Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has written about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he examines a major travel issue – and what it means for you.
“Stay inside, close all windows and shutters” – that doesn’t sound like a vacation to me. But as Alison Roberts, a journalist in northern Portugal, told BBC Radio Scotland, it is official advice on how to cope with extreme heat ravaging the country’s interior – which has hit 47° in the Douro Valley in recent days reached C.
“We see extreme fire risks in central and northern inland Portugal,” she said Live at noon.
Across the border in Spain, the average high temperature in Seville over the next two weeks will be 35C or more, according to the BBC forecast. Even at night, the temperature does not drop below 20°C at the weekend.
Spain’s capital, Madrid, should feel fresher as it’s the highest capital in the EU. The 657 m (2,156 ft) altitude didn’t help much on Friday night: the daytime temperature peaked at 7 p.m., reaching 37C – normal body temperature (98.6F).
Nine months of winter, three months of hell This is how the Madrileños describe their climate: nine months of winter, three months of hell.
That’s what Annie Shuttleworth of the Met Office said The Independent that temperatures in parts of southern Europe could be 10°C above average during a third summer heatwave.
All of this puts the inhabitants of the south of the continent in a distressing situation. People living year-round in southern latitudes face the prospect of more extreme weather conditions, along with the immediate threat of wildfires and the longer-term threat of chronic drought.
Vacationers, on the other hand, are free to choose where to spend their time and money. Could British travelers decide August is no longer attractive in Europe’s deep south? Strong demand for Mediterranean travel at the moment suggests otherwise: Saturday afternoon seats from the London area to Malaga for the Sunday journey cost an average of £250 each way, excluding luggage.
But as world leaders grapple with the potential consequences of climate change, the growing prospect of being asked to stay indoors behind closed shutters (or, more likely, inadequate air conditioning) should prompt a rethink.
A matter of degree: the relationship between latitude and temperature. There is, of course, far from a linear connection. Altitude and proximity to an ocean have a powerful impact, and extreme heat can occur in the strangest of places: just ask residents of Coningsby in Lincolnshire, holder of the highest recorded temperature in Britain (19 July 2022, 40.3 °C). That’s F104.5 in old money, although it was a bit more invigorating on this scorchingly hot Tuesday along the coast in Skegness.
The choice of destination is made according to all sorts of criteria: culture, cuisine, landscape… But if you take our two favorite nations for overseas travel, Spain and France, their mainlands cover a wide range of latitudes: about 36 to 43 for Spain, 42 to 51 for France.
The beaches of Dunkirk in France’s far north rival those in the deep south-west beyond Perpignan and are easier and cheaper to reach for many British travellers. In Spain, the coast of Galicia in the far northwest beckons, as does the Costa del Sol, and the Atlantic means air conditioning is rarely thought of.
For August’s escape I’d recommend the one I did last year (partly because international travel was so difficult in these absurd ‘traffic light’ times): Shetland.
At 60 North, sunscreen is completely optional. The coming week looks set to see a steady high of 15C in the islands’ capital, Lerwick. And you can reach this amazingly picturesque and historic archipelago without flying. Next summer you could recalibrate your travels.