Where the experts holiday: Tom Hall of Lonely Planet

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Tom Hall, editorial director at Lonely Planet – the world’s largest travel guide book publisher – on Italy, Iran and why the Western Isles of Scotland should feature on any travel itinerary


What do you like to do on holiday?
If it was up to me I’d be on a bike riding between whatever medieval ruins were vaguely nearby, but family travel needs a bit more thought than that. So holidays with my wife and three kids involves either taking the children somewhere I love that’s familiar or exploring somewhere new together with plenty of active stuff thrown in.

Where did you last go?
The Lazio region of Italy, just north of Rome. It sits in the shadow both of the Italian capital and Umbria and Tuscany to the north, but is full of old hill towns, green mountains and, as you’d expect, plenty of history. Being Italy there’s heaps of pizza and gelato too, which is a help when encouraging the next generation to peek inside another church.

Do you know where you’re going this year?
Back to one of the most underrated areas of the UK, Northumberland, for bike-bound puffin spotting amongst beautiful beaches and castles; then a mini road trip across Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, and possibly a flying visit to Bulgaria before the year’s out.

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favourite and why?



I’ve been very lucky to have visited lots of wonderful places, but the answer to this one is always easy. Istanbul is so fascinating, colourful and alive, yet layered with millennia of history, with an unbeatable setting and wonderful food. It feels like the centre of the world, and is changing so fast. I find it an electrifying place to visit any time of the year.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
Generally anywhere I’ve yet to travel to but specifically Iran. As much because of what I don’t know about it as what I do. This history is a major draw and I’d love to go to Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashad but I don’t have a picture of the country in my mind and would love to put that right.

In your own country, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?
Not many visitors make it out to the Western Isles of Scotland, and they’re missing out. It takes some effort to get here but there’s an end of the world atmosphere that’s unlike anywhere else I’ve been. Harris’ beaches and mountains rival anywhere, yet you’ll see few other visitors. I spent five days cycling from Barra to Stornoway hopping on and off ferries and though it rained most of the time the favourable wind, quiet roads and amazing scenery made for wonderful riding.


How do you plan your holiday?
Increasingly we find a place we’d like to stay in on Airbnb or a site like it and plan from there, using guidebooks and tourist office sites. A lot of the time we don’t do a lot of advance planning so local advice is always crucial. In cities you don’t need to plan much, especially since with Uber you can keep going until someone flakes out and then hit the evac button and go home.

How often do you go away?
As often as possible, but generally most school holidays, and a short trip or four at other times of the year for work.

Who do you travel with?
Either on my own or with my family. When we’re feeling really ambitious we’ll go with another family, like on a superb trip we took earlier this year to Porto, Portugal.

Where do you see tourism in your country, in 10 years?
The challenge for the UK is to retain its position as one of the most popular destinations in the world while encouraging visitors to get off the usual London, Stonehenge, Bath, Oxford, York, Edinburgh route. Further focus on the country’s natural attractions will help with this, as will promoting areas like the Yorkshire Dales and north Wales, that are very popular with domestic tourists but less well known internationally. Activity holidays should drive some of this demand – the UK deserves to be known as one of the best cycling destinations in the world and is home to some wonderful multi-day routes. Don’t believe the rainy reputation – we have some wonderful sunny days at any time of the year!


Thanks Tom! Lonely Planet’s latest title  Epic Bike Rides of the World – co-authored by Tom – is out now

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