As we are at the dawn of a new year, we have never felt the past as relevant – as it’ll be tomorrow. This cycle is inevitable. One five-star hotel is standard, another one with free spa is better, the third one comes with awesome Michelin star meals and a bottle of Lafite for each day during your stay, the fourth one offers you all of the above and a fantastic helicopter pick-up straight from the airport, but when the next fifty hotels offer the same services, then they are already “old”.
Why do ancient wells and untamed paths sound more sexy than a clean, shiny, red carpet? Why does Mona Lisa attract more stares and questions than Damien Hirst? When luxury become standard, it creates a vacuum – and travelers start to look for something else to fill in that blank. And now more than ever, it is history and heritage that provide matter for the starved smartphones and virtual days to come.
A church in the middle of Sicily Island, which most of the tourists may have missed for the last century since it does not fit in the regular route, is suddenly getting a lot of attention. Travellers then go on the web and search mainly out curiosity. Google until you’re googled out. Find out that this church has been there since the first Crusades – it turns out that Sicily used to be a very important port, as a connection for evangelists to travel across the Mediterranean Sea to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Once travellers know about the history of this church, it triggers a world of inner and outer connections. Every one out of two visitors coming out from that church has an idea planted in their mind, just like the movie Inception – or the reminiscence of long-hated history classes and teachers. No matter how many people have tagged and reviewed this site, it didn’t exist until you set your own foot there. And although it is without infrastructure and so isolated that it asks from you lots efforts to get there, this old stack of ruins starts to get past the modern seven-star building.
Twenty-first century travellers are looking for something more intimate, things that they can connect with. And these are things that they need to spend more time on, to dig in, to know, then to learn to appreciate. This family bakery has a longer waiting line that the Gucci flagship store. And that Peruvian vintage furniture piece, oh yes so beautiful, is heavier than this Ikea shelf, and worth so much more. Especially if you had saved it from the ashes of yesteryear and took it home with you.
These trips don’t just ignite ideas – they drive new behaviors. Voyagers are willing to spend a week in an organic farm in Western Australia to experience what it’s like to be a farmer. They become more adventurous, not afraid to get their hands dirty to know about the production process of a Spanish liquor. Go behind the scene of “How is it made”, or simply the sense of reward from watching their labour turn into crops, then cook it themselves. This is what most of the world’s population were doing before the industrial revolution, and the old now turns into the new.
Twenty years ago, we were looking at the new millenium and what Y2K had in store for us. Twenty years later, we are looking at two hundred years ago, if not two millenniums ago. Calligraphy is back, even old names are back in fashion. These are just a few of the many examples. They explain why the hand is replacing the robot. Why wood is still warmer than steel. And why that bistrot by the corner of the cobblestone street since the French Revolution still owned by the same family now sounds more tasty than the brand new molecular table next to it. Or perhaps it is that each needs the other. And the past indefinitely becomes the new frontier of travel.
by Julien Yung Mameaux