What Brits could learn from their continental cousins ​​about keeping cool in a heatwave

holidays abroad travel keep cool hot summer uk heat wave - Getty

holidays abroad travel keep cool hot summer uk heat wave – Getty

Britain is not built for extreme heat. Our buildings are thick-walled, our people thick-blooded, our food warm and hearty, our train tracks… well, they’re obviously not good in rain or snow either – but in unusually warm weather they melt. So when the temperature climbs into the thirties and beyond, as it has tended to do in recent summers, we cling to our routine, turn on the fan and wither away—a land of searing stoicism.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Our continental cousins ​​have long struggled with scorching summers, and over the centuries they’ve learned a thing or two about how to stay cool. Granted, it helps when the nation’s basic infrastructure is geared towards hot summers (adjusted working hours, built-in air conditioning, al fresco culture), but there are still plenty of simple daily dos and don’ts that hot and bothered Brits would do well to adopt. Our destination experts share the best of the bunch.



Keep the sun out: With temperatures rising to 47C in some parts of Portugal, people are careful to close the curtains or shutters during the day regardless of which side the sun shines in, and then open all the windows at night to allow air to circulate.

Have a cold one: To cool off in the hot weather, big, frosty beers are the Portuguese go-to, with gin and tonics or sangria flowing later in the day. It may feel too hot to eat, but you only need to sniff the Portuguese summer air to know that the traditional meal of sardines – light, tasty and grilled outdoors – is the perfect summer food.

beach holiday portugal - Getty

beach holiday portugal – Getty


Avoid the beach: The Portuguese still go to the beach – a national pastime – but many do so very early in the morning, leaving at lunchtime, while others go late in the afternoon and stay for the sunset.

Envious of your electric fan: The biggest problem in Portugal is electricity costs – which have risen sharply there, as in the UK. Although many Portuguese homes have air conditioning, most cannot afford to run it non-stop. They compensate, just as the British do, with electric fans and small portable air conditioners.

By Mary Lussiana



Choose a frappe: Greeks will gather on vine-covered terraces after sunset to play tavli (backgammon) and sip frappe – coffee in a narrow glass cup packed with ice cubes and whipped into a meringue top. An integral part of the Greek summer experience.

greece holidays frappes - Getty

greece holidays frappes – Getty

Take a nap: Whether in the city or the countryside, an essential part of staying cool in summer is an afternoon nap – the Greek version of the Spanish siesta. There is even a law that prohibits making noise in the middle of the day.

Sleeping during the hottest part of the day – usually between 3pm and 5.30pm – is an acquired habit, but once you’ve mastered it, it’s like having two days rolled into one. You wake up refreshed, you shower and get dressed, then continue with your work day before heading home to dine out under the stars around 10 or 11 p.m.


Live in the city: Fleeing to the ta choria – the villages – in the summer is standard practice in Greece, and villages of just 300 inhabitants double in size in the winter, as children (who have three months’ summer holiday) and other family members can get time off. , return to these quieter, usually cooler, regions.

Go to bed early: Great big parties – or glendis – with music and food are an essential part of summer in Greece: don’t skip social soirées altogether when the weather is warm, just do as the Greeks do and avoid the sweatier hours of the day by starting at midnight, and then continue until the first warm blush of dawn.

By Heidi Fuller-love



Go Dark: My first years living in Italy were spent with a Roman family, with whom I shared some pot-like summer months. They had shutters, of course, but also some of the thickest curtains I’ve ever seen. Not to keep the dawn out, but to draw in the middle of the morning in the middle of summer, the windows have been open all night. It worked. Not cool exactly, but not suffocating. Wherever they are – at home, hotel, villa – Italians know that the afternoon sun is an enemy to be kept at bay.

italy keep cool travel tips - Getty

italy keep cool travel tips – Getty

Use the wet look: My roommates shared two tips for sleeping through hot nights that have stood me in good stead ever since. First, lightly sprinkle or spray the sheets with water. Cool to lie on, and when the sheets are dry you sleep. When you wake up warm, same again. Or – in the extreme – similar principle: soaked T-shirt, wrung out, on, cold as you like. Wake up warm, wear out your T-shirt, reach for the spray. Sleep and repeat.

And while a soaked T-shirt might not make for a strong daytime look, it’s also wise to avoid too much bare skin when you’re out and about – Italians don a light outer layer of cotton or linen, knowing that the skin stays cooler that way than in direct sunlight.


Forget the mountains: Italians have a summer holiday choice: mare or montagna – sea or mountains. You might think you want to go swimming and the beach. Do you really? Counter-intuitive to leave the coast perhaps, but Italians know that altitude brings relief: fresher air, cooler nights and daytime temperatures that actually let you do something. Average highs for July in Milan, for example, are 88F/31C; in the resort of Alta Badia, in the Dolomites, they are a positively chilly 70F/21C.

dolomites italy holidays - Hasselblad H5D

dolomites italy holidays – Hasselblad H5D

Don’t bother with afternoons: When vacation time is precious, it’s hard to accept that you have to give up part of your day. But in high summer, Italians, like Greeks and Spaniards, accept that afternoons are simply written off. In Rome, the family’s outdoor tasks – shopping, morning espresso – were done by 11 a.m. After that – unlike the city’s summer tourists – it was off the streets until 5pm. Time is made up later, much later, in the hours of balmy bliss until dawn.

By Tim Jepson



Have a long lunch: It may surprise many Brits to learn that Spanish siestas are largely a stereotype, and one that has had little basis in reality for many years. If ever. What is true is that lunchtimes are long (and I mean long) in Spain, with most leaving at 1.30pm and not returning to the afternoon shift until around 4.30 or 5pm, deftly avoiding the worst of the day’s heat.

Keep things light and bubbly: Inventive cold drinks vary from region to region. The south, for example, has its ‘rebujito’, a refreshing concoction of soda, sherry and mint, while ‘Aigua de València’ (Valencia water) is an icy mix of cava, orange juice vodka and gin. Forget sangría in the summer – it’s usually mass-produced in tourist areas, so you won’t find many Spaniards ordering it.

spain holidays drinks - Getty

spain holidays drinks – Getty


Don’t bother with carpet: In Spain, homes are kept beautifully cool in traditional, environmentally friendly ways. In the south, many houses face an internal patio and are therefore sheltered from full sun. Tiling is ubiquitous and carpets non-existent. ‘Persiana’ – an exterior roller blind made of wooden or aluminum slats – is everywhere, often down for months, draped over balconies to allow a sliver of light on each side, but nothing more.

Make a meal for one: The Spanish are also masters at adapting their diet. Ordering rice or paella for dinner, for example, might earn you a raised eyebrow – rice is considered difficult to digest in very hot weather, or late at night, which is when many Spaniards sit down to dinner during the summer months. However, tapas and platillos (sharing plates) are the ideal food for sweltering days, with a bowl or a glass of iced gazpacho.

By Sally Davies



Get a culture fix: Many of France’s tall city buildings are devoid of air conditioning, so instead of sweating in a chambre-de-bonne-cum-sauna, the French head to a museum or gallery to cash in on public AC. Cinemas, bars and even the local pharmacy can literally be a breath of fresh air. It’s also a great time to visit the cool cloisters in the country’s many impressive churches and cathedrals.

monet museums travel france - Alamy

monet museums travel france – Alamy

Cool everything: Nothing, not even summer temperatures of up to 40C, can mess with French meals. Do as the French do and make hearty, fresh salads. Anything that requires cooking is prepared in the evening when it is cooler and refrigerated until the next day. Much of the fridge is stocked with glass carafes of water and there are usually a few bottles of white wine as well.


Underestimate the power of shutters: Country gȋtes with periwinkle shutters may look straight out of a Provençal postcard, but they’re also practical. In hot weather, the French keep shutters closed during the day before dousing themselves with mosquito repellent and open them at night to allow air flow.

Skip the weekend trip: French cities become ghost towns on summer weekends, and city dwellers flee the stifling streets for the cool lure of the mountains, coast or rivers. Even getting just outside the ring road can be enough, and many French cities have large green spaces and lakes that are easily accessible by public transport.

By Anna Richards

Do you have any tips for staying cool that you learned on vacation? Please share them below

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