In our latest podcast, legendary comedian and writer Ruby Wax told us all about her obsession with seeking out “that real thing” on her travels – off-the-tourist-trail places that are almost impossible to find, yet attract a trickle of intrepid types for their effortlessly relaxed vibes.
To help Ruby pick her next bohemian escape, we asked our team of hard-travelled editors whether they’d ever experienced true escapism. Here, they share their favourite memories, from a trip through time to the old Kingdom of Bohemia in the Czech Republic to a Chilean mountain yoga retreat like no other.
Butterfly Valley, Turkey
Neil McQuillian, Senior Editor:
If Turkey’s Butterfly Valley (Kelebekler Vadisi) taught me anything, it’s that bohemian paradise isn’t impossible to find, even amidst a perfect minefield of package holiday resorts.
This canyon-backed beach lies just 12km south of Fethiye, but it ticks some boho boxes. You have to hike or take a boat to get there; accommodation is in huts and tents; electricity comes from a generator; and there are hippies, bonfires and yoga sessions aplenty – even butterflies if you time your trip right.
But when I visited, there was also tension. Booze-cruise yachts moored just off the beach like big bobbing boomboxes. Sideways glances were more common than welcoming smiles. People get greedy about their paradise, I supposed.
This was at the end of the noughties, and it felt like Butterfly Valley was yearning for some boho, paradisiacal past. Yet I did wonder if that boho past had ever really existed. If it had, I was pretty sure it had lasted barely longer than a butterfly’s lifespan.
Lo Valdes Mountain Film Festival, Chile
Ros Walford, Senior Editor:
In my upside down world, snow was glinting on inverted mountain peaks. I breathed deeply, inhaling thin air and the scent of grass mixed with barbecue breakfasts. Then in one swift movement I raised up to salute the sun, and the mountains righted themselves as the early morning sun warmed my face. This was a yoga session like no other.
I was visiting a mountain film festival in Lo Valdes, high in the Andes near the Chilean capital Santiago. This small annual gathering of like-minded outdoor adventurers and free spirits is a bit of a struggle to get to. Information on the Spanish-language website is sketchy; access to the festival site on public transport is non-existent; and cars have to follow a dusty track for miles up a winding valley, far from food shops, banks and sources of electricity.
But for anyone with a spirit of adventure who makes it here, the rewards are great. For three days, there are heart-stopping mountain sports films on the big screen, and trekking and climbing excursions, while night-time brings out the bonfire gatherings and dancing around a hippie bus under the stars.
Expect a lullaby of rhythmic drumming as you drift to sleep in your tent, recharging the batteries for that early outdoor yoga session.
Tamboti Tented Camp, Kruger National Park, South Africa
Georgia Stephens, Travel Editor:
Glancing up from the sizzling braai and into the eyes of a hyena, pressing its thick snout against the chainlink fence just an arm’s length away, I knew I’d found South Africa’s “real thing”.
I was staying at Tamboti Tented Camp, a tiny site in the bush of the Kruger National Park, so I’d expected to have a few brushes with the wildlife – I just hadn’t reckoned it would get quite as close as it did.
As I was sitting on the raised platform beside my tent, I’d be interrupted by ominous sounds: the scratching of a honey badger in the dirt; the clattering of kitchen pans as baboons raided nearby tents; and the chesty roars of lions, a bit too close for comfort. I’d sneak along the camp’s dusty tracks each night with a white-knuckle grip on my torch, watching its light reflecting pairs of big, yellow eyes in the bushes – and remembering the rumours of the resident leopard.
But back on the deck, reading by the light of the dying coals, and feeling exhilarated yet equally terrified by every crackle of twigs or rustle of leaves, I knew I wouldn’t have it any other way.
West Cornwall, England
Rebecca Hallett, Travel Editor:
I was born and raised in Devon, but always had a bit of a traitorous impulse towards Cornwall – especially its far west, which struck me as being wild, untamed and a bit mystical.
Western Cornwall has a bleak and elemental beauty, but its dramatic granite landscapes are home to warm, down-to-earth people, and a spirit at once fiercely independent and inclusive of all the “weirdos” who wander down the mainland to find their home there.
One memorable time, I accidentally interrupted a small group of pagans worshipping at Carn Euny, an Iron Age site; I don’t think they realised we were underground in the fogou, so we had to slightly awkwardly emerge – “very sorry, don’t mean to interrupt your chanting, we’ll just pop over here” – wondering why they were praying at an underground grain store.
It turns out no one’s sure what its original purpose was, and it could have been ritualistic, so there you go.
West Cornwall may be as far as you can go without falling off into the Atlantic, and it may take hours to get there on slow trains, but there’s really nowhere else quite like it.
Vyšehrad, Prague, Czech Republic
Aimee White, Editorial Assistant:
I first discovered Vyšehrad by looking up at the fort walls and wanting to find out why they were there.
Vyšehrad, a tenth-century fortress castle overlooking the Vltava River, could be best described as Prague Castle’s hushed cousin. According to legend, this was the royal seat of the prophetic Queen Libuše of Bohemia.
After exploring the castle, I visited Vyšehrad Cemetery, which holds a number of notable Czech artists, writers, composers and sculptors. It was a relief to take a breather from a jam-packed Charles Bridge and bustling Old Town Square.
Ambling along the lofty fort walls, I was treated to breathtaking views right across the turreted skyline of Prague, the capital of the old Kingdom of Bohemia, which was foretold and built on the orders of Queen Libuše.