Finding a Back Door of Your Own
By Rick Steves
The travel skills covered in the first half of Europe Through the Back Door enable you to open doors most travelers don't even know exist. Now I'd like you to meet my "Back Doors." I'm the matchmaker, and you and the travel bug are about to get intimate. By traveling vicariously with me through these chapters, you'll get a peek at my favorite places. And, just as important, by internalizing this lifetime of magic travel moments, you'll develop a knack for finding your own.
Europe is a bubbling multicultural fondue. A Back Door is a steaming forkful. It could be an all-day walk on an alpine ridge, a sword-fern fantasy in a ruined castle, or a friendly swing with a bell-ringer in a church spire. You could jam your camera with Turkish delights or uncover the village warmth hiding in a cold metropolis. By learning where to jab your fork, you'll put together a travel feast that exceeds your wildest dreams.
Some of my Back Doors are undiscovered towns that have, for various reasons, missed the modern parade. With no promotional budgets to attract travelers, they're ignored as they quietly make their traditional way through just another century. Many of these places won't hit you with their cultural razzle-dazzle. Their charms are too subtle to be enjoyed by the tour-bus crowd. But, learning from the experiences described in the last half of Europe Through the Back Door, Back Door travelers make their own fun.
I also explore natural nooks and undeveloped crannies. These are rare opportunities to enjoy Europe's sun, beaches, mountains, and natural wonders, without the glitz. While Europeans love nature and are fanatic sun worshippers, they have an impressive knack for enjoying themselves in hellish crowds. My goal is to experience Europe's quiet alternatives: lonesome stone circles, desolate castles, breezy bike rides, and snippets of the Riviera not snapped up by entrepreneurs.
With a Back Door angle on a big city, you can slip your fingers under its staged culture and actually find a pulse. Even London has a warm underbelly, where you'll rumble with a heart that's been beating for 2,000 years.
And finally, to squeeze the most travel experience out of every mile, minute, and dollar, look beyond Europe. Europe is exciting, but a dip into Turkey or Morocco Egypt is well worth the diarrhea.
The promotion of a tender place that has so far avoided the tourist industry reminds me of the whaler who screams, "Quick, harpoon it before it's extinct!" These places are this Europhile's cupids. Publicizing them gnaws at what makes them so great. But what kind of a travel writer can keep his favorite discoveries under wraps? Great finds are too hard to come by to just sit on. I keep no secrets.
With ever-more-sophisticated travelers armed with ever-better guidebooks, places I "discovered" 10 or 15 years ago are undeveloped and noncommercial only in a relative sense. And certain places that I really rave about suffer from Back Door congestion. Every year or so, I revisit my poster-child village discoveries (Gimmelwald, Dingle, Ærø, Salema, and the Cinque Terre) and, while more crowded now, they are still great. At least from my experience, Back Door readers are pleasant people to share Europe with.
People recommended in my book tell me that Back Door readers are good guests who undo the "ugly" image created by the more demanding and ethnocentric American tourists. By traveling sensitively, you're doing a favor for yourself, as well as for the Europeans you'll meet, travelers who'll follow...and for me. Thank you.
For lots more tips, check out our best-selling Europe Through the Back Door travel skills guidebook.