Bogan tourists: ditch the thongs, show some class

Where has all the glamour gone? I'm thinking this as I sit on the terrace of the Wunderbar Caffe, which overlooks the Ionian Sea in Taormina in Sicily.

This exquisite ancient town, which was established even before the Greeks arrived in the region in 734BC, in more recent times has been the location of the Taormina Film Fest, which has brought movie stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren to the terrace of the cafe.

Greta Garbo and Truman Capote have also enjoyed cocktails there. It was Tennessee Williams' favourite hangout. Taormina was also the backdrop for Michelangelo Antonioni's super-chic 1960 movie, L'Avventura, which starred Monica Vitta, the It Girl of Italian cinema at the time.

So, perhaps you can see why I was excited that Taormina was on the itinerary of a 10-day tour of beautiful Sicily. And it is magnificent, winding steeply from the sea to an ancient Roman theatre, with charming narrow streets and alleys of mediaeval origin. I would have been able to enjoy those streets if two enormous cruise ships hadn't disgorged passengers at exactly the same time.

As I entered the village from one gate, a sea of ambling people in shorts, T-shirts and baseball caps came towards me from the other direction, about six abreast, which is about the width of the streets.

Maybe I'm being a snob, but I don't come to Italy to look at people wearing shorts and to sit in restaurants dominated by Americans ordering Diet Coke.

The passengers had been divided into groups of about 40, according to busloads, with each group headed by a guide holding a paddle numbered by bus. For one cruise company alone, we counted about 28 busloads. Getting past them was an impossibility, unless you were prepared to flatten yourself against the walls and risk being squashed by some very corpulent bodies.

Eventually, I struggled to the Wunderbar, which is situated in a plaza in the middle of town. It was a pretty fabulous spot, if you look out to sea, but the square is also Tourist Central. There were souvenir stalls and a white Maserati on display in a plastic tent. Tourists stood five deep by the wall, taking shots of their ship.

A busker massacred Volare, my favourite Italian song. I had been thinking that old-time glamour of Italian jetset haunts such as Portofino, Taormina and Rome was coming back into fashion, but I realised that while many of these places have stayed essentially the same architecturally, the world of travel has changed. It's all about mass rather than quality.

There were tourists in 1960 too, but there weren't several cruise ships, each carrying more than 2000 people, docking each day.

While I appreciate that Taormina's economy depends on these cruise ships each summer, I think it's such a pity that the mass has overwhelmed the individual experience of some places.

Maybe I'm being a snob, but I don't come to Italy to look at people wearing shorts and to sit in restaurants dominated by Americans ordering Diet Coke.

Fast forward to Florence, where the breakfast room of my elegant hotel is overrun with American tourists wearing shorts, thongs, exercise gear and, yes, ordering Diet Cokes.

This is a very expensive, chic hotel and, while I appreciate everyone has the right to have the holiday they wish, I just don't understand why you would stay somewhere gorgeous and not get into the spirit of it by at least ditching the thongs.

Of course, I should have known to avoid Italy in summer. And yes, I'm a tourist too, although I hope I'm one who is sensitive to place and culture.

The democratisation of travel allows more people to experience the world outside their limited home environment, which in theory is an excellent thing, but only if that traveller embraces the experience and doesn't merely want to transport "home" to other places.

Perhaps you can never be a local, but the old-fashioned concept of respect still applies, and that includes respecting other travellers.

I'm not seeing a lot of that here, as the woman at the table next to me, dripping with sweat from her morning jog, flicks her hair and some of that sweat lands on our crisp linen tablecloth.