'The sea goes further inland here than anywhere else in the world'
Fifteen writers in 100 words on fifteen countries in Europe
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN GREECE
Aspes beach, Heraklion
On the island of Crete, on the south coast of the prefecture of Heraklion—where the Asterousia mountains meet the coastline, some sixty-eight kilometres from Heraklion—there is a secluded beach. This beach is only accessible by boat. It has dark sand and huge rocks raised right and left which create striking shadows and hollows. The water is painted in different colours, giving a tropical tinge to the scene. Aspes lies between the beaches of Agios Nikitas and the lovely village of Tris Ekklisies. The beach and that whole area is perfect for fishing and swimming and rest and seclusion.
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN ALBANIA
The Albanian alps—and especially the village called Theth—is for someone looking for a new definition of remoteness. It’s between the borders of Montenegro and Kosovo. And is as wild as you can imagine for hikers and explorers. But you should also know about Lake Koman; you can travel by boat up and then through Valbona Valley towards the tiny village of Theth. The hikes here are ideal for walkers of average fitness levels with basic orientation skills. There are maps which mark the trails for the ones looking for a more demanding hiking experience. It is beautiful.
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN BULGARIA
The Seven Rila Lakes
In the middle of the summer heat after a moderately long walk up or a short chair-lift ride, you can find yourself near the first of the seven Rila lakes. This is where horses roam free, in between tall purple flowers, grazing on saturated green grass growing in the edges of the mountain rocks. You will be in some trekking shoes and in your shorts watching out for the stinging nettle and looking along the winding path for lake after lake. The Lower Lake, the Fish lake, the Trefoil, the Twin, the Kidney, the Eye and the Tear. At the top, you can unpack your water and let your eyes rest on the terraced lakes below you.
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN RUSSIA
The village of Solotcha
Two hundred kilometres from Moscow, in the heart of Meshera— among its forests, small lakes and hidden rivers—there is a little village, Solotcha. My great-grandfather was sent here almost one hundred years ago to look after the forests; as a child, I spent my summers here. There is a sandy hill (‘Bald Hill’) which borders a forest that stretches down to the oxbow of the great Oka river. The view over the never-ending meadows drowned under water each spring is breathtaking. On Bald Hill are the surrealist remains of a springboard: this is where my father, when he was a boy, attempted his first dives in the winter.
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN POLAND
The Roztoki Górne Pass
In Poland’s beautiful Bieszczady mountains lies a hidden treasure best appreciated at night: the Roztoki Górne Pass (Przełęcz nad Roztokami Górnymi). Located a few kilometres from the nearby village and easily accessible by footpaths and a paved road, the pass—801 metres above sea level—offers one of the best views of the Milky Way in Europe. Lie on the grass and gaze upon the exquisite beauty of our galaxy’s intricate structure, visible from horizon to horizon to the unaided eye. If you bring binoculars, be prepared to travel further in time and space.
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN CROATIA
Nin is barely a blip on the map; it’s a tiny village on the Dalmatian coast, near Zadar. It’s fantastically modest, but this is central to its appeal. Summertime in Nin is a languid experience. Days are filled ambling its dusty limestone streets, inspecting its various pre- Romanesque miniature churches, including the Church of the Holy Cross—‘the smallest cathedral in the world’—and lolling about the white-sand beaches of the many islets that dot the coast. The village centre sits on one of these islets and is an impossibly small square, replete with Dalmatian grills and superb sladoled stores, which sell Croatia’s life-affirming version of gelato.
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN GERMANY
The Forsthaus in the Sachsenwald
The hamlet of Friedrichsruh lies thirty kilometres east from Hamburg and is surrounded by the biggest forest in northern Germany—the Sachsenwald. One of the few houses here is an old forester’s lodge, now a restaurant called Forsthaus Friedrichsruh. It is a peaceful place. When you sit on the terrace to eat typical German food, quite often you could see deer or boar. In the winter, when the forest is white, you can seat yourself by the fireplace and enjoy a wonderful red wine. Sometimes you see quite prominent people, as the castle of the Bismarck family is located a stone’s throw away.
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN DENMARK
The island of Møn—with its large forests and beautiful white cliffs and beaches—is an hour south of Copenhagen and well worth the journey. When I lived there, it was all just nature. Now there is a science centre, so maybe it is not as hidden as it once was. There are many walking trails to higher ground with stunning views of the ocean and the beaches. And on the beaches, fossils are still fairly easily found if you know what you are looking for. This island nature reserve is gorgeous and an amazing source of history.
Josephine Wagner Poedenphant
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN ENGLAND
The Cauldron Falls
It’s a short walk to the Cauldron Falls from the picturesque village of West Burton, with its village green bordered by cottages, a village shop, a tearoom and a village pub. Before you set off on your walk, breathe deeply: fill your lungs with the fresh, clean air of Yorkshire. These are not the biggest or most spectacular waterfalls in the dales, but when I am there memories of happy times with my children flood back. From the Falls, you can walk out onto the hills; when you’re up on higher ground, the views across Wensleydale toward Castle Bolton are breathtaking.
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN THE NETHERLANDS
Alambertskade near Vreeland
As far as you can see, on both sides of the small trackway, is water. In all seasons, there are birds in the sky and on the water; gulls, storks, herons and ducks. Along with a scourge of mosquitoes you can see fabulous sunsets in spring and summer. After a heavy rainshower in the fall, you smell nature in its purest way. And through the groves you may spot a tip of the sail of the Loenderveense windmill, built in 1652. Alambertskade is just twenty minutes out from Amsterdam (on the A2 and the N201) and there you are, lost in nature.
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN LUXEMBOURG
Luxembourg is filled with lush greenery. I particularly like one walk in the forest that I do quite often. Ten years ago, it was on this path that, after fifteen minutes of walking, I came across my first porcini mushroom. There it was, in front of my eyes. Since then, I have been venturing each year under the pine trees with my family searching for treasures that are not always easy to find but which have never disappointed us on the plate. Where exactly is this place? Deep in the Bambesch, a land of trees, paths, hikers, trail-runners and foragers.
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN NORTHERN IRELAND
Take yourself off to County Down and the Shore Road in Portaferry for a bracing two-hour circular walk, suitable for all ages. In the distance you will see the Mourne Mountains, and the coastal villages dotted around Strangford lough. Take in views of the car ferry, boats, and wildlife—sit on the wall, or if the tide is out walk along the shore. The road winds inland and rises to provide panoramic views of the southern tip of the Ards peninsula. This is a quiet road, except for the odd tractor, or fellow walker.
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN FRANCE
The Gulf of Morbihan
I have been coming to Brittany every year since I was one, and now it is the place where I bring my Chinese wife and our children. The sea goes further inland here than anywhere else in the world. The tidal flow is strong; sometimes the water is there, sometimes not. The boats are flat-bottomed to float with the tide. I go there for the beach; and for the windsurfing; and the sailing—I sail my dad’s catamaran. But there are sailing schools everywhere; you can rent a boat or take classes. Also, I eat the crêpes and galettes that you never find anywhere else.
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN ITALY
A desert in the Venetian lagoon
If you wish to escape the crowds of Venice you should visit Saint-Francis-of-the-Desert, a small secluded island, one hour away from Venice, hidden behind fog and mist. There lies only a small Franciscan monastery, still inhabited by a few friars, established in 1220 by Saint Francis of Assisi himself, where a number of miracles took place. It has always been a form of ‘desert’, a delightful place where anybody, whatever origin and religion, can spend a privileged and quiet, introspective moment in the mystic and peaceful solitude of the island, its cloisters and garden surrounded by cypress trees.
A HIDDEN DELIGHT IN SPAIN
Cortegana is a simple place. A small village of whitewashed homes nestled in the rolling green hills of southern Spain, it is a place best enjoyed at a slow pace. Go for a stroll through the winding cobblestone streets that lead to one of several quiet plazas. Pop into a bar to enjoy a plate of Spain’s best jamon iberico and a cold beer. Climb the narrow steps of the castle overlooking the town and watch the sun set over the surrounding hills. Cortegana is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the very best of Spain.
First published in RE: issue 13 (2018)