"Now hang on just a moment there. I think we need to take a minute to think about this. What you fail to appreciate is that the Mediterranean is a very large sea. There’s about 970,000 square miles of it, all told. There are 21 different countries either on the edge of it, or in it. It has sustained a huge range of civilisations over the course of the centuries. So, inevitably, it’s a brilliant place for a holiday. What did you say your job was again? International professor of Mediterranean studies? Okey-dokey. Well in my experience..." All right – that’s quite enough of the man-splaining/Med-splaining pun. You get the idea.
In all seriousness, though, Europe’s greatest body of water – the quasi-ocean which both separates it from and connects it to Asia and Africa – is a brilliant place for a holiday. We all know this. But then, we don’t necessarily see the full picture, with many of us returning to the same familiar spots year after year. Yet for every busy Costa there is a less-appreciated segment of the Spanish coast. For every over-touristed Amalfi, there is a quieter Calabria; for every much-visited Mykonos, a calmer Karpathos. For every fly-and-flop break, there are more intriguing ways to explore in Turkey or Cyprus.
We examine these delightful alternatives – the Mediterranean beyond the tried and trampled, if you will. Of course, the key word is going to need a little Med-splaining of its own. For the purposes of simplicity, here, "Mediterranean" covers all the various sea-within-a-sea fragments of the wider whole – the Aegean and the Ionian, the Tyrrhenian and the Adriatic. And for even further simplicity in these complicated times, we’ve focused on the European pieces of the Mediterranean jigsaw. So if you are dreaming of a holiday on one of its shimmering shores – either later in 2021, or in a calmer post-Covid summer – and you want a good retort to the next person that tries to Med-splain at you, these options should provide plenty of ammunition beyond the obvious.
Bathe yourself in Orange Blossom (not Sun): The Costas are among the most beloved destinations for tourists, but some slices of the Spanish shore are better known than others. On name alone, the Costa del Azahar (Orange Blossom Coast) sings to the soul and the senses. It also offers tangible joys, too, such as the resort towns of Peniscola and Benicassim and the city of Castellon de la Plana, with its grand 15th-century cathedral. Valencia, with its incredible fine food scene, sits just outside the region, but is no less enticing.
Be a city-breaker in Tarragona (not Barcelona): Catalonia is forever defined by its swaggering capital. Yet for those seeking a less popular base than Barcelona, there is much to be said for slipping 60 miles south-west along its shoreline, to a city which has just as much history, but nothing like the crowd numbers. Tarragona – once the Roman settlement of Tarraco – wears its ancient heritage openly in its Unesco-listed amphitheatre, but does not forget the sea on its curved Playa El Miracle.
Be an island escape artist on Formentera (not Ibiza): The smallest of the four main Balearic Islands has generally played second fiddle (or second DJ set, to be more accurate) to its neighbour Ibiza, but Formentera is starting to emerge as a destination in its own right. Its development will continue next month with the opening of Casa Pacha Formentera - a hotel offshoot of the Spanish nightclub group that will bring 14 rooms and a dozing-on-daybeds vibe to Platja Es Arenals, on the long southern shore.
Park yourself on a peninsula in Piran (not Dubrovnik): To say Istria hangs down below Italy is to fail to mention the little sliver of meat in that particular sandwich - Slovenia, and its 29 miles of coast at the top end of the Adriatic. Here you’ll find the twin jewels of Piran, a miniature Dubrovnik where orange rooftops interlock on a narrow peninsula, the Cathedral of Saint George on its hilltop; and Portoroz, a lively resort town with hotels and restaurants galore.
Wander wild trails on Karpathos (not Crete): Greece has between 1,000 and 6,000 islands, depending how you measure its various outcrops in the Ionian and Aegean, so there is scope for avoiding the popular and busy. Karpathos is a case in point. It sits directly between two tourism behemoths, Crete and Rhodes, but has little of the profile of either. This is to the benefit of those who want to hike its quiet trails, or swim in its marine regions.
Slip into the Greek summer on Alonnisos (not Skiathos): This fragment of the Northern Sporades is even further from the obvious. Alonnisos is the silent sibling of Skiathos and Skopelos, keeping itself to itself, to the east of both. Largely agricultural - its slopes covered with almond trees, olive groves and vineyards - it is that classic Greek island where life decelerates to the most enjoyable, unhurried of speeds, ideally on a taverna terrace.
Book a villa sojourn in Istria (not Dalmatia): While Dubrovnik and its environs are one of the great tourism success stories of the 21st century, the Dalmatian Coast can be busy at the height of summer. But the same influx impulse does not seem to apply as readily to Istria, the northwesterly Croatian peninsula below Italy. Here you’ll find a haze of pretty towns (like Porec and Rovinj), gentle beaches (see the sheltered lagoon at Umag), truffle farms, vineyards and general rustic tranquillity.
Absorb the Cyprus of cycle trails (not suntans): Like Malta, the Mediterranean’s third largest island (and largest island nation) sometimes suffers a lack of appreciation - reduced to beach hotels and a few Ayia Napa nightclubs. But Cyprus is remarkable in history and geography, ancient ruins filling its furrows, and the Troodos Mountains giving it a spine.
Go North on this enormous island (not south): Cyprus’s separation into two is still controversial 47 years after the Turkish invasion. Even now, only Turkey recognises the "Republic of Northern Cyprus". But for all this, the north is beautiful. To avoid it due to politics is self-defeating. Check out Kyrenia, Famagusta and Nicosia.
Find your Maltese moment by scuba-diving (not sun-worshipping): It is better known for its clement weather, soft sands and beach-break affordability, but Malta is also one of the Mediterranean’s best destinations for diving. Its calm waters, reefs and caves (not least the "Blue Hole" sinkhole in Swerja, a circular rock formation in the limestone – 10m wide and 5m across) and various wrecks (such as an RAF Bristol Blenheim bomber downed by Italian fire in 1941) provide myriad reasons for sub-aqua exploration.
Choose family action and adventure (not fly and flop): With its ready supply of resorts around Bodrum and Marmaris, Turkey is a reliable - and frequently inexpensive - option for unhurried beach breaks. But it might also be a cause for the sort of holiday that lets children burn off their energy.
Appreciate the Lycian coast by boat (not beach): The Turquoise Coast can be enjoyed in detail - rather than from a lone sunlounger - via the proverbial slow boat. Peter Sommer Travels (petersommer.com) runs gulet cruises in these warm waters, including a 15-day sailing, nominally between Gocek and Fethiye. The cruise repeatedly drops anchor to flit inland to places such as the Greco-Roman site of Arykanda, and its amphitheatre; Patara, the onetime fulcrum of Roman Lycia; and Antalya, the modern capital of the region, with plenty of restaurants.
The Daily Telegraph