of a family growing up in Virginia during the Great Depression, inspires other time travellers. Fans can visit the Walton's Mountain Museum near Charlottesville, located in the Piedmont Region foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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