My latest article in The Telegraph: The forgotten corner of Austria filled with secrets
The forgotten corner of Austria filled with secrets
Events that shaped history were forged in the ‘salt domain’ region of clouded peaks and mysterious valleys to the east of Salzburg
The original article at full length can be found for subscribers at The Telegraph online here.
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. Continue reading “My latest article in The Telegraph: The forgotten corner of Austria filled with secrets”
My latest article in The Telegraph: Once the ‘Monaco of the Alps’, this forgotten spa town is poised for a comeback
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
The original article at full length can be found for subscribers at The Telegraph online here.
When I first came to Bad Gastein, a year ago, I could not believe that I had not only never been here before, but had never even heard of it. The vagaries of its notability in history are almost as cyclical as the rise and fall of stock markets.
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.
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. Continue reading “My latest article in The Telegraph: Once the ‘Monaco of the Alps’, this forgotten spa town is poised for a comeback”
My article in The Telegraph: Essex – The hidden secrets of England’s most underrated county
The hidden secrets of England’s most underrated county
The Queen has agreed Southend in Essex will be granted city status, in honour of Sir David Amess, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced. The resort town on the Thames Estuary, with the longest pleasure pier in the world, is just one of many gems of my home county, which is so often (wrongly) overlooked by visitors, both domestic and international.
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.
However, before London even existed, Essex was the centre of Britain. Before Christ was born, the dominant Celtic tribe, the Trinovantes, had built their capital Camulodonum there, and after the Roman conquest there it remained. Continue reading “My article in The Telegraph: Essex – The hidden secrets of England’s most underrated county”
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
It doesn’t feel like lockdown has been eased here in Spain when armed police still stop you at every turn
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.
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”
Our Interview in Click Polo magazine
My column in The Telegraph: Will the Spanish summer be too hot for the coronavirus?
Will the Spanish summer be too hot for coronavirus?
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.
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?”
My column in The Telegraph: A postcard from Spain, where the Marines have arrived to enforce our draconian lockdown
A postcard from Spain, where the Marines have arrived to enforce our draconian lockdown
20th March 2020
The Marines rolled into town on Friday to ‘support’ the police and the Guardia Civil. Admittedly they arrived in olive green pick-up trucks, not Humvees or 4-tonners, and were only kitted out with 9mm pistols strapped to their thighs, not full assault rifles, but those who questioned my last postcard from Andalusia, where I spoke of “martial law in all but name”, should be under no illusion about the Spanish style of lockdown.
As I predicted, last week the government extended our fortnight of house-arrest to a full month, and this week they instituted even harsher measures, putting the economy into “hibernation” in the government’s terrifying phrasing. Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: A postcard from Spain, where the Marines have arrived to enforce our draconian lockdown”
My column in The Telegraph: Here in Spain there is martial law in all but name – surely the British wouldn’t put up with it
Here in Spain there is martial law in all but name – surely the British wouldn’t put up with it
20th March 2020
It was when they taped off the children’s playground on the Plaza de la Constitución, as though it were a crime scene, that we knew the rumours were true.
All that Saturday the streets had been empty of people save the town’s ex-pat population as the Spanish government debated at every level – local, provincial and national – about what would put on ‘lockdown’ and how. I came down from my balcony to investigate as the local police pinned a notice to the swings, reading “Proclamation: Preventative Measures for the Protection of Citizens against the Coronavirus”, written in the name of the Mayor, and followed by a list of closures ranging from the municipal library to the 12th-century Moorish castle which stands guard over our Andalusian hilltop town.
Knowing that more was sure to come we stayed at Bar Pastor until closing time. The next morning we woke up to find the police sealing that bar, and all the others. It had begun. Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: Here in Spain there is martial law in all but name – surely the British wouldn’t put up with it”
Our new project:
This is the new project we have been working on for some time to bring polo to Mauritius has been agreed: with the government’s tourism agency, the owner of the grandest hotel on the island, Sanjiv Ramdanee, and the man who has been the single greatest innovating force in exotic location non-club based polo, Reto Gaudenzi of Badrutt’s Palace in St. Moritz and the World Snow Polo Championships. More details follow at www.InternationalPoloEvents.com.
Mauritius is set to host a prestigious polo match later in the year following the signing of a new partnership.
The news was announced at the annual Snow Polo World Cup, hosted each year in St. Moritz.
Arvind Bundhun, chief executive of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, made the announcement during a gala dinner hosted at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel.
He was welcomed to the stage by Reto Gaudenzi, chief executive of St. Moritz Snow Polo, and joined by Sanjiv Ramdanee, chief executive of Maradiva Villas Resort & Spa.
International Polo Events join Mr Bundhun, Mr Ramdanee and Mr Gaudenzi to make this happen. We thank our new partners for inviting us to help bring polo back to the Indian Ocean: more details soon at www.MauritiusPolo.com.
International Polo Events Ltd.
Incorporated at Companies House, 80 Petty France, Westminster, London SW1H 9EX, United Kingdom
Company Number 12348482
Austria wants to restore rail’s golden age – my sleeper train to Salzburg suggests it try harder
The golden age of the sleeper-car railways began 140 years ago. That summer, the quintessence of luxury trains set forth on its maiden voyage from Paris to Vienna. The Orient-Express was the pinnacle of design and hospitality in travel.
In those days, the train was the fastest thing their was: twice as fast as a galloping horse. Only a cheetah could beat it by a nose, and then only over two furlongs. It was fifty years before the automobile or aeroplane could compete for speed.
In fact, trains were so unnaturally fast that the medical community railed against them, suggesting they could cause hysteria in women, mania in men, and death through vibrational organ failure in both. Despite this, the locomotive was and remains the safest method of fast transport available. Horses bolt – taking any carriages they might be drawing with them – and automobile and even aeroplane crashes remain far more probable and lethal than derailments. There are also the environmental arguments.
The Orient Express last ran in 2009. The hotel on rails which took its name – and its 1920s-issue carriages – is an unrelated venture. It is a travel experience, not a form of transport eastward.
However, when the delusional global blanket of COVID-19 restrictions was lifted, ÖBB, Österreichische Bundesbahnen ‘Austrian Federal Railways’, opened the Nightjet, a sleeper service on the same route Paris-Vienna line as the original OE.
There is something about the idea of trains which has always fuelled the literary and cinematic imagination. The railways are places of romance – Brief Encounter – and revenge – Murder On The Orient Express – of psychopathic killers – Strangers On A Train – and secret agents – From Russia With Love.
My theory is that when fiction writers, who live by imagination and pursue a solitary profession, are put on trains, they are forced into proximity with people about whom they know nothing. After a few hours fantastical thoughts naturally begin to form. As Graham Greene put it, one is “compulsorily at rest; useless between the walls of glass to feel emotion, useless to try to follow any activity except of the mind; and that activity could be followed without fear of interruption.”
So, invited to view the restoration of the 19th century holiday home of Emperors, the Grand Hotel Straubinger in Bad Gastein outside Salzburg (read more on this project and the Imperial Snow Polo Cup in my article in The Telegraph, outside the subscription paywall online here), I opted to travel all the way from London by rail.
The rest of this article is available to subscribers of The Telegraph online here.