Book review: “The Last Resort”

Your bags are packed.

Yep, you’re headed for five days of sun, sea, and sand. Early-morning dips in the ocean, flip-flops, and little grains of beach in the sheets every night. But you won’t care, you’ll be on V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N. Might want to check first, though: read “The Last Resort” by Sarah Stodola to be sure your venue’s going to be there.

Some thirteen years ago, nursing the wounds from an abrupt break-up, Sarah Stodola headed for what turned out to be the balm her soul needed: a semi-secluded beach on a peninsula in Thailand. She swam in warm waters near white sand that was often nearly empty. She drank island beers with new friends. She came home, refreshed, and looking with a new eye at why we love to go on vacation at the beach.

It wasn’t always like that.

A few hundred years ago – the Greeks and Romans notwithstanding – most Europeans feared the ocean, perhaps understanding it as a mighty force rather than a relaxing froth. Seafaring explorers changed that and by the latter half of the 1500s, wealthy Europeans flocked to “spa towns” as a retreat. Eighteenth-century doctors recommended that their patients bathe in the sea, and cabanas and resorts on an ocean beach became the place to be.

It still is, says Stodola. You can be pampered and primped on any of the beaches on which to play: Monte Carlo, a getaway that started because of a broke prince’s shrewd wife; Hawaii, the shores of which require constant work; Fiji, which exists, in part, thanks to a former U.S. Air Force base; Nicaragua, which struggles to attract visitors; Tulum, in which the resorts are not hooked up to the power grid nor the sewer systems. These places promise guests the sun, fun, and sand they want, but they also have one other thing in common: like so many other resorts around the world, says Stodola, they could “be gone in a few decades.”

So you’re thinkin’ of sinkin’ a chunk of money into resorts, now that travel is possible again? You might want to read “The Last Resort” first, and think on that idea.

It’s a fact that author Sarah Stodola’s descriptions of the many beaches she visited as research for this book makes you want to drop whatever you’re doing and head to the airport… but pay close attention to what else she says about the sand and sun. Stodola takes readers past the palm trees and marble floors, onto a back veranda to look at what’s gone wrong with the environment around the beach resorts we love to visit, why near-constant maintenance is required today, and why things aren’t getting any better. It’s like bending down to sniff a lush island flower, only to find that it’s artificial.

With an appeal to globetrotters, armchair travelers, and environmentalists, “The Last Resort” is also full of warnings for businesspeople flush with available cash. If you need to know more about your next investment or getaway hotspot, this book’s got it in the bag.

“The Last Resort: Chronicle of Paradise, Profit, and Peril at the Beach” by Sarah Stodola

c.2022, Ecco $27.99 352 pages