hidden europe

Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

The former house of the Iranian consul (called Firouza) in Borjomi, Georgia (photo © Mikhail Markovskiy / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

The Iranian consul's residence and the Romanov's Likani Palace are just two of many extraordinary buildings which attest to the one-time importance of Borjomi, a Georgian spa town best known for its mineral water. It's a town with a complex history ...
The Lavaux vineyards on the shore of Lake Geneva, viewed from the lakeside promenade at Cully (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Travelling east on the steamer from Ouchy , we are struck by how vines dominate the shoreline of Lake Geneva. At Cully we hop ashore to explore this small town in Switzerland's Lavaux region. It is the area from which Switzerland's acclaimed ...
A 1950s-era West German railcar at Lichterfelde West station. This heritage railcar makes special journeys in the Berlin region, often traversing railway lines which are rarely used by passenger trains (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

This year marks the 180th anniversary of the opening of the first railway in Prussia. This was the line from Berlin to Potsdam. So we joined fellow Berliners on a 1950s-vintage railcar that went from Lichterfelde West to Gesundbrunnen ...
An exotic spot in western Scotland: the gardens at Crarae (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

In Victorian Scotland, the public took great interest in technology, and so the detonations at the quarry of Crarae on the west shore of Loch Fyne became something of an attraction. The regular steamer from the Clyde to Inveraray would pause at ...
Sicily seen from the window of the slow train, with Mount Etna in the background (photo © Serjio74 / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

The art of travel writing is not about giving an overview of a country in a recitation of bland generalities. It's about capturing the essence of a place through attention to detail. Tim Parks' book Italian Ways does this ...
photo © Joshua Wanyama / dreamstime.com
Letter from Europe

Winter skating on the River Doubs, which marks the frontier between France and Switzerland, is a common seasonal pastime in the Jura region. As Switzerland and France are both party to the Schengen Agreement, this is a classic "soft" border, one ...
Statue of Vladimir the Great on Borovitskaya Square in Moscow near the Kremlin (photo © Vladimir Zhuravlev / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

In Russia, as more widely, the question of who is honoured in statues and memorials is deeply political. So too is the question of when the first memorial is erected and how long it remains. Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the feared Soviet ...
Old cemetery on Barra's west coast (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Islands breed patience – among both the living and the dead. Especially in mid-winter in Barra, when the storms can be relentless. For us, however, there is a rare pleasure in being at the mercy of the elements. One feels connected with nature in a ...
The Swiss village of Samnaun is a duty-free haven (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

We had assumed that the practice of diligently recording and publishing the name of visitors had long since died out until last summer we visited Samnaun. This really is one of Europe's most oddball communities. It is tucked away in the hills on ...
The rain goose or red-throated diver is often spotted in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland (photo © Mikelane45 / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

We have had still days over Christmas - even halcyon days for those who know their Greek mythology. It suited the rain geese. The birds are more commonly known as the red-throated diver. Elegant in water, but ungainly on land, the rain goose is ...
Gorgona island, part of the Tuscan archipelago, is a prison island with a twist (photo © Cellai Stefano / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

One of Tuscany's leading winemakers, Lamberto Frescobaldi, works with the prison authorities and the inmates on Gorgona island to produce an outstanding white wine. Gorgona lies in the open seas been the coast of Tuscany and ...
From left to right: Peter Knutas, Sofia Hoas and Christina Knutas in the house of the Föreningen Svenskbyborna in Roma, Gotland (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

The Gotland village of Roma has become the cradle of memory for Sweden's historic link with the Black Sea region. The village of Gammalsvenskby in Ukraine was established by migrants from Sweden. The links betweeen Gammalsvenskby and Gotland are ...
St Giles Church at Imber on Salisbury Plain (photo © Tim.firkins licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)
Letter from Europe

Next weekend, there's the chance to visit an extraordinary place in England - a village where the entire population was forcibly removed in 1943 in order to provide space on Salisbury Plain for American military manoeuvres. It's one of those places ...
Swiss style in Zermatt (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

There is more to Zermatt than the Matterhorn. hidden europe editor Nicky Gardner recalls an early morning walk in the Swiss ...
Landing on the beach in Barra. The island's airport is blessed with not one, not two, but three runways (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

There is a special dynamic to island life. One meets the same people day after day - but often in different contexts. We bump into people in the most unlikely spots. On the east side of Barra, a number of rocky peninsulas jut out into the Sea of ...
Classic spa architecture in the Czech town of Frantiskovy Lázne (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Relaxation is compulsory in Frantiskovy Lázne, a small spa town in the far north-west corner of the Czech Republic. There are two outstanding churches, one a very fine Catholic church executed in graceful Empire style and the other a rather ...
photo © Yarchyk / dreamstime.com
Letter from Europe

Speculative fiction can sometimes turn out to be eclipsed by real-life events. In Hugo Bettauer's 1922 novel, Die Stadt ohne Juden, fictitious Austrian Chancellor Karl Schwertfeger signs an executive order decreeing that all Jews must leave Austria ...
The extension of the Midland Railway to St Pancras necessitated the demolishion of Agar Town. At the same time St Pancras churchyard was reduced in size. Many of the tombstones which were removed were gathered together around the oak tree pictured above (photo © David Edgar licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).
Letter from Europe

It is 150 years since the Midland Railway, which in 1866 was extending its tracks south into St Pancras, demolished a poor, working-class community which inconveniently straddled the company's proposed route to its grand new London terminus. Agar ...
Byron's visit to the Château de Chillon in 1816 set the agenda for generations of subsequent travellers. This hugely popular castle on the shores of Lake Geneva is in the premier league of Swiss visitor attractions (photo © Pavalache Stelian / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

200 years ago, on 5 December 1816, the Scottish publisher John Murray published The Prisoner of Chillon, a poem in the romantic idiom by Lord Byron. It was inspired by a visit which Byron and Shelley had together made to the Château de Chillon that ...
The Augustinian abbey on Inchcolm - an island in the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh (photo © Creativehearts / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Would you ever consider buying an entire island? This autumn has seen a couple of Scottish islands on the market. For a mere two million pounds, you might consider Tanera Mòr, the largest of the Summer Isles just off the coast of north-west ...
Roman Catholic Basilica of St Servatius at Vrijthof Square in the Old Town of Maastricht (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Do you not find that some towns have instant appeal? That's how we feel about Maastricht, a medium-size city tucked away in the southernmost part of the Netherlands - a region called Limburg. It's forty years since the last of the Limburg coal ...
image © Igor Sokalski / dreamstime.com
Letter from Europe

I have stood on the cliffs in Ireland and looked west to Hy Brazil, that fragment of lost Atlantis which has fuelled a thousand Celtic legends. You'll search in vain for Hy Brazil on any modern map, yet this legendary land has powerfully shaped ...
Surveying the scene: the small town of Krupka on the edge of the Ore Mountains in Bohemia. The region features in issue 50 of hidden europe magazine (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Today is special. On account of an anniversary. Today sees the publication of issue 50 of hidden europe magazine. For a niche travel magazine which appears just thrice annually, hidden europe has punched far above its weight, often covering travel ...
Our image shows just one portion of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin; the wooded area in the background is the Tiergarten (photo © Matyas Rehak / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

As I walked deeper into the complex, surrounded on all sides by the chunky columns, I heard the animated chatter of two kids from time to time - two young English voices in a forest of memories in the very middle of Berlin. I met some Spanish ...
The former monastery at Chorin in Brandenburg is a fine example of Brick Gothic architecture, made all the better by its serene setting (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Summer is slipping into autumn and the leaves in forests around Berlin are already falling. We walked through mixed woodland pondering the sounds and smells of beech, oak, hazel and pine. Before long, we came to Chorin where the remarkable ...
The view from the tower of the University Church on The High in the heart of Oxford reveals how the countryside nudges up close to the university city (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

One of the many charms of Oxford is that the countryside is never far away. Indeed, seeing folk from Oxfordshire villages tumbling off the buses as they arrived in St Giles this morning, I had a sense of the country coming into ...
Odessa’s famous Potemkin steps (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Few European cities are so enshrined in myth, fable, stories and song as Odessa. And that's why we judged Odessa a fabulous choice for our lead feature in the new issue of hidden europe. This is an immensely likeable city, one which we visited for ...
The Grand Hotel Zvon dominates one side of the town square in the Bohemian town of Ceské Budejovice (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Kings come and kings go, and even freedom goes in and out of fashion. But the appeal of the town square endures, because ultimately these are spaces that belong to the people. The square in Ceské Budejovice is no exception to that rule. Welcome to ...
photo © Radius06 / dreamstime.com
Letter from Europe

For millions of Brits of my generation, the EU gave an exit route, a chance to escape. It gave me a chance to feel truly European, to be truly European. It has given me the opportunity to explore other languages, other faiths, other freedoms, that ...
Pushkin statue in Odessa (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

They storm in, straight out of the Book of Revelation, and lay waste to the earth. Locusts! They do not make pleasant neighbours. Europe has been largely free of locusts in recent years – but not ...
Ilya Repin's famous painting entitled 'Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire' in the collection of the State Russian Museum, St Petersburg.
Letter from Europe

A picture, so they say, is worth a thousand words, and perhaps the most famous letter in art is that which the Cossacks allegedly sent to the Turkish Sultan in 1676. If you like the work of Ilya Repin, then you'll probably share our enthusiasm for ...
The former prison island of Cabrera - just off the south coast of Mallorca - is now a popular destination for day trips by boat from Mallorca (photo © Alexander Nikiforov / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

In the summer of 1812, while Napoleon's Grande Armée was storming east towards Moscow, William Faden's publishing house in London was busy putting the finishing touches to a new guide to Spanish inshore waters. Among the areas covered in the pilot ...
The gardens at Alfàbia on the island of Mallorca (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

We wandered amid bamboo and eucalyptuses, past carob trees and citrus orchards, by pomegranates and myrtle. The gardens at Alfàbia on the island of Mallorca are one of many beautiful places we have visited as part of our work for hidden ...
The former home of Gilbert White in Selborne, England, which now houses an exebition on his life and work (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

For anyone with an interest in the natural world, Selborne is a place which touches the soul. Cast back 240 years, and the naturalist and writer Gilbert White was busy exploring the hollow vales and hanging woods which surrounded his home village. ...
The former bath house in Jurmala, Latvia, erected in the early 20th century (photo © Sergiy Palamarchuk / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Imagine a gorgeous sweep of white quartz sand backed by low dunes and pine forest. Add in several mineral water springs of therapeutic value and an endless supply of curative mud - and there you have Jurmala's prime assets. The Latvian coastal ...
Letter from Europe

The Zimmerwald Conference was a defining moment in European socialist history. There were stand-offs between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks; there were long and heated debates about how class struggle might bring an end to the First World War. ...
Longyearbyen Airport on Svalbard - the Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic - is celebrating its 40th anniversary (photo © Splosh / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the official opening of the airport at Longyearbyen on 2 September 1975. It was an event which dramatically changed this polar outpost, making it far more accessible to the scientific community and ...
The centrepiece of Geneva's Mur des Réformateurs: sculptures of Beza, Calvin, Farel and Knox (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

All who make their way to Geneva are struck by the sheer beauty of the city's setting. It is also a place that has always made space for radicals of all persuasions. Three hundred years after Calvin's death in 1564, the city emerged as a hotspot in ...
Looking towards Samos from the Turkish coastal town of Güzelcamli (photo © Brian Flaigmore / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Cartographers, seafarers, poets and artists have long seen the appeal of offshore islands - and they are especially interesting when political allegiance and geography do not quite seem to agree. Perhaps the most striking political compromise with ...
Teenagers from the Soviet Union and Africa at Artek in summer 1982 (image from RIA Novosti).
Letter from Europe

This week marks the 90th anniversary of the opening of the Artek children's camp in the Crimea. Throughout post-Soviet Europe there are thousands of older people who look back with great affection to the summer holidays they enjoyed as children at ...
Letter from Europe

Have you applied for Liberland citizenship yet? Probably not. Though by all accounts lots of folk have been begging the Liberland government to give them passports.Liberland may yet turn out to be merely a publicity stunt, but President Jedlicka ...
Letter from Europe

You might expect the most striking building in Plzen to be a brewery. But there's more to Plzen than beer. In fact the most impressive building in the Czech city is the Great Synagogue on Plzen's main ...
Potsdamer Platz in the very heart of Berlin (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Our travels over the last fortnight have taken us from one end of Germany to the other. Yet strangely this is a country which neither of us really understands. One of us is a Berliner by birth, the other a Berliner by choice. The view from Berlin ...
Letter from Europe

Grab your coat and come with us. This walk we'll make together is important, and this week is the time to do it. Important because, if we want to understand Ukraine, then we need to know the poetry of Taras Shevchenko. And there's no better place ...
Loch Lubnaig near Callander, Scotland, on an afternoon in early March (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

We love real weather. And we had real weather aplenty on a journey through Scotland this week. Clear blue skies at Carsaig Bay with glorious views west to Jura. Great spreads of grey-white snow over Rannoch, the hills all hidden in mist. A lone ...
Letter from Europe

Ten years ago this week we launched our e-newsletter. Letter from Europe was never intended to be more than a minor diversion. To paraphrase George Eliot in Middlemarch, "the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric ...
Letter from Europe

Clervaux has to endure being forever confused with the French town of Clairvaux. No surprise, perhaps, as the town in Luxembourg has a monastery just like its near-namesake in France. Yet the big draw in Clervaux is photography. And while Clairvaux ...
Letter from Europe

A van speeds by in the fast lane of the West Tangent ring road, bearing the inscription: 'Nutrire il pianeta, energia per la vita'. That is the Milan mantra for 2015. 'Feed the planet, energy for life'. For this year Milan hosts a Universal ...
Letter from Europe

France has changed since our last Letter from Europe. The attacks in Paris which started on 7 January were assaults on an entire nation. For in France, more than elsewhere in Europe, the principles of liberty are more closely etched on the national ...
Letter from Europe

It was 274 years ago today that Frederick II of Prussia rode through the Schweidnitzer Gate in Breslau to claim the Silesian city for Prussia. It is a mark of Frederick's style that he was accompanied, as he ceremonially entered the city, not by ...
Letter from Europe

Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country is a volume where the land and landscapes of Africa stand centre stage in the plot. In his book, first published in 1948, Paton goes beyond the romantic rendering of South African landscape which was ...
Letter from Europe

The ebb and flow of life in Brussels, London and Paris is well covered in mainstream media. We have instead opted for the road less travelled. hidden europe 44, which is published today, carries reports from offbeat and unsung communities right ...
Letter from Europe

In the third and last of three pieces to mark the 25th anniversary of the dramatic events of November 1989 in Berlin, the editors of hidden europe reflect on the special qualities that mark their home ...
Letter from Europe

The equinox has passed and now a hint of frost dances by dawn on the more sheltered meadows. Restless stonechats are busy on the high heaths, where we stand and gaze on distant Wealden ridges fading into misty morning sunshine. This is one of ...
The Czech town of Jáchymov rates as one of the lesser spas of western Bohemia. The town also has an intriguing industrial history (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

The main road drops down from the hump of the mountain in a series of sharp zigzags. Polished blue sky above, velvety green forests all around and the tacho ticking off the miles of grey tarmac below. We are on the south side on the ore-rich hills ...
View from Calton Hill over the city of Edinburgh (photo © Shaiith / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Just imagine, for a moment, that Scotland really does vote yes to independence next week. Scotland will then become a new nation state, bidding for a place in European league tables of size and status. We reflect on border issues and look at how ...
Unusual motive power: the 18.08 train from Salzburg to Vienna is powered by Austrian lawyers (photo © Tomnex / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Europe is full of trains with oddly inappropriate names. At least the Alhambra goes to Granada. Not so the Wawel, which nowadays does not run to Kraków at all but only to Wroclaw. Some of the most bizarre train names are actually found in Austria. ...
Lakeside setting of Mantua in Italy's Lombardy region (photo © Karol Kozlovski / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Hot summer days... and we've been meandering through northern Italy. Virtually, with Shakespeare by our side. Remember Lucentio who, in The Taming of the Shrew, leaves his home city of Pisa in Tuscany? Lucentio's servant Tranio accompanies his ...
Letter from Europe

Well do we know that modern pieties demand that one speaks only ill of banks, but here at hidden europe we often say nice things about bankers - or, to be more precise, about the good judgement exercised from time to time by bankers as they ...
Letter from Europe

The island of Gozo, Malta's kid sister, is indeed a sanctuary, a place apart. All the more so during these last days of June when a sequence of Catholic feast days are the cue for village ...
Letter from Europe

'Ronaldo is certainly a big shot round here,' said the man on the slow train to Inverness. His comment distracted us from the scenery unfolding beyond the window as the train dropped down from Drumochter Summit towards the Spey Valley. We had to ...
Letter from Europe

There is something very pleasing about communities which display a strong architectural coherence. In some instances, the sense of order and unity might take its spark from one striking central feature. The Italian city of Palmanova is a good ...
Letter from Europe

Yuri overstayed the limit. So he was given a ticket. Then the authorities ushered Yuri out of town. Now he's parked outside the airport terminal. How long he'll stay there is a matter for debate. Our guess is that, as long as Russians keep flying ...
Greek Catholic church at Ruská Bystrá, a small community in Slovakia about six kilometres west of the border with Ukraine (© hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

From villages in the Ukrainian hills above Uzhhorod west through the Bieszczady Mountains to remote communities in south-east Poland, there is a Paschal theme this Sunday morning: "Christos voskrese," it runs in Church Slavonic. "Christ has risen." ...
Letter from Europe

Travelling through north-east Hungary earlier this month, we could so easily have missed Sárospatak. It was a drizzly Sunday afternoon and we turned off the main road merely on a whim. Sárospatak was to us little more than a name on a map. Of ...
Church at Bregninge on the Danish island of Ærø (photo © Marieke van der Horst).
Letter from Europe

Ærø in four words: hilly, hospitable, homely, hyggelig. The Danish island is the place to be at times like this. It is mellow and calm, a small island that wants spring to come sooner rather than later. The hilltops are scattered with ancient ...
Letter from Europe

Wales is a place for miracles. Perhaps the greatest miracle of all is that Wales is there at all, that it has a strong cultural identity and a language that is still spoken. Wales is nothing if not tenacious. It has a knack of getting into your ...
Letter from Europe

Think how voices help define a city. Speeches and songs have shaped the Weimar soundscape. And they have been more varied in tone than you might expect. To be sure, the foremost exponents of Weimar classicism all pitched into the Weimar ...
Letter from Europe

Snow falls over all the city, covering the cobbles and the pathways. In the gentle stretch of parkland that lines the valley of the Ilm, snow drapes the follies and the ruins. In the middle of Weimar, statues of stern men are laced with light snow. ...
Letter from Europe

The monastery on the Isola di San Francesco del Deserto is a place apart, an island retreat in the shallow recesses of the northern lagoon well away from the hustle and bustle of Venice. It is an island where blessed solitude is punctuated by the ...
Letter from Europe

Rolihlahla was born in Mvezo, moving when he was still a young lad to another village called Qunu which is further north, a little closer to the town of Mthatha. Until he went to school, Rolihlahla wore only a blanket. But on the day before school ...
Letter from Europe

The Great North Road, a fragment of the classic Cape to Cairo route, cuts through Limpopo on its way to Beitbridge and the Zimbabwean border. A stream of buses and bakkies head north towards another Africa, their passengers barely sparing a glance ...
Letter from Europe

Ribe no longer makes waves as once it did. The silting up of waterways has changed the local landscape. The bustle of port trade has long gone, but Ribe is still a watery place. Set in a wall on one Ribe street is an inscription that notes the ...
Letter from Europe

We wandered through Devon byways, passing Kingdom's Corner to reach the River Dart at Worthy Bridge. From there it was an easy stroll down the valley towards Bickleigh. John Lean farms a handsome herd of White Park cattle here. He has 150 head of ...
Letter from Europe

It was one hundred years ago this month that WB Yeats' poem September 1913 was published in a Dublin newspaper. The poem is more than merely a lament for Irish separatist and bold Fenian John O'Leary. It is a sharp critique of the trend in Ireland ...
Letter from Europe

For the Out Skerries in Scotland's Shetland archipelago, the 'Filla' has been a veritable lifeline. This year, she marks thirty years of sterling service to the Skerries community. Launched in 1983, the Filla helped transform life on the Out ...
Letter from Europe

Travelling through eastern Germany last week, we changed trains at Weimar. Does not the very name evoke all sorts of associations to fire the imagination? That edgy period when cultural horizons were redefined in a decade of divine decadence? But ...
Letter from Europe

Tomorrow, a mighty stream of cars will roll over a new bridge across the River Elbe at Dresden. The bridge's opening is not being celebrated in any very public manner. For many Germans, it is a Bridge of Shame, for it is the reason why that part of ...
Letter from Europe

Hoxne is one of a number of spots in England that are improbably prominent in Quaternary history. Big cities like Birmingham and London count for nothing in this narrative. One day an enterprising tour operator with an interest in geology might ...
Letter from Europe

Only rarely do we venture beyond the shores of Europe within our Letter from Europe. But the layered toponymy of the archipelago in the South Atlantic reveals the complicated history of settlement in the islands known today as the Falklands or ...
Letter from Europe

Those looking to depart from convention in Paris usually head for the left bank. No-one goes to the Avenue des Champs-Elysées (on the right bank) looking for revolution. But cast back one hundred years this month and the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées ...
Letter from Europe

We had set our sights on Samoa. But with a fierce storm closing in from the west, we decided instead to make for Zanzibar. Locally, it is the German spelling that prevails: Sansibar. The North Frisian island of Sylt may not seem the most obvious ...
Letter from Europe

On the hills around Vrouhas, giant wind turbines are ambassadors of modernity. Their blades lazily crest the Mediterranean breeze, each languid loop mocking the ancient stone windmills that cluster on the slopes below. The turbines provoke, so ...
Letter from Europe

The West is inscribed on our imagination. It is where we watch the sunset, and thus the cardinal point that ushers in the evening, bringing promise of rest and sleep. And yet the West means other things too. For generations of Americans, the West ...