Articles tagged:

Art and literature

Magazine article

Untold tales

by hidden europe

There were the journeys planned, the journeys made, and also the journeys never made. And our list of likely topics for hidden europe just grew and grew. Whatever will happen to the untold tales?

Magazine article

Fuel for the mind: Bologna and the Romantics

by Suzanne and Andrew Edwards

Stendhal, Byron, Goethe and Mary Shelley are among the many writers who made time for the Italian city of Bologna. Often overlooked in favour of Florence or Rome, Bologna’s intellectual history informs the texture of the modern city as Suzanne and Andrew Edwards discover when they visit Bologna in search of fuel for the mind.

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Threescore and ten: reflecting on hidden europe

by Nicky Gardner

Is this perhaps the first time in publishing history that a well received and profitable magazine has carefully planned its own sunset? We always knew hidden europe would not be for ever. We saw it as a project with a start, a middle and an end. Now, with a strong sense of having said the things we wanted to say, we reflect on two decades of work celebrating European cultures and communities, and a remarkable mix of lives and landscapes.

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Seduced by islands: islandness and the île de Peilz

by Nicky Gardner

The notion of the sparsely inhabited island exerts huge appeal on the imagination. We project our hopes, our desires and our fears onto islands which then become crucibles of life, easier to mould and understand than when those same aspirations and worries are seen in the context of our normal, rather messy, lives in less confined spaces.

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Editorial hidden europe 68

by hidden europe

In this new issue of the magazine we present articles with a focus on Sweden, France, Greece, Spain and Malta. We have a number of thematic pieces too, taking inspiration in part from rail travel which is experiencing such a welcome renaissance in many parts of Europe just now.

Magazine article

Winter reading

by Nicky Gardner

Discover three fine books for winter reading. We delve into the first English-language biography of Joseph Roth, find Iain’s Bamforth new collection of essays is full of zest and follow Vitali Vitaliev on a romp across and along some of the world’s most curious borders.

Magazine article

Literary refuges

by hidden europe

What will become of the former home of the late Jan Morris, who lived for many years at Trefan Morys with her lifelong partner Elizabeth Tickniss? Jan Morris died in 2020, but that book-laden Welsh farmhouse remains as a shrine to Jan’s creative instincts and a strong marker of her love for Wales.

Note

In search of Joseph Roth

Berlin-based author Paul Scraton explores the mercurial life of Joseph Roth, the Austro-Hungarian writer profiled in a new biography by Keiron Pim and published by Granta Books in October 2022.

Magazine article

Reading Celati

by hidden europe

The Italian wordsmith Gianni Celati, who died in January this year, was not best known for his travel writing. It was for Celati a sideline in a career that mainstreamed on literature and culture. We take a look at some of Celati's work.

Magazine article

A triple dose of culture: Europe’s cultural capitals

by Nicky Gardner

Can you name Europe's three capitals of culture for 2022? All three are the second-largest cities in their respective countries. Step forward Esch-sur-Alzette, Novi Sad and Kaunas. International visitors to the latter two will surely find it immensely frustrating that there are no cross-border train services to Kaunas and Novi Sad.

Magazine article

Pure theatre: homage to Lake Lucerne

by Nicky Gardner

Swiss lakes are in a class of their own. But is there one that just has the edge over the rest? Some may cast their vote for Léman, and others will argue the case for Lugano. But for us it’s Lake Lucerne, where the lake’s unusual vaguely cruciform shape changes a boat journey into pure theatre.

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Being amber

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.

Magazine article

From the Balkans to Nürnberg

by Nicky Gardner

What was Rebecca West doing 75 years ago this summer? West’s accomplishments as a travel writer are complemented by a fine range of other work. In the summer of 1946, West was sitting alongside Martha Gellhorn and Erika Mann at the International Military Tribunal in the German city of Nürnberg.

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Terminus - a 1961 documentary

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.

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A Fiesole residency

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.

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Travels with Jan Morris

Jan Morris, who has died at the age of 94, was one of the most gifted travel writers of our era. But, despite the sadness of her passing, her words remain as an inspiration to those who write about place and space.

Magazine article

Editorial hidden europe 62

by hidden europe

We do rather like an amble, even sometimes a ramble, but when we are in rural regions we do also quite like to vegetate, and the current pandemic has certainly allowed us many opportunities to do just that. And thus maybe unsurprisingly, there is a walking theme to this issue of hidden europe. Enjoy the read.

Magazine article

Who was Friedrich Oswald?

by Nicky Gardner

Friedrich Engels is not someone we would normally associate with travel writing. But, as a young man, he wrote a number of articles in the travel genre; they were all published under the nom de plume Friedrich Oswald.

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The Road to Uhtua

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.

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Memorialising DH Lawrence

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.

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Beachy Head

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.

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Issue 61 of hidden europe magazine

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.

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The Map-Maker: From Brockley to València

by Nicky Gardner

We explore the work of contemporary illustrator Mike Hall who, from his base in Spain, produces many very fine maps. Creative use of tints and fonts, often complemented by an elaborate cartouche, and a bold aesthetic underpin maps which are both practical and beautiful.

Magazine article

One Glorious Summer

by Nicky Gardner

In summer 1920, the Unovis collective of artists set off from Vitebsk for Moscow. Kasimir Malevich and his comrades were convinced they could realize the full revolutionary potential of art in the Soviet Union. But the rise of Unovis signalled change for a great champion of Vitebsk art. Marc Chagall left his home city. He never returned.

Magazine article

In the Eye of the Beholder

by Nicky Gardner

Attitudes towards mountain landscapes have changed dramatically over the years. Alpine scenes once reviled for their bleak desolation were rehabilitated in the Romantic era. Travellers now appreciate such scenes for their grandeur and great beauty. Attitudes towards the people who lived in the hills changed too. Once widely stigmatized as uncultured primitives, they came to be praised for their moral virtue.

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Chagall Centenary

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.

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Travels with Saint Paul

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.

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By the Euganean Hills

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.

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A Taste of Heaven

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.

Note

A Tribute to Tim Robinson

A tribute to writer and cartographer Tim Robinson who passed away on 3 April. Amongst his best known publications is his Connemara Trilogy - a profoundly ambitious, yet touchingly intimate, study of a region that stands as a place apart in Ireland. His work on landscape and history has certainly influenced our own endeavours at hidden europe magazine.

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New and Different Eyes

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.

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Moladh Uibhist: In Praise of Uist

by Nicky Gardner

Driving the spinal road which runs the length of South Uist can be a melancholic or an uplifting experience. Few Hebridean islands evoke such mixed responses. In this article, we explore South Uist and find an island of delicate beauty.

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Culture Shock: Stendhal in Florence

by Nicky Gardner
Take care how many art galleries of great Baroque churches you visit in a day. Overdoing it can have dire consequences. Too many cherubs or crucifixions might induce transient paranoid psychosis or even irrevocable breakdown. Or so they say. We take a look at Stendhal Syndrome.
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Radovljica: An Ode to Bees

by Rudolf Abraham
If beekeeping has a spiritual home, it's the little town of Radovljica in the Sava Valley of north-west Slovenia. Rudolf Abraham, a regular contributor to hidden europe magazine, explores beekeeping in the region where the great 18th-century apiarist Anton Janša lived and worked. Today, this area of Slovenia is especially noted for its striking painted beehives.
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Sketches in Teviotdale

by hidden europe
Southern Scotland has had more than its fair share of poets, along them Rabbie Burns, Robert Davidson and James Hogg. But one Borders poet, Thomas Pringle, is far better known in South Africa than he is in his native Scotland. Born just south of Kelso in 1789, Pringle is sometimes acclaimed as 'the father of South African poetry'.
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Mind the Gap: Georges Perec and the Art of Constrained Writing

by Nicky Gardner
From 1960, an unusual clutch of Parisian writers - known as the Oulipo group - played ingenious games with language. We take a look at the work of Georges Perec who once wrote an entire novel without using the fifth letter of the alphabet. Later he published a novella where the letter 'e' was the only vowel used in the entire book.
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The Tribes of Galway

by Nicky Gardner
We take the pulse of early evening ceol and craic on the streets of the Irish city of Galway - where a dozen families dominated the mercantile and social life of the city for centuries. These families are often known as the tribes of Galway.
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Unfolding Connemara

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.

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Rewilding the Wolf Border

by Laurence Mitchell
Time was when cartographers embellished their maps with warnings to unwary readers. "Here be dragons," was one such advisory notice. For today's travellers, many of whom rarely venture beyond the reach of broadband, there's little chance of dragons. But, as Laurence Mitchell discusses, it is still possible to get a touch of wilderness.
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Lithuanian Enigma: A Visit to Druskininkai

by Nicky Gardner
Lithuanians are firmly asserting a confident national identity which transcends history and occupation. A key asset in the new Lithuanian narrative is the artist and composer Mikalojus Ciurlionis, who spent his childhood years in the small town of Druskininkai. It is, we discover, an appealing place with winsome wooden villas and some oddball Baltic modernist buildings.
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For the Love of Libraries: Leuven

by Caroline Mills
Libraries are much more than bricks and mortar, as Caroline Mills discovers during a visit to Leuven in Belgium. The vandalism of war has twice struck Leuven, with its university library set ablaze by marauding German troops in 1914 and again in 1940. Caroline recalls the tale of how her great-grandfather took the initiative in helping restore the library after the first conflagration.
Magazine article

Reading Matters

by hidden europe
Russian Railways (RZD) have launched their Library for Young Travellers programme with a selection of books for kids on trains to holiday destinations across Russia. Hop aboard for fairy tales, classic novels and a wide choice of poetry by Russian and international writers.
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The Tender Touch of an Angel

by Patricia Stoughton
Tucked away in the country lanes of Brittany (in the north-west corner of France) are a number of shrines and sculptures which feature an angel tenderly holding back Christ's hair on the crucifix. Patricia Stoughton goes in search of a peculiarly Breton touch in religious art.
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Wordcraft: A Wander through the World of Words

by Nicky Gardner
New Nature Writing may not be so new after all. But it taps a vein of nostalgia, reasserting aspects of landscape and nature from which we have become detached by modernity. Whatever its history, a new cadre of nature writers are doing much to revitalise travel writing. It is part of a wider movement to rewild the English language.
Magazine article

Reel Fun: Scotland's Mobile Cinema

by Nicky Gardner
In the early days of the Soviet Union, the Bolsheviks used mobile cinemas as a vehicle for political propaganda. These days, Scotland also has a mobile cinema, but here the purpose is pure entertainment. Everyone smiles when The Screen Machine rolls in, bringing mobile cinema to remote, rural communities far from any modern multiplex.
Magazine article

Off-track

by hidden europe
Route 45 in our Europe by Rail book links Sofia with Zagreb via Belgrade and Brod. That's just the route once followed by the Orient Express. It features in both the 1974 and 2017 versions of the film Murder on the Orient Express. But neither film was shot on location in the Balkans.
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A tangle of detail on the rails

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.

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High days, holy days and Christmas gifts

In a rare commercial plug for our products, we have some handsome Christmas gift ideas. For just 48 hours from the time stamp of this newsletter, we are selling signed copies of our Europe by Rail book, the fifteenth edition of which was published late last month.

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Everything but the Lorelei

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.

Magazine article

Editorial hidden europe 52

by hidden europe
Welcome to hidden europe 52. Much travel writing fuels a shallow approach to travel. Fear of missing out (FEMO) makes travellers roam the globe in haste. There is, we think, a better way of engaging with places and cultures. We prefer to take things mor
Magazine article

Puppetry in Prague: the Art of Bringing Wood to Life

by Rudolf Abraham
The art of puppetry is alive and well in central Europe. In the Czech Republic, puppetry is recognised as a key element of national culture. With some linden wood, textiles, paint and the skill of the puppet maker, it's just a matter of time before the magic appears. Writer and photographer Rudolf Abraham meets the men and women who pull the strings in Czech puppetry.
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Through Romanian eyes

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.

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Frank Lloyd Wright in 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.

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Willow-herb, meadowsweet and steam

Edward Thomas' achievements as a poet and essayist were only fully recognised posthumously. For many, it is his poem about Adlestrop which sticks in the mind. But there's more to Thomas than that poem - indeed he was a very accomplished nature writer.

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City without Jews

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.

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From Burton to Berlin

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.

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Montreux connections

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.

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The Prisoner of Chillon

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.

Magazine article

Only Fit For Wild Ducks

by Nicky Gardner
Catch the spirit of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides with Gaelic psalm singing at a country church in Lewis or Marian devotions on the Isle of Eriskay. We explore an island archipelago that has a complex mix of landscapes, of which the most distinctive is the machair - the rich grasslands on fragile dunes.
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Exploring the Poprad Valley

by Nicky Gardner
A forgotten sculpture park in a Slovakian valley recalls an environmental art initiative which flourished for a generation in the last century. Join us as we travel down the Poprad Valley.
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Improbable Places

by Nicky Gardner
The last year or two have seen a flood of new books which invite readers to engage on a virtual journey exploring our planet. We take a look at a new volume called 'Atlas of Improbable Places', just published by Aurum Press.
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Hebridean Narratives

by hidden europe
Peter May's novels set in the Outer Hebrides communicate a strong sense of Hebridean landscapes. May is the latest in a long line of writers who have helped inscribe the islands on the public imagination. We take a look at a number of Hebridean narratives.
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The Colour of Odessa

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.

Magazine article

Between the Steppe and the Sea

by Nicky Gardner
For Odessa writer Issac Babel, his home town was 'the most charming city of the Russian empire'. For many visitors today, Odessa is one of the most striking Black Sea ports. Join us as we head up the Potemkin Steps to discover Odessa.
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And to the Bells, a Voice

by Rudolf Abraham
The Portuguese tradition of making cowbells is an endangered rural craft. Rudolf Abraham travels to the Alentejo region of Portugal to visit a workshop where cowbells are still crafted in the traditional manner.
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On Pushkin and locusts

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.

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Ilya Repin and the Cossacks

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.

Magazine article

Hay fever: the story of European book towns

by hidden europe

What do Wünsdorf-Waldstadt in eastern Germany, Bellprat in Catalonia and Hay-on-Wye in Wales all have in common? They all style themselves as 'book towns'. Across Europe and beyond, small towns are discovering the appeal of 'the Hay model' as they jump on the bandwagon set rolling by Richard Booth in Hay-on-Wye.

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A glass of pastis

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.

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Selborne, naturally

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.

Magazine article

Pleasure or pain

by hidden europe

The notion of privation as conductive to more virtuous travel seems alien to the modern mind. Today's travellers search for five-star luxury and often look for a higher level of food, lodging and service that they experience at home. Travel has become a way of exerting economic power and negotiating privilege. But it was not always thus.

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Travel planning: choices... choices

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.

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Revisiting the Cairngorms

by Nicky Gardner

Nan Shepherd's book The Living Mountain is often acclaimed as a prescient example of the genre now often known as New Nature Writing. We take a look at a classic text on Scottish landscapes which was first published in 1977 - more than 30 years after it was written.

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Est: writing about East Anglia

by hidden europe

There is a certain tyranny of the horizon in the flatlands of East Anglia. The spirit of those landscapes is captured in the debut volume from Dunlin Press which is titled 'Est: Collected Reports from East Anglia'.

Magazine article

A station in the shadows

by hidden europe

The Gare Saint-Lazare attracted the artists. Yet Paris Gare du Nord has a grittier atmosphere. This busiest of Paris' railway termini is ultimately a station in the shadows. And therein lies its enduring appeal.

Magazine article

Railway ghosts

by hidden europe

Literary ghosts haunt the pages of mid and late 19th-century fiction - from Henry James The Turn of the Screw to Charles Dickens' The Haunted House. One of the spookiest tales of all is Dickens' The Signalman, a fine short story which may have been influenced by the train crash in which Dickens was involved in summer 1865.

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Exploring Lisbon with Pessoa

by Iain Bamforth

Think of writers who are intimately associated with a particular city: Kafka and Prague, Joyce and Dublin, Svevo and Trieste... or Pessoa and Lisbon. Pessoa did for Lisbon something which few other leading writers have done for their home city. He wrote a guide for tourists visiting the city. With Pessoa to hand, Iain Bamforth sets out to explore the Portuguese capital.

Magazine article

North from Paris: with Eurostar and Émile Zola

by Nicky Gardner

Tolstoy, Dickens and Zola all wrote about railways - but in very different ways. Zola's La Bête humaine is one of the great railway novels of European literature. The perfect read, we thought, prior to joining train driver Andy Pratt in the cab of a Eurostar train at the Gare du Nord station in Paris.

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150 years since Staplehurst

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.

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A Rhino called Ganda

We revisit the story of Ganda, the rhinoceros made famous in Dürer's woodcut, and look at it in the context of Renaissance royal menageries.

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The centre of the universe

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.

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Brittany’s Easter Island

by Patricia Stoughton

Patricia Stoughton leads us through the soft landscapes of Brittany to discover a local initiative that showcases local saints. La Vallée des Saints (Traonienn ar Sant in Breton) is a bold statement about the enduring importance of regional culture and identity.

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Offshore Provence

by Nicky Gardner

Sailing east from Marseille along the coast of Provence to the Italian border, there are some two dozen islands, many of which are overlooked by visitors to the region. Climb aboard the hidden europe private yacht (if only!) as we set sail for the Côte d'Azur.

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Remembering Taras Shevchenko

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.

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Loch Lubnaig

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.

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Letter from Europe: Ten years on

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."

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From MoMA to Luxembourg

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.

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A Christmas journey

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.

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Setting Forth

by Nicky Gardner

One firth: three bridges. Each of the three bridges over the Firth of Forth was built in a different century. There is the 19th-century rail bridge, a 20th-century road bridge and now the new Queensferry Crossing road bridge under construction. Long gone are the days when a trip from Edinburgh to Fife meant attending to the ebb and flow of the tides.

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Travelling irresponsibly

The publication of a new book by Bradt Travel Guides makes us ponder issues of responsibility and irresponsibility in travel. The book is called The Irresponsible Traveller. It is a great read, but we conclude that travel writers tend to go to far-flung places before behaving irresponsibly.

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Travelling with Shakespeare

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.

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A fine affair: Russians on the Riviera

by Nicky Gardner

Russia's love affair with the French Riviera (and the adjacent Ligurian coastal littoral to the east) has been one of Europe's defining cultural interactions of the last 200 years. We take at look at how Russian visitors have helped shape Riviera life.

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Silent witness: the bridge over the River Drina

by Laurence Mitchell

Ivo Andric's book The Bridge on the Drina captures four centuries of life in the town of Visegrad. The book is populated by small-town characters of various religious persuasions — Orthodox, Catholics, Muslims and Jews. In the wake of the terrible conflicts of the 1990s, Visegrad is now mainly a Serb town (and thus Orthodox). Guest contributor Laurence Mitchell introduces us to Visegrad, the small town on the Drina in the east of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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The current state of travel writing

by Nicky Gardner

Travel writers have traditionally been fiercely independent spirits, and it was that independence which helped build trust and credibility with readers. But times are changing and a new breed of English-language writers seems to act as handmaidens of the tourism industry, weaving tales that read more like a PR blurb than dispassionate travel writing. Is there still scope for genuinely independent travel writing?

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Much ado about the Ascension

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.

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Where God grew stones: a Mani odyssey

by Duncan JD Smith

Patrick Leigh Fermor's 1958 book on the Mani region of southern Greece helped put Mani on the map. Today it pulls the tourist crowds, yet it still retains a raw appeal. Guest contributor Duncan JD Smith dives deep into Mani to explore the otherworldly landscapes of this arid peninsula.

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Bright banquets in the Elysian Vale: musings on Weimar

by Nicky Gardner

Can a town have too much history? That certainly seems the case with the small city of Weimar in the German State of Thuringia. The town packs a few surprises and there is even a little counterculture to offset Schiller and Goethe. We unpack the details that you don't find in the tourist brochures in this special feature on a town that is still very much 'east' Germany - and all the better for that.

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Sweet Cambria

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.

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Reclaiming Weimar

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.

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Africa: East to Tzaneen

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.

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Leipzig soundscapes

by Nicky Gardner

Few European cities can rival Leipzig when it comes to musical associations. Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig, Johann Sebastian Bach had an extraordinarily productive 27 years in the city, and the roll call of great musical names continues: Clara and Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Edvard Grieg and more. We profile a city that has been to a considerable degree defined by music

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Oriental dreams

by Nicky Gardner

We explore an Eden which has its apple orchards, running waters and beautiful gardens. There is even a touch of the East about this unlikely Eden. It is only the minarets that are missing on our journey past the silent monastery of Petra to a place that is marked on our map as Orient. Join us for a magical tour of an island in the sun.

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Remembering Jacob Riis

by Nicky Gardner

The social reformer and documentary photography Jacob Riis, author of 'How the Other Half Lives' (1890), was born in the town of Ribe in Danish Jutland. Understanding Ribe is the key to understanding Jacob Riis. We take a look at how Riis described his home town in his 1909 book 'The Old Town'.

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Romantic Ireland is not dead and gone

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.

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Sally Bowles did not live in Weimar

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.

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Hidden Istria

by Rudolf Abraham

Istria may be defined by its coastline, but the hinterland warrants a visit too. Rudolf Abraham, co-author of the new Bradt Guide to Istria, invites us to join him in a search for mediaeval frescoes, truffles and an enigmatic pillar of shame. Along the way we discover the many languages of Istria.

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Miss Jemima’s Swiss journal

by Nicky Gardner

In 1863, Jemima Morrell participated in the first ever escorted tour of the Alps organised by Cook. Her diary of that journey is a remarkable piece of writing - one that slices through Victorian formality. The story of what happened to that diary is as intriguing as the journey described within its pages.

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Hercules in Lazio

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.

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The North begins inside

"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

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The Russian Season in Paris

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.

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Travel writing: the view from home

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.

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A season of grace

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.

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Hidden europe 39

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.

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England and Europe

by hidden europe

Given our interests, you might have thought that we'd have pounced on The Smell of the Continent the moment it was published in 2009. The book is a witty and well-researched account of how the English discovered continental Europe in a decades following the Napoleonic Wars.

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The heart of Slovenia

by Jonathan Knott

The essence of Slovenia is evinced in the country's rustic simplicity and natural grandeur. Jonathan Knott experiences both on a winter walk through villages that boast a close association with the poets and priests who, in the nineteenth century, helped shape Slovenian identity.

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Just like Elba

by Nicky Gardner

Antony Gormley's dramatic sculpture, The Angel of the North, has done wonders for south Tyneside. Will Verity do the same for Ilfracombe? But Verity's stay in the north Devon port is limited to just twenty years. And who then might take her place by the side of Ilfracombe harbour? Napoleon Bonaparte, perhaps?

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Britain by bus — could you write for us?

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.

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Remembering Rachel

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.

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The Baltic, Switzerland, and a hint of Islam

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.

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Journeys: Winter in Arabia and Summer by the Baltic

Summer in Europe might not seem a natural ally for winter in Arabia. But Freya Stark’s 'A Winter in Arabia' is a book for all seasons and all continents. It recalls Freya Stark’s second journey through the Hadhramaut region of southern Arabia (nowadays part of Yemen). Freya Stark’s first Arabian foray, in the winter of 1934–1935, ended with measles and an ignominious rescue by the Royal Air Force. The publicity in Europe which attended that rescue helped establish Freya Stark’s reputation as an intrepid explorer.

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The warm shadow of Isabelle Eberhardt

Many years ago, I spent a long hot summer in and around a sleepy ksar on the edge of the Sahara. I read many books that summer, but it was 'Dans l’ombre chaude de l’Islam' that tugged and tugged again, urging me to return to its pages. That book was my introduction to Isabelle Eberhardt, a writer who — perhaps more than any other — has influenced my life and my thinking. This summer, so far from the desert and in a country where the most charming of all oases is my garden, I turned to Sharon Bangert’s English translation of 'Dans l’ombre chaude de l’Islam'. It appears under the Peter Owen imprint in a pocket-sized paperback.

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Bookmark: A Sentimental Journey

The travel narratives of yesteryear line our shelves, and it was really no more than chance that last week we looked again at Laurence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey. Some might venture that in shelving it in the travel section of our modest library we have erred. It is more a work of sentimental fiction than a travelogue sensu stricto. 244 years after its initial publication, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy is still a fine read.

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200 years of summer holidays

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.

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Second fiddle: music in Mittenwald

by Nicky Gardner

Anton Maller is a patient man. He has to be. Creating the perfect violin takes weeks of concentrated effort. We meet Anton Maller, a master violin maker, in his home town of Mittenwald in the Alps. Mittenwald enjoys a fine reputation for the quality of its musical instruments.

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Zagreb street art

by Rudolf Abraham

When you paint something on the street, it is no longer your own. It becomes public property. Street art demands of artists that they 'let go', that they have the courage to relinquish ownership of their work. Rudolf Abraham takes a look at the street art scene in the Croatian capital Zagreb.

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The art of marketing

by hidden europe

We fear that the slow travel tag has been appropriated by writers and publishers who see slow travel as the latest marketing opportunity. Seven years after the launch of hidden europe and three years after the publication of our Manifesto for Slow Travel, we take a look at how slow travel is evolving.

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Stranded in San Marino

by hidden europe

San Marino may no longer have a passenger railway. It does however still have a train, thus marking out San Marino as one of two countries in Europe that have a train but no railway. The surviving train in San Marino is a graceful addition to the landscape of the mountainous republic in the Apennines. It is perched on an old railway bridge.

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Musings for May Day

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.

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Recalling Guernica

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.

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The harsh lands

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.

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Sanctuary: in the shadow of St Pancras

by Nicky Gardner

In 'A Tale of Two Cities', Dickens recalls the work of bodysnatchers in St Pancras Churchyard. The graveyard is in the very shadow of London's magnificently restored St Pancras station. We reflect on how the railways have reshaped the St Pancras area, pay a visit to Somers Town and savour the renaissance of the former Midland Grand station hotel, which reopened as the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

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England’s favourite: the port of Boulogne

by Nicky Gardner

The port city of Boulogne has always attracted visitors from across the Channel. Tobias Smolett came and so did Charles Dickens who called the town his "favourite French watering hole", declaring it to be "every bit as good as Naples". Today, the town's ferry terminal is abandoned, but Boulogne remains a popular spot for visitors from Britain and offers a few exotic surprises.

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Rites of penance

by hidden europe

Prompted by Diego Vivanco's report from San Vicente de la Sonsierra, hidden europe sets out to detect the origins of the religious practice of self-flagellation in Europe.

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Ephemeral art

by hidden europe

There is a remarkable vividness about pieces of art whose days are numbered. Artists like Richard Shilling and Andy Goldsworthy have been keen advocats of what is sometimes called land art. We search for the remnants of last year's sand sculpture festival in the coastal community of Søndervig.

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To nothingness and night

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.
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Unforgiving stone

by Paul Hadfield

The poetry of Paul Hadfield has featured before in hidden europe. When he sent us a poem on the Whaligoe Steps in north-east Scotland, it set us thinking about some of the iconic stairways that we have encountered on our travels around Europe.

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Botany in Paradise

by Iain Bamforth

Iain Bamforth, a first-time contributor to hidden europe, wanders through the fruit markets of his home town of Strasbourg and reflects on apples and apricots, persimmons and pomegranates. Join us on a botanical tourof Paradise.

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Travelling through the Harz Mountains

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.

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Amina unmasked

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?

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The spiritual geography of Karelia

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.

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Fontana Rosa (Menton)

It is more than forty years since the Ibáñez family gave Fontana Rosa to the town of Menton. Ibáñez was born in Valencia, and many of his novels are set in the Valencia region. He spent the final six years of his life in Menton, the most Italianate of the French Riviera towns, and during those last years his creative energy took a different turn. He dabbled in travel writing.

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Girls on the bridge

by hidden europe

A line of red and green Russian border-posts skirt the Norwegian Parliament building in Oslo. Politicians turn and look, as do casual passers-by. It is a quiet reminder that Norway really does share a common land border with Russia.

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Polar nights in Spitsbergen

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.

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Arabia and the European Imagination

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.

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Just a state of mind (Ireland)

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.

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Lost maritime links

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.

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From Austerlitz to Solferino

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.

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Music in Potsdam

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.

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Europiccola (Little 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.

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A tribute to the humble suitcase

by Nicky Gardner

The classic suitcase has been relegated to the carousel of history as travellers opt for more modern styles of luggage. But the suitcase is still replete with double-edged meaning - a symbol of freedom for some, but a reminder of unhappy exile for others.

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Origins: from Marie Curie to Tom Stoppard

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.

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The new age of the train

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.

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Cerise diversions

by Nicky Gardner

Before being quietly consigned to literary history in 1959, the Penguin Cerise series brought some of the very best of the world's English language travel writing to a huge readership at affordable paperback prices. We remember an icon of publishing history.

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Celebrity tourism in the Trossachs

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.

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Levoca (Slovakia)

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.

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Ferry updates

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.

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Landsendi (Iceland)

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.

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Vitebsk (Belarus)

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.

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City of the Muse: Barga

by Adam J Shardlow

Barga is quintessential small town Italy. And Aristo's, the bar and café in the middle of Barga, is the quintessential bar - a spot that is amiable, intimate and safe. Guest author Adam J Shardlow lingers in Aristo's and finds a rich vein of artistic and musical life in the Tuscan town.

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Joseph Roth - literary connections

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.

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Wrong turn at Koblenz: the Moselle valley

by Nicky Gardner

If Mary Shelley's judgement is to be trusted, the Moselle possesses only "an inferior beauty". Which is a bit harsh on a valley that hidden europe views as one of the finest in all Europe. The Moselle valley boasts Karl Marx's birthplace, a village called Schengen and much more besides!

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Of cabbages and kinder

by Bryn Frank

Golzow seems like an insignificant village on the plains not far from the German-Polish border. But it is much more, for Golzow has an important place in the history of documentary film. Bryn Frank introduces us to 'the children of Golzow'.

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Passionate nomads

by Nicky Gardner

Three Swiss-born women travel writers slipped from our shared literary consciousness until they were rediscovered by feminist critics. hidden europe editor Nicky Gardner finds in the writing of Isabelle Eberhardt, Annemarie Schwarzenbach and Ella Maillart a dash of inspiration for her own writing.

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Architecture of deceit

by Nicky Gardner

A new book called 'Follies of Europe: Architectural Extravanganzas' inspires us to explore Europe's architecture of deceit. We find buildings conceived with no purpose at all, and others where exterior design deludes as to the real purpose of the building.

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Keeping faith with the past: Iceland

by Nicky Gardner

Yes, you can go to Iceland in search of glaciers and geysers, but you can also travel north, just as William Morris did, in search of heroes and gods. These are landscapes full of eddic myth and powerful sagas. Iceland is a country that has kept faith with the past.

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Corund (Transylvania)

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.

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Abkhazia - the Adler connection

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.

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Hidden Argyll

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.

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Thoughts on Russia

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.

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Immrama festival of travel writing

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.

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Gracanica (Kosovo)

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.

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Seasonal diversions

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.

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The Iza valley (Romania)

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.

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Hav: a novel by Jan Morris

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.

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"a time of gifts"

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.

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Periprava (Romania)

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.

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'no music day'

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.

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Cabris (France) - Shetland links

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.

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Adriatic republics - a stop on the iron road

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?

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

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.

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Airports by night - April Fool's day

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.

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

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.

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New hidden europe issue - Iceland colour

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.