My Top 3 Travel Secrets

by Keith Savage · 14 comments

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The travel-blogging chain letter aimed at exposing travelers’ three best kept travel secrets has landed in my lap, thanks to the inimitable Suzy Guese. The idea was kicked off by Tripbase and has spread through the travel blogging community like the bird flu. Thankfully, I’m not getting sick; instead, I just need to step into the vault and select three hand-picked travel secrets that you need to read.

I recently wrote about travel secrets and the truth is that we hold no power over a place simply because we’ve been to it. Perhaps the best thing we can do as travelers is share these finds and divest ourselves of any presumptuous feelings of “place ownership.” So with that, here are three of my best-kept travel secrets:

Dunkeld, Scotland

Deep in the heart of Perthshire lies perhaps my favorite place in Scotland: Dunkeld. Nestled in the Tay river valley between Perth and Pitlochry, the tiny town of Dunkeld could be like any other town just off the A9 en route to the Highlands. Except it’s not. As I planned my wife’s and my first extended trip to Scotland, Dunkeld looked like a pleasant place to stay. It was well-known for its trad music and was well-situated as a stopping point on our round-the-country jaunt.

We had left Edinburgh and enjoyed a few stops in Fife before cruising through the leafy countryside and crossing the Tay river to see an ancient cathedral amidst a quaint town. We parked the car in a gravel lot abutting the river and carried our packs into the Taybank Hotel. That night we tucked into some classic Scottish pub food, downed our fair share of pints and drams, and listened to some of the best traditional Scottish music I’ve ever heard.

We made our way back to Dunkeld last summer with my family and repeated the experience. Perhaps it was the whisky or the ceilidh or the setting, but there’s a sense of community in the pubs and lanes of Dunkeld. One of the highlights of any trip to Scotland.

Guest House Douro

The colorful city of Porto, Portugal is itself underappreciated, and within the Ribeira district operates an excellent guest house: Guest House Douro. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know how enchanting this city and guest house would be as I probably would have trashed the remainder of the Portugal itinerary. As it transpired, I sucked every last drop out of the single day in Porto and a big part of what made the stay so memorable was Guest House Douro and it’s super-friendly proprietors, João and Carmen.

When I stayed there, the guest house had been open for less than a year. The owners had moved from Montreal, casting aside their comfortable lifestyle, and bought a ruin of a building in a perfect location overlooking the Douro river. The wonderful Guest House Douro finally emerged after a lot of hard work and bureaucratic red tape. Over a glass of his mother’s homemade aguardiente (the local firewater), João and I talked about the process of renovating the guest house and doing business in Portugal. It was a fascinating conversation, and the openness with which Carmen and João spoke to me made me feel like a long lost friend.

Vejer de la Frontera, Spain

Andalusian Spain is filled with beautiful white-washed towns, and the hilltop village of Vejer de la Frontera, less than an hour southeast of Cadíz, is no exception. When I arrived in early June the sun seemed to come from all directions as the white city cooked all living things within its narrow streets indiscriminately. Our abode, an open-air B&B named El Cobijo turned out to be a gorgeous spot to look at the stars before turning in. The excellent communal breakfasts carried us through to the later meals, where we enjoyed traditional Moroccan cuisine at El Jardin de la Califa and a variety of hand-crafted rums and tapas at La Chozita.

Vejer’s incongruous passages made exploring the city exciting. The town was too small to get lost in, but just right to lose yourself in.

Secrets no more. Go forth and keep these locations and accommodations in mind next time you’re planning a trip to the region. Ok, now that I’ve shared mine what are some of your travel secrets?

inesNo Gravatar June 27, 2010 at 5:51 PM

The picture of Porto looks amazing and I think I will plan my next vacation there.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 27, 2010 at 6:56 PM

Believe me, you won’t regret it. Absolutely beautiful city!

Wandering CarolNo Gravatar March 8, 2010 at 11:49 AM

PS I don’t have a stutter, the reason there are two I’s is that when I make a comment I can’t see the first word. Is that your computer or mine?

KeithNo Gravatar March 11, 2010 at 3:03 PM

This could be a result of using IE. Is that your browser of choice?

Wandering CarolNo Gravatar March 8, 2010 at 11:48 AM

II hate hate hate chain letters but I do love hearing secrets. I’m in Wales right now and thinking, can I make it up to Dunkeld? Sadly, not this trip, but that’s the great thing about travelling, places don’t go away. It’s on my list.

KeithNo Gravatar March 11, 2010 at 3:02 PM

That’s too bad you can’t make it! Next time you’re in Scotland or northern England, consider popping up to Dunkeld. It’s an easy drive from Edinburgh.

GrayNo Gravatar March 4, 2010 at 5:55 AM

Great tips, Keith, and beautiful photos.
.-= Gray´s last blog ..Yes, We Have No Mallorcas =-.

KeithNo Gravatar March 5, 2010 at 8:58 AM

Thanks Gray!

Nomadic ChickNo Gravatar March 4, 2010 at 12:38 AM

Love the tip about a hostel. An abode can factor into the travel experience. You’re about the 4th person to tag me for this. I’m on it – add it to my pile. 🙂
.-= Nomadic Chick´s last blog ..Gypsy Wednesday – The Exile Lifestyle and Untemplater =-.

KeithNo Gravatar March 4, 2010 at 8:39 AM

I figured you’d been tagged, but I didn’t see you on the list and so I went for it. If nothing else, it’s more encouragement to share your secrets 🙂

backpacking-travel-guideNo Gravatar March 3, 2010 at 11:43 PM

hWhat does homemade aguardiente taste like?

KeithNo Gravatar March 4, 2010 at 8:37 AM

Aguardiente (at least in Portugal) is a strong Brandy. Imagine the alcohol content jacked up and a much more potent burning sensation as it goes down. It’s also less sweet. The homemade batch I tasted had a handful of cloves soaking in the liquor. It was special!

SuzyNo Gravatar March 3, 2010 at 11:16 PM

Great secrets! I love how you included the guest house in Portugal. Sometimes I think people are so focused on getting to their destination and seeing everything, they fail to see the story right over their heads at their accommodations. And Vejer de la Frontera sounds like a dream. Adding these to my travel list now!
.-= Suzy´s last blog ..How to Travel Like a Temperamental Ginger =-.

KeithNo Gravatar March 4, 2010 at 8:49 AM

It’s funny, I recently read on One Giant Step that they felt accommodation was one of the key factors in their enjoyment of a place. I couldn’t agree more. My wife and I are the same way. Does that make us homebodies?

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