The ultimate escapes
TRAVEL: QUEEN & COUNTRY AND FURTHER AFIELD
In response to reports of gay people being turned away from B&Bs, a business was set up to offer stylish and beautiful holiday lets that welcome everyone. David Matthews tells Q&C about Further Afield’s origins, continued success and the benefits in getting away from it all.
We might have all felt that pang of anxiety at arriving at a hotel reception with our partner, somewhat apprehensive of how we will be welcomed as a same sex couple. Sporadic news reports of B&B owners, often supposedly Christian, turning away gay people doesn’t help to allay such fears.
With today’s society still harbouring pockets of prejudice, the idea behind Further Afield was born - a collection of hand-picked places to stay that share a belief in the importance of inclusivity, of welcoming all guests without judgement and to catering to their needs wherever possible. In short, all travellers can be assured of a warm welcome wherever they choose with Further Afield.
Speaking exclusively to Q&C, David Matthews, curator of Further Afield which was established in 2009, said: “The collection has at its root a desire to create a destination for all travellers who want to be safe in the knowledge that their hosts are inclusive, welcoming and open to people regardless of their sexuality. It’s that simple but so important.
“With this in mind, the site’s founders Simon and Andrew set out to create a collection that could not only be relied on to offer a welcome to everyone, but one which was also carefully curated and that featured stylish and inspirational places to stay.”
David runs Almohalla 51, a beautifully restored boutique guest house in the heart of Archidona, 45 minutes from Malaga, with Myles and with support from Roney, their 12-year-old spaniel, setter cross.
Almohalla has been part of the Further Afield collection since 2013 after the couple became good friends with Simon and Andrew. Two years ago David took over the curation of the collection and had the opportunity to build on the success and reputation of the brand.
Through this handover David had the chance to revisit both the key messages of the collection and its design and functionality. He says: “The ethos of the site has always been about a collection of places that welcome everyone. To that end we don’t include gay-only places to stay, but rather places that might well be gay owned and run but which welcome all. As the site has developed we also try and highlight places to stay that promote a different, inclusive and collaborative way of working.”
An example of this is the lovely Artspace Gites in rural France. Its owner Ursula opens up these gites (cottages) to holiday makers but uses part of her revenue to fund retreats for artists and writers who in turn donate their time to the community in which she lives.
All the properties in the collection need to meet strict criteria to partner with the Further Afield brand and to ensure a perfect holiday for visitors. David says: “New members come to us from a variety of sources: suggestions from our travellers or existing members, direct approaches and my own research. Once identified I spend time checking over the information available – websites, online reviews and then make a decision on whether I feel that their style and ethos is both a good fit and attractive to our travellers.”
David and the team try to visit as many properties as possible but it isn’t always possible. The benchmark though is always the response and interaction from the owners of the property. David adds: “If they’re unprofessional or in fact anything other than lovely, professional and friendly, then we probably won’t be following up.”
David grew up in rural Dorset, and it’s a period of his life he now looks back on with fondness and a renewed sense of appreciation: “Not until my 30s did I really begin to understand how lucky I was to have been surrounded by that beauty and freedom as a child,” he says in reflection. “School friends have moved back to Dorset and their cottage is always on my list when I can get down there as it’s truly like going home.”
The move to Archidona in Andalucia, Spain was after a period living in frenetic London: “Myles and I were fed up of London life and we had the opportunity to do it so we did. We had wanted to work for ourselves and Myles had grown up here, so it made sense to come back here and combine the two. Plus the chance to help others experience and explore this amazing and largely unknown region pulled us to Archidona.”
So what is next for Further Afield? Expanding the collection is the priority, and bringing more choice to travellers. “It’s a hugely competitive market and we’re a relatively small brand within that market, but I feel confident that we have a message to share and most importantly some beautiful places to stay.”
As for what kind of holiday David himself enjoys, it’s no surprise that a beach comes high on his wish list: “I love the beach, so I do like a sunbed, a book and swim. But I love to walk the hills around here too; the space, light and calm allow you organise your thoughts and clear your head. I love cities and the culture, vibrancy and variety that they offer, but would I choose to live in a city again? I’m not sure I could. But life is full of surprises, so who knows.”
One thing he is very much certain on is the importance in escaping and getting away on holiday, especially to some of those more undiscovered beauty spots, not to mention the benefits to mental health: “I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate the importance of getting away from day to day life sometimes. Life today can be pretty full on and escaping that in however small a way possible is an opportunity that should be grabbed.
He adds: “For those lucky enough to travel to new and different places there’s the chance to expose yourself to new languages, cultures, landscapes, cuisines, all of which help to broaden and challenge your mind. But equally escaping to somewhere closer to home but in a new environment can be just as amazing. Just something that takes you out of the normal and recharges you has wonderful benefits – and return home seeing your “normal” in a new and refreshed light. And, of course, ready to start planning your next escape.”
Visit www.furtherafield.com to see the whole collection.
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