My latest article in The Telegraph: Once the ‘Monaco of the Alps’, this forgotten spa town is poised for a comeback

 

 

THE TELEGRAPH

 

TRAVEL

 

Once the ‘Monaco of the Alps’, this forgotten spa town is poised for a comeback

Bad Gastein, now eerily quiet, was a magnet for high society during the Austro-Hungarian Empire

 

In February 2020, it seemed to me a classic bustling ski resort, with extraordinary, high-level skiing, comprising 200km of pistes, half of them red runs. Admittedly, the languages you heard in the après-ski establishments tended more towards the Germanic than the frequent smatterings of English or French one might hear in Zermatt or Val d’Isère.

However, what really struck me was the look of the town. Built into the steep mountain slopes, its vertiginous streets are lined with exquisite fin de siècle houses from the heyday of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even the train station – 90 minutes to Salzburg, 3 hours to Munich – is an Art Deco gem, opened  by Emperor Franz Joseph himself in 1905, the first such station in the Eastern Alps.

For this was the Imperial resort. The Prussian Kaisers would come and meet their Habsburg Emperor cousins here to enjoy the waters and the walking, for both of which it had been famed since the 7th century. Of course, in those pre-skiing days, summer was the high season.

The original article at full length can be found for subscribers at The Telegraph online here, or outside their paywall at MSN online here. I enclose the important final paragraph below.

Indeed, in order to put itself back up among the first rank of such resorts, to outdo those who once outstripped Gastein like the younger but more glamorous – for now – Swiss resort of St Moritz and nearby Kitzbühel, they are even arranging the first ever Imperial Snow Polo Cup at Sport Gastein to open the winter season, with a host of royalty on the guest list; fixers from that world like Major Peter Hunter of Guards Polo Club from England and International Polo Events, and sponsorship being discussed between the incoming Hirmer Group’s Travel Charme Hotels, who are set to restore and reopen Gastein’s Bel Epoque Jewel in the Crown, the once world-famous Hotel Straubinger, and the Grande Dame of all Austrian hotels today, The Imperial in Vienna.  

My postcard in The Telegraph: While Britons are imprisoned, Austrians are encouraged to get out, stay fit, and soak up vitamin D

 

 

THE TELEGRAPH

 

TRAVEL

 

While Britons are imprisoned, Austrians are encouraged to get out, stay fit, and soak up vitamin D

Cases have plummeted 90% in Austria, and without the sort of draconian rules Britain has adopted

 

With the snow piling thick on the ground in Salzburg, I am amazed at two things in Austria which I do not think are unrelated.

The first is that neither temperature nor lockdown has in any way affected the average citizens’ visibility in the streets.

When I walk out of my front door on the Nonnberg, adjacent to the ancient convent where Julie Andrew’s portrayed a novitiate in The Sound Of Music, there are invariably locals tramping up and down the stairs and slopes, wading through drifts and sliding across ice, to stare at alpine mountain ranges in the middle distance.

As they say here, there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.

The second striking fact about living in Austria is that during this ‘lockdown’ – their third – in which you may leave your house at any time of day or night for any reason, psychological or physical, they have reduced the contagion of this novel coronavirus by 90% since mid-November.

Yes, it is true that bars, restaurants and hotels are all closed, and only one person from a household may visit “close family members” or “important contacts with whom contact is maintained several times a week” in another household.

Until May 1st, the rest of this article can only be found at The Telegraph online here.

My article in The Telegraph: As an expat in Vienna, I love everything about Europe (except the EU)

 

 

THE TELEGRAPH

 

COMMENT

 

As an expat in Vienna, I love everything about Europe (except the EU)

Selfishly, I have indeed benefited from the EU, but that’s not to say it’s the best thing for Britain

 

(The original article can be found by subscribers at The Telegraph online here.)

It was at a lunch with several grandees of old Vienna where I was forcibly reminded that it was in this city that the longest European peace since the original ‘Pax Romana’ – from the fall of Napoleon to the rise of the Kaiser – was negotiated between a British Foreign Secretary, Viscount Castlereagh, and Prince Metternich, the chief negotiator of the European Unionists of that epoch, the Habsburg Monarchy, who had only just renounced the title of Holy Roman Emperor.

The 1815 Congress of Vienna was soon followed, in 1820, by Britain’s official and complete withdrawal from European affairs into “splendid isolation”. The effects of this, the original Brexit, were so positive that one US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, would later publish his Harvard PhD thesis on the period under the title ‘A World Restored’.

Personally, there is no denying that as a British citizen living in Mitteleuropa, and who spent the first lockdown as a resident in Spain, I have encountered a great deal of incomprehension among my Continental friends as to why Britain would want to leave this benevolent, if quasi-Imperial, set up.

And, as an Englishman with an Austrian fiancée, a Belgian shepherd dog and a breeding herd of horses all descendant from an Irish thoroughbred (El Star, first cousin to the legendary Frankel no less), I truly do see myself as, in Metternich’s own phrase, “a Citizen of Europe”. Continue reading “My article in The Telegraph: As an expat in Vienna, I love everything about Europe (except the EU)”

My postcard in The Telegraph: From Vienna, where common sense reigns supreme

A postcard from Vienna, where common sense reigns supreme – ‘No hysteria, no virtue-signalling’

 

In Austria, Alexander Fiske-Harrison found a completely different atmosphere to the UK

Vienna is at, indeed perhaps just is, the very heart of Europe. It was capital of the Holy Roman Empire for the majority of its thousand-year existence – until it confronted Napoleon at the Battle of the Three Emperors at Austerlitz. It was the “city of music” that made Mozart; it was the “city of dreams” that bred Freud. In 1938 the French author Albert Camus wrote, “Vienna stands at the cross-roads of history. Around her echoes the clash of empires. Certain evenings when the sky is suffused with blood, the stone horses on the Ring monuments seem to take wing.”

And yet, less than a decade later, Graham Greene would write, “I never knew Vienna between the wars, and I am too young to remember the old Vienna with its Strauss music and its easy charm; to me it is simply a city of undignified ruins.”

There was dark romanticism even in the ruins, as Greene knew, hence he made the city the third character in his and Carol Reed’s film The Third Man (although the great Orson Welles added a few lines of his own, including the famous one about the Borgias and cuckoo clocks.)

Continue reading “My postcard in The Telegraph: From Vienna, where common sense reigns supreme”

My column in The Telegraph: Pamplona’s spectacular bull-runs are too often misunderstood

For the original article, available to subscribers only, please click here

Pamplona’s spectacular bull-runs are too often misunderstood

ALEXANDER FISKE-HARRISON

“I’d much rather be a Spanish fighting bull than a farm cow”

I left the site of my last Andalusian postcard with a heavy heart and burning ears: apparently some locals had taken offence to the “elitist” connotations of my comparison of their town to Notting Hill. People take things the wrong way with a vengeance nowadays: as with Montparnasse in Paris, the artists that first made Notting Hill famous were followed by richer creative-types and the resulting economic gear-change had both upsides and downsides.

Notably, though, these complaints were British ex-pats. The Spanish were delighted, with the Mayor of the town, a socialist, writing to say how much he looked forward to hosting Telegraph readers.

After Gaucín, for the first time in a decade I did not know where to go in Spain mid-July. Normally, I would head north to Pamplona for the Feria of San Fermín, known here simply as Fiesta.

Some people think running with bulls, a pastime for which that city is most famous, is dangerous and anachronistic, and the end place of that run, the bull-ring, is a place of torture and death. And indeed, all Spain’s bull rings are registered abattoirs – they have to be, because the carcass of every bull ends up in the food chain. The only difference, in terms of the bull’s welfare, is the manner and duration of their life and the manner and duration of their death, but perhaps not in the way readers think.

A Torrestrella bull is caped by the late matador Ivan Fandiño in Pamplona on July 11th, 2013. This photo also appears, among many others by the same award-winning photographer, in The Bulls Of Pamplona. Jim Hollander has run bulls and photographed them for over fifty years, between other assignments for Reuters and EPA around the world. (Photo © Jim Hollander / EPA)

Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: Pamplona’s spectacular bull-runs are too often misunderstood”

My column in The Telegraph: Gaucín – A postcard from Spain’s most picture-perfect town

For the original article, available to subscribers only, please click here

I finally left Seville, from where I sent my last postcard, as Spain entered what the government are calling the new normal. However, passing through Ronda I saw that the people do not necessarily agree. The term ghost town has, by necessity, been vastly overused in these pages, but what else can one say? The lovely old historic restaurants like Hermanos Macías, opposite Spain’s most historic bullring, and the classic Almocabar, named for the gate in the Moorish battlements it sits beyond, are both closed. Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: Gaucín – A postcard from Spain’s most picture-perfect town”

My column in The Telegraph: Seville Rises Again

For the original article, available to subscribers only, please click here

DAILY TELEGRAPH

Europe’s most sensuous city in a time of social distancing

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
16th June 2020

Six weeks ago I wrote about a dream of wandering the streets of Seville, far away from my prison quarantine in Jimena de la Frontera in the forested wilds of central Andalusia.

But no imagining could have been quite as dreamlike as finally stepping off the bus at the Prado de San Sebastián, where they once burned heretics, but now welcome tourists.

Photo by Nicolás Haro

The Sevillian sunlight in late June has that perfect golden slant, between the chilling white of winter and the lazy burnt yellow of true summer which comes at the end of July. The temperature here is already mid-30s in the shade and a coronavirus-cleansing 40 degrees in the sun.

I am met by my old friend, Nicolás Haro, a native of the city, who I have not seen since the pandemic began. 

“It has been strange, mi amigo, to be locked away because the government lacked the hospitals and personal protective equipment to allow us to be together. After all, we will all catch this virus.”

I agree with his fatalism, but, for the moment at least, Seville is one of the clearest places on Earth, with a mere seven Covid-19 hospital patients in a city of over a million, and just two in intensive care.

Photo by Nicolás Haro

Despite this, we drive down almost deserted streets and those people we do see are masked and separated. The bars and restaurants for which the city is famed are shuttered. Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: Seville Rises Again”

My column in The Telegraph: After two months of draconian Spanish lockdown, with fines for ‘bad attitudes’, I’m dreaming of the feria

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DAILY TELEGRAPH

After two months of draconian Spanish lockdown, with fines for ‘bad attitudes’, I’m dreaming of the feria

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
1st May 2020

After six weeks of house arrest without even the opportunity to go to the village shop like their parents, or to go to the park like their pets, Spain has finally released its children – those aged 14 and under, with supervision, within a kilometre of home, and for no more than one hour a day.

Given that the average size of an apartment in Seville, our regional capital, is less than 600 square feet, one can only marvel that domestic violence has not been a bigger problem.

Of course, with three quarters of a million fines being issued by police and the Guardia Civil during that period, perhaps people did what they naturally do and simply found a way around an impossible set of laws. One could hardly blame them. The social contract is wearing thin.

Alexander's Andalusian town
Alexander’s Andalusian town Credit: getty

One of the categories of fine listed in a recent document from the national government includes €2,000 for “inappropriate attitude”. What exactly would be appropriate right now? Perhaps one should not be surprised that a revenue stream is being taken advantage of as the Spanish economy goes into the steepest decline since the Thirty Years War. Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: After two months of draconian Spanish lockdown, with fines for ‘bad attitudes’, I’m dreaming of the feria”

My column in The Telegraph: It doesn’t feel like lockdown has been eased here in Spain when armed police still stop you at every turn

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DAILY TELEGRAPH

It doesn’t feel like lockdown has been eased here in Spain when armed police still stop you at every turn

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
16th April 2020

We wake today in our village of Jimena de la Frontera – a full month into lockdown – to the news that the social democrat Prime Minister is planning to extend confinement by another month, while his hard socialist deputy has called for nationalisation of everything up to the coronavirus itself. We live, as the Chinese like to curse, in interesting times.

That same deputy’s criticisms of the Spanish Head of State, King Philip VI, for wearing military uniform in his rather dignified public appearances as Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces were ill-advised, though, with even left-wing allies pointing out that their own communist heroes – Che Guavara, Castro, Chavez and Maduro – were wont to adopt the same fashion, although normally to a far darker purpose than Spain’s constitutional monarch.

Alexander's Andalusian town
Alexander’s Andalusian town Credit: getty

Along with the announcement of prolongation, they spoke of a loosening of the lock-down. For example, one can now exit one’s habitation to purchase a “necessary” pizza from the takeaway, rather than just its equally “necessary” frozen cousin from the supermarket. Personally, this writer finds this hardly a loosening of the manacles. And if anyone doubts the reality of those restraints, the view from the balcony of the Spanish Marines questioning anyone leaving buildings on my street is quite clear.  Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: It doesn’t feel like lockdown has been eased here in Spain when armed police still stop you at every turn”

My column in The Telegraph: Will the Spanish summer be too hot for the coronavirus?

For the original article, available to subscribers only, please click here.

 

DAILY TELEGRAPH

Will the Spanish summer be too hot for coronavirus?

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
8th April 2020

Predictably, the left-wing coalition that governs Spain has extended our confinement to quarters. This is done in a singularly Spanish manner: no outdoor exercise, with police or armed forces personnel checking your grocery receipt to ensure you did not dawdle on your way home. With 50,000 fines for breaching the rules in Madrid alone, the government seems to have found a way to raise some of the money they lost putting our economy into what they call “hibernation.”
This is, of course, the same government that defied all medical advice and allowed a third of a million people to march arm-in-arm through the streets of Madrid on International Women’s Day last month. Inevitably, hospitalisations in the capital quadrupled within five days, and the course was set for the present contagion.

Alexander's Andalusian town
Alexander’s Andalusian town Credit: getty

However, after 24 days of climbing the walls and running around the apartment – some 40 miles covered in 1,600 laps of a small two-bedroom flat – the data finally seems to show the curve is not only flattening, but beginning to descend. Here in our little town of Jimena de la Frontera, the voice of hope can be heard, in part because of what many regard as the bane of the town: its summer. Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: Will the Spanish summer be too hot for the coronavirus?”