Mar 27, 2012 6:40:33 AM
Where to escape the daily grind
Perhaps all you want from your honeymoon is a brief escape from the modern world. Look no further than these refreshingly retro destinations.
1. Havana, Cuba
Wander through Habana Vieja, a district like a gritty 1950s movie. Colonial tenements crumble, children play baseball with a stick, women go shopping with their hair in rollers, vintage US cars trundle past. There’s nowhere that can capture your imagination quite so much; nowhere as filmic, as romantic, as mesmerising, as dishevelled or as alive. Head to the Casa de la Musica for what one of our authors describes as ‘hot hot hot salsa with young hot hot hot Cubans’. Gatecrash a late-night jamming session and learn how to dance like a local, oiled by mojitos. This is no heritage theme park, it’s a spiky gift of a capital, set in its own time zone.
Hear what’s happening by streaming Radio Havana.
Bukhara’s 2000-year-old shahristan (old city) is the place to forget the present and immerse yourself in the evocative, ancient splendours of Central Asia. Find your way, by happy accident, through mud-brick lanes to covered bazaars, ancient mosques with jewel-bright interiors, and medresa (religious schools). If you want a carpet or a ceremonial dagger, you’re in luck, as the domed markets are some of Uzbekistan’s best places to shop. Don’t miss Bukhara’s most striking landmark: the 13th-century, 70m-high Kalyan Minaret. Genghis Khan was apparently so taken with it that he left it standing, laying waste to everywhere else.
The city is finally online at www.bukhara.net.
Nuwara Eliya, a Sri Lankan hill station, lies among the glistening green of tea plantations, sloping and humid, reached by a train that trundles up through 19th-century railway stations. The Hill Club was founded in 1858 to cater for British colonial officers and coffee planters. Converted into a hotel, it hasn’t lost any of its sense of snobbery. After 7pm smart dress is expected – men should wear jackets. Sipping tea in the chilly lounges feels rather like you’ve been transported from Ceylon to a remote Scottish estate, with all the grandeur and discomfort that implies.
Take a day trip to the Horton National Park, only an hour away but not to be missed.
There’s nothing quite as unintentionally retro as an English seaside town. Broadstairs, on the Isle of Thanet, is known as the ‘Jewel in Thanet’s Crown’. Punch and Judy shows and donkey rides still ply their trade in summer, when, if it’s not raining, you can enjoy a bracing dip in the chilly sea before tucking into some non-reinvented fish and chips. The resort feels as if it reached the 1950s and decided against going any further. Knot that handkerchief, roll up your trousers and get stuck into a stick of rock (traditional English seaside candy).
Get here in August for Broadstairs Folk Week, which kicks off with a torchlight procession through the town.
5. Nevada Joe’s, Nevada, USA
This is a gas station with an alien fetish, which feels somehow inevitable seeing as it’s stuck out in the Nevada desert. Built in 1960, and feeling curiously as if time has not moved on since, it’s painted powdery pink and has the air of prime David Lynch or Coen brothers territory. Yucca Mountain is the backdrop but this is the middle of nowhere, a place where, it’s said, UFOs fall from the skies like rain. The signage outside has a Wild West typeface, advertising adult entertainment and slots, and it’s all dwarfed – though not upstaged – by a huge billboard. The station was up for sale at the time of writing – let’s hope the new owners don’t change a thing.
Drive into the Nevada desert and stop where Road 373 intersects with US-95.
6. Fès, Morocco
Laden donkeys thundering through narrow, vaulted alleys, squawking chickens, mountains of spices, gruesome butcheries, scurrying cats and vegetable carts: Fès is a breathing medieval city. You’ll feel like you’ve been catapulted back nearly 1000 years. In the ancient medina, shot through with light and shade, it seems as though centuries have passed without leaving the barest imprint. Most archaic of all are the city’s huge tanneries with their great discs of dye: a back-in-time vision, complete with a back-in-time pungent smell.
Keep it real by renting your house in the medina.
Going back in time in Delhi is so immediate. Step into the 21st century underground metro, whose sleek style and smooth mechanics pinpoint it as one of the world’s best transport systems, then get out at Chandni Chowk. Time travel. This is the dense beating heart of Old Delhi, which corresponds roughly to Shajahanabad, the city built here by Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century. Chandni Chowk itself is a long boulevard, off which snake countless narrow bazaars, each devoted to a particular product or trade and packed with cubbyhole shops, as they have been for centuries. Pandemonium reigns. Wander through and find the street packed with paratha sellers, eat delicious stuffed bread that is fried in front of you and, energised, launch back into the fray.
It’s best to stay in New Delhi. Take the train to Delhi Junction railway station and explore the old city from the Kashmere Gate.
8. Siwa, Egypt
Until the 1980s there was no asphalt road accessing Siwa in Egypt, and this desert oasis remains one of the country’s most inaccessible places. Located in the Western Desert, it has a mainly Berber population of around 20,000 and is built over a network of natural wells. You can swim in desert pools and wander around the ruins of the local oracle’s dwelling, famously visited by Alexander the Great. There aren’t many cars on the sandy streets, donkey carts being the vehicle of choice. The people of Siwa have their own language and customs – married women don’t speak to men outside their own families and are rarely seen in public. When they do venture out they are completely shrouded, their heads covered, not even their eyes visible.
Catch the bus to Siwa from Alexandria’s Misr Bus Terminal. Alternatively, hire a jeep to take you across the Western Desert but expect to pay a pretty penny for it.
9. Muthaiga Country Club, Nairobi, Kenya
Full of old colonels and white mischief, this elite club, set in 14 acres of garden, opened on New Year’s Eve in 1913. It likes to think that little has changed since, and still breathes stuff y, early-20th-century air. It was here that Henry ‘Jock’ Delves Broughton, his wife Diana and the Earl of Erroll dined on the night the earl was shot by Delves Broughton, jealous of the earl’s affair with Diana). The crime was dramatised in the film White Mischief (1988). Gin and tonics and croquet, anyone?
Members take advantage of six tennis courts, two squash courts, a bowling green and the nearby Muthaiga Golf Club; to enquire about membership visit www.mcc.co.ke.
Brutal 1960s buildings ring Cosenza in Italy’s south, inadequate town planning made concrete. Persevere and you’ll reach the town centre, a medieval kernel with a dilapidated, paint-peeling appeal. Dusty bookshops sell vintage postcards and cafes summon a potted-palm-and-marble heyday. Stay in the local hostel, Ostello Re Alarico, a mansion filled with polished antique wood and with views over the city’s past.
Book Ostello Re Alarico or try the luxurious Grand Hotel San Michele.
This article was updated in March 2012.
Ready to go?
Flee the modern world with these tours and activities:
- Discover Cuba on foot in a fortnight.
- Go on a Delhi city break.
- See Bukhara on your Silk Road journey.
Read all about it
In search of more places to jump off the hamster wheel? Check out Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Experiences.