The Guardian

Postcards from the future

From an Italian island to a gorge in Spain and Slovenia’s wine country, writers around Europe reveal the places they’re dreaming of through the lockdown – and can’t wait to revisit when it’s over

Skyros Greece

In a world that is irrevocably changed, we all long for the unchanged. The comfort of a familiar place steeped in memories. For me, that place is Skyros — an out-of-the-way Greek island where I have spent every long, hot summer since the age of five, when my parents bought a tiny stable in the hilltop village.

From the vine-shaded hammock on our terrace, you can see a tumble of roofs and a haze of receding hills, a solitary chapel or cypress tree. Every so often, a jangling trail of sheep plods across the horizon. Stray cats curl up under the jasmine or stretch out on the low, whitewashed wall where we drink coffee, write postcards, sketch, or toast the sunset with Camparis.

At night, we throw rag rugs over that wall and our friends perch with plates of baked chickpeas, garlicky red peppers, and crisp triangles of cheesy filo on their laps. Friends who come from Athens, Berkeley, Copenhagen, Basel, London, New York, Lugano, Toronto, and Paris to relive the same simple rituals year after year. A far-flung community that has grown up and grown old together. The presence of those who are gone is all around, etched into our collective memory like the whitewash that outlines the paving stones in the village lanes. And the delicate caper blossoms that emerge miraculously from dry stone walls remind us that life goes on.

My apartment in Athens is not much bigger than our one-room home on Skyros. Trapped inside with a young child, I dream of a different view – of sun light dancing on vines and a distant speck of sea.

Rachel Howard, Athens

Island of Ponza Italy

As fate would have it, I arrived back in my tiny Venice apartment on 8 March, the day the city was locked down. Since then, restrictions have become increasingly – and rightly – more stringent, so today I can only go 200 metres outside, apart from a trip to the shops. Luckily I have a great view over the city from my rooftop terrace. From there, I can sit and dream of places I’ll revisit when I have the chance. Top of the list is the tiny island of Ponza, just 20 miles off the west coast between Rome and Naples in the turquoise Tyrrhenian Sea. Getting there is no easy task, but it’s a memorable journey: a scenic train ride across Italy down to Formia, boarding an antiquated ferry to Ponza’s harbour, a mass of bobbing boats surrounded by rising tiers of pastelcoloured houses, as the setting sun lit up the sky in a blaze of colours.

Everyone in the main town seems to offer genuine family B&B accommodation, and our host, Gino Pesce, also had the perfect name for his fish restaurant, Acqua Pazza (crazy water). Sitting down for dinner, a fisherman walked in carrying a crate of wriggling giant red prawns, the speciality of these waters. Simply cooked by Gino’s mamma in a rich tomato and olive sauce, they were served on a bed of homemade tagliatelle, and I have honestly never tasted anything so fresh, so succulent.

Each day is a different adventure on this wild volcanic island that is five miles long and never more than a mile and a half wide. There is hardly a car to be seen, and while hiring a bike is fun, the roads are hilly and very windy, so mostly we set off on the local bus then hiked through the mountainous countryside, where steep paths along brilliant white, jagged cliffs lead down to idyllic narrow inlets and hidden bays. The best experience was going out for the day with a fisherman, mooring in a deserted creek with not another soul in sight, then plunging into the crystal clear water surrounded by shoals of multicoloured fish.

Ponza is invaded in July and August, so I dream of going back there when flowers are budding in springtime or when the vineyards are ready for harvest in autumn. John Brunton, Venice

Els Ports de Beseit Spain

I mostly work from home, so in many ways the lockdown has affected me less than others but, like most homeworkers, I need to get out for some exercise. Mostly I walk, and that’s what I crave right now, a long walk in wild countryside. And if I could choose one place, it would be Els Ports de Beseit.

Els Ports is a range of limestone hills and canyons that straddles the border of Aragon and Catalonia. My favourite walk is El Parrizal de Beseit, a 20km round trip up the gorge carved out by the Matarranya River. There is a harsh, almost forbidding beauty about the place, like much of Aragon, a part of Spain I’ve always been a bit in love with, where delightful villages appear in the midst of inhospitable landscapes or on inaccessible mountain tops.

The walk begins at the village of Beseit and follows the course of the Matarranya. It starts out flat but gradually you are funnelled upwards into the narrowing gorge, the river rushing and gurgling alongside the whole way. The sense of scale is so vast – it feels like Colorado or Arizona.

Wooden bridges cross the river, and in places there are walkways fixed to the side of the gorge. It’s not a tough walk – I’ve done it with children – but this is real wilderness; wander off and you might never find your way back. And it’s tough enough to feel you deserve a plunge into the deep, green pool that awaits near the end of the journey.

The water is always shockingly cold, even in August, but right now, mothballed at home and restless as a rattlesnake, I can think of nothing more satisfying than throwing myself into the cold, dark waters of the Matarranya.

Stephen Burgen, Barcelona


Since France went into lockdown, everyone in my family has been fighting to walk Rio. The latest restriction is that we can only go outside if walking a dog or for urgent supplies, so we are longing to run free in the countryside again.

Ten kilometres north-east of Apt, surrounded by lavender fields and fruit orchards, is the Colorado Provençal, a dramatic landscape of ochre quarries where I’d like to be right now. More than 20 different shades of ochre were extracted at the site from the 17th century until the early 1990s, leaving a 30-hectare park of spectacular geometric and winderoded outcrops and canyons.

The last time we went was in summer. We followed the Sahara pathway past soaring orange pinnacles, red pools beneath ruby and green cliff faces and cheminées des fées (fairy chimneys, which are also known as hoodoos). It began raining, and all the different pigments ran down the earth, flooding into ambercoloured pools. The place is deceptively perilous; you have to stick to the paths or could easily plunge down a vermillion precipice or skid across an ivory and peach slope into a wilderness of broom bushes and pine trees.

When the rain stopped, the turmericcoloured powder turned to gold on my children’s hands, and Rio, who is usually white, leapt on to the back seat of the car,

measures are in the pipeline.

All this would be hard enough for Swedes to live with without the approach of this magical last weekend in March, when the clocks go forward. It is no exaggeration to say that we live for this moment. Suddenly the evenings seem endless, just like the possibilities of the summer ahead. Our hibernation is over. The daylight is like a drug.

For me, normality will return to

Sweden only when I can grab a towel and a sandwich and head for the crowded beach at Näset, on Gothenburg’s southwest coast. Here on a summer’s evening, crowds jostle good-naturedly to find a patch of shade or sun.

The smell of barbecues mingles with smoke from shishas. Kids in burkinis play with kids in bikinis, grandmas slice watermelon and everyone splashes about in the sparkling clear sea. Towards the evening, there is a shiver of anticipation as the boomboxes come out.

Näset beach sums up for me everything that is welcome in the new, multicultural Sweden, which tends to get a bad press. Here I feel a shared and conscious thrill at being part of this extraordinary melting pot. As a foreigner, and one who misses London’s big mix, I feel very much at home. David Crouch, Gothenburg

Spa Belgium

The Ardennes town of Spa has been a popular destination for people hoping to improve their health for more than 600 years. It’s a place this 21st-century British resident of Belgium would like to revisit very soon.

Belgium closed its schools, bars and restaurants on 16 March. We were told to stay at home as much as possible and to limit our use of public transport.

All of which means that the 80 miles separating Brussels from Spa, in the

the Valais Alps, Mont Blanc and beyond. As though we’d stumbled into a village restaurant rather than a remote Alpine cabin, the place was packed. We chatted with other hikers over a three-course dinner and endured the sub-zero night air to spot shooting stars from the Perseid meteor shower. When morning came, we lingered in bright sunshine above the clouds, watching ibex grazing nearby. I captured that moment on camera and in my mind – the perfect memory of an introduction to the country that is now my home. Caroline Bishop, Zinal

Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz Germany

Although we don’t have a complete lockdown in Germany like in Spain and Italy, there are social restrictions – and it’s difficult not to dream about an escape. Germany has a wealth of Schöne

Ecken (beautiful corners or spots), but if I had to choose right now, I’d head for Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland national park), which is as famous for needing a few schnapps to pronounce it, as it is for its natural beauty. The park is located east of Dresden, right on the Czech border, and is contiguous with the Bohemian Switzerland national park on the other side. Getting there by train, car or bike from Berlin involves meeting and following the Elbe to one of the entry points; the pretty towns of Pirna or Bad Schandau, for example. Watching the river calmly wind its way north always makes me slowly exhale.

I usually walk a section or two of the park’s Malerweg or “painter’s trail”, named after its origins as a destination for the many romantic artists – Caspar David Friedrich included – who sought inspiration here. It’s easy to see why they did so. An amalgam of undulating sandstone peaks, lush forests and mosscovered ravines, parts of it are utterly spectacular, not least the famous Bastei Bridge, which looks out across the wide, dreamy expanses of the Elbe valley.

The eight Malerweg trail stages are 10-15km long, some pretty easy-going, others quite challenging, and all weaving between quaint villages that offer overnight stays and restaurants with traditional fare like schnitzel and spätzle. They all have something of interest, from

Richard Wagner memorials, old castles and medieval fortifications, to caves, grottos and even health spas. It’s really like entering another world. •

Paul Sullivan, Berlin

Goriška Brda Slovenia

There is a sun-soaked corner in the far west of Slovenia, where Hemingway set A Farewell to Arms and where the border was drawn with Italy after the first world war. Goriška Brda is Slovenia’s cradle of wine. It is actually a cluster of many tiny villages embowered by the Alps to the north and the Adriatic to the south, each photogenically situated upon soft-rolled hilltops and flysch soil, with a unique terroir that has been named one of the best in the world for white wine.

I was there last summer to participate in a professional wine tasting. The Rebula Masterclass is an annual event held at the elegant palace of Vila Vipolže, an elegant palace, that brings together nearly 100 of the world’s leading wine professionals to sample an indigenous wine varietal of international renown. Rebula grapes (called ribolla gialla a few paces away in Italy) produce an umami, mineral white that has the complexity of a red.

Or so I was told. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was the only novice at the masterclass, seated between the editor of a wine magazine and the oenologist of a Chilean winery. I wasn’t even sure what the ominous-looking black buckets were for (spittoons). But the wines were wonderful. All 15 of them. Before lunch. My favourite was Rebula Journey from the Medot vineyard, which is the family estate of Zvonimir Simčič, a local and wine world legend. In these quarantine days, I fondly remember that masterclass, the sun pouring through those buttery rebulas, and I look forward to revisiting Slovenia’s land of the golden wine when circumstances allow. In the meantime, I think I’ll open a bottle at home …

Noah Charney, Kamnik