The last time I decided to take myself off on holiday alone was almost a decade ago.
In the summer which intervened between my two years of “teaching” English conversation classes as a lectrice, I found myself in the enviable position of having a three month paid holiday to fill, somehow. None of my friends were at a loose end, so I decided to go it alone. With the wonderful Routard as my guide, I started at Avignon and worked my way westwards towards the Spanish border, staying in cheap hotels and youth hostels in Nîmes, Montpellier and Perpignan, alternating budget restaurants and ravioli from a can, getting from A to B by bus and train. In those days, the Routard rated towns of interest with a helpful number of stars, and I made a point of visiting every place I could get to without a car, and was rarely disappointed. I saw jousting in Sète, fell of a rented bicycle into a ditch just outside Nîmes (due to a tragic combination of sunstroke, oversized bike and too-short legs) and ate fresh anchovies in tapas bar in Coliloure.
At the end of my three week tour I went to stay with a British couple, George and Sylvia, friends of a fellow lecteur, who had chosen to retire in the countryside north of Narbonne and were happy to put me up in exchange for doing a few odd jobs around their house and keeping them company. My favourite memory of that holiday is of the day when George drove me out to a vineyard to buy the cheap local red which he drank with every meal. On the way back to the village he took a turning I hadn’t noticed before, a narrow track which snaked through the vines, bringing us out on top of a hill from which we could survey the surrounding countryside.
“There’s something I thought you might like to see,” said George, parking the car and leading me slowly, painfully to the North side of the hill, leaning heavily on his walking stick. He had a bad leg, and it occurred to me that he was probably over stretching himself.
I followed him, squinting into the sun, thinking that the view was pretty, but not spectacular enough to warrant his trouble until I saw what he was pointing at, and stopped dead in my tracks. From our elevated vantage point the foundations of an immense Roman villa, invisible at ground level, were laid out in front of us. The main road almost clipped the outer wall, but without my guide, the vines would have had no trouble keeping their secret.
“I knew you’d like it,” he said, pleased as punch when he heard my sharp intake of breath. “After you told me about visiting the amphitheatres, the ruins near Nîmes. I knew you’d appreciate this.” He was not wrong.
Ten years later, I found myself once more in the enviable position of having the wherewithal to go away, and the time to do it. Tadpole will be staying with her French grandparents for ten days in February, and as I haven’t been on holiday (trips to see my parents or friends notwithstanding) since the damp and disappointing week I spent in Morbihan, Brittany with Mr Frog in August 2005, I decided to seize the opportunity.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to find some winter sun without breaking the bank, I thought to myself, scrolling through the destinations on LastMinute and AnyWay, clicking merrily through the special offer links on PromoVacances. But my mounting excitement was soon tempered by a feeling of indignant despair, as I saw that not only did most operators charge a hefty supplement for single occupancy of a double room, but in some cases they simply weren’t prepared to let a solo traveller book a room during the school holiday peak period, full stop. It seemed I had stumbled on yet another of those “Reasons Why Couples Look So Smug”, and it irked me no end.
After much dispirited sighing and surfing in ever decreasing circles, I finally found my solution (and it wasn’t a holiday site for singles, although I almost considered it). No, the solution was simply to eschew packages and book the hotels myself, often finding single rooms, and never paying a supplement.
I’ll be flying off to Marrakech for five days in late February, staying three nights there, and two by the coast in two gorgeous Riad hotels. My bags filled with books to read on the roof decks, I’ll take a few guided tours, do a spot of haggling, eat tajine and drink litres of fresh mint tea.
And by some bizarre twist of fate, guess who I’ll be meeting for dinner on the first night there?