Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2005/25 posted by hidden europe on

Samnaun is an utterly surreal spot, not least this past week or two while this out of the way community in eastern Switzerland hosted its annual Santa Claus championships. Chimney climbing and displays of sledging prowess were the order of the day as teams from across Europe competed to claim the prize title.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

Samnaun is an utterly surreal spot, not least this past week or two while this out of the way community in eastern Switzerland hosted its annual Santa Claus championships. Chimney climbing and displays of sledging prowess were the order of the day as teams from across Europe competed to claim the prize title. But even without such seasonal frolics, Samnaun has to rate as one of Europe's quirkier villages. This is a place which seems on the edge of nowhere, tucked away in a little side valley, close to the tripoint where Switzerland, Austria and Italy converge. But Samnaun benefits from history, for in the late nineteenth century, the village was accorded a special tax free status by the Swiss customs. At that time, Samnaun was pretty well isolated from the rest of Switzerland, and relied almost exclusively on trade with the neighbouring west Tyrol region of Austria, so it made good sense to leave Samnaun out of the Swiss customs union.

Modern highways mean that Samnaun's isolation is very much a thing of the past, and nowadays the village is a mecca for those in search of duty free cigarettes, cheap petrol and alcohol. Some three dozen businesses compete for visitors' euros and Swiss francs. This German speaking village is essentially a two family place, with the Zeggs and the Hangls between them owning most of the retail outlets. Fierce competition, though the two clans have a knack of coming together in absolute unity whenever the Swiss government mentions that the status of Samnaun is an anachronism that might reasonably be reviewed.

hidden europe 6

The next issue of hidden europe is published on 3 January. We explore time's tempo on Mount Athos, the Orthodox monastic enclave that juts into the northern Aegean. And we check out an interesting road or two: the route from St Petersburg to Tallinn and a highway that has simply disappeared - the old route over Cakor Pass from Montenegro into Kosovo. Elsewhere in this upcoming issue, we unravel the curious tale of a tiny outpost of the Greek diaspora in southeast Poland and experience Albanian hospitality on the shores of Lake Ohrid.

For those who feel that flying nowadays has lost its lustre, we identify some modern European air routes that are calculated to stir some interest. Like the morning flight with Wideroe through Arctic Norway that makes a half dozen stops en route. Even trips between major urban centres might be enlivened, we find, by choosing the least probable airline. Saudi Arabian Airlines from Frankfurt to Geneva for example! Or Tunisair from Copenhagen to Stockholm! We delve through a few airline schedules in search of hidden gems.

We also visit Les Minquiers, a little scatter of islands off the coast of France that belongs to the Bailiwick of Jersey, explore Bratislava's suburbs, and do some border hopping on the train to Kazakhstan. And we suspend our usual commitment to healthy eating as we go in search of the perfect dumpling. All this, and more besides, in hidden europe 6. Orders can be placed through the online shop at our website (www.hiddeneurope.co.uk).

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.