hidden europe

Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

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 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 ...
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 ...
Shades of the past in the Hebridean blackhouse at Arnol on the Isle of Lewis (photo © hidden europe)
Letter from Europe

For many visitors to the Hebrides, the traditional blackhouse is a symbol of these islands. Yet rarely is vernacular architecture so freighted with emotion, nostalgia and even ...
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 ...
The island of Barra in Scotland's Outer Hebrides relies on a lifeline air link with Glasgow. Loganair's Twin Otter aircraft land on the beach at Barra (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Short hops by air over water are of course very common, generally relying on non-jet aircraft and providing lifeline air services to island communities around the coasts of Europe. A review of old airline timetables reveals that there used to be ...
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 ...
Explore the Scottish islands and the Clyde coast with Caledonian MacBrayne. A CalMac ferry at Largs in the Firth of Clyde (photo © Robert Flynn / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

There is much ado in British and Irish waters these days, with so many very appealing ferry routes, but also a few services slipping from the schedules. In this Letter from Europe, we give an overview of some interesting new ...
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 Arctic port of Vardø on Norway's Varanger Peninsula – where the locals are keen to proclaim the merits of cod! (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

A recent visit to the Arctic port of Vardø, on an island off the eastern extremity of the Varanger Peninsula, prompts us to reflect on Fridtjof Nansen’s visit to the same place in 1893. Nansen arrived in Vardø on the Fram. It was the ship's last ...
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 ...
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 ...
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

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

There will be no boat to the remote island of North Ronaldsay this coming Thursday. The ferry from Kirkwall, the main community in the Orkney Islands, runs out to North Ronaldsay just once a week at this time of year - and that on a Friday. So the ...
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

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

At ten o'clock yesterday evening, well after the sun had dipped below the waters of the Adriatic, the car ferry arrived in Ubli. The little port at the south-west corner of the island of Lastovo has a hangdog sort of feel. Long before sunrise ...
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

Flying has generally ceased to be fun. The only certainty about much modern air travel is that it will be boring. Gone are the days when Dakotas battled against headwinds and made unscheduled landings at rough airstrips in offbeat parts of Europe. ...
Letter from Europe

The fast ferry will speed you from Alcúdia to Ciutadella in just an hour. Too fast, perhaps, to really savour the transition between two worlds. Alcúdia has its quiet corners. Choose a sunny spring evening and the ruins of the old Roman theatre can ...
Letter from Europe

Many English readers will know the rhyme that recalls the failed terrorist action in 1605, when Guy Fawkes and a group of Catholic conspirators tried to blow up the English Parliament. But the majority of those who gather at bonfires across England ...
Letter from Europe

It was unusually warm in Longyearbyen in Spitsbergen this past Sunday. The temperature peaked at minus 7 degrees Celsius. And the jazz helped give Longyearbyen a more temperate ring last weekend as the remote Arctic community, capital of the ...
Letter from Europe

New Year's Day. Again. Aching heads for those who took their Hogmanay revelries a little too seriously. We slipped into 2011 in a little house on the edge of a heath on one of the North Frisian islands. Yet Estonia awakens today to the euro as its ...
Letter from Europe

It was just an hour on the train to Putbus, a little community on the Baltic island of Rügen that is impossibly grand for such a remote spot. Just four thousand souls, yet a town so full of aristocratic associations that it seems like a Baltic take ...
Letter from Europe

Today is referendum day in Breiðdalsví­k. The town is a ramshackle sort of place on the edge of a bay of the same name. Breiðdalsvík does not really have a lot going for it. It is raw, untamed, an outback town that has something of the feel of the ...
Letter from Europe

Sylt is a place apart. It is one of the most accessible of the North Frisian islands. Frost demons have cast a spell of hard rime over the island these past days. But neither the bitter cold nor the capers of New Year's Eve deter the walkers who ...
Letter from Europe

Is not the journey to the airport often one of the great hassles of modern travel? Not all of us can enjoy the relaxed approach taken in the Isle of Man where narrow gauge steam trains pause on request at Ronaldsway Halt, just a short walk from the ...
Letter from Europe

Wander along the Via Porta Palermo in Mazara del Vallo and you might easily think you were in North Africa. The fishing port on the southwest coast of Sicily is an extraordinary spot, a little haven of North Africa in southern Europe. It happens to ...
Letter from Europe

In the Isles of Scilly, the spectacularly beautiful scatter of islands off the coast of southwest England, equinoctial tides often make for some formidably complicated schedules for the inter-island ferry service. We visit the Isles of Scilly and ...
Letter from Europe

It has been a busy couple of days in the choppy seas off the south coast of Malta. Military helicopters were out in the early hours of Thursday morning searching for over two dozen migrants from Africa whose boat capsized about forty kilometres ...
Letter from Europe

Despite a biting north wind and some squally showers of sleet and hail, Helgolanders did what they always do on the evening of Easter Saturday: gather just before dusk for the traditional Osterfeuer (Easter fire). Helgoland (often still referred to ...
Letter from Europe

The English poet Coleridge was not at all keen on Malta. 'The dreariest of all dreary islands,' he wrote in a letter back to his Lakeland home. And Byron is alleged to have described the Maltese capital, Valletta, as memorable mainly for its ...
Letter from Europe

Capital cities are hardly regular hidden europe territory but Stockholm would surely be a firm contender if ever we were pressed to pinpoint our favourite European capital. Others that would certainly make it onto the shortlist would be Luxembourg ...
Letter from Europe

Take Da Böd, a café at Hillswick in Scotland's most northerly island group, the Shetlands. This really is the end of the road, a tiny fleck of a community on the shores of Ura Firth. There was a time when Hillswick was an outpost of the Hanseatic ...
Letter from Europe

Saint-Pierre et Miquelon is a little part of Europe outside Europe, territorial outposts of France that speak French and use the euro as their standard currency; they are vestiges of a once rich French presence in North America. With a population ...
Letter from Europe

hidden europe has been in the North Frisian islands this past week. The island of Gröde is one of ten communities known collectively as the Halligen, tiny islands that lie off the west coast of the north German state of Schleswig-Holstein. This ...
Letter from Europe

The small hilltop town of Cabris in Alpes-Maritimes is not, we would concede, normal hidden europe territory. Cabris is the archetypal French holiday town, beautiful in the winter season, but a little too crowded on these summer days. That is not ...
Letter from Europe

In more recent centuries, the island of Comino, off the coast of Malta, served as an isolation hospital. The great archipelago off Finland's southwest coast includes the tiny island of Seili, which for over three centuries was a hospital, initially ...
Letter from Europe

Jan Mayen has no indigenous population, and the twenty or so souls who are on the island at any one time are generally staff of the Norwegian meteorological service or military personnel. This onetime whaling station became a regular stop off point ...
Letter from Europe

As always at this time of year, the calm of winter isolation has settled on the Iles Chausey. Most of the population have shuttered up their houses and left Chausey for the mainland. Only the real chausias remain, less than a dozen in number. The ...
Letter from Europe

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 ...
Letter from Europe

The Mediterranean island of Lampedusa is generally one of those 'out-of sight, out-of-mind' places, a tiny speck of Italian land that is much closer to Africa than the Italian mainland. Even the Sicilian port of Porto Empédocle is over two hundred ...