Letter from Europe

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Our Letter from Europe is published about once a month and reports on issues of culture and travel.

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A new phase of hidden europe

by hidden europe

Over almost 20 years, we developed a huge corpus of wonderful writing and images that was published in hidden europe magazine. In order to share what's been dear to us over so many years, we have decided to now make more of this material available here on the hidden europe website. This marks a new phase of hidden europe.

From A to Z: Achilles to Zelensky

by hidden europe

In this Letter from Europe we report from an island in the Black Sea that over the last 200 years has been variously controlled by the Ottomans, Romania, the Soviet Union and Ukraine. It is the place where the Greek hero Achilles allegedly dwelt after his death.

Two decades of thinking about Europe

by hidden europe

As we reflect on two decades of researching and writing about unsung communities across Europe, we realize that we had a lot to learn about how to travel. It took courage in the early days of hidden europe to escape the tyranny of too much planning. Over time, we slowed down and came to value journeys in their own right.

The first mountain hut

by hidden europe

The appreciation of mountains in the European imagination changed dramatically in the 18th century. Scenes which at the start of that century still invoked terror were within a hundred years reconfigured as awesome landscapes, now celebrated for their great beauty. Reportedly, the first mountain hut used for recreational purposes was iclose to the Mer de Glace, a glacier that sweeps down towards the Chamonix Valley in the French Alps.

50 years of Interrail

by hidden europe

We know that many readers of hidden europe were quick off the mark in May this year when, to celebrate 50 years of Interrail, some passes were available for 50% off the list price. A superb offer that means that there are now thousands of people holding passes valid until next April but uncertain when and where to use them.

From Nero to the Habsburgs: the Corinth Canal

by hidden europe

The isthmus at Corinth is one of the most celebrated isthmuses of the classical world. It connects the Greek mainland with the huge ragged-edged peninsula known as the Peloponnese. The Ancients portaged their small boats over the narrow neck of the isthmus as a shortcut between the Ionian Sea and the Aegean, so saving a long voyage around the Peloponnese.

Words Matter – hidden europe 66

by hidden europe

Here's a look at the latest issue of hidden europe magazine, published earlier this month. We roam from the Azores to the Balkans, from Iceland to southern France. In between we celebrate 50 years of Interrail and reflect on the metrics to measure how sustainable tourism might be.

Fate shall smile once more

by hidden europe

There are no silver linings in the clouds of war. These are dark times. So our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people. That prompts us to reflect on one of Ukraine's most interesting cities: the Black Sea port of Odesa.

The perfect night train

by hidden europe

You’ll surely have seen that there’s a lot of hype around the return of night trains across Europe. The legitimacy of flying as a social norm was hardly questioned a decade ago. Nowadays we can no longer be oblivious to our carbon footprint. In this Letter from Europe we share what in our view constitutes the perfect night train.

Watery diversions

by hidden europe

Making time for creative journeys has been at the heart of our work with hidden europe. So in this issue of our Letter from Europe we highlight some longish ferry routes which even allow for some sightseeing. Here are some examples from this winter’s Mediterranean shipping schedules.

Faith and identity in the Slovakian hills

by hidden europe

Next week, the Pope is visiting Slovakia and the world’s media will surely show images of His Holiness taking a leading role in what looks like an Orthodox liturgy. It prompts us to look at faith and identity in the Carpathians - the area where the Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland converge.

On the edge of Burgundy: the Morvan hills

by hidden europe

There is one very distinctive area in the north-west reaches of Burgundy. And that's Morvan - an upland block defined by its striking granite landscapes which communicate a sense of wilderness not encountered elsewhere in the region. We touch down in an area of France with a strong regional identity.

Reach for the planets

by hidden europe

Five or six decades ago, Romania had a sense of building the future and many citizens were eager to dance the night away in Venus or just lie on the beach at Saturn. We recall the voucher tourism of yesteryear - an era when sun, sea and socialism made natural partners.

Being amber

by hidden europe

Being amber brings special privileges. The ‘reds’ are escorted by security personnel to a quarantine hotel. We ambers have it easy. We can make our own way to an agreed isolation address. And it's the theme of isolation that is very much present in the new issue of hidden europe magazine, which is published this week and is already available for sale.

Slavutych and the nuclear industry

by hidden europe

The Ukrainian city of Slavutych is a striking surviving example of a planned Soviet city underpinned by utopian principles – and even if the latter were sometimes diluted by pragmatism, there is a palpable sense of a well-designed and carefully planned community. It also is an atomgorod which offers a green setting and steady employment to its citizens.

Terminus - a 1961 documentary

by hidden europe

The film director John Schlesinger was largely unknown when in 1960 he was persuaded by Edgar Anstey to make a documentary for British Transport Films (BTF). Terminus went on general release in 1961 and provoked a very positive response from the public. Its setting was London Waterloo station.

The Slaney Valley

by hidden europe

There can be few finer spots to be, on these bright spring days, than exploring the land around the River Slaney in south-east Ireland. The lower reaches of the Slaney, from Enniscorthy down to Wexford, is a gorgeous sweep of river. But we reserve the highest category of praise for the middle reaches of the Slaney upstream from Enniscorthy.

A Fiesole residency

by hidden europe

With its handsome villas, lavish gardens and sweeping views over the valley of the River Arno, Fiesole developed as a fabled spot. It was a place for political intrigue, a retreat to be creative and a spot to just relax. No surprise, perhaps, that it has attracted generations of artists, scholars and writers.

The pleasure of the restaurant car

by hidden europe

A chance reference on twitter this week to a Tajik restaurant car that runs all the way to Moscow has prompted us to recall some unlikely meals on trains. Join us as we recall such culinary delights as apéroplättli and svícková while riding the rails in Germany.

The waiting game

by hidden europe

hidden europe 63 is now available, featuring articles about Bulgaria, Alsace, rural Galicia and northern Italy. We also look at the prospects for slow travel in the post-COVID world. Single issues and subscriptions are available in the hidden europe online shop.

Lenten cod

by hidden europe

Across southern Europe, and most particularly in Portugal, it is the season for bacalhau - the salted, dried cod which is a staple in the Portuguese diet. This much sought after version of cod is a strong Lenten tradition in many Catholic countries.

The story of Luga Bay

by hidden europe

Luga Bay of 50 years ago looked much the same as it would have done in centuries long gone. Fishing, forestry and the extraction of peat were local staples, and the only vessels using the bay would have been those belonging to local fishermen, some of them Izhorian and others Russian. But these days Luga Bay and the community at the head of the bay, which is called Ust-Luga, are very much in the minds of Russia’s industrial magnates and energy moguls.

A village on the polder

by hidden europe

There’s a village on the polder which we really like. It’s called Jisp. It is one of those long straggly places where you see cloudscapes just like those in the paintings of Jacob van Ruisdael - the Dutch artist who was born in Haarlem, which is only about a dozen kilometres away to the south-west. Nowadays it comes as a great surprise to discover that Jisp was once a whaling port.

Free ports

by hidden europe

The current plans to create free ports around the shores of the United Kingdom made us delve into the history of the porto franco. This year marks the 600th anniversary of the sale of Livorno - the Tuscan port which Genoa sold to Florence. It paved the way for competition between Genoa and Livorno and the development of the first free ports.

Just an ice axe

by hidden europe

Nicky Gardner, one of the editors of hidden europe magazine, reflects on all the good and bad things that can be done with an ice axe. Opening tins of pineapple is just the start.

Breaking the Ice

by hidden europe

This weekend sees the annual ritual of the opening of the ice in anticipation of the Orthodox Feast of the Theophany on Tuesday. Often this is done by creating a hole in the shape of a cross, allowing the faithful to totally immerse themselves in icy waters.

Bats and happiness

by hidden europe

It hasn’t been an easy year. Not for us - and probably not for you. But spare a thought for bats who have endured some pretty hefty reputational damage in 2020. Bats are the only flying mammals - and among the few creatures that seem to have a perennial smile on their faces.

Alpine horizons

by hidden europe

The English, like travellers from other countries, were enthralled by the scenery of the western Alps. But it wasn't until well after the Golden Age of Alpinism that mountaineers and travellers began to explore areas further east in the great Alpine chain. We look at how in the last quarter of the 19th century, the eastern Alps fired the western imagination.

The Gotthard revival

by hidden europe

The new Treno Gottardo rail service starts in mid-December 2020. It offers the chance to travel from Basel to Switzerland's southernmost canton of Ticino via the classic Gotthard railway. Climb aboard a panorama carriage, sit back and enjoy the Alpine views.

Sauntering through November

by hidden europe

Two events: the centenary of the first-ever General Assembly of the League of Nations (held in Geneva on 15 November 1920) and the publication this week of Issue 62 of hidden europe magazine. Yes, there is a link! We look at this new issue of the magazine which includes an article on the Free State of Fiume - one of two small states created by the League of Nations in autumn 1920.

The Road to Uhtua

by hidden europe

We are in search of the one-time capital city of a forgotten republic. From the turn-off on the Murmansk highway, it is 150 km of easy driving, skirting dozens of lakes, to reach the small community which in 1919 proclaimed its status as the capital of the Republic of Uhtua.

The papal states

by hidden europe

The emergence in the eighth century of the papal states in parts of Italy and beyond heralded a geopolitical oddity which survived for over 1000 years, and of which there is the faintest echo in the current status of Vatican City - the world's smallest country.

A Fragment of Finland in Brazil

by hidden europe

When it was founded in 1929, the Finnish commune of Penedo in Brazil was full of idealism and hope. But with tough financial times in the late 1930s and thereafter, this one-time utopian experiment had to make compromises. Today, Penedo is a commercial hub that attracts tourists eager to catch a dose of Finland. Expect fake snow and Santa Claus.

Berlin Tegel Airport

by hidden europe

Few airports have quite that cool retro feel of the original hexagonal terminal at Berlin’s Tegel airport. The airport opened in 1960 and was an iconic piece of design in "the new Berlin" - that part of the city, occupied by the Western Allies, which showcased new highways and Germany's first drive-in airport. As Tegel gears up to close in autumn 2020, we explore the importance of that airport to the identity of West Berlin.

Changing trains

by hidden europe

Railway stations where passengers were able to change trains, but which could not be used to start or end a journey, were common in the past. They were often called exchange platforms or exchange stations. Few exist today, but we track down working examples at Sagliains in Switzerland and Manulla in Ireland.

Memorialising DH Lawrence

by hidden europe

Vence is a delightful small town in the hills behind the French Riviera, and it was here in Vence that DH Lawrence eventually succumbed in early March 1930 to tuberculosis.But where is he buried? Join us on a journey that takes us from Provence to New Mexico - with no definite conclusion.

Beachy Head

by hidden europe

Poets and painters have travelled to Beachy Head, among them William Turner and Edward Lear. So there is barely a soul in England who doesn’t have a mental image of the cliffs which drop sheer down to the beach. It is also the site of many tragedies.

Inishmurray

by hidden europe

Inishmurray lies squat and low half a dozen kilometers off Streedagh Point in County Sligo. No one sleeps on Inishmurray these days. The island’s entire population, then numbering just a few dozen, left in 1948. Since then the buildings have crumbled and now there’s an air of quiet dereliction around Inishmurray.

From Norway to Silesia

by hidden europe

There are only about two dozen surviving Norwegian stave churches. Most of them, unsurprisingly, are in Norway. But curiously there's a fine example of a Norwegian stave church on the northern slopes of the Giant Mountains in south-west Poland. The church was purchased by the German Kaiser and transported from Vang in Norway to the Silesian hills in the early 1840s.

Issue 61 of hidden europe magazine

by hidden europe

The experience of staying close to home during the Coronavirus pandemic prompted us to choose two key themes for this latest issue of hidden europe magazine: journeys and isolation. We kick off with a leisurely account of a wonderful Swiss rail journey and reflect on the future of night trains in Europe. We consider the loneliness of a remote village which for many years had only a single telephone and we touch on the isolation Marc Chagall must have felt as, one hundred years ago, he left his home town of Vitebsk for ever.

The humble onion

by hidden europe

Breton onion sellers set out from Roscoff to sell their harvest across Europe. But the preferred market was Britain where customers were prepared to pay well over the odds for the beautiful rose-tinged onions from Finistère. The Onion Johnnies, their bicycles laden with garlands of onions, were a familiar sight in southern England and Wales in the 1950s and 1960s.

Monkeys, Men and John Murray

by hidden europe

160 years ago this week, on Saturday 30 June 1860, the intelligentsia gathered in Oxford to hear churchmen and scientists discuss the pros and cons of Darwin’s ideas on the origin of species. Charles Darwin celebrated book had been published in November of the previous year by John Murray - the London publishing house which, apart from supporting scientific writing, was also the leading travel publisher in Victorian Britain.

Chagall Centenary

by hidden europe

Vitebsk is a provincial city. St Petersburg is about 500 km away to the north. Moscow, just slighter closer, is due east of Vitebsk. It lies today in the territory of the Republic of Belarus. In the run up to and after the Russian Revolution, Vitebsk developed into a bold hub of artistic energy and innovation – in good part due to the influence of Marc Chagall.

Just South of Bratislava

by hidden europe

The tripoint where Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria converged was for years a no-go area. These days, you can enjoy a cross-border picnic at the very spot where the frontiers of Austria, Slovakia and Hungary meet. It’s across the fields to the east of Deutsch Jahrndorf in an area of Austria with a long-standing Croatian minority.

Travels with Saint Paul

by hidden europe

Even if you don’t have a thread of religious fibre in your body, try reading the Acts of the Apostles, and see what you make of it as a travel narrative. You may want to have a good atlas of the ancient world to hand as you follow Paul on his meandering itinerary through Lystra and Phrygia to Mysia and beyond.

By the Euganean Hills

by hidden europe

The area where the volcanic Euganean Hills meet the plain has more than its fair share of pleasing Renaissance villas, almost all of them oozing that Palladian style which is a real feature of the Veneto. But to the left of the railway, just north of Battaglia Terme is one striking palace which bucks the Palladian trend.

A Taste of Heaven

by hidden europe

Christianity is not especially sweet-toothed, though the Old Testament psalms do drip generously with honey. Shift to the New Testament and there are loaves, fishes, but not much by way of dessert. Yet by the 16th century, convents in Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula were very much into the business of producing sweets for sale to those living beyond the convent walls.

Voice of a Nation

by hidden europe

Across hundreds of French railway stations, millions of travellers every day would in normal times encounter Simone Hérault, for hers is the disembodied voice which proclaims the imminent departure of the TGV to Aix-les-Bains or the regional train to Annecy.

Turboprops at Britain's busiest airport

by hidden europe

Turboprops are back at London's Heathrow airport. An ATR-42 belonging to Scottish airline Loganair is flying a once-daily scheduled service to the Isle of Man on behalf of British Airways. We take a look at previous occasions when airport staff at Britain's busiest airport reckoned they were waving goodbye to the last turboprop.

In Jung's Footsteps

by hidden europe

The lakeshore trail from Schmerikon along the upper part of Lake Zürich leads to a house once owned by the analytical psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, who was a master of self-isolation. Join us as we ponder on Jung's famous Tower and his thoughts on progress and modernity.

New and Different Eyes

by hidden europe

We have all changed in these past weeks. We have new and different eyes. Our view of the world, our perception of our immediate surroundings, and the value we place on space and horizons have all been reengineered within the compass of a month.

Anxious Days

by hidden europe

You are most likely, as we are, staying close to home. We have time to ponder. And that itself can be a very positive thing. Rest assured that we'll continue to reflect European lives and landscapes with our regular Letter from Europe, ever aware that in times of social distancing and self-imposed isolation it is often good to get a glimpse of life elsewhere.

All Change in Luxembourg

by hidden europe

There is much ado in Luxembourg - a country which is getting some good press these days as it gears up to introduce free public transport. We shall be in Luxembourg next week to witness the introduction of free public transport on 1 March. And we shall follow with interest this great national experiment.

Visa changes: Russia and Belarus

by hidden europe

As the United Kingdom tightens its entrance requirements, the progressive relaxation of visa regimes elsewhere in Europe is of course very welcome. In this Letter from Europe, we look at changes in visa regulations relating to Russia and Belarus.

Storm Brendan

by hidden europe

Brendan’s arrival had been much touted. He didn’t come as a surprise. Days prior to his arrival there was talk of Brendan. There was a run on lettuces and toilet rolls here on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. People like to stock up on the essentials when there’s a big storm coming.

Scottish Island Flights

by hidden europe

It will already be dark today long before Loganair's flight LM247 takes off from Stornoway around 17.30. Sunday's flight marks the last direct service from any of the Scottish islands to London. Those direct flights to London represented a much vaunted opportunity for the Outer Hebrides.

Lyria Ruffles Swiss Feathers

by hidden europe

The Franco-Swiss rail operator Lyria runs fast trains between Paris and a number of Swiss cities. It also offers the last remaining year-round direct train from Switzerland to the south of France - which is about to be axed. We take a look at Lyria's December 2019 timetable changes and review how the company's network has changed through time.

A Tale of Two Lakes

by hidden europe

Last year, the Azorean authorities reminded residents of the hazards of living in an archipelago where three great tectonic plates meet. This is where Eurasia meets Africa and the Americas. We recall a royal visit to the volcanic caldera of Sete Cidades on the island of São Miguel.

Crossing the Water

by hidden europe

There are three places in Europe where passenger trains are still regularly conveyed on ferries. One of them is the Scandlines ferry that carries the regular daytime Eurocity trains from Hamburg to Copenhagen. But the days of that rail-ferry link are numbered.

The Hungarian Town of Sopron

by hidden europe

Sopron is one of those places with a sense of being in the heart of Europe. One hundred years ago, this small town in western Hungary was much in the news. Few places were so shaken by the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It's a thought we contemplate during our journey by train from Berlin to Sopron.

The Japanese Garden

by hidden europe

Berlin's suburb of Marzahn is uncompromising. Its powerful and authoritarian architecture is definitely interesting, but does not find favour with all. Not everyone likes the relentless spread of apartment blocks which sprung up in the ten years after 1977. But tucked away in the corner of a park in Marzahn is a rare European example of a Japanese Zen garden designed by Shunmyo Masuno.

Unfolding Connemara

by hidden europe

Clifden is an interesting example of a purposefully planned community in the outback. The town was founded just over 200 years ago in what was then one of the remotest corners of Ireland. Recently, we travelled to Clifden by bus.

The German Manchester

by hidden europe

This week we travelled slowly through Lusatia, exploring communities once sustained by extensive vineyards and a thriving textile industry. The modestly sized town of Forst on the west bank of the River Neisse once styled itself as the German Manchester because of its many textile mills.

New issue: hidden europe 57

by hidden europe

We have this year visited the Baltic twice already. It's a region of Europe that's at its best in winter, we find, and sedate Binz was the perfect place to pen the editorial for issue 57 of hidden europe which is published tomorrow. Let's take a look at this new issue of the magazine.

On the Canal

by hidden europe

John Hollingshead's account of his 1858 journey on a cargo boat from London to Birmingham is a fine narrative celebrating slow travel; its beauty resides in the manner it captures that sense of wonder at navigating so slowly through England.

The City of Music

by hidden europe

Even at this time of the year there is a lush richness in the citrus groves and chestnut woods which tumble down to the sea. We make our way through cypresses and limes towards the Villa Rufolo, the gardens of which inspired Richard Wagner.

Letter from India

by hidden europe

We were and still are Indian novices. The subcontinent pivots around a different Heaven from Europe. So we were a little nervous when we recently visited the country. Wouldn't you be? And we were rarely in the right place at the right time. Enjoy our regular travel 'letter' which most unusually comes not from Europe but from southern India.

When Empires Crumbled

by hidden europe

The dignified commemorations marking one hundred years since the end of the First World War masked the details of what actually happened in November 1918. The aftermath of the Great War was a messy business, with conflict continuing in some areas for some years after the armistice.

The Curonian Spit

by hidden europe

For much of its length, the Curonian Spit is about two to three kilometres wide; at points it narrows to just a few hundred metres. The sea is never far away. There is a real sense of being on the very edge of Europe. Yet, for all its remoteness, the landscape is deeply influenced by human intervention.

A Georgian Vichy

by hidden 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 which includes Romanov, Soviet and Georgian strands.

Cully by Lake Geneva

by hidden 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 Chasselas wines originate.

Tracking through Berlin

by hidden 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 station.

Paris in the springtime

by hidden europe

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Marx's birth. He was born in the town of Trier in the Moselle Valley, a place which these days seems so sedate as to be entirely devoid of revolutionary potential. But Marx had sensitive political antennae and, as a young journalist, he wrote about the terrible conditions endured by vineyard workers in the Moselle region.

By the shores of Loch Fyne

by hidden 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 Crarae so that passengers could witness the spectacle of the hillside crumbling.

A tangle of detail on the rails

by hidden 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 wonderfully.

Mind the ice

by hidden europe

There was talk, as we all waited to leave the overnight ferry from Hoek van Holland in Harwich, as to whether there would be any trains. "It was like the blitz here last week," said one woman, who had evidently escaped the wild English weather by taking a weekend break in Rotterdam.

Winter games on a soft border

by hidden 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 which people can freely move across without let or hindrance.

Votes for women

by hidden europe

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of the first woman ever elected to the British House of Commons. Constance Georgine Gore-Booth was born into an Anglo-Irish family in 1868. Her stand on rights for women is just one dimension of the wider universal suffrage movement which emerged in Europe at the very start of the last century.

The politics of memorials

by hidden 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 secret police, is a good example. But what of Ivan the Terrible and Vladimir the Great?

Barra connections

by hidden 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 way which is harder to discern in Berlin.

Keeping loyal to Samnaun

by hidden 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 north side of the Inn Valley in Switzerland's Lower Engadine region.

A time for birds

by hidden 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 feted for her ability to anticipate a coming storm.

Gorgona prison island

by hidden 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 Corsica.

The slow demise of Air Berlin

by hidden europe

This evening, as the prosecco glasses clink and the water salutes cascade, anyone might be forgiven for thinking that Air Berlin had just notched up some great commercial success. What is in fact being marked is the demise of an airline with flight AB6210 from Munich to Berlin being Air Berlin's very last scheduled flight.

One shot from the Aurora

by hidden europe

100 years ago, on the evening of 25 October 1917 (in the Russian calendar), a single blank shell was fired from the Russian cruiser Aurora. It gave the signal for the Bolsheviks to storm the Winter Palace. Was that single blank shot from the Aurora perhaps the most famous gunshot in European history?

Railways and World Heritage

by hidden europe

Railways have long been a component of successful World Heritage applications. In 1986, Britain made its very first successful application to UNESCO and Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire was inscribed on UNESCO's List. Yet it was not before 1998 that the first railway secured, in its own right, UNESCO recognition: the Semmering Railway through the Alps.

Swedes in Ukraine

by hidden 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 very much alive today.

The darker side of verse

by hidden europe

It is eighty years ago this autumn that the Jewish-German poet and polemicist Ernst Lissauer died in Vienna. His sad life was a roller coaster of rant and prejudice. He was best known for his hate verse deployed against England in the First World War. We explore a lesser-known side of war poetry.

Forbidden places

by hidden 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 that are usually barred to the public and all the more intriguing for that.

Everything but the Lorelei

by hidden europe

The various hill areas of central Germany, stretching from Bohemia to the River Rhine and beyond, have helped define the landscapes of the region. And last week I took time out to explore some parts of this hill country, wandering from the Thüringer Wald down to the Odenwald and Spessart.

Paris sideshows in June 1867

by hidden europe

There was much ado in Paris 150 years ago this month. The 'Exposition universelle de 1867' had opened at the Champs de Mars in April and had secured very positive press reviews both in France and more widely across Europe. It also drew a big crowd of visitors to the French capital.

Through Romanian eyes

by hidden europe

The Romanian aristocrat, traveller and writer Dinicu Golescu deserves to be better known outside his home region, for he rates as one of the finest travel writers of the early 19th century. His 1826 book 'Account of My Travels' is an important piece in the canon of Balkan travel writing as an account of an early Romanian encounter with the west.

Frank Lloyd Wright in Europe

by hidden 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 Europe, where many architects were profoundly influenced by Wright's work.

Lidice shall live!

by hidden europe

This Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of the Czech Resistance's successful attempt on the life of senior Nazi administrator Reinhard Heydrich. It was an event which had terrible repercussions; the Germans retaliated with ruthless force. Those repercussions were felt most awfully in the Czech village of Lidice.

The bus biz in Berlin

by hidden europe

Berlin's central bus station opened in 1966. Tucked away on the edge of Berlin's trade-fair grounds it is one of the German capital's unsung spaces. Yet the no-frills terminus is still going strong and has seen an increase in services in recent years.

Notes from a Hebridean island

by hidden 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 Hebrides. Away to the north is Tràigh Mhòr, the bleached cockle strand where the daily plane from Glasgow lands.

Exploring the dyke

by hidden europe

We crossed the Afsluitdijk last week on a long journey from Berlin to the island of Barra in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. Most other vehicles on the Afsluitdijk road sped along close to the speed limit. Instead of dashing over the dyke, we stopped off here and there to learn more about its history and its future - for the Dutch dyke is back in the news.

Hints of the East in Frantiskovy Lázne

by hidden 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 uplifting Orthodox church dedicated to St Olga. That second church is a reminder that the Czech spa tradition has always thrived on links with the east.

Thoughts for the 8th of March

by hidden europe

Today is International Women's Day (IWD). In the ecclesiastical calendar, Rome assigns 8 March to St John of God, who died on this day in 1550. He was, as it happens, a thoroughly decent guy who in the latter years of his life worked in Granada (Spain) as a printer, publisher and bookseller.

City without Jews

by hidden 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 by the end of the year.

Tales from the East

by hidden europe

With mention of fairy tales and film, thoughts often turn to Disney. The cinematic adaptation of fairy tales is often judged in the west to be a peculiarly American prerogative. But central and eastern Europe have a very fine tradition of progressive cinema and a vast store of fairy tales upon which to draw.

Funding regional air services

by hidden europe

The idea behind the UK Government's Regional Air Connectivity Fund (RACF) is that financial support for a year or two would be an incentive for airline operators to serve routes where there might otherwise be high commercial risk. We take a look at the eleven routes that received RACF support in late 2015.

Cashing in on Casanova

by hidden europe

Were it not for a librarian, we would surely never have ventured to Duchcov. We have always held librarians, and indeed libraries, in high regard. We're of one mind with Dervla Murphy who once described Heaven as an infinite library and Eternity as a blissful opportunity to read forever.

From Burton to Berlin

by hidden europe

Berlin is not normally a place for liturgical theatre, at least not of the Catholic variety. But St Afra is a place apart. And the musical flourishes in this service are remarkable for their provenance. One of the great English organs of the Victorian era does daily service in Berlin.

Saarland, January 1957

by hidden europe

We walk down the lane between two villages. Each takes its name from the River Gailbach. The higher community is Obergailbach. It's a wee slip of a place. Just a couple of kilometres down the valley lies Niedergailbach which is rather larger. This is a part of Europe where international borders have faded.

Short hops by plane

by hidden 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 many more such services, including many very short hops across lakes or estuaries. We take a look at some of them.

Montreux connections

by hidden europe

If you've eaten too much over the holidays and fancy some exercise, why not join us on a walk around Lake Geneva. Let's focus on the Montreux Riviera, which sweeps softly around the north-east part of the lake. It is densely settled with communities like Vevey, Clarens and Montreux all nudging up against one another.

150 years after Agar Town

by hidden 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 Town was tucked into the wedge of land between the Regent's Canal and the main railway line running north from King's Cross.

Christmas 1816

by hidden europe

One day, a learned and able writer will surely pen a spiritual geography of England, looking at the relationship between faith and landscape in that country. It is a book that just waits to be written. The story of John Henry Newman should figure centrally in that volume, for his extraordinary biography captures something of the English spirit.

The Prisoner of Chillon

by hidden 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 same year.

Buying a Scottish island

by hidden 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 Scotland.

The Maastricht factor

by hidden 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 mines ceased production, after a long period of decline.

More than just a place on a map

by hidden 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 Irish literature and identity.

Issue 50 of hidden europe magazine

by hidden 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 stories overlooked by mainstream media.

Stumbling through history

by hidden 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 children playing hide-and-seek. Soon I was alone, quite alone, in the dark heart of the memorial.

Election thoughts

by hidden europe

We watched the run-up, the live TV debates and the tough exchanges veering at times towards acrimony. We've followed the arguments on national security, foreign policy and the question of who has the personal authority and good judgement to lead the country. But, as Bulgaria goes to the polls today, it's still an open book as to which of the candidates will accede to the presidency.

Home truths

by hidden europe

Many municipal authorities around Europe are very tolerant of the improvised structures which popped up over the last ten days here and there around towns and cities. Those in the know realised at once that it was time for Sukkot, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles which starts on the fifteenth day of Tishrei.

Walking with friends

by hidden 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 red-brick ruins of a 13th-century monastery are a reminder that there is more than just nature in this sparsely populated region of rural Brandenburg.

Visiting Vatersay

by hidden europe

There was a time when cattle from Vatersay being taken to market had to swim across the bay to Barra; more than once the tide and waves claimed the lives of animals. This is a part of Europe where life has never been easy. Yet the island of Vatersay in Scotland's Western Isles is in many ways interesting.

Escape to Hinksey

by hidden 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 Oxford.

Art Nouveau in Subotica

by hidden europe

Within minutes of arriving in Subotica last week, we knew this was somewhere special. The town, which is close to the Hungarian frontier in northern Serbia, has a remarkable feast of art nouveau architecture and design. Indeed, no other European town of its size can boast quite the same range of art nouveau design.

The Colour of Odessa

by hidden 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 very first time this spring but a place to which we shall surely return.

The Beauty of the Square

by hidden 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 southern Bohemia.

After the referendum

by hidden 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 would simply never have come my way.

On Pushkin and locusts

by hidden 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 entirely.

Travelling with Byron and Turner

by hidden europe

In these days of slick PR, tourist boards and tour operators are keen to enlist the help of 'travel influencers' to promote particular destinations. Baedeker and Murray were of course among the most respected travel influencers of yesteryear, but so too were poets and artists, among them Lord Byron and JMW Turner.

Prayer and trade in Gammelstad

by hidden europe

Gammelstad is the best surviving example in northern Scandinavia of a church town. An 1854 Lapland guide gave a marvellous account of these church towns, explaining how they were improvised trading settlements which developed around parish churches.

Deep in the Borinage

by hidden europe

The Borinage lies on the coalfields of southern Belgium, which extend over the frontier into adjacent areas of France. Vincent van Gogh's stay in this impoverished area of southern Belgium is a chapter in the artist's life which has largely slipped below the horizon. At the time he alighted from a train at Pâturages railway station he had not yet made art his profession, but was about to begin his ministry as a pastor in the coal-mining villages of the region.

Ilya Repin and the Cossacks

by hidden 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 Russian artist's gutsy painting recalling the event.

Cabrera, a tainted paradise

by hidden 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 guide is the island of Cabrera, off the south coast of Mallorca.

The Oban Sleeper

by hidden europe

Over the next three weekends, the overnight sleeper from London which would normally run to Fort William will instead run to Oban — travelling out Friday night from London and returning from Oban on Sunday night. It is a rare experiment, but let's hope it might presage the reintroduction of regular overnight trains from London to Oban.

A Kosovo tale

by hidden europe

There's a touch of the wild west about Ferizaj. It has a frontier feel. When the English traveller Edith Durham travelled through Kosovo in 1908, she stopped just briefly in Ferizaj, remarking that this was a community created by the railway.

A glass of pastis

by hidden europe

It's hard to say no to pastis. Especially on the island of Bendor, off the south coast of France, where pastis is the preferred drink at almost any time of day. If you are really bold, you can get away with ordering a glass of the local Bandol rosé, but a call for pastis always curries favour.

The art of flying

by hidden europe

Flying is rarely a bundle of fun. Even leaving aside the generally horrid nature of airports with their essential (but inevitably unpleasant) security checks, modern aviation practice makes few concessions to the poetics of the journey. The privilege of a window seat, however, allows the imagination to roam free as real topographies are shaped by half-remembered geography lessons. On a clear day by the window of a plane, anyone can be an explorer.

Exploring Alfàbia

by hidden 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 europe.

Selborne, naturally

by hidden 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. White observed the intimacies of the landscape, keeping detailed diaries which formed the basis for the book for which he is best remembered.

A new issue of the magazine: hidden europe 47

by hidden europe

hidden europe 47 is published today. It costs just 8 euros, and for that you'll get some of the finest travel writing around. If you like our regular Letter from Europe, why not support our work by taking out a sub to the print magazine? Find out more about the contents of this latest issue of hidden europe.

Encounter at Hendaye

by hidden 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 only face-to-face meeting of the two leaders.

Remember Tryweryn

by hidden europe

The Welsh phrase Cofiwch Dryweryn (Remember Tryweryn) recalls the fate of the Tryweryn Valley which was flooded to provide water for the English city of Liverpool. The new reservoir, officially opened in October 1965, meant the end for the village of Capel Celyn. It was an assault on rural Wales which left an enduring mark on national consciousness.

Jurmala, a victim of circumstance

by hidden 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 resort is not so very far from the capital Riga.

No train to Poland

by hidden europe

The decision 170 years ago to build a great viaduct across the Neisse Valley was a visionary leap. Now that elegant structure needs a dose of 21st-century vision. Because what use is a graceful viaduct if it doesn't have any trains?

100 years after Zimmerwald

by hidden 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. Delegates came from a dozen countries - among them were Lenin and Trotsky.

Radical assets Geneva-style

by hidden 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 the development of anarchist and socialist ideas which were to make waves across Europe.

Life and death in Bar-le-Duc

by hidden europe

Stanislaw Leszczynski, or King Stanislaw, lost the throne of Poland (twice as it happens), but was compensated by being awarded territory in eastern France. Thus it was that in 1735 the town of Bar-le-Duc found itself welcoming a Polish king who for 30 years was suzerain of the Duchy of Bar - a little state which rather jealously guarded its independence.

Bohemian therapy

by hidden europe

Eight times each day, even on Sundays, a train leaves the Czech town of Karlovy Vary for the 80-minute journey through the hills to Mariánské Lázne. Both communities are celebrated stops on the European spa circuit. They both flourished in Habsburg days and both are nowadays still well known by their erstwhile German names, respectively Karlsbad and Marienbad.

Travel planning: choices... choices

by hidden europe

The notion of pre-purchasing train tickets was generally unknown to Victorian travellers. It is only in the last generation that rail operators have started to use dynamic pricing, offering handsome discounts for travellers willing to re-purchase tickets for trains which the operator expects to be lightly loaded.

Islands and politics

by hidden 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 respect to offshore islands was the arrangement between the Japanese and the Dutch during the more than 200 years when Japan pursued its sakoku (closed country) policy.

The Seven Sleepers

by hidden europe

In some parts of Europe, 27 June is marked as the day of the Seven Sleepers. In Germany, the weather on Siebenschläfer is seen as indicative of what sort of summer we can expect. Stable weather on 27 June bodes well for the weeks ahead. But wild weather on that day indicates that rain rather than sun is in store for July and August. But folk wisdom across Europe varies from country to country, culture to culture.

150 years since Staplehurst

by hidden europe

A Friday afternoon. The second Friday in June. As is today. The tidal train left Folkestone just after two in the afternoon. Charles Dickens was on board the tidal train on that Friday afternoon in 1865. It should have been a routine journey through the Garden of England.

A children's republic in the Crimea

by hidden 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 Artek.

The view from Ankerwycke

by hidden europe

So you know, Ancient Yew, of all that came to pass in 1215? You shivered for more than a thousand winters. You gave shelter for more than a thousand summers. Did you gaze in those days over the Thames to the meadows at Runnymede?

Pentecost in the heart of Bavaria

by hidden europe

It rained last night on the hills above the Inn Valley in Bavaria. Lucky were those pilgrims who had the luxury of a bed in one of the many small inns and guest houses which are to be found along the route of Saint James. Nourished in body if not yet completely in soul, the small groups of pilgrims wander south towards Altötting, a small town in Bavaria which is less than a day's walk from the border with Austria.

Liberland: Bring your wellies

by hidden 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 seems to take himself seriously.

The Great Synagogue of Plzen

by hidden 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 thoroughfare.

The centre of the universe

by hidden europe

It was 50 years ago that Salvador Dalí completed his celebrated La Gare de Perpignan. It is a huge oil painting which now hangs in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. It celebrates Perpignan as the very centre of the universe.

A season of shadows

by hidden europe

It is the season for shadows. No other week in the ecclesiastical calendar comes with such a hefty dose of liturgical theatre as that which concludes with Easter. It is a week which has its highs and lows, its exuberant periods of light balanced by dark interludes.

The view from Berlin

by hidden 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 lends no advantage when its comes to reviewing the affairs of Germany.

A grand tour of Europe

by hidden europe

A new issue of hidden europe is published tomorrow. Not just any issue of hidden europe, but one which marks our tenth birthday. Yes, it was way back in March 2005 that we published the first-ever issue of the magazine. For ten years, we have been quietly exploring our home continent, reporting on cultures and communities that seem to us worthy of note.

Remembering Taras Shevchenko

by hidden 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 to read Shevchenko than overlooking the River Dnieper just downstream from Kaniv.

Loch Lubnaig

by hidden 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 snowdrop pushing up from dead land at Kings House. These early days of March are tempting, taunting times in the hills.

Letter from Europe: Ten years on

by hidden 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 acts."

From MoMA to Luxembourg

by hidden 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 marks the 900th anniversary of the foundation of its monastery, Clervaux also has an anniversary to celebrate in 2015.

Food for thought - Expo 2015

by hidden 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 Exposition, an Expo, which will focus on themes of food, diet and sustainability.

Recalling Marianne

by hidden 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 consciousness.

A Silesian story

by hidden 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 cannons but by a number of packhorses carrying the royal tableware.

Letter from Africa: Place matters

by hidden 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 long the tradition of English language writers such as Rider Haggard and John Buchan.

A Christmas journey

by hidden europe

The Magi set a trend by travelling in the dying wick of the year. This is the season when most folk just want to hunker down by the fire with friends and family. But it is actually a very fine time for exploring. One of the finest travel memoirs of the last century is Patrick Leigh Fermor's account of his journey on foot from Hook of Holland to the Marches of Hungary in the winter of 1933.

The London Charabanc

by hidden europe

If you are in Antwerp by night on the weekend before Christmas, you might see a wondrous sight. Shortly after midnight on Saturday 19 December, German rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) will launch its new direct service from Antwerp to London. If you are expecting a comfortable overnight train with sleeping cars, think again.

New rail services across Europe

by hidden europe

Four weeks from today much of Europe will awaken to new train timetables. Each year in December, new schedules come into effect across the continent. The big day this year is Sunday 14 December. We take look at a dozen positive developments worth noting.

From the Barents Sea to Gagauzia

by hidden 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 across Europe.

The beauty of Berlin

by hidden 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 city.

Eastern senses

by hidden europe

With the approaching 25th anniversary of the East German government's decision to relax restrictions on its borders, you'll surely be hearing a lot about Berlin over the coming weeks. We have our own recollections of the German Democratic Republic, many of which focus on the prosaic details of everyday life.

Edwardtide

by hidden europe

Today is an ordinary working day, though if history had taken a different turn, October 13 could so easily have become a national holiday in England. Many of the men and women who have occupied the English throne in the last 1000 years have aspired to sainthood. But only one of them has ever actually been canonised, namely Edward the Confessor, whose feast day is celebrated in both the Catholic and Anglican Church today.

Vienna’s new railway station

by hidden europe

Shortly after ten o’clock this morning a priest stepped forward to the podium and blessed Vienna’s new railway station. There were speeches aplenty with the statutory votes of thanks to those who have presided over planning committees and management boards. And there was music too: ‘Mamma Mia’ filled the concourse.

Wealden diary

by hidden 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 Europe's finest post-industrial landscapes.

Glowing in the dark

by hidden 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 that separate eastern Germany from the Czech Republic.

The Nansen trail

by hidden 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 port-of-call in Norway on the great voyage of exploration that was to take Nansen closer to the North Pole than any earlier expedition.

Divided Islands and all things Scottish

by hidden 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 Scotland stacks up against other European countries in terms of landmass and population size.

Tales from Titovka

by hidden europe

Everyone stops at Titovka sooner or later. That's the way things are up here in the far north-west corner of Russia. The Titovka roadside café is on the highway that runs west from Murmansk towards the mining towns of Zapolyarny and Nikel.

The Aurora fades

by hidden europe

A couple of years ago we commented on the departure boards at the main railway station at Basel that they are "no longer bubbling with as much character as once they did." But Basel's SBB station in 2012 still had its moments, the best of which was the departure early each evening of the Aurora - the night train to Copenhagen. Now the Aurora looks set to fade from the timetables.

Travelling with Shakespeare

by hidden 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 master.

Financial architecture

by hidden 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 selected architects and designs for their most prestigious buildings.

Gozo threads

by hidden 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 festivities.

Local heroes

by hidden 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 admit that we'd never appreciated that the talented captain of Portugal's national football team had Highland connections.

In search of Eden

by hidden 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 example.

Much ado about the Ascension

by hidden 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 of the Venetian Republic to the Adriatic.

Yuri gets a ticket

by hidden 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 into town, Yuri will be allowed to stay outside the airport.

Travelling via the Hook

by hidden europe

Some journeys are full of ghosts. The 30-minute train ride from Rotterdam to Hoek van Holland (or vice versa) is in that vein. For a generation of English travellers arriving in Holland on the boat from Harwich, the journey by train along the north bank of the River Maas was a first glimpse of the continent.

The Carpathian spirit

by hidden 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." In the rural valleys on the south side of the Bieszczady Mountains, territory which is part of Slovakia, you might catch this Sunday's special greeting uttered in Rusyn.

Sárospatak: a small town in Hungary

by hidden 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 course we knew something of the Calvinist traditions of eastern Hungary - a part of the Habsburg realm where the ripples of the Reformation captured the local imagination.

Music for 25 March

by hidden europe

March 1714 was a good month for Johann Sebastian Bach. On the second of the month, he was promoted to the plum job of Konzertmeister at the Weimar court. This was quite an achievement for a man who was only 28 years old. The terms of the new appointment required that each month Bach should present a new cantata in the Schlosskirche (Palace Church) at Weimar, and the first of those performances was scheduled for 25 March - 300 years ago today.

Ship Talk: From the Kattegat to the Crimea

by hidden europe

Many travellers through Denmark this summer will be sorry to discover that the long-standing direct ferry from Kalundborg (on Sjælland) to Aarhus (on Jutland) has been axed. This is just one of many routes to disappear in the latest round of cuts to Europe's ferry networks. Meanwhile we have also been watching a Russian ferry operator who promotes a new Black Sea ferry route from Ukraine to Georgia.

Springtime on Ærø

by hidden 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 passage graves, burial mounds and cairns.

Sweet Cambria

by hidden 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 blood. And it is all the better for being difficult to grasp.

Defending Mother Russia

by hidden europe

You might believe that a garage is merely a concrete shed where you park your car overnight. But think again! Alexey doesn't have a car but his corrugated-iron garage figures mightily in his lifeworld. It is his space, a secluded reserve away from the family where Alexey takes an hour out every evening. Today, on the holiday devoted to those who have defended Russia, the menfolk of the country expect a few extra privileges - even if they have never actually gone to war.

Sounds of a city

by hidden 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 conversation: Herder, Wieland, Goethe and Schiller. But there are also some less likely threads in the soundscape of the German town.

Reclaiming Weimar

by hidden 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. A tricorne for Goethe, an icicle for Schiller.

Into the desert

by hidden 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 Liturgy of the Hours. Franciscan monks have prayed on San Francesco del Deserto for eight centuries, their chants shaping a soundscape that otherwise is dominated by bird song, the breeze running through avenues of cypresses and the ripple of water.

A polar travel centenary

by hidden europe

The Arctic has been much on our minds of late. Today we mark the centenary of an epic moment in polar travel. One hundred years ago today, the Karluk was wrecked in the Chukchi Sea. The ship set off from Vancouver Island in June 1913 on a voyage to explore and map the Canadian Arctic.

The Chelyuskin epic

by hidden europe

As Russian families gather today to celebrate Christmas (which in Orthodox Europe falls later than in the Roman calendar), they will be inclined - like families everywhere in the world - to look back to Christmas tales from yesteryear. There is barely a Russian alive - of any age - who cannot recount a heroic tale or two about the bravery of the crew and passengers of the Chelyuskin, who 80 years ago endured an ice-bound Christmas in the Chukchi Sea.

The storm

by hidden europe

It is one of those wild sulphurous days, and the bare heath beats to the roar of the winds. The storm sweeps in from the west. The drenched heath lies low. And it survives the fierce onslaught. The forest at Froeslev is less fortunate.

An Advent meditation

by hidden europe

The sky takes on a different quality in the run-up to Christmas. The grey cloud-folds of Advent have rolled back, and suddenly the air is brighter, drier and clearer. The trees have been flayed by autumn. Only bare skeletons remain, their outlines haunting the December landscape. Winter is creeping over Europe, its progress marked by the candles on our Advent wreath. First one candle, then two, last Sunday a third, and today as dusk falls a full flush of four candles burning bright.

Farewell Madiba

by hidden 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 started, Rolihlahla's father took a pair of his own trousers, cut them off at the knee and insisted that his son wear them to school. Clad in his outsized trousers next day at school, Rolihlahla met his teacher, Miss Mdingane, who insisted that, now the boy was old enough to be educated, he should have a new name.

Hemingway in Hemmeres

by hidden europe

Folk in Hemmeres make the point that theirs was the first village east of the River Our in which the Americans set foot. The truth is that several patrols made forays over the river on the evening of 11 September 1944. And it was on the railway embankment that Ernest Hemingway stood to observe the American invasion of Germany in the closing months of the Second World War.

Winter comes to Kroscienko

by hidden europe

The winter snows have come to higher parts of the Carpathians, and already the beech woods and forests of fir are clad in white. Kroscienko, a little village in the Polish hills, is very quiet this time of year. Were it not for the fact that the road through Kroscienko leads to a border crossing with neighbouring Ukraine, there would be scarcely anyone passing through Kroscienko.

Africa: East to Tzaneen

by hidden 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 for the passing landscape.

The Orkneys and more

by hidden 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 crowds will probably not be flocking to North Ronaldsay on Thursday to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the island being connected to a mains electricity supply.

Making waves from Ribe

by hidden 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 birthplace of a Ribe resident of yesteryear: Jacob Riis.

Hidden Devon

by hidden 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 cattle on the steep slopes of the Dart. They are magnificent animals.

From Berlin to Siberia

by hidden europe

We have long judged the Sibirjak to be the most outlandish train in Europe, running as it does from the German capital to Saratov and beyond. There was always the thought that we could hop on that train here in Berlin and travel across the continent, through the Ural Mountains, and on into Asia. Yet in December this year, the Sibirjak will be axed.

Romantic Ireland is not dead and gone

by hidden 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 to more materialist and bourgeois values. This was a cry from the heart, a plea that Ireland might continue to make space for art and the imagination.

Noli timere

by hidden europe

It is again that time of year when I find my hands peppered by thorn pricks. Blackberries mark the month. Wondrous little taste bombs protected by thorns, treasure for scavengers. There's nothing common about the common blackberry: rubus fructicosis. They are the very essence of summer distilled in a single fruit.

A Frisian journey

by hidden europe

Dutch Friesland (or more properly Fryslan) is a world apart from the densely populated parts of Holland where cities rub shoulders with one another. Dutch planners ensure that a strip of open land divides Rotterdam from Den Haag, but one dyke and a windmill do not stack up to real countryside. Fryslan is different. There are no neat cities, no tired industrial estates. Instead there are just those black and white cows, fresh air, big skies and lots of open space.

The Out Skerries

by hidden 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 Skerries by providing a reliable link to the Shetland mainland.

Sally Bowles did not live in Weimar

by hidden 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 if you are looking to understand the Weimar years of 20th-century Germany, you'll search in vain in the Thuringian city for any hint of all that is associated with those years.

A bridge too far

by hidden 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 the Elbe Valley, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004,was taken off the same list just five years later.

Falling apples

by hidden europe

The second of the spas - the Apple Spas - is marked today over much of central and eastern Europe. It coincides, as every year, with the Feast of the Transfiguration - a milestone in the ecclesiastical calendar. The Apple Spas is a day when great baskets of apples are taken to the morning celebration of the Divine Liturgy in village churches. It is a day that reminds us that a change in the seasons is not far hence.

Delving into glacial history

by hidden 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 start a glacial tour of England.

One journey, one Europe, one book

by hidden europe

We sped from London to Brussels at lunchtime on Friday, swapping a pleasant English summer day for sultry Belgium — pausing along the way at Calais. There is always a little frisson of excitement on those rare Eurostars which stop at Calais. English travellers bound for Brussels peer out of the windows and are evidently surprised to find that Calais still exists. This is the tale of that journey. But it is also the story of one book that communicated a powerful vision of a networked, integrated Europe.

The Îles Malouines

by hidden 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 Islas Malvinas.

Remembering Miss Jemima

by hidden europe

Cast back 150 years, and Bastille Day came and went without the average Parisian taking much notice. It was not till 1880 that 14 July acquired the status of a national holiday. Thus when Miss Jemima Morrell wandered the streets of Paris on 14 July 1863, it was a perfectly ordinary Tuesday. Jemima and her party of fellow travellers from England dutifully followed the Parisian itinerary that had been prepared for them by Mr Thomas Cook.

Lastovo (Croatia)

by hidden europe

The little port at the south-west corner of the island of Lastovo has a hangdog sort of feel. Long before sunrise today, there was the usual morning bustle around the pier at Ubli as folk gathered for the 4.30 am ferry back to Split. During the few night-time hours that the ferry rested at the quayside at Ubli, something changed quite irrevocably on the island of Lastovo.

Hercules in Lazio

by hidden 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 pull the crowds. There are three in particular, all marking the site of old volcano craters: Bolsena (with its two pretty islands), Bracciano and the much smaller Lago di Vico. The latter is just about three kilometres across, and the entire lake is quite hemmed in by the hills.

After the flood

by hidden europe

The waters came, and so did the European media. The water was ruthless and unsympathetic. It tore down bridges and wrecked homes. The mud and debris that came with the flood blocked culverts and drains. Lives were put on the line. So too were livelihoods as the water flooded factories, warehouses and business premises.

The North begins inside

by hidden europe

"There is not much to be said for Reykjavik." That, at least, was the opinion of WH Auden when he arrived in Iceland in June 1936. A few weeks later, Irish poet Louis MacNeice joined Auden and the two men took to the hills of Iceland's wild interior on horseback

100 years of buses

by hidden europe

If British buses had a golden age, it was in the years just prior to the First World War. Motorised buses were changing British streetscapes. New routes were being launched every week, and suddenly a ride on a bus was an option even for those of more modest means.

136 minutes of theatre

by hidden europe

The journey on Eurostar from London to Paris is pure theatre - a journey of many moods and changing landscapes. Within a minute or two of departure, London is eclipsed by darkness. Watch for tantalising shadows at Stratford, then a burst of sunshine as our train, picking up speed now, storms out of the London tunnels onto the Thames marshes.

The Russian Season in Paris

by hidden europe

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 was the venue for some radical departures from choreographic convention. It is an extraordinary building, one that in its style presciently anticipates what later came to be known as art deco.

On the march

by hidden europe

It was one hundred years ago tomorrow that Rosa Luxemburg published some thoughts on May Day in the Leipziger Volkszeitung. Writing, as she put it, "amid the wildest orgies of imperialism," Luxemburg extolled "the brilliant basic idea of May Day" and rejoiced in the autonomous rise of proletarian masses which each year erupted on 1 May on the streets of Germany. Fast forward 20 years to 1 May 1933, and the Nazis found another use for May Day.

Travel writing: the view from home

by hidden europe

During these first days of April, we have not ventured far from home. And yet there is a tangible sense of having travelled - if not through space, then through time. Ten days ago, much of eastern Germany was still formidably wintry. The little pond in front of our scriptorium was so thick with ice that it was a skating rink for the cats who prowl by dusk.It seems this year, the journey from winter has a dose of drama about it.

A season of grace

by hidden europe

It is Good Friday again, a day that jolts much of Europe out of its regular routine. It is a day for pilgrimages - some avowedly secular, others more religious in character. Large crowds from the Saarland region of Germany will flock over the border to the French town of Bouzonville which today hosts its celebrated Good Friday market. So popular is this event that an otherwise abandoned cross-border rail route is reopened for just one day each year to allow special trains from Germany to Bouzonville and back.

First plans for a Channel Tunnel rail service

by hidden europe

Forty years ago this spring, civil servants in London and European rail planners were sketching out the first tentative ideas for just such a train service. The prevailing pieties in Britain about all things European were very different in those days. The UK had opted into the European project at the start of 1973, and the following October the Westminster Parliament approved a White Paper that gave the green light to the Channel Tunnel.

Hidden europe 39

by hidden europe

We head north in the latest issue of hidden europe magazine which is published next week (and is already available for purchase). Writer Philip Dunshea invites us to join him as he ventures onto Rannoch Moor. This vast wilderness can be a desperate place, in Phil's words "a ragged purgatory." And the crew of the Tegetthof surely thought much the same when their ship, stuck fast in pack ice, drifted close to Franz Josef Land in 1873.

Thomas Cook: March 1873

by hidden europe

By the end of February 1873, Thomas Cook had encircled most of the northern hemisphere. Cook and his party of circumnavigators had sailed from Liverpool in September 1872. The travellers discovered iced water, Pullman cars and Sioux warriors in the United States. They found the crossing of the Pacific happily pacific and enjoyed "a perfect bewilderment" of landscape in Japan.

Leaving the Tatras

by hidden europe

I discovered yesterday that the traveller wanting to take a train out of Zakopane is hardly spoilt for choice. Early birds can opt for the 03.27 to Kraków. Then the next departure from the resort in the Tatra mountains of southern Poland is not till just after midday. Never keen on early starts, I opt for that lunchtime train, and duly arrive at the station about 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time.

The fifth season

by hidden europe

Welcome to the fifth season. Spring, summer, autumn, winter... and now the fifth season. This weekend, and the day or two thereafter, mark the culmination across Europe of fifth season frolics. It is carnival time. The normal rules of social engagement, most particularly with anyone in authority, are suspended.

A time for blessings

by hidden europe

Today is Candlemas Eve, definitively marking the end of the Christmas season in western Europe. Modern custom in secular Europe is often to dismantle Christmas decorations well before the Epiphany, but in many churches across the continent cribs and Christmas trees remain in place until just before Candlemas, the feast which falls tomorrow (2 February).

The Aix Factor

by hidden europe

The departure boards at London's St Pancras station are regaining their eclectic character of yesteryear. Cast back half a century and St Pancras had its share of trains to fire the imagination. Perhaps the most distinguished morning departure from St Pancras in those days was the 11.20 Midland Pullman to Nottingham. This train consisted only of first-class Pullman cars, affording cushioned comfort for passengers taking a leisurely luncheon as the train cruised north to Nottingham.

Through the Rhodopes

by hidden europe

Septemvri might have been a railway town like Swindon. If Isambard Kingdom Brunel had not built a carriage works at Swindon on his Great Western Railway, the place would probably have remained an insignificant dot on the map halfway between London and Bristol. Like Swindon, the Bulgarian community of Septemvri was born of the railway.

From Sylt to Samoa

by hidden europe

The North Frisian island of Sylt may not seem the most obvious place for a tutorial on Germany's colonial adventures. The island protects the coast of Jutland from the North Sea. It has long sandy beaches, fabulous dunescapes and lovely swathes of heath. The perfect island, some might venture. In its toponyms, Sylt recalls two other islands, both far-flung and both once coveted by Germany. The local bus that trundles out to the southern tip of Sylt stops at both Samoa and Sansibar.

The ghost of Christmas past

by hidden europe

Okay, so the Mayans are getting the blame for their miscalculations. But the upside is that we can all enjoy another Christmas here on planet earth - and thus all that comes with the Feast of the Nativity. For a lot of homebound earthlings, tied to their televisions, that means a marathon of movie reruns.

End of the line for the peace train

by hidden europe

Europe's railway geography was reshaped last night. New timetables kicked in, bringing a host of novel travel options. Yet it is easy for rail operators to shout about new routes. These are the good news stories that everyone wants to hear. But what of the trains that are being axed, and the lines where trains are being shunted into sidings and left to rust for ever?

Crimea connections

by hidden europe

Foros is a place for holidays and for history. During the Soviet era, this resort at the southern tip of the Crimea was much favoured by Kremlin leaders looking for a little summer relaxation. Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev was at his dacha in Foros in August 1991 when the old guard in Moscow attempted to seize power. The coup failed, but it nudged the Soviet Union over the brink. Within a week, the Union was unravelling as constituent republics edged towards independence.

Retreating into Advent

by hidden europe

Have we lost the ability to wait, to keep vigil, to be patient? This weekend, much of Europe marks the start of Advent. In many countries this is still a season defined by quiet reflection in anticipation of Christmas. For some, these weeks in the run-up to Christmas are intimately associated with a modest level of asceticism - not as harsh as Lent, but inclining that way.

The last lepers

by hidden 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 visitors and locals are all more inclined to gaze out to sea, where the fortified island of Spinalonga dominates the view to the south. Here was one of Europe's last leper communities, a colony of outcasts who were exiled to a barren island just off the coast of Crete.

Just published: hidden europe 38

by hidden europe

The focus in hidden europe is often on remoter parts of Europe, but we do reserve a little of our energy for reporting from well-trodden terrain. Napoleon, while enjoying the hospitality of the English Admiralty after the Battle of Waterloo, evidently spent a few days cruising the coast of Devon. And he was by all accounts much impressed with what he saw. "Quel bon pays," he exclaimed, going on to remark that Devon looked quite like Elba. It was that remark which sent us scurrying off to south-west England to find out if it was indeed like Napoleon's island of exile.

A place for newly-weds

by hidden europe

So we travelled west, just as we promised. We saw white horses and chalk downland, slipping through geology to reach a land of gorgeous place names. We sped by Huish Episcopi, skirted Burrow Mump and Dawlish Warren eventually to reach the Tamar. Brunel's mighty bridge escorted us to another land. 'Kernow a'gas dynergh' reads the sign on the railway platform at Saltash. 'Welcome to Cornwall'.

Look west

by hidden europe

For generations of Americans, the West told of a promising new dawn and a land of opportunity. Wild it may have been, but the settling of the West was a process that helped shape American identity. The pioneer past is even today a strong thread in the fabric of American history and culture. Urbane east coasters who may never have seen the Rockies still know the stories of the settlers and prospectors who helped colonise the land beyond the Mississippi. Shift to Russia and the concept of the West has always had mixed overtones.

The city of spiders

by hidden 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 hundred years ago. Oceans and quays, slow boats and fast ferries, tramp ships and cruise liners, sea breezes and trade winds, charts and compasses have all helped shape the cultures and coastal landscapes of maritime Europe.

A time for following

by hidden europe

Sometimes it is good to be led. Paul has the map. I follow. Three of us are walking: Greg, Paul and I. Paul leads us to the shores of the lake. It is a good spot to retreat from the dark-scud clouds that crowd the October skies. There is a sweet dampness in the air, the enveloping melancholy of autumn in the forest. In the skies above, we see the patterned wing-beat of geese dancing to the obliquity of the ecliptic.

Britain by bus — could you write for us?

by hidden europe

Let's speak of buses. Can we set you a challenge? Could you pen some words for us? Britain benefits from a fabulous network of local bus routes. Last year, in a collaboration with Bradt Travel Guides, we edited a volume called Bus-Pass Britain. Over forty members of the public rose to the challenge of writing with passion and enthusiasm about bus routes in England, Scotland and Wales that are in some way special. Now, we are working with Bradt on a follow-up volume for publication in 2013.

Land, sea and the frontiers of space

by hidden europe

They are the forgotten places, the liminal zones where land meets the sea. Shingle promontories and spits rarely have the same appeal as rugged cliff coastlines or great tracts of golden sand.These forgotten wildernesses are good for military exploits. Armies can play games and scientists working in the service of the military can conduct unseen experiments. Peenemünde was perfect in that respect.

Remembering Rachel

by hidden europe

Wander through the industrial landscapes around Ajka and you'll see a Hungary that does not feature in the tourist brochures. Lake Balaton is just over the hills to the south. The lake stands for recreation and fun. Ajka stands for something quite different. Cast back a couple of years and an awful river of caustic red sludge poured down through Kolontár, an unsung suburb west of the centre of Ajka. Nine people died and over one hundred were injured, many of them seriously.

From Askania-Nova to Vaduz

by hidden europe

Another Friday morning. And a sunny September day in Liechtenstein. A little fog around dawn down in the Rhine Valley, but that will surely clear quickly. So blue skies will set the tone for the hundredth birthday of Baron Eduard Alexandrovich von Falz-Fein. Eduard von Falz-Fein was born on 14 September 1912 into quite another world. Emperor Franz Joseph I still presided over Austria-Hungary, Nicholas II ruled Russia and journalist Leon Trotsky was making his way south from Vienna to cover the developing troubles in the Balkans.

A dozen nautical miles

by hidden europe

Only once past Foreland Point does Devon reveal her secrets. From Foreland it is a dozen nautical miles of easy cruising along the coast to Ilfracombe. But there are choices. Due west of Foreland Point lies nothing but open ocean until the rocky shores of Newfoundland. Our skipper takes the tame option and hugs the English coast, Devon unfolding along the way. Shales and sandstones, reminders of an ancient desert, a land rent asunder by the oceans and crumpled like a concertina.

Transfiguration

by hidden europe

Last Sunday, the Feast of the Transfiguration in the Orthodox calendar, was the Apple Spas. Across much of Orthodox Europe, the spoils of the new harvest were offered up at church services. No matter that the combine harvesters are still hard at work in the fields. No matter that the apples still hang heavy in the orchards. Change is in the air.

The Baltic, Switzerland, and a hint of Islam

by hidden europe

In our last Letter from Europe, we extolled the merits of spontaneity in travel. This week we returned to the Baltic, following an itinerary the precise trajectory of which was determined only by the rolling of dice. (Unwary travellers inclined to imitate our method might note that there is a high chance of ending up in a benighted cul-de-sac, where they might spend weeks rolling dice to secure their eventual escape). Chance took us from Kiel to Eutin, a small town in Holstein that had somehow escaped our attention.

Travelling on a whim

by hidden europe

When was the last time you just wandered? Not merely through your home community, but more widely? Just travelling without fixed intent from region to region, perhaps even across frontiers to foreign lands. Last week we explored a little of the German-Polish Baltic region. Perhaps we shall return there this week. And perhaps not. The point is not to plan, but to savour the serendipity of chance. To wander for its own sake.

The train to Tundra

by hidden europe

Year by year, the population of Obozersky dwindles. Fifty years ago, more than 7000 people lived in this little town in the Russian Arctic. More than half have left. They took the train south and never returned. The cream and brown railway station is spick and span and, along with the Orthodox church, is one of the smartest buildings in town. Railways and religion are the mainstays of rural Russia.

200 years of summer holidays

by hidden europe

The thrice-daily local bus service from Altenberg to Teplice is a blessing for cross-border travellers. The bus crosses the mountains that define the border between Saxony and Bohemia. When we rode this route last Thursday, there were just five passengers on the lunchtime bus. The half-hour journey rolls back through two hundred years of history and is a link between two worlds.

Napoleon never made it to San Marino

by hidden europe

hidden europe 37 is published today. More on that anon, but let's stop for a while on the edge of a Polish forest. In the very centre of the forest, we were told, is the spot where the emperors of the forest hold their court. So we went off in search of the ancient buffalo, the bison and the bear. We certainly found the bison but it is surely many a year since bear roamed the forests of Bialowieza.

A duo of diarchies

by hidden europe

Europe boasts an engaging mix of microstates, some less acknowledged internationally than others. The mainland of western Europe numbers five independent nation states that are all among the smallest in the world. In Andorra and San Marino, we have the world's two remaining diarchies - nations that are presided over by two individuals who share the role of head of state.

The naming of sons

by hidden europe

You probably don't chart your progress through the year with an ecclesiastical calendar. We do, but in truth we cannot really recommend it as a sensible way of confronting modernity. Today, in that part of Europe which favours Rome over Constantinople, is St John's Day - more precisely, the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist. The Orthodox communions will wait another 13 days before giving a little festive cheer for St John.

Reshaping mental maps

by hidden 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 enough to facilitate a new fast service linking the Guadalquivir Valley in Andalucía with the Gulf of Valencia. And it will help reshape the mental maps of citizens of both the Spanish Levante and Andalucía.

All eyes on Ukraine

by hidden europe

Just over five years ago, on a sunny day in mid-April 2007, Victor Yushchenko paid a courtesy visit to the European Commission. On the same day Victor Yanukovich addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Ukraine was in political turmoil and the key protagonists were busy courting the wider European policy community and international public opinion - each hoping to secure some support for their side in the embittered constitutional crisis that then divided their country.

Alpine accents

by hidden europe

We have been exploring the northern ranges of the Alps this past week, criss-crossing the international border that separates the German State of Bavaria from the Austrian Tyrol. Like many of Europe's borders, this particular frontier has been pretty fluid and there are still some lovely geographical peculiarities.

From synagogue to swimming pool

by hidden europe

It is tempting to scatter superlatives when it comes to Poznan. Put simply, Poznan has a superb showpiece square. In its town hall, which dominates that central square, the city has one of the most magnificent Renaissance buildings in Europe. Poznan is a place we like a lot and one we know well - indeed we spent a long weekend there just last month. Yet, like many central European cities, Poznan struggles with its Jewish past.

Flying can still be fun

by hidden europe

Flying has generally ceased to be fun. The only certainty about much modern air travel is that it will be boring. Airports from Omsk to Omaha are nowadays all very much the same and all equally uninspiring. All that said, it is always interesting to browse the summer flight schedules and find that there are a few parts of Europe where scheduled air services still make a very fine contribution to life in remote communities. And there are many examples where a plane bridges a gap between places that are otherwise unlinked by surface transport.

Musings for May Day

by hidden europe

Across much of Europe, May is ushered in by a night of bonfires and revelry. "All a matter of keeping the witches at bay," says our friend Milena who lives in a small village in Bohemia. Across the Czech Republic, the vigil of May Day is the cue for pálení carodejnic (the witch burning). There are bonfires and broomsticks aplenty and folk stay up till dawn. The shift from April to May is a liminal moment in the calendrical affairs of the European continent - one of those edgy, dangerous temporal boundaries that deserve to be taken seriously.

Recalling Guernica

by hidden europe

Most art lovers visiting Madrid make first for the Prado and then for the Thyssen-Bornemisza. Both have celebrated collections. The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, based in a former hospital near Atocha railway station, does not attract quite the same crowds as the two top-tier galleries. But with a weekend in Madrid last month, we made time for the Reina Sofia, where the big draw is Picasso's Guernica.

The harsh lands

by hidden 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 chirring of crickets, picked fresh lemons, paddled in the Adriatic and tasted grilled lamb. Then last Saturday morning we moved on to Basilicata.

Across the Channel

by hidden europe

The stretch of coast north from Boulogne (in the direction of Calais) is a good place to reflect on England. We took a local bus along the coastal road last month, and it made for a fine ride on a perfectly clear, crisp winter day. Beach communities like Wimereux and Wissant were once popular holiday spots, much favoured by English visitors.

Charlottenburg to Cádiz

by hidden europe

There is something rather satisfying about being up and about earlyish on a Sunday morning. Streets that would on working days be busy are happily empty. So I hopped on a train just after eight and rode west out of Berlin. This is familiar terrain. Charlottenburg looks, as ever, faded but interesting. We sweep out of the city, passing the Olympic Stadium, glimpses here and there of empty parks.

Women on the rails

by hidden europe

International Women's Day (IWD), which is celebrated today in many countries across the world, has been a feature of the European social landscape for more than a century. From the outset, IWD gave focus to a range of initiatives across Europe that pre-dated the designation of a special day. For example, Emmeline Pankhurst's suffragettes had already been very effectively promoting women's rights in England, while Clara Zetkin and her followers had been pursuing a similar agenda in Germany.

Liberating public spaces

by hidden europe

The Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag and the modern Potsdamer Platz development are Berlin icons, all enduringly popular with those who trade in visual images. And our Berlin wander, weaving around film crews and tripods, set us thinking about the way in which the imperative to capture the scene, coupled with the demands of commerce, intrude on public spaces.

West to Reading

by hidden europe

The fast trains from London to Reading take a mere twenty-four minutes for the journey. And First Great Western (FGW), successor to Brunel's celebrated Great Western Railway, happily still name some of their trains. Scanning the current FGW timetable for departures from Paddington, we opt for the Cornish Riviera for the ride to Reading.

Diverted via Paris

by hidden europe

Remember the ash cloud in 2010? It had a silver lining in making stranded travellers think creatively about the journeys they wanted or needed to make. And similarly with the seasonal doses of wintry weather that play havoc with rail schedules across the continent. When we left London mid-morning yesterday, we thought we were pretty sure to arrive in Berlin by late evening. Little did we imagine that our roundabout journey would lead us to Paris.

Across the Dardanelles

by hidden europe

Çanakkale is a mere dot on the map, but mere dots in distant lands so often turn out to be bustling cities. And thus it is with Çanakkale, a seaport and fortress town on the east side of the Dardanelles. Çanakkale is a community of more than 100,000 people. Choose your vantage point on the waterfront with care, and you will be rewarded with fine views across the water to the great fortress at Kilitbahir across the west side of the Dardanelles.

Frisian waves

by hidden europe

We map our way around Europe using antique guidebooks, just as we map our way through the year using long-obsolete ecclesiastical calendars. So we are in a small minority of Europeans who happen to know that today, 16 January, was long observed as the Feast of St Marcellus. Quite what happened to St Marcellus we don't know, but it seems he was ousted from his January perch by this or that papal reform sometime in the last century.

Church etiquette

by hidden 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 worship but a wish to see the buildings' interiors? Or should the visitor more properly attend at times designated for tourists, queue as necessary and pay an admission fee if requested?

To nothingness and night

by hidden europe
Poems enliven the passing of the old year. Germans might reverently recite lines from Goethe this evening ('Zwischen dem Alten, Zwischen dem Neuen') while the English might favour Tennyson ('Ring out the old, Ring in the new'). We opt for John Clare who angrily, provocatively, compellingly charted a changing rural England in his verse. His lines on the eve of the New Year ('Old papers thrown away, Old garments cast aside') communicate the sense of exile and a palpable disconnect with the past that were so strong a feature of Clare's life - the past fading to nothingness and night.

Brussels: the past is another country

by hidden europe

In most European capitals these young migrants make little imprint on the cultural life of the city. But as we said last week, when we wrote on the matter of Christmas markets, Brussels does thing differently. The Belgian capital has a radical demeanour and a willingness to engage with gritty, difficult topics. The unconventional inflects everyday life in Brussels.

Less bratwurst, more Brussels

by hidden europe

This Advent we have caught a dash of Christmas spirit in several different countries across Europe. Mulled wine comes with a variety of accents, sometimes with hints of cinnamon and citrus, elsewhere more honey and black pepper. It has been fun to wander through Christmas markets from Strasbourg to Southwark, from Brussels to Berlin, and it is also an instructive lesson in globalisation.

Of glaciers and glacierets

by hidden europe

The news this week, widely reported in Europe's media, that French glaciers are on the retreat prompts us to reflect on glaciers around mainland Europe. It is of course no surprise that Europe's permanent areas of snow and ice are threatened by our warming climate. These changes are most strikingly evident in the Alps, but perceptive observers of mountain environments notice them more widely.

Letter from St Pancras

by hidden europe

There is something quite exquisite about grand railway termini. Folk fly through them, the dash for the train diminishing the status of these great cathedrals to travel. But these are not places through which one should rush. So we lingered at St Pancras in London for almost an entire day, catching the changing moods of William Barlow's magnificent train shed at dusk and dawn.

Polish mysteries

by hidden europe

We crossed the River Odra four times. And four times I gazed down at the river's wine-dark waters from the train, watching the waters swirling under bridges, swirling through history. We stopped on a level crossing, inconveniencing no-one, for cars there were none. But that was a fine moment, sunshine tussling with midday mist and for once getting the upper hand.

Slow travel with hidden europe 35

by hidden europe

Slow travel can be quite hard work. It takes time of course, but it also requires a certain mindset. And we have tried to bring that mindset to every page in the latest issue of hidden europe magazine which is published today. hidden europe 35 is an adventure that takes in the nerve ends of Europe.

Escape from Alcúdia

by hidden 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 be very atmospheric. But for most of the budget travellers who flock to Alcúdia, visits to Roman ruins are probably not a top priority.

Remember, remember

by hidden 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 this evening probably will not have the details of Guy Fawkes' peculiar act of treason uppermost in their minds as they gaze at crossettes, spiders, horsetails and multi-break shells exploding in the night skies.

Reformation Day

by hidden europe

Europe's Protestant reformers were not, on the whole, men who took kindly to statues. Indeed, thousands of statues in Catholic churches across Europe were smashed to pieces during the Reformation. So it's hard to fathom what Martin Luther would have made of the rather ostentatious statue of himself that stands in the middle of the Rhineland city of Worms.

The other Germany

by hidden europe

My brief was to take the pulse of eastern Germany on the 21st anniversary of her union (in October 1990) with her bigger neighbour to the west. Thus was a new and larger Germany born. Twenty-first birthdays have symbolic rather than any legal meaning, but in many cultures there is still a sense of 'coming-of-age' at 21. And this week, all sixteen states in the reunified Germany had a day off work to mark this happy occasion.

Branding the skies

by hidden europe

It is rare that we write about planes, but a few days ago we stumbled on a list of airlines that have been consigned to aviation history. What struck us was the pure poetry embedded in this sad litany: Flying Finn, Styrian Spirit, Magic Blue, Arc Air, Air Andalucía and Amber Air. Some names seemed a little ill-judged to carry the hopes and ambitions of a new airline's promoters. Was not Atlantis Airways destined from the outset to be lost for ever?

Travelling through the Harz Mountains

by hidden europe

The Harz Mountains barely rise to more than one thousand metres, but seen from the flatlands to the north they appear mightily impressive: great, forested humpbacks that preside over the plains. The highest point is the Brocken, at 1,141 metres the loftiest elevation anywhere in northern Germany.

Report from Kalmykia

by hidden europe

The steppes on the drive east from the capital are parched and dry. Vehicles are few and far between. They are in the main old Soviet-era jeeps and trucks, the progress of each one marked by a trail of dust that hangs heavy in the afternoon air.This is the land of the saiga, an endangered antelope with a beautiful bulbous nose that lives on the feather grass steppes of Kalmykia.

Happy birthday, Ukraine

by hidden europe

Over the last couple of days, we have heard Shche ne vmerla Ukraina sung with just a little more gusto, a shade more passion, than is perhaps the norm. Hot on the heels of one of the most colourful Orthodox feasts of the year - when great baskets of apples were blessed at altars across the country - comes the twentieth anniversary of Ukrainian independence.

Beyond the Wall

by hidden europe

Prosaic places are so often the most interesting spots. And Lichterfelde ranks as decidedly prosaic. None of the main English-language guidebooks to Berlin so much as mention the suburb where we live and work. Tourists do not flock to Lichterfelde to see the great sights of a community that, fifty years ago today, awoke to find that the local train service had been disrupted by the closing of the border between East Germany and West Berlin.

From Dutch tornadoes to Sussex avalanches

by hidden europe

We were surprised to learn recently that the place in the world where you are most likely to experience a tornado is the Netherlands. True, those Dutch twisters don't cause quite the havoc of the big tornadoes that occasionally sweep across the US Mid-West. But the chances of someone living in the Netherlands, or for that matter southern England, having seen a tornado is pretty high.

Ramadan in the Far North

by hidden europe

Ramadan, the annual month of prayer and fasting for the world's Muslim population, is just starting, so it is worth sparing a thought for Muslims who live in Europe's northern regions. To refrain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset is a tough challenge, though one doubtless made easier when underpinned by a firm faith. But with Ramadan moving forward towards mid-summer each year, the issue of an appropriate fasting regime for Muslims in Europe's polar regions is a very real one.

Train to Narva

by hidden europe

Platform Four in Tallinn station: the train to Narva rests in the sunshine. An odd selection of shopping bags, magazines and items of clothing scattered on plastic seats are evidence of people having made a claim on a particular space on the train. One person has left an umbrella, another a melon and a third seat is occupied by a plastic chimpanzee. Their respective owners stand on the platform until it is evident that the train is about to depart.

Train services of yesteryear

by hidden europe

There is much talk today about how we live in a new age of the train, and that many journeys around Europe are now much more sensibly undertaken by rail rather than air. Only too true, but such rhetoric does imply that rail travel in Europe was utterly dreadful for an earlier generation of travellers. We have been taking a look at European rail travel 40 years ago.

Village life in Jamel

by hidden europe

These fine summer days are a time to explore the rural hinterland of Germany's Baltic coast. There is a delicate beauty in the undulating country behind the old port city of Wismar. And there's a touch of history too with ancient dolmens and menhirs hidden away in the forest. Near the tiny village of Jamel is a megalithic passage grave. Yet Jamel itself hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Amina unmasked

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Perhaps you, like us, were enthralled by the tales from Damascus as Amina Arraf blogged about her adventures and misadventures in the Syrian capital. Amina has of course now been exposed as an American hoaxer with a very fine imagination and a gift for writing fiction. The world's media will dissect the Amina affair, and for a while it will make us all a little more attentive to sources. Can this or that blogger be trusted? Or, for that matter, this or that travel writer?

A tale of two Eltons

by hidden europe

You could easily miss Elton. The train from Dublin to Cork speeds past Elton. You hardly catch a glimpse of the cluster of houses that make up this little Irish village. When the grandly titled Great Southern and Western Railway built a line through the district in 1849, they judged Knocklong, just a couple of minutes up the line from Elton, as deserving of a station. So Elton, a little smaller than Knocklong, lost out.

The spiritual geography of Karelia

by hidden europe

Are not some landscapes genuinely therapeutic? We crested wave after wave of rolling forests as we drove through Karelia last week. Writers looking to plot the spiritual geography of Europe might do well to start here, for Finnish Karelia is a landscape full of longing and nostalgia, a region that has a very distinctive sanctity. We did not start our journey as pilgrims, yet Karelia wove its spell around us and turned us into pilgrims.

The 313 to Botany Bay

by hidden europe

We were having difficulty being enthusiastic about Enfield. Jack, an amiable octogenarian who is Enfield born and bred, is more positive. "Heavens," he exclaims. "You've no idea. Enfield has been important for centuries. Do you remember the Lee Enfield, for example?" asks Jack. Actually we don't, but Jack tells a plausible tale about how the rifle that was for sixty years standard issue to British troops was made in Enfield.

The Wedding Factor

by hidden europe

The Berlin district of Wedding is blessed with the definite article and cursed with a bad reputation. Quite why locals allude to the suburb as 'der Wedding' (The Wedding) is a matter of debate. The Wedding has urban colour, a multicultural mix and crowded streets that are in sharp contrast to the sedate Berlin norm. The Wedding, a little shady and run-down, is gritty territory, rather like Pantin in Paris or Brixton in London.

Russian life on the Riviera

by hidden 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 be able to see right along the coast to Cap Ferrat and beyond. "Christos voskres." Yes, that's a phrase we shall certainly hear a lot today, especially as the Orthodox and Western celebrations of Easter coincide this year.

Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers

by hidden europe

Readers of our e-brief have often asked us what else we do apart from hidden europe, so please indulge us as we give an example. Last year Thomas Cook Publishing, a company with which we always had enjoyed amiable relations, contracted us to take a long-standing Thomas Cook book and give it an entire new look. The result is 'Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers' which was published last month.

Travels through Macedonia

by hidden europe

We journeyed through Macedonia last week. We stayed at the country's only World Heritage Site at Ohrid and then hugged the Albanian border as we travelled north through Debar to Tetovo. This is territory that has long fascinated travel writers and our journey picked up elements of itineraries followed by Edith Durham and Rebecca West.

The cruellest month (Sweden)

by hidden europe

"April is the cruellest month," wrote TS Eliot. Not so in southern Sweden, where March can be much crueller than April. This is the season when winter's icy hold on forests and lakes is challenged by slowly rising temperatures. Thick lake ice turns to milky cream, while the thaw makes forests utterly impenetrable.

The Centovalli Railway

by hidden 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 trains head down into the concrete zone, there in the subterranean depths of Domodossola railway station to board the little train that rattles east across the valley and climbs into the hills beyond.

Szczecin (Poland)

by hidden europe

For a spell Swedish, then German (and known as Stettin) and only since 1945 Polish, Szczecin is distant from the hubs of Polish power. Its shipyard workers played a key role in the Solidarity movement of the nineteen-eighties. But the city feels its distance from Warsaw, and civic leaders in Szczecin argue that Polish regional policy has not been supportive enough of a city that has been through a tough time economically.

Gerês (Portugal)

by hidden europe

It is an odd experience to arrive in a small town before noon and find a local restaurant full of folk eating lunch. Vila do Gerês, the town where spa clients eat before noon, comes as a surprise. It is a little town in northern Portugal — faded, but still elegant, in the manner of a graceful dowager. And the hills surrounding Gerês are part of Portugal’s only national park.

Polar nights in Spitsbergen

by hidden 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 Svalbard archipelago, celebrated its annual Polar Jazz festival.

Arabia and the European Imagination

by hidden europe

Travel and myth-making naturally go hand in hand. Arabia is a product of the European imagination. Romanticised views of the desert and rumours of ancient cities lost in great seas of sand conspire to create picture-book images of an Arabia that hardly match reality.

Shaped by wind and waves

by hidden europe

There is something definitive, something final, about a long spit that juts out into the sea. Be it sand or shingle, vegetated or barren, you know you have reached the end of the world when you reach the end of the spit. Tennyson said as much in his poem 'Crossing the Bar', an elegiac piece that uses the image of a sand bar to chart the boundary between life and death. Beyond the bar lies only the ocean, only the boundless deep.

Crossing the Kiel Canal

by hidden europe

If you like three dimensional landscapes, then Germany's most northerly state of Schleswig-Holstein is probably not for you. The hills are there, but you have to look hard to see them. We took a local train across Schleswig-Holstein last Sunday on a route that happily included the Rendsburg bridge.

Kicking off the New Year

by hidden 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 beautiful kroon banknotes are consigned to currency history.

Birmingham silences

by hidden europe

Head out along the Bristol Road and you get an eyeful of Birmingham's suburbs. Leaky ipods and restive mobiles mix with discarded newspapers and chip wrappers on the upper deck of Bus 61 that runs all the way out to Frankley. An empty Red Bull can dances beneath the seats, rolling back and forth as the bus brakes and accelerates.

Winter arrives in the Baltic

by hidden 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 on Chatsworth or Versailles.

Just a state of mind (Ireland)

by hidden europe

The Giant's Causeway is squeezed in between Gay Byrne and God. The latter are of course by far the two most important men in Ireland - at least that's the view of literary critic Terry Eagleton who is one of the more thoughtful commentators on all things Irish.

Issue 200: the Jardin Villemin

by hidden europe

A few days ago, we sped from London to Paris on Eurostar, a journey of some five hundred kilometres, in little over two hours. It is very fast, and always leaves us feeling just a little bit breathless. So on arrival in Paris we went as always to the Jardin Villemin.

Border markers

by hidden europe

We sensed we were crossing into another world as the Moscow-bound train rumbled over the long bridge that spans the River Bug. The reed beds are full of wildfowl which are not troubled by the frequent trains that rattle overhead. This is the border wilderness that divides Poland from Belarus. It marks one of Europe's great divides: the Curzon Line.

The road less taken

by hidden europe

Only the British can really understand the appeal of the perfect B road. It is a road that may have pretensions, hoping one day to be upgraded to A class status. And then there are B roads that have come down in the world. Take for example the B1043 south of Peterborough through the village of Stilton (which really does have a connection with cheese).

By train through Albania

by hidden europe

The railway platform at Tirana was as full as it ever gets. That meant all of half a dozen people waiting for the dawn train to Pogradec, among them an English gricer and a Polish twitcher. The latter had travelled across Europe to catch a glimpse of rare birds and was bound for Lake Ohrid.

Lost maritime links

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Boulogne has always knocked spots off Calais as a port-of-entry into France. The city has a particularly attractive Ville Haute (Upper Town). But sadly, not a lot of travellers from England will be visiting Boulogne this winter, for today sees the withdrawal of the sole remaining ferry link between England and Boulogne.

The last victim of the Berlin Wall

by hidden europe

1990 was a Berlin summer dominated by the Mauerspechte - literally the 'wall peckers' - who chipped away at the Wall with chisels, often in the hope that fragments of the legacy of a divided Berlin could be sold to the tourists who were then thronging the city centre in their thousands. One of the wall peckers was Christoph-Manuel Bramböck.

Fourth class over the border

by hidden europe

Chernivtsi's distinctive green-domed railway station gives a hint of the city it serves. It is a stylish station, one that well befits what is a gem among Ukrainian cities. Of course, for many travellers Chernivtsi is merely a place to change trains. There are connections far and wide. But the most interesting train of the day from Chernivtsi is the morning train to Moldova.

The politics of heritage

by hidden europe

Albi, Downe, Bikini Atoll and the Putorana Plateau are all in competition with each other next week as UNESCO gears up to announce a new round of World Heritage Sites. Securing a place on the World Heritage List can lead to a big boost in tourism revenue, but not everywhere that is on the list automatically becomes hugely popular.

Kvarken life

by hidden europe

While much of the world worries about the possible impact of rising sea levels on coastal communities, the Kvarken islands have the opposite problem. This archipelago in the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland is still on the rebound - as it were - after having been relieved of the burden of ice that covered the region during the last Ice Age.

From Austerlitz to Solferino

by hidden 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 part of Bavaria. But the single word Dachau, innocuously proclaimed with an onboard announcement on our train, unleashed such a flurry of thoughts and emotions.

Macedonian variety

by hidden europe

It takes less than four hours to cross Macedonia by train. It is just 250 km from the border with Serbia at Tabanovce to the Greek frontier at Gevgelija. Of course Macedonia deserves more than merely four hours, but that short train journey affords a few insights into one of Europe's least known countries.

The ark in the park

by hidden europe

Zoos evoke all manner of reactions. Some commentators see them as playing a key role in maintaining biological diversity, others dismiss them as cruel and inhumane. We take a look at European zoos in their social and historical context.

Music in Potsdam

by hidden europe

Fernweh is a marvellous German word that is not easily translated into English. It hints of the unbearable pain of being stuck at home when in truth you would far rather be exploring a desert island on the other side of the planet.

Slow England

by hidden europe

Cut off the main highway to Norwich, dive into the countryside through meadows full of deep green grass and you will reach Quidenham - a cluster of cottages and uneven lanes that were never meant for fast cars. Across England there are a thousand Quidenhams, each one a byway in the maze of English history.

Ligurian passion

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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 part of Italy, is still very evident today.

Glimpses from the train

by hidden europe

Are not the finest parts of many long train journeys those fleeting glimpses of a city or a country that you get just prior to arrival at your destination? There is a superb moment on the train journey through Slovakia towards Budapest, a view dominated by the huge basilica at Esztergom.

The Baedeker legacy

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"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 that also included such redoubtable names as John Murray and Thomas Cook.

Now the dust is settling

by hidden europe

Well, that was certainly an interesting week for travellers around Europe. Lots of angst for stranded souls. Rich fodder for the British tabloids as brave holidaymakers returned to English ports recounting tales of journeys from hell. Heavens, we never knew that France was really that bad.

The legacy of Katyn

by hidden europe

It was twenty years ago this coming Tuesday that Moscow formally acknowledged that the Soviet secret police (the NKVD) had shot thousands of officers, priests, poets and professors in the forests of Katyn. The legacy of Katyn still scars the Polish soul, even more so today after the air crash near Katyn that claimed the lives of eighty-nine Polish politicians and officials including the Polish President.

Europiccola (Little Europe)

by hidden 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 central Europe on the Adriatic.

East of Trieste

by hidden 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 piety of open borders has done nothing to foster eastbound rail links from the port city.

A Dutch planetarium

by hidden europe

Evidently the world is going to end in 2012. Well, that at least was the suggestion of the young man we met on the train to Franeker, a small town in the Netherlands.

Polling day in Iceland

by hidden 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 Wild West.

Origins: from Marie Curie to Tom Stoppard

by hidden europe

It is always interesting to discover the places where famous folk were born. Who ever would have thought that Andre Agassi, the son of an Iranian-born boxer, should have first seen the light of our world in Las Vegas? hidden europe visits the home towns of Marie Curie and Tom Stoppard.

The Buchenhorst brigade

by hidden europe

You have surely never heard of Buchenhorst. Nor had we until yesterday. It is a tiny community deep in the forests of western Pomerania. And it was here that our train ground to a halt en route to the Baltic port of Stralsund yesterday.

Geography matters!

by hidden europe

It was way back in 1879 that a witness, testifying before a Select Committee of the House of Commons in London, declared "Geography is ruinous in its effects on the lower classes." If there is one discipline which has informed our writing in hidden europe more than any other, it is most surely geography. And travelling through England this past week, we have been struck by how geographical insight is still important.

Winter in eastern Germany

by hidden europe

The temperature was still around minus fifteen when we alighted just after midday from the slow train at Grunow. It was a bitterly cold winter morning, sunny and clear, with a numbing east wind. The countryside east of Berlin has a delicate beauty.

Unravelling Gibraltarian identity

by hidden europe

Marut and Mesod are both interesting men. And both are equally adamant that they are Gibraltarians. If you thought that Gibraltar was merely Cockney voices or fish and chips, think again. The territory at the southern tip of Iberia has its own very distinctive culture and identity.

Celebrating the Epiphany: 20 C+M+B 10

by hidden europe

If you have ever travelled extensively through continental Europe, you will surely have noticed chalk inscriptions on door lintels. These chalk marks are intimately associated with the Feast of the Epiphany, which is celebrated today (6 January).

The demons of Sylt

by hidden 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 march the beach at dawn.

The Togliatti syndrome

by hidden europe

Journalists in Togliatti (sometimes transliterated as Tolyatti), a town on the banks of the Volga, know all too well about the dangers of reporting in Russia. Tolyattinskoe obozrenie (Togliatti Review) was a minor star in Russian provincial journalism - a genuinely independent newspaper that started life as a weekly but later switched to daily publication.

A trio of cat stories

by hidden europe

Catamarans are in the news. Spanish operator Transcoma this week launches its new fast catamaran service between Gibraltar and the Spanish port of Algeciras and in the English Channel the Euroferries saga continues.

Train service changes for 2010

by hidden europe

The Balkan region gets a new rail service tomorrow, with the launch of a once daily direct train between Belgrade and Sarajevo. It is a mark of how much the mood in the region has improved over recent years that routes severed during the nineties are now being restored.

The feast of St Nicholas

by hidden 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 feast.

Yitzhak's tale (Vienna)

by hidden europe

It was only after the old man had beaten us both at chess that he opened the worn leather satchel. He carefully took out a small bundle of papers. Removing the twine that gave the pile of documents some structure, he showed us fragments of his life - among the papers a letter from his grandmother.

Vadsø (northern Norway)

by hidden europe

You really know you have travelled a long way east when you get to Vadsø. The local church, which dominates the small town on the Barents Sea, is a late 1950s essay in poured concrete. But take a peek inside for a surprise. This is a Norwegian Lutheran church with an interior design that has striking Byzantine overtones. The chancel area has an almost Orthodox demeanour.

The new age of the train

by hidden europe

The French TGV train is nothing new, but the afternoon service from Strasbourg to Paris last Thursday happened to feature the very engines that two years ago broke the world rail speed record. Back in April 2007, the specially modified train reached a remarkable 574 kilometres per hour west of the Meuse river viaduct. We swept along the same stretch of line at a much more sedate 315 kilometres per hour.

Orbiting Berlin

by hidden europe

We took a day out on Friday to orbit Berlin. In truth we have never really been fans of motorway driving, but a gorgeous frosty autumn morning with clear skies tempted us out of suburban Berlin onto the motorway that encircles the city. At exactly 200 kilometres, the Berliner Ring is the longest orbital motorway in Europe, beating even London's infamous M25 to the record.

Celebrity tourism in the Trossachs

by hidden europe

Celebrity tourism is nothing new. In 1847, Queen Victoria had journeyed to the Hebrides from the Clyde, using the Crinan Canal to avoid the long sea journey around the Kintyre peninsula. In so doing she encouraged thousands of other travellers to follow in her wake - the so-called Royal Route to Oban via the Crinan Canal was suddenly in vogue.

Levoca (Slovakia)

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Levoca is picture perfect, a community that deserves to be far better known. As it surely will, for this summer Levoca secured inclusion on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. The historic centre of Levoca reflects late medieval Saxon colonisation of an area that was then under the protection of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Day of German Unity

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It is the Day of German Unity, a public holiday on 3 October each year that recalls the unification of the two German States in October 1990. It is unsurprisingly a day that promotes reflection on both sides of the erstwhile border, with many Germans from the west of the country quite unable to understand why some of their eastern neighbours look back with obvious affection on aspects of life in the east.

Ferry updates

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September will not be remembered as an easy month for ferry operators in the waters around the British Isles. With the end of the peak summer season, many ferry operators look to their books and ponder how (or even whether) they can survive the leaner winter season ahead. Two car ferry routes in northwest Ireland are struggling with financial uncertainty.

Airport links

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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 island's airport.

Landsendi (Iceland)

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It snowed last Tuesday night. Yes, we know you will think we are joking, but it really snowed. We were in eastern Iceland, and snow at the very start of September is a reminder of just how early winter comes to some parts of northern Europe. But a light dusting of new snow did not deter us from setting out for Landsendi, a remote headland that really does look on the map as though it might be at the very end of the world.

Vorarlberg (Austria)

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Alighting from the train at Bregenz station in Austria, the traveller instantly has a sense of being in a place that takes recreation seriously. The station architecture is memorably bizarre with its turquoise-green platform canopies and the spiral walkways that decant new arrivals onto the lakefront. Bregenz lies on the eastern shore of Lake Constance (the Bodensee in German) and is the most un-Austrian of Austrian cities.

Bohemian borderlands

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The first town over the hills, on the Czech side of the border, is Domazlice. Just twenty minutes on the steam trains that this weekend shuttle between Furth and Domazlice. The Czech town has a fabulous elongated main square that during these festive days is filled with folksy performances: singers and dancers, bagpipes and brass bands aplenty.

Triglav (Slovenia) - the Danish Everest

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It is that time of year when Slovenes take to the hills. It is perfectly possible to be Scottish and never climb Ben Nevis, just as it is easy to be German without ever having set foot on the Zugspitze - that is the mountain straddling the border between Bavaria and Austria. Its summit is the highest point in Germany.

Return to Wissembourg

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The River Lauter bubbles happily through the town, nature is taking possession again of ancient ramparts where once the French kept watch for invaders and now this border town is a favoured destination for day trippers from Germany. But for me Wissembourg was the very embodiment of Gallic life, a fine introduction to a country that seemed deliciously foreign.

Kosovo and international politics

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The Kosovo issue rumbles on. Contrary to popular opinion, the question of who has recognised the would-be state and who has not is far from being a simple east versus west divide. True, Britain and the United States both gave a positive nod to Kosovo within twenty four hours of the Kosovo Assembly declaring independence on 17 February 2008. And Russia has consistently refused to recognise Kosovo.

Vitebsk (Belarus)

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Every year since 1992, the city of Vitebsk in Belarus has hosted an extravagant festival of music, art and culture known as the Slavianski Bazaar. The old centre of Vitebsk has been handsomely restored, and the city on the banks of the Western Dvina always charms the crowds who attend Vitebsk's week-long festival in July each year. It is the town where Marc Chagall was born.

Bridge over the Moselle

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Remich is one of those spots where it is easy to linger. It is a relaxed sort of place on the bank of the Moselle river in Luxembourg. Just across the river from Remich lies the German village of Nennig. Life in Nennig and Remich is economically intertwined, and residents of both communities move with ease across the Moselle which marks the international border.

A Liechtenstein moment

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One of the events surrounding the twenty-fifth anniversary of women's suffrage in Liechtenstein takes place this evening in the capital Vaduz, when young Liechtenstein women have the chance to meet some of the activists who during the seventies and early eighties struggled for women's rights in their small country. hidden europe e-brief commemorates this moment in Liechtenstein history.

Where to buy rail tickets for travel in Europe

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hidden europe reviews options for purchasing rail tickets for travelling in Europe. We cast around on the Internet, and made a host of phone calls, just to compare how much agents in the UK and USA would charge for those five itineraries. And for comparison we checked out the cheapest price then available on the Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) website for the same five trips. The results make for a frightening read.

Crossing the border at Boris Gleb

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Boris and Gleb are as saintly a duo as Peter and Paul or Cyril and Methodius. Travel round Russia and you will come across no end of churches dedicated to Boris and Gleb. The two were in fact brothers and evidently their tender humility marked the Russian soul. That very Orthodox quality of patient forbearance of suffering is often said to be inspired by Boris and Gleb.

Tallinn's last Soviet soldier

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Tallinn's Bronze Soldier highlights the difficulties of rendering recent history. Visitors to Potsdam, a city in the former German Democratic Republic very close to Berlin, will find many informative notices that unravel the story of the old Hohenzollern palaces that litter the Potsdam landscape. For those interested in architecture, landscape design and imperial history, the park and palaces in and around Sanssouci are magnificent.

Joseph Roth - literary connections

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When the Austrian-Jewish author Joseph Roth was born in Brody in 1894, the town was a Jewish shtetl in Galicia on the eastern edge of the K & K empire - a place beyond which Viennese influence gave way to more tsarist sentiments. Joseph Roth wrote much about people and places on the margins of society.

By ferry to Russia

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The whispers from Moscow last week that Russia will sanction visa-free travel to the country for visitors arriving and leaving on ferries is good news indeed. Cruise ship passengers have long benefitted from just such a dispensation, but only if they take part in a fully escorted tour. Hence the crowds of day trippers that are herded around St Petersburg during the cruise season.

Thriving locally in a global economy

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Some modern travellers jet from one end of Europe to the other, often only to find on arrival at their chosen destination that the place seems uncannily like home. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss bemoaned the fact that everywhere was somehow becoming ever more similar.

Slow train to Rheinsberg (Germany)

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On a beautiful spring day, the forty minute train journey from Löwenberg to Rheinsberg has to be one of the prettiest on the planet. And it was a beautiful spring day. We trundled through birch woods bursting with spring flowers, the morning sunlight sparkled on lakes and we saw lots of deer, kestrels, a buzzard and a fox who turned and watched our small train cross his territory.

Corund (Transylvania)

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Spring is slow in coming to the mountains of the Székely region. Altitude and rugged terrain conspire to make the winter snow linger longer than in many other parts of Romania. But now there is blossom aplenty and geraniums are reappearing on balconies in every village. Blue houses, hilltop chapels and a vibrant folk culture combine to make this one of the most appealing areas of Romania.

Palm Sunday

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Major liturgical feasts like Palm Sunday are reminders of the calendrical divide that still splits Europe in two. The Iron Curtain may have gone (twenty years ago this autumn, according to those commentators who see the breaching of the Berlin Wall as the defining moment), and yet still there are considerable differences between the two halves of Europe. Yes, in the west it is Palm Sunday today, and Easter Sunday next week.

Arabic Sicily

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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 be the place where Arab forces first landed in Sicily during their invasion in 827 AD, marking the start of a period of Arabic influence that is still detectable in Sicily today.

Changing trains in Copenhagen

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The building housing the Nimb Hotel in Copenhagen is deliciously exotic - a Taj Mahal style confection that incorporates Chinese and Moorish elements. It celebrates its centenary this year, having opened its doors in 1909 as Carstensen's Bazaar. In those days it housed a concert hall, an indoor market and for some years boasted the only Tivoli restaurant serving hot food.

Slow travel

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The Slow Food movement is well established, and there are now slow cities. But what about slow travel? Robert Louis Stevenson and Freya Stark both travelled with donkeys. They were attentive to every turn of the road on their journeys through France and Arabia respectively. But us? We pack ourselves like sardines into fragile aluminium tubes and speed through the sky at hundreds of miles per hour. Come now! That is not real travel.

Abkhazia - the Adler connection

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If Abkhazia were more secure and better promoted, it would surely be a holiday paradise to match anywhere in the Mediterranean. The area is spectacular with serene beaches backed by meadows, orchards and vineyards with - just a little further inland - wild mountain landscapes. At this time of year, the mountains are still draped in snow, but that does not deter locals heading up into the hills to go fishing in mountain lakes.

Icelandic beer

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This weekend a little more beer than usual will be downed at the Café Nielsen in Egilsstaðir. For Sunday 1 March marks the twentieth anniversary of the legalisation of beer in Iceland. Until then, Icelanders had to make do with very low-alcohol beer, though it was common practice in the days of beer prohibition to throw a shot of fiery brennivín into every glass of light beer to give the brew a bit of a kick.

Liberec (Czech Republic)

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The Bohemian city of Liberec is much in the news this week as it hosts the Nordic World Ski Championships. Liberec has an improbably old-style hotel, called Imperial, that is an amazing throwback to the past. Its foyer still displays an old communist era map of a united Czechoslavakia, and the interior furnishings look like something straight out of a Soviet film set.

Campione - an Italian exclave in Switzerland

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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 d'Italia postage stamps that we purchased from a philatelic dealer in nearby Lugano.

Hidden Argyll

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It was exactly a hundred years ago that Patrick Gillies published his perceptive account about Argyll in western Scotland. Gillies looked at the finer details in the Argyll landscape. He visited outposts like the Slate Islands, then as now rather off the beaten track and by-passed by most travellers and discovered hidden Argyll.

Serbian Orthodox Christmas

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Bitterly cold temperatures over central and eastern Europe last evening and this morning do nothing to diminish enthusiasm for the celebration of the Orthodox Christmas. While Orthodox Christmas is underway, daily demonstrations in Belgrade dilute the peaceful spirit.

Channel crossings

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Calais' modern port is a model of efficiency. We travelled with P&O Ferries across the Dover Strait, enjoying the considerable comforts on board the Pride of Burgundy. Channel crossing by boat can be a great pleasure.

When the best laid plans don't quite work out

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This week saw hidden europe hitchhiking through rural Hungary as we tried to mitigate the effects of a national train strike in Hungary (now into its seventh day as we write). Pity the poor passengers who left Bucharest last Saturday evening on the through train to Venice. Their sleeping cars rolled into Budapest Keleti station last Sunday afternoon.

Santa Lucia

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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 feast is marked in Siracusa, but it is to northern Europe that we must look for the most demonstrative expression of the cult of light associated with Santa Lucia.

The edge of Europe

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To drive out to Malin Head in Donegal on a wild December day is real travel. Or, in Ireland's southwest corner, to be alone at the ancient fort at Dún Beag, feel the fierce wind sweep in over Slea Head and then dive for cover in one of Dingle's colour-washed pubs. Down in Galicia, the road to Cape Finisterre is one of Europe's finest Atlantic excursions. A journey to the very end of the earth.

Greenland referendum

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There has been a revolution overnight in Nuuk. In the early hours of this morning, referendum results showed that Greenlanders have voted overwhelmingly for much greater autonomy from Denmark. This is not the first time that Greenland has rocked the boat. In 1985, Greenland seceded from the European Community, and in so doing immediately halved the geographical area of the Community.

11 November: a date to note

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While some nations have marked Armistice Day today, in many European countries the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month has a very different symbolism. At mid-morning today the Carnival season started. Now Carnival is something you may associate more with Shrovetide and the run-up to Lent than with mid-November.

Rusyn aspirations in Ukraine

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Father Dymytrij Sydor is a determined man. No-one quite believed him when he asserted that he could raise the funds to build a massive new cathedral at Uzhgorod. This southwesternmost province of Ukraine is hill country, and it is home to the Rusyns - an ethnic and cultural minority who emphasise their distinct identity.

Changing horizons for Silvertown (London)

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Rathbone Street market in Canning Town, just two stops up the train line from Silvertown, was the furthest most Silvertowners ever ventured. A Saturday special. Pie and mash at Mrs Olley's café followed by ice cream at Murkoff's were Canning Town treats before Silvertowners hopped back on the train for the short ride home.

Poznan - the Polish Society of Country Lovers (PTTK)

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The PTTK is a venerable Polish institution. Roughly translated, its full name means the Polish Society of Country Lovers. Kick-started in the Tatra Mountains in the late nineteenth century, the society encouraged an increasingly urban populace to make excursions out of the cities and explore the Polish countryside.

A matter of time - Belgrade

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hidden europe reports on European elections and a referendum in Jersey. We also visit Belgrade and think about the city's illustrious history - the times when the Orient Express stopped in Belgrade.

Tito toponyms

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The cult status surrounding Josip Broz Tito, the onetime president of Yugoslavia, shows no sign of diminishing almost thirty years after his death. The capital of Montenegro, Podgorica, was until 1992 called Titograd. And we report from the extreme southwest corner of Kosovo. Here, in the narrow mountain valleys south of Prizren, is a landscape of quite delicious beauty.

The Isles of Scilly (Tresco)

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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 Tresco Abbey Gardens.

South Jutland (Denmark)

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Visit Jutland in Denmark and listen out for the local dialect, Sønderjysk or South Jutlandic, which some in the region feel should have the status of a minority language. In some schools in this part of Denmark, Sønderjysk is part of the regular curriculum, though always playing second fiddle to Rigsdansk (ie. standard Danish).

Thoughts on Russia

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Russian perceptions of Europe are much in the news this month in the wake of Moscow's response to the Tbilisi government's ill-considered adventure in South Ossetia. And yet Russian popular perceptions are shaped not merely by Kremlin dictates but by several centuries of Russian writing about western Europe.

The Hogsmill Valley (southern England)

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The Hogsmill is scarcely one of Europe's great rivers, yet even this diminutive stream that trickles through London's southern suburbs bubbles with history. Cheam and Nonsuch were villages on the road to chic Epsom, famous nowadays for its racecourse on the windy downs above the town. Amid the suburbs that lace the fringes of the capital is watery Ewell.

Tykocin (Poland) - Belmonte (Portugal)

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Tykocin is a gem, a town that graciously captures the awful history of a thousand former Jewish shtetls across central Europe. This was a community, like so many in the region, that was Jewish to the core. Tykocin had its heart ripped out in August 1941, when the town's Jewish population was ordered to assemble in the main square. Most were marched into the forests just south-west of Tykocin where they were murdered.

The Elbe valley and Dresden

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The energy and ingenuity which underpinned late nineteenth-century industrialisation in Saxony is beautifully preserved in the suburbs of Dresden in eastern Germany. Visitors flock to the city on the Elbe for its feast of baroque architecture: among the city's jewels are the Zwinger palace, the Hofkirche and the Frauenkirche.

Spitsbergen and the Italia rescue

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Not so many St Petersburg visitors make it over to Vasilievsky Island which sits fair and square in the Neva delta. Those that do stick in the main to the eastern end of the island with the old St Petersburg stock exchange. This one building alone, flanked by two distinctive rostral columns in deep terracotta hues, warrants the trip over to Vasilievsky. But there is something else.

New links across Schengen borders

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The burden of having to show a passport at a border was never an onerous one (assuming you had an EU passport of course), but it still presented a psychological barrier. Now cross-border excursions for shopping or sightseeing are becoming ever more common. And Europe's new-found enthusiasm for border hopping is mirrored in a growing range of cross-border transport links.

Arrivals in Malta

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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 south of the Mediterranean island. Later the same day another vessel, overladen and leaking, was escorted into Marsaxlokk Harbour in Malta. The twenty-seven Somalis aboard were all taken in custody.

Immrama festival of travel writing

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Lismore carries the imprint of Ireland's ecclesiastical history. The church upon which Thackeray remarked is dedicated to St Cartagh. It is set in a wonderfully textured churchyard and retains its cathedral status despite the fact that Lismore is no longer the seat of any bishop. The town is dominated by Lismore Castle, in the gardens of which Edmund Spenser is said to have wandered while penning his allegorical celebration of the virtues, The Faerie Queene.

Across Iceland's interior

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Iceland's central highlands are no cakewalk. At least that's the way Andrew Evans puts it in the Bradt Guide to the country. "Iceland's interior feels more a cross between the Gobi desert and Antarctica," writes Andrew. It is that time of year when the highlands, known as Hálendið in Iceland, begin to open up for the season.

Russia's Baltic coast

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It is that time of year when Baltic seaside resorts come into their own, reminding the rest of Europe that beach culture is not solely a Mediterranean prerogative. The sedate charms of Sellin (on the German island of Rügen) are a world away from Spanish sun and sangria, though only those with the strongest constitutions brave the chilly Baltic waters in late May.

Roma gather in the Camargue

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Summer has come early to northern Greece this year, and several warm sunny days with still air have left a hazy pall of pollution over Thessaloní­ki. But the hinterland of the city still packs a few surprises. Just north of the ring road is the small town of Langadhás, which this week comes alive for the feast days of Saints Constantine and Helen.

Swiss spring

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May Day may still be more than a fortnight away, but Zürich takes time out today for an early spring festival. Rain looks set to put a dampener on this year's Sechseläutern. This is a peculiarly Swiss occasion. The name refers to the "six o'clock bells" and marks the time of year when, with the evenings slowly lengthening, it becomes possible still to enjoy some daylight after finishing work.

Western Europe by train

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Mid-morning saw hidden europe on the train that trundled west from Breckland across to the Fens. When the late eighteenth-century author William Gilpin travelled through Norfolk and Suffolk, he described Breckland as "an absolute desert" - this sandy heathland was doubtless the very antithesis of the idealised picturesque landscapes of which Gilpin was so fond.

Seaplanes make a comeback

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Loch Lomond Seaplanes last week launched a new seaplane service from Glasgow to Tobermory on the Hebridean island of Mull. Predictable media frenzy of course, with hyped accounts in English newspapers of how islanders can now eat 'seaweed muesli' at home for breakfast and be in Glasgow in time for mid-morning coffee.

Traces of Europe in the Caribbean

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On 31 March each year the most American of Caribbean islands recalls its Danish past. Until 1917, St Thomas was part of the Danish West Indies. There were three main islands in the Danish West Indies: St Thomas, St John and St Croix. The capital of the island group was not Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas but the town of Christiansted on St Croix.

Helgoland

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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 by its erstwhile English name Heligoland) is an extraordinary place, an impressive lump of deep red sandstone that juts out of the North Sea.

Moldova

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Moldova is not a country that figures much in the European imagination. Tucked away in southeast Europe, Moldova contrives to be not-quite-Balkan and not-really-Danubian. The country boasts a minimalist connection with the Danube, abutting onto the river for no more than a few hundred metres. Not quite hitting the Black Sea either. Culturally and linguistically, Moldova defies definition.

Yorkshire (England)

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The populous county of Yorkshire, hemmed in by hills and the sea, is a wonderful part of England. hidden europe was away exploring the county last week. We watched in awe as a field of gulls swooped over Whitby, we trembled with cold as a bitter wind swept down from Ingleborough and made the Ribble Valley shiver, and we wandered the streets of gritty hill villages like Heptonstall and Middlesmoor.

E-news: the 100th issue

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While we have quietly reported on Europe's unsung communities in one hundred issues of our e-news, Europe has reinvented itself. The European Union has, with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, secured two new members. Three more EU states have joined the Eurozone (Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus). The Schengen area of borderless travel has expanded dramatically.

Gracanica (Kosovo)

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When the celebrated English travel writer Edith Durham arrived at the monastery at Gracanica one hundred years ago, she came to a place that had virtually no experience of the twentieth century. It is an episode that Durham recalls in her book High Albania. The incumbents, evidently horribly worried by Durham's unmarried condition, interrogated their visitor about the keystones of modernity.

Maltese moments

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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 'yells, bells and smells'. Yet in our book the Maltese islands have more going for them than the Romantic poets ever recognised. Forget the concrete jungle of the modern tourist resorts.

Across Siberia by slow train

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Some of our most productive moments are while we are travelling. And Botton is surely right. A slow train that meanders around forests and lakes of Pomerania, stopping off at tiny wayside halts every few minutes, breeds a quite different set of musings from a sleek express that slices through the countryside at two hundred kilometres an hour. Somehow creativity, for us at least, is spurred by the slow train.

The soul of Switzerland

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To cross the threshold of the Wilmersdorf church today is truly to enter another world. For today, in the Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical calendar, it is Christmas Day. The twin virtues of ardent faith and a strong sense of attachment to a diaspora community create magnificent theatre at this Berlin outpost on the high days and holy days of the Orthodox year.

Expanding eurozone

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This is an interesting week for Malta, as the island adopts the euro as its national currency. The lira maltija, which has served Malta well for thirty-five years, will be consigned to currency history. And Europeans from Andalucía to Finnish Lapland can ponder how long they might have to wait before the first euro coins with Maltese designs turn up by chance in their small change.

Seasonal diversions

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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 Zagreb in late December 1991.

Schengen expands

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Since 1945 the Neisse valley has been split between two countries: on the west bank Germany and on the east bank Poland. History has scarcely been kind to the villages of the Neisse valley. Hard on the west bank of the river, nestling below what must today be the most easterly vineyard in all Germany, lies the Kloster St Marienthal, a thirteenth-century convent foundation of the Bohemian Queen Kunigunde.

Pyrenean borders

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In the heart of the Pyrenees, just to the east of Andorra, lies a great depression in the mountains that is a sunny oasis of fertile soils in an otherwise rather wild region. It is known as Cerdanya on the Spanish side and Cerdagne on the French side of the frontier. Not a lot of folk head for Cerdanya as a primary destination, but many pass through en route to ski slopes, mountain resorts and of course Andorra.

Strangers churches

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In the heart of the City of London, there used to be all manner of Strangers Churches (as churches for foreigners are commonly termed). There was a Spanish church, a Scots church and a Lutheran church from Hamburg. The Dutch community at Austin Friars, established in the mid-sixteenth century, is still very active today, albeit not in their original church which was destroyed in 1940.

Cultural landscapes in the Veneto

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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 perfection, the Veneto hinterland is a seemingly unending suburban sprawl - place after place uneasily suspended between a rich agrarian past and an urbanisation that has never quite been realised.

Previewing hidden europe 17

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The latest offering of our magazine visits rural Wales - where hidden europe editor Nicky Gardner reveals some of the places that have especially influenced her love of wild landscapes and remote communities. The road to Abergwesyn is something special; it is an old drovers' track now upgraded to a single strip of rough tarmac that crosses the Cambrian mountains. It is an evocative essay, one that sees a hint of Wales mirrored in a dozen countries across Europe.

Bosnian bridges

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In territories dissected by great ravines, bridges become the very symbols of civilisation. And nowhere more so than in Bosnia. In The Bridge on the Drina, the epic Nobel Prize winning novel by Bosnian writer Ivo Andric, Mehmed Pasha's bridge over the Drina at Visegrad is the artery that sustains an entire region.

Hasta la victoria siempre!

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Seaside Kolobrzeg has more to offer than sand and spa cures. Enter Agnieszka Rylik, onetime world kickboxing champion and later a junior welterweight world champion in women's pro boxing. Lidia tells me animatedly all about Agnieszka Rylik. Undefeated in her first dozen bouts, Rylik punched for Poland in Las Vegas, only there to suffer the first ever defeat of her professional career.

The Iza valley (Romania)

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This is a stunning time of year to be in the Maramures area of Romania. And especially in the Iza valley, where russet-gold apples hang heavy in the orchards that cluster round every village, and the fields are full of distinctive haystacks - little architectural wonders in their own right. The first hints of autumn colour tint the oak and beech trees on the hills that line each side of the valley.

Railway schedules: a look ahead

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It is years since the blue and white sleeping cars of Russian Railways (RZD) have been seen in the Netherlands, Switzerland or Bavaria but all three look set to feature on a daily basis in the RZD schedules for 2008. A major revamping of east-west night train services will create a raft of new journey options.

A new atlas

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It was a talented Scottish cartographer, John Bartholomew, whose cartographic skills gave so much character to The Times Atlas of the World. Over more than one hundred years, successive editions of the atlas have been used by governments, businesses and academics - and, of course, by ordinary folk like us who relish nothing more, on a winter evening, than to engage in a little armchair travel.

Designing identity

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Albanians have not lost their way with clothes, as anyone walking the streets of Tirana's business district at lunchtime will quickly notice. Forget notions of an obscure Balkan nation, and look more for the same stylish chic that you might see strolling around the Quadrilatero d'Oro in Milan. Albania's changed, and Edith Durham just wouldn't know what to make of it.

Europe's nerve ends

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Driving through Iceland's northeast corner, you really have a sense of touching the nerve ends of the continent. The most northerly point on the Icelandic mainland, called Hraunhafnartangi, falls just short of the Arctic Circle, which lies a tantalisingly short distance further north. Just a couple of kilometres. There's a lighthouse, a scatter of driftwood on the beach and a burial mound, said by the locals to mark the spot where a thousand years ago some Viking ruffian met his end in a revenge killing.

Hints of the desert

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The land around the Cabo de Gata really does include many classic elements of desert terrain: a nice volcanic mesa, little alluvial fans and of course sand dunes. It is a landscape that has stood in for both the American West and the Middle East on the silver screen. Not just spaghetti westerns, but also many scenes in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. In the September 2007 issue of hidden europe magazine we shall take a look at the ways in which film directors create their own geographies.

Landswaps: Czech Republic and Slovakia

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Sidonie was not the only place to change hands on that July day. Fifty kilometres away to the southwest, the hamlet of U Sabotu was ceded to Slovakia by the Czech Republic. Most of the population secured a handsome financial windfall from the Prague government, which compensated Czech citizens in U Sabotu for the inconvenience of suddenly finding themselves in a foreign country.

Trieste connections

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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 traveller into the very middle of Trieste, from where it is but a stone's throw to the Serbian Orthodox church, the old synagogue and a hundred other buildings that serve as reminders that this was once Europe's most cosmopolitan port.

Kidnapped in Berlin

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Fifty-five years ago today, Lichterfelde was very much in the news on account of the fate of Walter Linse, a local lawyer who was kidnapped at his front gate - destination Moscow. Linse had made a reputation for himself in exposing abuses of the law in the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

Almagro (Spain)

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The last day of school is always an interesting moment to be in Poland, and hidden europe happened to be in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz a week or two back when the school year drew happily to its conclusion. By ten in the morning on a hot and humid Friday, all the tables outside a favoured café were full, as Bydgoszcz youth set about celebrating the end of another school year. Bydgoszcz is one of those unsung Polish cities, the sort of spot where few tourists stop.

Estuaries

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Europe is full of fine estuaries, oftentimes ethereal spots where the waters of silty rivers mingle with the sea. Estuaries are liminal zones, places that do not quite belong to the ocean. Some of our favourite European estuaries are those traversed by ferries. Take the Cromarty Rose, a beautiful little car ferry that carries just two vehicles at a time across the mouth of Cromarty Firth on Scotland's northeast coast.

DDR nostalgia

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For many older Germans who grew up in the DDR, the new order is associated with uncertainty in the labour market, consumerism and rising prices, and many look back with evident affection on some aspects of life in the DDR. Not all of course, and films like Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) act as a sharp reminder that life wasn't always quite so rosy in East Germany.

Paris and the Orient Express

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At five o'clock tomorrow afternoon, the concourse at Paris Gare de L'Est will surely be as crowded as ever it is on a busy Friday. Passengers will rush through the magnificent railway station booking hall, scarcely noticing the amazing painting that hangs here: a view of the Gare de L'Est as soldiers were leaving for war in 1914. The 5.17 pm train will probably leave on time; it usually does.

Brussels' suburbs

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Belgium's cities brim with evident charm. Be it Bruges, Antwerp or Brussels, cityscapes bubble with multicultural vitality. Few European countries have so consummately mastered the art of café life, with Brussels in particular having fabulous cafés that range from art nouveau decadence to modern minimalist chic.

Pioneer railways

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Yesterday saw hidden europe in Dresden, where we joined the Sunday exodus to the city's main public park. Just an easy stroll east of the city centre, the old Volkspark (People's Park) is a classic of its kind - a place for simple pleasures, with a handsome Baroque palace, ample lakes, leafy glades, a small zoo and a miniature railway.

The wandering Arctic Circle

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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 and Ljubljana. Somehow these are spots that capture the spirit of a country, in a way that many capitals, often the least typical city in a country, patently do not.

Grodna (Belarus)

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One of the places we report from in the May issue of the magazine is Grodna in Belarus - a remarkable place where a hundred years ago the streets echoed to the sounds of Yiddish voices. Today the old synagogue sits rather forlornly on a bluff overlooking the little Garadnichanka river that weaves through the town. The Orthodox cathedral and a dozen Roman Catholic churches are packed these days in the town where Lenin still stands on his plinth.

The Shetland Islands

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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 League, and the name of the café, Da Böd (The Booth in English) recalls the old trading post of the Hanse.

Zeeland comforts

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The North Sea littoral of the Netherlands is another fine part of Europe for big skies. Just think of van Ruisdael's pictures of his native Haarlem; all those cumulus clouds that seem to go on for ever. One gets a hint of the skyscapes of those old Dutch masters on the journey out to Middelburg, a handsome small town in watery Zeeland, a place where the North Sea pounds against dykes, from time to time still floods meadows and gives a maritime air to many communities.

Polish town squares

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Poland has many town squares apart from Kraków's; the country boasts some of Europe's most appealing city plazas. The Rynek Starego Miasta (Old Town Square) in Warsaw, a fine bit of post-war reconstruction, is as happy a square as they come: just large enough to still catch the evening sun, but not so big as to overwhelm the visitor. And a good place to linger and feel a Warsaw morning develop.

Hav: a novel by Jan Morris

by hidden europe

We have, as it happens, just recently read Jan Morris' newly extended edition of Hav. This is travel writing at its very best, calculated to reinvigorate even the most jaded traveller. It is precisely because Hav does not really exist that we approach the place without the usual preconceptions which colour so many of our travels. In Jan Morris' book, we find a clever intermixing of fact and fiction to create a fabulously multicultural port that reminds us of a thousand places we have never visited.

Shrovetide frolics

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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 for their holidays. From Matthew Arnold to Herbert Marcuse. Stefan Zweig was a regular, and discovered in Pontresina what he claimed were the best petits fours in the world.

Remote mosques: Norway and Wales

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Tromsø¸ has many charms, though they may not be quite evident at this time of the year when deep winter darkness still shrouds the town in Arctic Norway. The island town can pop a few surprises, however, for it turns out that Tromsø¸ has a small Islamic community. Ramadan is edging ever closer to the longer summer days.

Passports please!

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There is an old Russian proverb that suggests that a man consists of a body, a soul and a passport. But passports are not such an age-old institution as the proverb might imply. A hundred years ago, travellers might wander hither and thither across many parts of Europe without any formal documentation. Where a traveller did have a passport in those days, it was often just a single sheet of paper.

Val Müstair

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From Zürich it was just three hours on happily empty trains via Landquart and Klosters to Zernez in the Inn valley. There is something rather nice about entering the long tunnel at Klosters, knowing that, in a matter of minutes, one will be transported across one of Europe's great hydrological divides.

"a time of gifts"

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With the expansion of the eurozone in mind, we have been taking a close look at the map of Europe that features on the reverse side of all euro banknotes. Curious, is it not, that the Faroe Islands are depicted on the map (even though they are not part of the EU) while Malta is not? The Isle of Man is shown, but not the Isle of Wight. This cartographic curiosity is unravelled in the January 2007 issue of hidden europe.

Celebrating Christmas

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Christmas generates its own extraordinary traditions across Europe - but they differ greatly from country to country. Even the date on which the celebrations reach their apotheosis varies across the continent. In Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, children get a foretaste of Christmas on the eve of St Nicholas (5 December), or on the feast day itself (6 December).

Periprava (Romania)

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Romania's poetic tradition is remarkably distinguished, and yet rarely acknowledged outside its country of origin. But even for those disinclined to learn Romanian, there is some fine work waiting to be found in translation - from Mihai Eminescu to Marin Sorescu.

Alentejo (Portugal)

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Alentejo is an area of Portugal which attracts few tourists. Travellers bound for the Algarve coast zip through the region on the motorway, and scarcely give Alentejo a second look. But Alentejo is home to some of Europe's largest forests of cork oak, incredibly gnarled trees that once provided corks for the wine trade across many countries.

'no music day'

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Tomorrow, 22 November, is the Feast of St Cecilia, a saint surrounded by a strong music cult. By the time Raphael painted his L'estasi di Santa Cecilia (around 1515), musical instruments had become associated with St Cecilia. The iconography runs deep, and from Verona to Oxford there are pictures, stained glass windows and statues of St Cecilia with musical instruments. Pipe organs seem to be her speciality, but we've spotted St Cecilia with everything from violins to flutes.

Night sleepers

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Enthusiasts for European train travel, we have noticed, sometimes get a little edgy this time of year. It is that season when train timetables, which have served us well - or sometimes less than perfectly - for almost twelve months are suddenly discarded. It can be a disconcerting moment, that Saturday in December when trains run to the old schedules for the very last time.

North Cape (Norway)

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The experience of driving through the world's longest road tunnel is one to remember. At over 24 km long (more than 15 miles), the Lærdalstunnelen linking Aurland and Lærdal in western Norway is more than twice as long as the Mont Blanc Tunnel that dives under the Alps to provide a road link between France and Italy.

The Selwyn swastika

by hidden europe

hidden europe has been on the road - or more correctly 'on the rails' - this past week meandering through Europe on a journey that has seen us sleeping on a Russian night train, speeding through the Channel Tunnel on Eurostar, eating pierogi in Poland and croissants in France. There is something inescapably dramatic about a long train journey, especially if, as we contrived to do, one takes slow trains where at all possible.

Port Grimaud (France)

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To drive the main coastal road west from the French-Italian border along France's Riviera coast is an essay in chic exclusivity: Antibes, Cannes, Ste-Maxime and so on. Not quite hidden europe territory. Most travellers speed through Port Grimaud at the head of the Golfe de St Tropez without even noticing it. Just one more of those spots with a fleet of yachts and too many people with too much money.

European Day of Languages 2006

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Language is one of those assets we take for granted. We speak it! Most of us somehow learn to get by in one or two other languages beyond our mother tongue. And occasionally we run across folk on our travels who have not had the chance to practice, still less to perfect, another language and remain sadly monolingual.

The road to Petsamo

by hidden europe

Early European travel was hugely driven by Christian virtue. Those of the truly devout who had the resources would try to visit Rome, Jerusalem or Santiago de Compostela. The fifteenth century English mystic, Margery Kempe, managed all three, and then topped off the grand trio of shrines by travelling to Bad Wilsnack near Berlin, which was then one of the premier pilgrimage sites in northern Europe.

Salt harvesting in Piran Bay

by hidden europe

The train had twisted and turned through valleys where the hillsides tilted sharper and sharper, sharp screeches of wheels on ancient rails, and the wind blowing madly through open carriage windows. And then, after a long climb, just on the edge of the karst, the slow train stopped. The wind dropped, and for a moment, there was just the rasping sound of a lone cicada in the distance.

El Ejido (Spain)

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Viewed from the plane descending to land at Almería's airport, El Ejido is a shining sea of plastic that dazzles the eye. For mile after mile, plastic covered greenhouses and plastic cultivation tubes rely on drip feed irrigation to produce tomatoes, capsicums and other vegetables and fruit for the supermarket shelves of northern Europe. But this plastic-wrapped agricultural El Dorado, nowadays a bustling city of some 70,000 people, conceals a shadier side of European life.

Dark tourism in Berlin and beyond

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Many of Berlin's prime attractions evoke the darker side of the city's past. The new monument to the murdered Jews of Europe just south of the Brandenburg Gate is the latest addition to Berlin's dark tourism repertoire. Just a short walk away is the Topography of Terror exhibition. For visitors who venture out of Berlin's city centre, the former Nazi concentration camp at Sachsenhausen is a major destination.

Old Believers on the Ukraine-Romania border

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Bila Krynytsya? It turns out that this small village in southwest Ukraine, just a stone's throw from the Romanian border, is a household name among many Russian Old Believers. From Alaska to the Danube Delta the name evokes important religious images and associations. For Bila Krynytsya, a community of no more than a couple of hundred people, most of them very elderly, is where the most widely accepted religious hierarchy of the Old Believers is nominally based.

Lost communities: France, Russia and more

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Many are the European communities that have been lost to warfare, natural disasters or other agencies. The modern world's voracious appetite for water has spelt the death knell for many communities. On Russia's Volga River, the great Rybinsk dam project in the 1940s led to the flooding of a huge area, engulfing over a hundred villages and the entire city of Mologa.

Saint-Pierre et Miquelon (France)

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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 of some six thousand, mainly on the largest island (Saint-Pierre), the islands have long since abandoned their over-reliance on fishing to create a more diverse economy that fosters agriculture and tourism.

By bus to Moldova

by hidden 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 week the sea lavender is in bloom, great foamy sprays of blue that line the beaches just above the high water mark.

Cabris (France) - Shetland links

by hidden 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 to deny its undoubted charm: purple bougainvillea tumbles over the garden walls, and in the lanes that lead off the Montée André Gide there are beautiful umbrella pines, twisted olives and heaps of wild lavender.

European lazarets

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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 serving as a leper colony and later for those suffering from mental incapacity.

Adriatic republics - a stop on the iron road

by hidden europe

Reports this week of Montenegro's imminent status as Europe's newest nation state have prompted us in hidden europe to take a look at some of the smaller republics that once featured on the shores of the eastern Adriatic. Who now remembers the Republic of Poljica, a little independent fiefdom which, for several centuries, held sway over a dozen villages on the Dalmatian coast just southeast of Split, until it was swept away by Napoleon in 1807?

Contrasts in Belarus

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Grodno, a historic religious and trading centre that sits comfortably on the bluffs above the Neman river. The onetime Jewish population, which one hundred years ago numbered sixty per cent of the population, was the victim of Nazi purges. An empty synagogue now stands forlorn on the bank of the river.

Jan Mayen (Norway) - scrimshaw and more in the Azores

by hidden 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 for early Arctic explorers, but the island didn't become Norwegian territory until the 1920s. Jan Mayen was the only part of Norway to remain under Norwegian control throughout World War II.

Heritage centres in Ireland - the Danube delta in Romania

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In a month that marks the ninetieth anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin, it seemed good to check out the memorial to Eamon de Valera in the village of Brú Rí (Bruree in English), a wee spot just off the main road from Cork to Limerick. Predictably, the one-time simple exhibition in the village schoolhouse where de Valera said the rosary and learnt English history, a quiet homage to the man who was the only leader of the Rising not to be killed by the British, has now become a multimedia heritage centre.

Minorities around the Black Sea

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The Black Sea region bristles with diaspora curiosities, and, in an earlier issue of hidden europe magazine (in July 2005), we explored Estonian villages in the breakaway province of Abkhazia in north-west Georgia. In the upcoming issue of the magazine, due out on 3 May, we feature an intriguing village in the southern Ukraine with Swedish origins. Gammalsvenskby is a name that simply means 'Old Swedish Town'.

Airports by night - April Fool's day

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Edinburgh's Grid Iron Theatre Company, in conjunction with the National Theatre of Scotland, explores the 'terminal as theatre' theme in its upcoming production Roam at Edinburgh International Airport. Roam is Grid Iron's tenth anniversary production and breaks new ground for an experimental theatre company that has a penchant for unusual settings. Previous Grid Iron performances have been staged in Debenham's department store in Edinburgh, and in the old mortuary in the Irish city of Cork.

Kosovo connections - Transdniestr

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Western European observers of the east of our continent have had their eyes trained on Serbia and Belarus this past weekend. The Milosevic funeral in Pozarevac, a small city on the Danube plain seventy kilometres east of Belgrade, became a rallying point for Serbian nationalists that will surely, for many in the Balkans and elsewhere in Europe, raise uncomfortable echoes of the past.

International Women's Day

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While Saxony's womenfolk were treated to coffee and cake afloat, indulgence of another kind was evident in the industrial city of Perm, just west of Russia's Ural mountains. Light snow fell this afternoon on the thousands of couples gathered in Perm's main square in pursuit of a remarkable record.

Terminalia: a day for borders - no tram to Poland

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Today, 23 February, is the Festival of Terminalia - not a date that features prominently in any modern ecclesiastical calendar, but one that was laden with meaning in the Roman world. For Terminus was the deity who presided over boundary stones and border markers in Rome and its provinces. Nowadays, the obelisks and pillars that stand at regular intervals along most of Europe's international land borders often go unremarked by the public.

La Brigue / Briga (French-Italian Border) - hidden europe 7

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With all eyes on Turin and the Piedmont Alps this week, hidden europe escaped the glitz of the Winter Olympics and went off in search of some curiosities on the French-Italian border. It is a three hour journey down to the Mediterranean coast on the morning train that departs bang on time from Turin's monumental Porta Nuova station.

Andorra landscapes - uncertainty in Montenegro

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Walkers heading for Spain on the footpath over the 2,500 metres col at Vallcivera come up the Madriu valley during the summer season, but few notice the remains of the old forge on the bank of the river that, with its characteristic Catalan design, tells a tale of smelting that goes back over seven centuries.

Film museums in Berlin, Amsterdam and Lyon - and a lament for Moscow

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One European museum of cinema to keep an eye on for the future is the Dutch Film Museum in Amsterdam which has just this week unveiled detailed plans for a stunning new building. Delugan Meissl's avant-garde essay in architectural geometry should come to fruition in 2009 when the new building opens on a fine riverbank site next to the landmark Shell building.

Swedish Lapland - racism in Russia - a tale of two ships

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Minority language radio broadcasting takes a step forward in Sweden today, when a new dedicated Sámi language radio station hits the airwaves in the Lapland region of northern Sweden. The Sámi minority has always benefitted from some local language broadcasting in northern Sweden, often just a couple of hours daily, but commencing 16 January 2006, there will be 24 hour broadcasting in the Sámi language.

Hidden europe Christmas quiz

by hidden europe

The antics that some Europeans get up to as part of their Christmas festivities seemingly know no bounds. In the British Isles, there is a particular tradition of Christmas quizzes. None is more august, or more difficult, than that with which a good percentage of the population of the Isle of Man tussles over the Christmas period.

Samnaun (Switzerland) - hidden europe 6

by hidden europe

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.

Latin superstition in Sardinia - the Moldova-Romania border - Christmas gifts

by hidden europe

Sardinia is a place steeped in superstition, as the English novelist DH Lawrence discovered when he rushed through the island and found it a curious place, 'lost between Europe and Africa and belonging to nowhere', as he wrote in Sea and Sardinia (1921). Blood feud in the Sardinian hills may be a thing of the past, but there remains an enigmatic quality to life in the remoter parts of this island.

Estonian ice routes - Icarus Reincarnate

by hidden europe

A full week of cold weather over much of northern Europe has brightened the winter prospects for Scotland's ski resorts and for inhabitants of some of Estonia's offshore islands. Where winters are cold enough - by no means every year – some of Estonia's islands secure a temporary road link to the mainland through use of an ice road.

The 'other' Channel Islands (France) - the Barents Sea

by hidden 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 ferry from Granville on the coast of Normandy that brings in so many summer visitors has dropped back to its winter schedule with just two crossings a week.

Liechtenstein cows - Schengen (Luxembourg) - hidden europe 5 contents

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For Liechtenstein's cows, 2005 has not been the easiest of years. The bovine population of the Alpine principality used to be the most laid back cows in Europe. Since a government crackdown earlier this year, the cows are no longer regularly fed hemp, an animal husbandry practice that ensured that the cannabis satiated creatures were the happiest cows on the planet.

New hidden europe issue - Iceland colour

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Some places make their mark through colour. Picture the urban landscapes of Hungarian artist Csontváry: assertive shades of crimson in his depictions of Mostar in Bosnia, vivid turquoises in his scenes of Castellammara di Stabia on the Bay of Naples and the sand shades of Sicilian heat in his Taormina pictures. Some places need no artists to communicate a vibrancy of colour.

Sighetu Marmatiei (Romania) - Sapanta cemetery

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The death of Simon Wiesenthal last month is yet another reminder, if ever one were needed, that many parts of Europe cannot shed their troubled histories. Wiesenthal was born near Polish Lwow, the handsome city now known as L'viv in Ukraine. In our travels through this Carpathian region, we are so often struck by the sheer number of movers and shakers in the modern world who come from this rather forgotten corner of Europe.

The friendship express - black vultures in Thrace - search hidden europe

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All eyes are on Turkey this afternoon as its citizens, from the Sea of Marmara to the hills of eastern Anatolia, react to the news from Luxembourg that Turkey and the EU are at least going to start discussions about the possibility of Turkey joining the Union at some distant point in the future. Whatever the outcome of the politicians' discussions, even the mere prospect of closer links with the EU has done much to improve matters for travellers.

Lutepää (Estonia) - nocturnal Europe

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In the picture perfect world of wooden houses and picket fences that is Lutepää (on Estonia's eastern border with Russia), every household has neatly stacked piles of wood ready for winter. The rich autumn whiff of burning wood has already eclipsed summer scents of newly mown grass, and the apples in the little orchards that surround every home are beginning to fall.

Saltholm, Denmark - Corsica - Moldova Wine Festival

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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 north-east 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.

Wroclaw rocks! - mental maps - real maps in hidden europe 4

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Solidarnosc may have lost its political edge, but the emotional ties of the movement that helped transform a nation run deep in the Polish people. So Wroclaw rocked all Friday night to the sound of music that marked the day, on 26 August 1980, when Wroclaw bus driver Tomasz Surowiec led tram and bus personnel in a strike that supported the Gdansk shipyard workers.

Ukrainian comforts - Kraków style - Guinness in the Faroes

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Stopping off in Kraków on our way back from Ukraine, we headed as often before for the Hotel Saski, a mid range place just off the square. There we were distraught to find that one of the hotel's two principal attractions has retired. The splendidly whiskered Mr Jósef Pietruska, an old style concierge with gold embroidered uniforms and a manner to match always looked as though he had graced the foyer of the Saski since it was called the Hotel de Saxe back in the 1920s.

Migrants in Lampedusa (Sicily)

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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 kilometres away

A thousand Europes: local media from Andalucí­a to the Arctic

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When we are not on the road, the hidden europe team keeps a finger on the pulse of European affairs. Local newspapers from the Arctic to the Aegean are grist to the mill of this endeavour. Few are better than Svalbardposten, arguably the world's most northerly local newspaper. This weekly account of all that's happening in the Arctic archipelago of Spitsbergen is no new upstart.

Herr Heinrich's allotment garden at Erlengrund - hidden europe 3 preview

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This is a Berlin of hot languid days. School has finished for the summer, and for the coming weeks many Berliners will spend days on end at the many lakes that surround the city. The asparagus season that started with May Day is now nearing its end, and the migrant workers from eastern Europe who have for weeks worked hard harvesting the precious white spears so cherished by Berliners are beginning to return home.

The train to Siberia - a Kraków curiosity

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Walk the royal road south from Kraków's magnificent central square and you cannot miss the great hill of Wawel with its palace and cathedral overlooking the Wisla river. Walk up to the cathedral in the quiet of night, or at dawn on a summer morning, and chances are that you may find one or two people sitting in silent meditation that may last some hours.

Corpus Christi - Karelian babushkas

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Across much of Europe, today is a public holiday on account of the Catholic solemnity of Corpus Christi. It is a feast that comes with a heavy helping of curious cultural customs. Wander through many small towns in central Europe this afternoon, and you'll see why today is often called 'Wreath Day' (Kranzltag in German).

Ny-Ålesund (Spitsbergen) - Sealand update

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Spring may have eclipsed winter here at hidden europes Berlin home, but elsewhere across our continent conditions are very different. Across a large part of inland southern Spain this afternoon, temperatures topped 30ºC, yet this morning at Ny-Ålesund in Svalbard (Spitsbergen) the mercury dipped to minus 19ºC.

Europe's best value flight - island hopping in the Faroes - Georgian visas

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In these days of discount airlines, we all expect to travel for next to nothing, except of course when we are flying to some far flung remote spot where there is absolutely no competition. So when hidden europe checked out domestic flights in the Faroe Islands last week, we expected to have to pay the earth to travel on the once a week flight from Froðba on the island of Suðeroy, at the south of the archipelago, to Hattarvík on Fugloy, the remotest island in the Faroes.

Visa free travel to Ukraine this summer for EU and Swiss citizens

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One of the less remarked downsides of Poland entering the European Union last year was that the Poland-Ukraine border became significantly more difficult to cross for local residents — on both sides of the border. The relatively free movement of locals across the Poland-Ukraine frontier was thwarted by EU demands that the outer edge of the EU be made much more secure.

On the banks of the Danube in Moldova - the Principality of Sealand

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In Moldova there was much talk of the country being 'one of the family of Danube nations', which is sort of interesting, as Moldova's entire frontage on the Danube is only 570 metres long. You could easily stroll along the bank of the whole length of the Moldovan Danube in less than ten minutes. Pleasant it would not be, it has to be said, for the river frontage is at a premium for heavy industry.