Travel writers are often asked for the secret places within their areas of expertise. We have a stock of them, usually snapshots and moments that led on to other stories. In Austria, I think of learning the hidden cultural heritage of Salzburg from the Unesco professorial chair of the subject Kurt Luger or being introduced to what is now my favourite drink, Most, a dry still apple wine, by former champion skier Rupert Pichler on the slopes of Sport Gastein where they host the Imperial Snow Polo Cup.
However, there is one area of Austria that is not so much secret, as filled with secrets.
The Salzkammergut, the ‘salt domain’, is a stunning district of lakes and mountains sprawling out to the east of Salzburg.
The original article at full length can be found for subscribers at The Telegraph online here.
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.
Good news from Fiske Plc today (February 19th), of which I am a director, in a nice little article in the newspaper of record for the capital, and the daily read on the way home to those who still work in ‘The City’ of London, the Evening Standard. Despite the good half-year results, my father Clive’s quote is as judicious as ever.
AIM-LISTED Fiske, which is one of the City’s few remaining independent stockbroking and investment managers, said its results for the six months to November 30 showed continued improvement after its operating loss narrowed to £21,000. Total revenues of £2.8 million were an 11% increase on a year earlier, with investment management fees up 14%. Chairman Clive Fiske Harrison said the company retained a “healthy degree of caution regarding the immediate outlook for markets“. Shares rose 5p to 70p.
The hidden secrets of England’s most underrated county
That said, the need for the tourism, both national and international, is vital to the economy in both countries, so I thought I would continue my travel journalism locally, beginning with my own home county.
The recent reputation of Essex seems to be a construct of the media, most recently reality television, based on a parody of a small southern strip of the county. That strip, from Dagenham through Basildon to Southend, was formed far more by its proximity to London, especially the East End, than with rural East Anglia. This was especially true after whole new towns were built to house those Londoners rendered homeless by the Blitz.
“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.
Europe’s most sensuous city in a time of social distancing
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.
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.