Rustling of family ghosts: the bus to Starunya

“It's like you're going to the moon! A place with only a one way ticket.” I was in the tourist office in Ivano-Frankivsk, trying to find the return bus times to Starunya, the village where my father was born in 1914. I already had the details of the three daily buses out, but no return …

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Enjoy the region and take your time: The Interrail diaries

A speedboat cut across my vision and pivoted when the owner caught sight of me sitting on the rocky shore. It was the mid 1980s, in Savonlinna, Finland, and Scandinavia was sweltering under a midsummer heatwave. The boat pulled up and I kept my eyes on the man’s face, trying not to look down at …

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Sète canals

Sète: where the Canal du Midi meets the Mediterranean for a spot of jousting

The two boats moved towards one another, one blue, one red. From each boat rose a ladder, with a boy perched on a platform at the end, high above the water. As the boats became parallel, each boy raised a 2.8 metre wooden pole and I watched, perplexed, as they tried their best to dislodge …

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Carcassonne citadel

A stopover in Carcassonne: oui ou non?

Need to buy a replica medieval helmet and sword? Fancy flouncing around in costume like a Kate Mosse character?  All this can be done whilst visiting the fortified city of Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s up there at number 20 of France’s most visited sites. In summer, the main town has a vibrant …

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In search of Dordogneshire: Bergerac in the time of Brexit

Back when I was researching English incomers in the Ariège Pyrenees, many people cited Dordogne as a kind of benchmark. It was a way to disassociate themselves from that stereotype of Little England: 'I think people come here because they don't want that Dordogne thing. They want to take part in the French culture. They …

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Jardins de la Fontaine, Nîmes

A stopover in Nîmes: slow travel in the South of France.

It’s the first day of spring, although the Jardins de la Fontaine smell more like early summer. Half the population of Nîmes is sitting on the lawns of the 17th century park, like the Uber Eats cyclist taking a break, and the other half are in the outdoor cafes of the old town. I walk …

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Technicolour Dreams: a day at the France Show 2019

“I wonder if punters don’t just want to read about the romantic Peter Mayle/Place in the Sun fantasy?” remarked a literary agent to me when I was writing A House at the End of the Track. I'm happy to say I’m proving him wrong. Apparently the book is sparking people’s dreams to move to France …

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48 hours in: Lviv

A guest post I wrote for travel blogger Yellobrickroad

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With central European hotspots such as Krakow and Prague becoming overloaded with tourists, I recently visited Lviv, in Western Ukraine, for a short city break in December.

Formerly known as Lemberg, the city of Lviv was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War, when it became Polish Lwów during the interwar period.

The city endured a tug-of-war status between Germans and Soviets in WW2, before the Soviets took control and it became part of the USSR. This all ended in 1991 when Ukraine became independent, and since then Lviv has become accessible and welcoming to visitors – with more speaking English than ever before. This is only going to increase, now that Ryanair fly direct from London.

Where to stay

I stayed in the Aparthotel Horowitz,whichisveryclosetothemainsquare. This location was great as it’s within walking distance to most sites and tons of dining options.

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Lviv from the top of the Town Hall

The no. 9 tram: December in Lviv

“You from here, then? Only you seem to know what’s what.” I laughed and shook my head at the English couple, fresh off the Stansted flight, and explained, pointing to the large ‘5.00 UAH’ written below the airport bus timetable. “The fare's written here, look,” I said. I was curious to know why they’d chosen …

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My favourite summit: Pic Rouge de Bassiès 2676m

I don’t know why the smooth golden dome of this summit has taunted me ever since I spotted it on the horizon of Pyrenean peaks in the Ariège. Its distinctive profile seemed to pop up everywhere I went. Rising up smoothly on one side, the dome breaks off abruptly where its eastern side has been chiselled away, no doubt by long-ago ice action.
I’ve wanted to stand on that summit for years, although I’d turned back twice.
This October, seeing a window of clear, cool days, I was going to do it.