India Knight: Swiss Alps or sun lounger?

Whether you’re hiking the Alps like Theresa May or sweating in the sun, there’s a simple holiday rule — do as you please


What you choose to do with your summer holiday says a lot about you. I am rather taken with Theresa May going walking in the Alps, for instance, possibly because it reminds me of Heidi striding through lush meadows, waving at goats. The destination has nothing to do with PR: Mr and Mrs May have been going there for years. Still, there is no better way of semaphoring “I am a safe pair of hands” than by going on holiday to Switzerland. It makes Cornwall look positively racy, and it works well contrasted with the Labour Party’s baffling trip to the 1980s.

I’m also very taken with my friend J’s holiday practices, which I observe through Instagram. She and her family never make an obvious choice of destination. This summer, they’re in Estonia. Her picture captions say things like “Abandoned Soviet submarine base”. This seems to me to be the apogee of intelligent holiday-going: not to head off in search of a good time, but rather an interesting, enriching one.

I am sad to know I could never emulate the model, due to the need for strong elements of vegging and comfort.

And this is the problem with summer holidays — expectations, especially when they’re multigenerational, are so high, and so hard to meet.

It used to be that you’d either have a cultural holiday or a beach holiday. The former usually meant Italy or France, and children being dragged around churches, galleries and museums before the adults decided to sit down for a three-hour lunch (“Read your book, darling. Mmm, this burrata is exquisite”). I’ve been on those holidays, both as a child and as a parent, and I look back on them fondly. However, they do mean that by the time you get to my age, you would often rather stick pins in your eyes than stand in front of another masterpiece murmuring about chiaroscuro.

Beach holidays are fundamentally boring. The Age of Tanning is over and lying on a lounger is no fun if you’re slathered in factor 200: the light’s too bright to read, it’s too hot to eat anything substantial (always a great sadness to me), and there is literally nothing else to do. And if you go and do this somewhere exotic, chances are that you’re in a sinister, deluxe gated compound, designed to keep the locals out. This seems like bad karma, at best.

If you’re closer to home — well, these are the sorts of holidays that have been such excellent fodder for novelists, especially if they involve renting a holiday house. They’ve inspired countless murder mysteries and languid, claustrophobic accounts of boredom and infidelity. I mean, you know you’re in the wrong holiday when you’re so bored that you start fancying other people’s spouses.

This is my first summer of not having to organise a holiday. My adult children are off doing their thing, and my 12-year-old is with her father for two weeks. Freedom! Over dinner, my partner and I discussed our options: we could go here, we could go there, we could do this or that. What would be absolutely lovely? And the answer was: to be at home, in peace.

It’s heaven. We spent a few hundred pounds on a huge above-ground pool — pretty much the best purchase I’ve ever made (see below) — and some sun loungers with stripy mattresses. We mill about doing our various tasks, go for a dip, then lie in the sun drinking cocktails. If Theresa May’s holiday says “safe pair of hands”, and my friend J’s holiday says “clever and intrepid”, mine says “happiest in the garden, bobbing about on an inflatable swan”. This isn’t perhaps optimal on the impressiveness front, but one of the better things about getting older is knowing exactly what you like. And then doing it.


  • Buy the deep-frame pool (15ft wide, 48in deep) by Intex; £339 from Amazon. No tools required. Highly recommended
  • Reread Jilly Cooper’s Polo and Riders, in preparation for Mount!, out next month

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