Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2005/16 posted by hidden europe on

The upcoming days see a couple of quirky festivals in Corsica, each marking the Catholic feast of the Nativity of Mary on 8 September. At Lavasina, in Corsica's northeast corner, locals gather on the beach for midnight Mass in honour of the gifted Madonna who allegedly regularly intervenes in village affairs for the general good of the community.

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Dear fellow travellers

hidden europe touched down at Copenhagen airport recently, but eschewed the pleasures of the Danish capital. Instead we checked out the island of Saltholm, a tiny marshy island that sits in rural isolation in the middle of the Øresund. Just a mile or two from the Danish mainland, yet inaccessible other than by private boat, Saltholm hosts a human population that can be numbered on the fingers of one hand - plus lots of cows and a bird sanctuary. It is to Saltholm that Danish farmers send their prize heifers on holiday.

The sixteen square kilometre island is a haven of absolute tranquility if you can ignore the planes coming in to land at Copenhagen's nearby Kastrup airport. It is little changed from the days when Paul Gauguin's Danish protégé, Theodor Philipsen, so ably reproduced on canvas the subtleties of light that still make Saltholm so special.

Just to the south, the skyline is dominated by the elegant curves of the new Øresund bridge that carries road and rail traffic from Denmark across to Sweden. Saltholm is a truly remarkable place that contrives to survive as an oasis of calm amid the icons of modernity that surround it - a lesson there, surely, for all of us.

Corsica

The upcoming days see a couple of quirky festivals in Corsica, each marking the Catholic feast of the Nativity of Mary on 8 September. At Lavasina, in Corsica's northeast corner, locals gather on the beach for midnight Mass in honour of the gifted Madonna who allegedly regularly intervenes in village affairs for the general good of the community. Also this week, from Thursday to Saturday, enthusiasts of polyphonic chants descend on Casamaccioli. There, as part of the festival of the Nativity of Mary, verbal dialectics reign supreme in the chiami e rispondi (queries and responses), an arcane form of musical dialogue in which contestants seek to outwit their opponents in interchanges of rhyming verse.

No better moment surely to head south and check out the menhirs at Filitosa - great standing stones surrounded by gnarled grey green olive trees. Visitors well used to menhirs from northern Europe will be surprised by the Corsican standing stones, which are richly embellished with carvings of people and weaponry. And all in a setting - in the beautiful Taravo valley - that lends a rather mystic ambience to the whole ensemble.

Moldova Wine Festival

When the copy deadline of hidden europe 4 was reached on 21 August, we had not yet heard from the Republic of Moldova about their plans for this year's Moldovan wine festival. So it's good to get the news now that Moldova's National Wines Days will this year be celebrated on the weekend of 8 and 9 October. And throughout the first half of October tourists with EU passports entering Moldova in pursuit of good wine are exempt from all the normal visa fees. Although visas still have to be obtained, this is just a formality, that, during the two week wine period, can be handled upon arrival at Chisinau airport.

If Moldovan wine is a new one on you, be assured that this little visited country produces some of Europe's most intriguing wines - great hefty reds and an amazing port-like dessert wine called Kagor. Read more on Moldovan wines in the September issue of hidden europe.

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.