When the Witches dance

Walpurgisnacht: 30th April The forests, mountains and ancient towns of Germany’s Harz region whisper of fairytale – and nightmare. It’s no coincidence  the most common figure you’ll see is that  of a hideous, cackling crone. She may be comic now: a neon sign over a kitsch bierhaus, a portrait made in slate on a hotel wall or…

A steam-fuelled folk tale of Brocken Mountain

The Harz Forest. Land of spectral giants and mysterious moots. A folk-tale, Hansel & Gretel world of wicked witches, deep pine forests and Rapunzels letting down their hair. A place where underground, in the mines, men make fires to wrench the earth’s riches from her bowels and overground, those riches are spent by great princes of…

Towel Art

There are times you know you’re Abroad with a capital A, and one of them is this: One, some or all of your bathroom towels are made into Art. It might be a cute Valentine love heart, or perhaps a sort of cuddly origami teddy. It could be something more exotic, like a strangely shaped…

Le Palais Ideal de Facteur Cheval

Back in 1879, trudging his thirty two-kilometre round, Monsieur Ferdinand Cheval, local postman at Hauterives near Lyon, stubbed his toe on an oddly-shaped rock. It was a momentous event for a man haunted by strange visions, and he welcomed it as positive encouragement to pursue a dream. He added a few kilometres to his round,…

Road to Bali

Everyone has their own image of Paradise – and let’s face it – palm trees, sunshine, beaches and lush forest would go a fair way towards most of our dreams. Bali has all this – but it has something more too. Bali has Soul. The gentle plonk-plonking of the gamelan, the shimmer of a metal…

A Daytrip to the Jungle

I’m sitting on a little powerboat in between a bloke with a chainsaw and a guy with a large cardboard box tied up with hairy string. I am not even hazarding a guess as to what kind of livestock it contains. Opposite me, two chaps in grubby T shirts toting well-stuffed carrier bags stare openly…

L’Arbre Rouge

Tucked away up a dirt-track, hidden by miles of vineyards, l’Arbre-Rouge is one of those B&Bs I dream of happening upon and so rarely do. Arriving hot and sticky from a long day’s wine tasting around the delightful hilltop wine-town of St Emilion, we were greeted by Victor, an enthusiastic Jack Russell, and his human,…

The Best Little Whorehouse Museum in Texas

In 1898, a young Mr and Mrs A. Hatton moved to the burgeoning frontier town of San Angelo, and bought the newly completed number 18, East Concho St. The marriage failed almost immediately, and the pair were divorced in 1902. The settlement was simple – they split the building in half. He got downstairs, which…

Antique-Hunting in the USA

American Retro and Western classic memorabilia have a big following here in Britain – we love to collect everything from 1950s kitsch – gumball machines and carnival glass – through to gambling memorabilia and pyjama-party chintz. Much of what’s available here, though, is either replica, tatty original or very expensive. It’s hardly surprising – dealers…

Napoli Sotterranea

Sixty percent of Neapolitans live above a secret underground cavern of some kind – either man-made or natural. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and other ruptures have taken their toll under the streets of Naples, but far more interesting are the remains of previous inhabitants of the ancient city. Roman engineers, early persecuted Christians, medieval plague patients…

Les Hortillonnages

Sebastian Faulks’s trench warfare epic “Birdsong” begins gently enough. Sketching a world soon to be lost in the carnage of war, Faulks chooses an extraordinary subculture within a sleepy Picardie town-centre as a cipher for French petite-ville normality. Amiens’ Hortillonnages – or floating gardens, are, even at the time Birdsong is set, wonders to be…

Ellora and Ajanta

It was a sepia-tinged 1923 charity-shop find, Wonders of the Past that did it. Grainy monochrome photographs depicting “marvels of ages now remote” had an almost Indiana Jones feel to them, complete with pith-helmeted archaeologists and white-robed assistants posing stiffly next to their latest dig. But the obvious delights of the newly-discovered tomb of Tutankhamen…