hidden europe

Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

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 ...
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 ...
A new take on the classical villa: Robert Mallet-Stevens' Villa Cavrois at Croix (in French Flanders)
has clear echoes of Frank Lloyd Wright. The villa is one of many buildings in the Wright idiom featured in Gwyn Lloyd Jones' new book 'Travels with Frank Lloyd Wright' (photo © Rifberlin / dreamstime.com)
Letter from Europe

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Frank Lloyd Wright. He is often regarded as a quintessentially American architect, a man who perhaps was never really comfortable in Europe. But the great advocate of Prairie Style has a legacy in ...
New rail timetables from December 2016 will improve journey times from Milan to Zürich, Verona and Venice. Pictured here is Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (photo © Mrusty / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

This weekend sees the launch of new railway timetables across Europe. This ritual takes place on the second weekend of December every year, with rail operators revamping service patterns and tweaking their schedules to reflect changing demand. We ...
Private Italian operator NTV Italo offers a new weekend service from Milan to Rimini this summer (photo © Eqroy8 / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

New summer train timetables kick in across Europe this month, ushering in many new rail links and interesting changes in rail services across the ...
Letter from Europe

75 years ago this week, Hitler was on the move. Within just a few days, the Führer's train was in north-west France, in the Basque region and in Tuscany. But this was no holiday. On 23 October 1940, Hitler met General Franco in Hendaye. It was the ...
Eurostar trains waiting at the platforms at St Pancras station in London (photo © MorganOliver / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

It is that time of year when rail companies across Europe tweak their schedules for the upcoming summer season. Here's an overview of some of the noteworthy changes for this ...
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 ...
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

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

There was often much ado around San Marco on Ascension Day. At least if Canaletto's celebrated paintings of Venice on the Feast of the Ascension are to be believed. The particular ceremony that caught Canaletto's attention was the annual dedication ...
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

The time is coming when residents of Rome escape the Eternal City. Rome is not a place to stay in summer. Many from Rome head north into the hills of Lazio, where Etruscan, Roman and Renaissance threads intertwine in history and culture. The lakes ...
Letter from Europe

This year, many of our travels have focused on ports. We have criss-crossed Europe from Calais to Cádiz, from Travemünde to Taranto. We sat under the cranes on the quayside of Bari, still as popular today with pilgrims from Russia as it was one ...
Letter from Europe

This evening, a train will speed from Córdoba to Valencia in just a shade over three hours, marking the inauguration of another link in Spain's growing high-speed rail network. True, the new stretch of line in this case is very modest, but it is ...
Letter from Europe

After the lushness of Puglia, the fierce landscapes of Basilicata came as a firm reminder that southern Italy is not all peaches and almonds. In Puglia we had enjoyed orecchiette with broccoli and been seduced by vincotto di fichi. We had heard the ...
Letter from Europe

Over the recent holidays, a friend and fellow-traveller popped the 'church question'. Is it okay to slip into Mass or Evensong to enjoy the splendours of Venice's Basilica di San Marco or York's magnificent Minster when the principal intent is not ...
Letter from Europe

Come on, grab your camera and join us as we explore one or two spots along the coast this Easter morning. It is a stunning spring day, the blue waters of the Mediterranean seem an even deeper blue than yesterday, and the air is so clear that we'll ...
Letter from Europe

Domodossola has sleek trains aplenty. There are great expresses that purr north through the Simplon Tunnel into Switzerland or slide south towards Milan, hugging the west side of Lago Maggiore along the way. But lovers of great scenery and unusual ...
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

A name seen or heard out of context can be a powerful provocation. Travelling through the hinterland of Munich a while back, our train paused at Dachau. At one level this was just one more railway station serving commuters in a rather overcrowded ...
Letter from Europe

The long-standing English infatuation with the French Riviera has been well documented, but much less has been written about English affections for the coast of Liguria. Yet the influence of the Hanbury family, and other English settlers in this ...
Letter from Europe

"Kings and governments may err, but never Mr Baedeker," wrote the English humorist AP Herbert in the libretto for Offenbach's operetta La Vie Parisienne. Baedeker was the brightest star in a constellation of nineteenth-century guidebook publishers ...
Letter from Europe

If the essence of Europe is distilled in any one city, then Trieste must surely be a strong candidate for the distinction. James Joyce rather affectionately described the place as Europiccola (Little Europe). East meets West in this outpost of ...
Letter from Europe

Europe's Cold War borders were by no means ubiquitously impervious. Trieste on the Adriatic coast of Italy always had rather good links to neighbouring Yugoslavia. Earlier this week, we decided to travel east from Trieste, and found that the modern ...
Letter from Europe

St Nicholas is the ultimate all-purpose saint. His patronage extends to virgins, sailors, children and pawnbrokers. And he is patron saint of Bari in Italy, where the local fishing community makes much of the ...
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

Campione is an extraordinary spot - a geopolitical oddity of the first order. The village is an exclave of Italy within the Ticino region of southern Switzerland. The conundrum that is Campione'd Italia is nicely captured in a set of old Campione ...
Letter from Europe

Santa Lucia is patron saint of Siracusa, the island fortress city on the Sicilian coast, where Lucia was born in the late third century. The story tells of her being martyred in her home city at the tender age of twenty. Of course, Santa Lucia's ...
Letter from Europe

Christmas-tide travellers, if they are lucky, might get a privileged glimpse into the lives of others. The results are not always comforting. Dervla Murphy, writing in Through the Embers of Chaos, recounts an invite to a post-Christmas soirée in ...
Letter from Europe

Venice may come with a constellation of superlatives, but head out into the Veneto to find a world apart. The country around Treviso, just a dozen miles inland from Venice, is classic città  diffusa territory. As if in retort to Venice's urban ...
Letter from Europe

The slow train to Trieste hugs the Adriatic coast, giving gorgeous views of the Miramare, a fabulous folly of a fortress built on a rocky plinth by Archduke Maximilian, the younger brother of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. The train brings the ...
Letter from Europe

Consider a journey that starts in the Swiss Alps and ends in an abandoned city in the south Caucasus region. To be more precise, we'll start at Pontresina, just over the hill from St Moritz. It's a place where poets and philosophers used to come ...
Letter from Europe

Many are the European communities that have been lost to warfare, natural disasters or other agencies. The old town of Tocco Caudio in southern Italy was abandoned after an earthquake in the 1980s, as was Poggioreale in western Sicily a few years ...
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 ...