Inspiration - 5 min read

A love letter to Europe

By Alastair sawday

In celebration of all things European, we asked Sawday’s founder Alastair to write a love letter to his favourite continent. Here he discusses the magic that drew him into France’s hidden villages, Italy’s hilltop farmhouses, the Mediterranean coastline and Ireland’s rugged countryside all those years ago.

 

Alastair on a recent trip to Marche, Italy

 

After the ferry released me into Cherbourg I collected the beaten-up old Renault from a friend’s farm. It had long lain beneath cobwebs but still had dignity and the expected old packet of fags. A glass of wine and I was off, humming with a sense of release as the open countryside rolled by. Hardly a car in sight, just an occasional farm-house and villages drifting past as I aimed for the Loire. There wasn’t the vitality I had known in the ‘60s, fewer cafés and bars, but the sense of being in rural France lifted my spirits. Too many journeys in Britain lead from one clump of roadside warehouses to another.

France was my first European love, introduced to me as a small boy and never releasing me. There was always magic: in the long aprons of bistro waiters, the giant rows of handsome apartment buildings in Haussman’s Paris and the first cup of café au lait, which always filled the heart. The magic grew with me, to include the enclosed courtyards of Norman farms, the rivers where we picnicked, the fields of wild flowers, the great cathedrals and the elegant simplicity of so many houses. It all felt special and I enjoyed the way charm, sophisticated sparkle and icy reserve threaded through conversation.

Those of us who love Europe can somehow feel her communal wisdom in our bones.

The very word Europe hints to me of something more colourful, yet more furrowed with experience. Those of us who love Europe can somehow feel her communal wisdom in our bones. The sheer scale of difference, the survival of folk-singing in the Romanian mountains and sheep-droving in Spain, satisfy some of our natural longing to be enriched and surprised by the culture we are in.

Sawday’s began as a whimsical longing for more of France, Italy, Spain and elsewhere in my life. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with others, to enable conversation, experience and change. Nervous English travellers found it difficult to meet the French at home, so we persuaded hundreds to open up their houses and welcome people in. And thus it went on, to Italy, Spain and elsewhere. We did the same in Greece and Croatia but found our ideas a step too far for the English, who preferred to stay in one place. I have continued learning of the infinite richness of Europe, of its tragedies and hopes and, especially, of its bottomless store of cultural treasures – all of them within enriching reach.

I dare not travel far again, to the Far East or to North America, for I would be losing with every day the opportunity to learn more of this treasure-house on my doorstep. I dream that within my lifetime the UK will be back again as a living part of it all.  It would be a privilege, and a responsibility that can yet bring out the best of us.

I have continued learning of the infinite richness of Europe… especially, of its bottomless store of cultural treasures

More inspiration…

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Places to stay in France

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Places to stay in Italy

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Browse our collection of self-catering places, hotels and B&Bs in Italy – a country famous for its ancient capital, delicious cuisine, stunning architecture and literature.

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Places to stay in Spain

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