Travel by degrees

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Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for TUSEN since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores an important travel theme – and what it means to you.

“Stay inside, close all windows and shutters” – that doesn’t seem like a real holiday to me. But as Alison Roberts, a journalist in northern Portugal, told TUSEN Radio Scotland, this is the official advice on how to deal with the extreme heat plaguing the interior of the country – which had reached 47°C in recent days in the Douro Valley.

“We see extreme fire risk in the central and northern interior of Portugal,” she said Lunchtime Live.

Across the border in Spain, according to the TUSEN forecast, the average maximum temperature in Seville will be 35C or more for the next two weeks. Even at night, the temperature on the weekend does not drop below 20C.

The Spanish capital Madrid should feel fresher as it is the highest capital of the EU. The elevation of 657 m (2156 feet) didn’t help much on Friday night: The daytime temperature peaked at 7 p.m., reaching 37C – normal body temperature (98.6 F).

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Nueve meses de invierno, tres meses de infierno this is how the Madrilenians describe their climate: nine months of winter, three months of hell.

Annie Shuttleworth of the Met Office said: TUSEN that temperatures in parts of southern Europe could be 10C higher than average during a third summer heat wave.

All this places the inhabitants of the south of the continent in a harrowing position. Year-round people living in southern latitudes face the prospect of more extreme weather in the future, along with the immediate danger of wildfires and the long-term threat of chronic drought.

Vacationers, on the other hand, have the advantage of being able to choose where they spend their time and money. Could British travelers decide that August no longer appeals to Europe’s deep south? The intense demand for travel to the Mediterranean at the moment suggests otherwise: Saturday afternoon seats from the London to Malaga area for Sunday travel average £250 one way, excluding luggage.

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But as world leaders grapple with the potential impacts of climate change, an increasing prospect of being told to stay indoors behind closed shutters (or, more likely, inadequate air conditioning) could prompt a rethink.

It’s a matter of degrees: the relationship between latitude and temperature. There is, of course, far from a linear relationship. Altitude and proximity to an ocean have a strong influence, and extreme heat can occur in the strangest places: just ask the people of Coningsby in Lincolnshire, holder of the highest temperature recorded in the UK (July 19, 2022, 40.3C). That’s 104.5F in old money, although it was a bit more invigorating along the coast in Skegness on that scorching hot Tuesday.

Destination choices are made based on all sorts of criteria: culture, cuisine, countryside… But if you take our two favorite countries for overseas travel, Spain and France, their mainland covers a wide spread of latitudes: about 36 to 43 for Spain, 42 to 51 for France.

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The beaches of Dunkirk in the far north of France are a match for those in the deep south-west beyond Perpignan, and easier and cheaper for many British travelers to get to. In Spain, the Galician coast in the far northwest is just as attractive as the Costa del Sol, and the Atlantic Ocean means air conditioning is rarely considered.

As an August escape, I recommend the one I took last year (partly because international travel was so tricky in those absurd “traffic light” times): Shetland.

At 60 North, sunscreen is strictly optional. Over the next week there appears to be a steady 15C in the island’s capital, Lerwick. And you can reach this amazingly scenic and historic archipelago without flying. You may be able to recalibrate your travels next summer.

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