Observations. People and places / Global
Everything under the sun
Whether it’s taking the night train, collecting fridge magnets or the surprising etiquette at French outdoor swimming pools, we’ve curated an overview of what’s happening around the world right now – from the whacky to the wonderful.
Eyes on the sky
Oregon’s eclipse is causing a stir
People started calling the Oregon Hotel five years ago to seek lodging in Mitchell – population 130. Given its proximity to the famed Painted Hills, the hotel’s usual international trade belies the town’s tiny size and remote location. This, however, was something else: 2012’s callers hoped to book rooms for 2017. The reason? They wanted to witness a total eclipse of the sun that will cast Mitchell into daytime darkness for several minutes on 21 August.
“It built slowly from that five-year mark but we started hearing from more and more people,” says the Oregon Hotel’s Jacob Hathaway. “We opened reservations for 2017 at 8am on 1 March 2016. By 9.30am we were booked solid for three weeks in August.”
As the excitement builds it’s becoming clear that even nature-loving Oregon has seldom seen such enthusiasm for a celestial event. The moon will start to obscure the sun at about 09.00 Pacific time. Across a narrow strip of the US, onlookers will be able to see the corona: the sun’s halo of glowing plasma. And while the phenomenon will be transcontinental, Oregon marks the point of first contact: where the eclipse first “touches” land.
The resulting tourist furore promises to perfectly encapsulate West Coast culture: a rare cosmic happening appeals to the region’s hippie leanings and, with hotel rooms booked solid, the event will occasion a bucolic mass camp-out. Yet there’s a dark side as tales circulate of hotels cancelling longstanding reservations to rebook at inflated rates.
The state is bracing for the invasion. “I feel like I’m living my life for the eclipse,” says Linea Gagliano, global communications director for Oregon’s tourism authority. “It will certainly be unique in our lifetimes and the typical conditions at that time of year give us the best chance for clear skies.”
The logistics are daunting. Paula Negele of the state’s emergency-management bureau says that federal, state and local authorities are preparing for extraordinary traffic, supply, sanitation and communication demands. All the same, she is optimistic. “It’s an opportunity to come together. This is science and nature – something we all share.”
At the Oregon Hotel a charged excitement prevails. “It’s nerve-wracking,” says Hathaway. “We’re not sure what’s going to happen.” It might do to relax and let the heavens direct us all.
ABOUT: Zach Dundas is a correspondent for Monocle, reporting on the Pacific Northwest.
Businesses that will benefit
- Oregon Hotel: This quaint place that dates from the 1930s is turning away hopefuls.
- Eastern Oregon: The popular image of Oregon as a hive of liberals ignores the state’s agricultural half. Long-sleepy small-town economies should get a jolt.
- The Oregon Eclipse Festival: A week-long conclave in the Ochoco National Forest.
- Portland International Airport: This pleasant little airport should see good trade for its well-chosen local food and drink providers.
- Compass-makers & map-publishers: Surely this will be the first wilderness camping experience for many eclipse pilgrims?
Do the locomotion (while you sleep)
I’ll never forget my first time. It was a balmy midsummer night and I prickled with excitement. I was young, about to sleep with strangers and wake up somewhere I’d never been before. It was my first night train. The route from Hamburg-Altona to Stockholm saw me through Germany and Denmark, waking up in a compartment with Canadian travel companions watching the sun rise over birch forests in southern Sweden.
Across the world the night train has a long history: Pullmans were huge in 19th-century America and the luxury of the Orient Express of yore is legendary. More recently, European sleepers have been synonymous with adventure: for young Eurailers, the night train has represented a rite of passage and, sometimes, an all-night party.
Even so, passenger numbers in Europe are falling. There were rumblings that it would soon be all over and, sure enough, in December 2016, Germany’s Deutsche Bahn (its national rail service) put the brakes on all of its night routes. Luckily Austria has rolled in to save the night. Its national rail service, the ÖBB, whose Nightjet trains already ran along nine overnight routes, picked up those that Deutsche Bahn dropped. “There’s still a market for this distance,” says ÖBB’s Bernhard Rieder. “The market was too small for the Germans but for us it makes perfect sense.”
I recently took the sleeper to Venice and, as I waited on the platform, I felt a familiar anticipation. Since my Hamburg-Stockholm adventure so long ago I’ve spent nights in First Class with my daughter, who was thrilled to try the top bunk, and I’ve shared a night-time compartment with an art dealer and 40 paintings. There was even a Chinese journey between Chengdu and Lhasa (I woke up to the sight of a yak herder on the Himalayan Plateau). No matter how experienced you are – and no matter how little sleep you get – riding the rails through the wee hours is still a thrill.
ABOUT: Kimberly Bradley is the first-class Vienna correspondent for Monocle and reports for our radio station, Monocle 24.
Our favourite nocturnal routes
- Vienna-Venice: A relatively short route connecting historically powerful cities.
- Vienna-Zürich: Traverse the Alps overnight.
- Innsbruck-Hamburg: After a 22.00 stop in Munich this trip rolls toward northern Germany’s numerous business hubs.
- Hamburg-Berlin-Zürich: An ÖBB route that misses Austria entirely.
- Salzburg-Rome: An especially scenic route connecting especially scenic cities. Lovely.
They’re made to be broken
On a recent trawl through a dusty marché aux puces (flea market) I came across a black-and-white postcard depicting bodies lolling on the wooden deck of the Piscine Deligny, a floating swimming pool that was once moored on the Seine. It’s a scorching summer’s day and bathers frolic in the water, swimwear a glorious mixture of monokinis and voluminous trunks. I had visions of myself (rather like the elegant Romy Schneider in Jacques Deray’s 1969 thriller La Piscine) right there, tanned and sun-dizzy next to a turquoise backdrop. I’d done enough shopping – it was time for leisure.
Yet the reality of French municipal bathing was quick to pour cold (chlorinated) water on such notions. For a start the vast galleried Piscine Deligny in my picture sank mysteriously in 1993. So I made my way to the replacement of sorts: the Josephine Baker pool further down the river, an exercise in chrome modernity on the Quai François Mauriac.
The first shock of the morning was being ushered towards a vending machine to purchase a bonnet de bain (swimming hat): each swimmer must sport a plastic scalp-clenching swimming cap at all times. (This rule extended to my 11-month-old baby, who has an imperceptible head of downy hair.)
Another surprising rule revealed itself as my husband emerged from the changing rooms in his Orlebar Brown trunks: a collective cry of protest erupted from the locker room and whistles were blown. We were ushered to another sign: “Caleçons inderdit” (“boardshorts forbidden”). To our hosts these flapping items were clearly nothing but purveyors of germs. We were told to leave.
It’s difficult to discern what this cult of hygiene and rule-abiding authority says about the French, a nation known for its penchant for revolt and dissent. Unlike Anglo-Saxon lidos or Germanic Freibads (outdoor pools) where trees and grassy knolls create the illusion of nature, French swimming pools do not suggest that they are in any sense wild or free. To enter one is to sign a social and behavioural contract, and honour it to the tiniest detail.
The same goes for public parks, where reams of rules are plastered to the sides of potting sheds and kiosks, listing the interdictions in stunning detail. In Parisian parks, good old-fashioned whistles are blown with abandon by wardens in severe-looking hats. At the Jardin du Luxumbourg, teams of wardens end every day with cries of “Fermeture!” (“Closing!”) as they clear the park with military authority. Here dogs are banned, as are bikes, and it’s forbidden to walk on the grass except for a small patch with rotating access. “This is not real nature,” an officious warden informed me as I was evicted from said spot one morning. “Please move. This grass needs to rest.”
I must say that I love the result: the Jardin is clean and child-friendly. But how do the rebellious-minded French citizens toe the line? I put this to Sudhir Hazareesingh, an Oxford University professor of French and author of the book How the French Think, who confessed that he too had been turned away from a Parisian pool for sporting the wrong shorts. He pointed to France’s Roman law tradition for an explanation. “There might also be something here about the French attitude to public space. It is not just a neutral area, as in Britain, but a site for the construction of civic values – or, as they used to say in the old days, virtues. You might also say that all these tedious rules are made so that the French can be true to their real spirit, which is transgressive!”
So there we have it. The complex philosophical enigma that’s worthy of the great tradition of French thinkers: what appears to be an obsession with rules is really a radical route to progressive values.
ABOUT: Sophie Grove is Monocle’s senior correspondent, based in Paris.
For the many, not the moneyed
My taxi hums south over Merdeka Bridge in Singapore’s city centre. Through the passenger window I glimpse architect Moshe Safdie’s Marina Bay Sands building. Opened in 2010, the hotel has a ship-shaped roof with bars and a much-Instagrammed infinity pool. Inside there are restaurants (nine of which have celebrity chefs’ names above their doors), a mammoth mall and, controversially for Singapore, a casino.
So what does it say about the city? Buildings such as this have a funny way of symbolising something larger. You can read New York’s 1920s zeal for the Chrysler Building as clearly as Dubai’s boom-years confidence in the soaring Burj Khalifa, which opened in 2010. When a new hotel goes up or a casino breaks ground, each leaves a clue about its city’s priorities. Yes it’s important to tempt tourists and raise revenue but there’s something a little wanting in the fact that the icons by which we recognise the world’s best-known capitals are built for the visiting few.
As my taxi turns east, housing development blocks fill the windscreen. Wouldn’t it be better to knock up an iconic skyline definer that flaunts great low-cost housing, shop spaces that independents can afford and supports smaller home-grown hotels? Skyscrapers are all well and good but here’s hoping there’s an architectural icon on the horizon for the many as well as the moneyed, symbolising a city’s liveability as well as its business sense.
ABOUT: Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s food & travel editor.
New Zealanders trust their neighbours
The scene at Auckland Airport was one of confusion. A cohort of tourists from the US rushed through the domestic terminal, shedding jackets and whipping off belts, preparing for what they assumed would be a security checkpoint. Clearly, this group had never been to New Zealand before. As they soon discovered, there is no security screening when flying within New Zealand. The inhabitants seem to have decided en masse to trust each other. (The low threat of terrorism helps.)
The Kiwi attitude towards flying is so relaxed that, on our most recent trip, my partner and I decided to ditch the hire car entirely and make use of New Zealand’s regional airports. Flying is as simple (and almost as cheap) as catching a bus – and it’ll teach you plenty about the Kiwi disposition.
We learnt this first-hand at Kerikeri Airport, which comprises two small rooms with a single check-in desk and a vending machine. We were beckoned to the desk when panic set in: our passports were at the bottom of the suitcase. But the attendant, Linda, didn’t seem to mind. “Names?” she asked brightly. It turns out that, as well as scrapping security screenings, Kerikeri has decided not to bother with ID checks.
Air New Zealand has a majority share of the domestic air-travel market, which is good news for those of us who value smart service and a sense of humour. The planes are small and travel time is usually short, which limits the in-flight service. Yet Air New Zealand’s famous bowls of hard lollies, from Auckland outfit Horners, are never far from reach.
Those hoping to visit more remote areas may wish to charter helicopters, which seem as abundant as sheep. “Chopper hopping”, as it’s known, has become a popular activity. On our final day we helicoptered from a farm on the Banks Peninsula to Christchurch Airport. Mike, the pilot, insisted on taking photos of us with his smartphone in mid-air. On any other trip, Mike’s laidback attitude would have been disconcerting. But this was New Zealand.
ABOUT: Dan F Stapleton is monocle’s Sydney correspondent.
We’re drawn to fridge magnets
They are the cockroaches of souvenirs: ubiquitous, reviled and there are dozens of them in my kitchen. Visit a country in which you can’t take clean water or electricity for granted and someone will still sell you some tat that you can affix to your white goods. Fridge magnets are elementary and elemental weapons of soft power: you can learn a lot about a place from the idea of itself that it wants to sell you.
The quest for a fridge magnet has become my reporting-assignment ritual (to the bewilderment of photographers, fixers and interpreters who’ve been lumbered with me). Abetted by contributions from similarly employed friends, my collection has spread beyond the fridge.
It is difficult to make a case for any of these things as aesthetic artefacts. This is partly because fridge magnets tend towards the tacky and partly because, in recognition of this fact, my eye is drawn to the ghastliest available, especially if they indulge crass stereotypes of the very people selling them: I have Sicilian mafiosi, Norwegian Vikings and Mormon missionaries from Salt Lake City.
There are also those which, while unremarkable, were worth the money for the memory of buying them. In the Amish heartland of Pennsylvania is a town called Intercourse; buying a magnet bearing the name from a primly dressed shopkeeper requires both of you to join in an unacknowledged but nonetheless heroic struggle to pretend that neither of you perceive any subtext to the transaction. Different skills are required to explain your selections from Gaza and Ramallah to the customs officials at Ben-Gurion Airport. The trick is to balance them with some of the magnets extolling the Israeli Defence Forces.
The ones I like best though are the ones that reflect not only the place in which they were acquired but also the time. From New York in October 2001: the 43rd president above the slogan “Go get ’em, George”. From west Ukraine in 2016: a Ukrainian soldier standing in front of a pram and firing a rifle at a Russian soldier who is firing from behind another pram.
If pressed for an absolute favourite I’d nominate a green one that frames a picture of a petrol station. It’s from a town you’d miss if you blinked while driving the Barrier Highway that traverses a barely populated stretch of New South Wales and south Australia. You can spend a long drive pondering how or why the truck stop in Oodla Wirra sells fridge magnets of itself.
ABOUT: Andrew Mueller is a London-based journalist and author, and a contributing editor at Monocle.
Anything to declare?
An air steward walks through the cabin with a wad of paper. My neighbour promptly takes out a selection of shopping receipts from his jacket pocket; I see he’s been on a bit of a spending spree.
Looking at the customs form I note that it’s doubled in length since my previous trip home to Caracas six months ago. Travellers are expected to give extensive details of every purchase made abroad or on route to the Bolivarian Republic.
Contraband is rife in Venezuela. Acute shortages brought about by an economic crisis have meant the only way for residents to get their hands on certain goods is to bring them in. The crisis has also devolved into a political one as president Nicolás Maduro has failed to stop the spiralling problem: imports so far in 2017 are down 50 per cent year on year.
In the overhead luggage compartment I count jumbo-sized packs of nappies, hoards of medicines and four laptops. Venezuelan customs are onto them. Alongside the standard restrictions, the to-declare list includes gourmet food, fruit preserves, and gym and gardening equipment. In a country where a jar of French marmalade can retail at half a monthly minimum wage, these ordinary but increasingly costly items must now be notified to officials (who are ready to tax or confiscate them).
As we approach the runway my neighbour stuffs the receipts in his pocket. The back page of his form remains empty. I offer him my pen. “I’ll only make a mistake,” he says, indicating he’d rather risk it. “The rules keep changing. Shame we can’t say the same for our government.”
ABOUT: Lucinda Elliott is Monocle’s Caracas correspondent.
Commuting in Zürich’s a splash
Zürich commuters float our boat, especially those who live near the Limmat River. Many stuff the working day’s clothes into a waterproof bag and swim home. Coupled with a beer, it’s a bracing alternative to the tram.
ABOUT: Christopher Lord is Monocle’s features editor and loves a Zürich dip.
It’s lovely going to Finland, visiting Santa and seeing his reindeer. And then, as you come home via Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, you can buy one of his adorable friends. And I don’t mean a toy one. Yes, a real one. Although he may have a lower-profile than when you last saw him with a twinkle in his eye, because this one will be in a handy rug format.
While the Finns know how to use the reindeer for some cute seasonal branding, they also know that Rudolph makes a fine steak – or a soft throw. So while most airports are on the lookout for evil smugglers of rhino horn and the odd finch stuffed in the underpants, Vantaa is upselling you on pelts. (Small warning, transport one to your house for some Nordic embellishment and it will get its revenge on you from beyond the grave by shedding its hairs, which will soon deliver themselves like magic to every corner of your house.)
But if a love of flying coincides with a passion for dead animals then here’s some good news: there are many other airports that are willing to help you create a veritable flat zoo.
South Africa’s departure points have a menagerie of beasts, from zebras to kudu (but thankfully no lions). So if you liked that leaping white-derriered gazelle, why not bring him home rolled up in a tube or sliced into cushions? Even the Kiwis will come to the assistance of your ark with a nice sheepskin. But please don’t get excited when, going through London, you see a giant sign saying “Giraffe”: it just sells world food. And anyway, getting one in an overhead locker would be a struggle.
ABOUT: Andrew Tuck is the editor of monocle magazine.
“We’ll see whose car breaks down first.” Gergely Àgoston, organiser of the 6,000km, nine-day roadtrip known as WunderFahren (WonderDrive) sanguinely predicts the disasters of his upcoming August journey. “Cars and relationships will break down and hopefully get fixed back up on this trip,” he says, shrugging. “A group travelling with such intensity will have fights.”
An architect by trade, Hungarian-born Àgoston sits in an outer hamlet of his adopted hometown of Verona. He and four of his fellow drivers idle around a sun-warmed patio table discussing their upcoming adventure. They are just a few of the 120-member bmw Youngtimer Club Italia (Youngtimer refers to a modern classic car built after 1970 and before 1990). Their prize vintage cars stand apart from the generic modern makes parked along the piazza.
It’s the group’s love of cars that inspired WunderFahren. From Verona they will drive 10-hour stretches along the German Autobahn to Hamburg and on to Oslo to reach Norway’s official scenic route, the Nasjonale Turistveger, touching the shores of the Norwegian Sea before heading south again. There will be Alpine switchbacks, narrow mountain passes and Nordic bridge routes where the sea laps at the highway’s edges – all enchanting to Àgoston. “Roads are a major statement about human stubbornness,” he says. Human stubbornness also figures rather prominently in this inaugural edition of the WunderFahren expedition with its transcontinental course demanding an obsessive dedication to keep these mercurial cars humming. The aim is for a similar trip to happen every two years.
For Àgoston, the WunderFahren is a voyage of freedom. At 41 he is the oldest of the drivers and his car is a sleek-lined, gunmetal-toned 1984 6 Series bmw. It has no air-conditioning but does boast a powerful engine that put its original cost on par with buying a house at the time. (His younger brother will drive the 1986 version. “His motor is weaker,” says Àgoston with satisfaction.)
Growing up in Budapest, witnessing wealthy Austrians and West Germans roll into the city in their gleaming bmws, Àgoston made multiple scale-models of the exact make he now drives. “Cars have always been magic to me,” he says. “They’re complex on the scale of architecture. How many objects do you own that you can get inside of and move around in?”
It’s a labour of love, or madness, keeping these ageing machines running. But there’s a direct rapport between the mechanical workings of the vintage car and the person who is both its driver and hands-on repairman, a personally implemented type of sustainability in these motorists’ eyes. “I’d rather drive one of these for 30 years than a Prius for three,” says Àgoston.
A modern Prius hybrid could cruise to Norway without the potential intermittent failures of a bmw Youngtimer. But Àgoston’s mission is a much more sentimental one: preserving both the cars of his youthful dreams and a way of travelling that he says is a disappearing in the age of low-cost air travel. “It’s not about the cities,” he says, eyes widening. “It’s about the roads.”
ABOUT: Laura Rysman is a freelance writer based in Milan.
Flights of fancy
A Swissair station chief tells all
When it comes to air travel, Hans Bischof has seen it all. The 70-year-old spent most of his career working for Swissair, starting as an apprentice in 1965 and rising through the ranks. He eventually became a Swissair station chief, overseeing all flight and passenger operations from airports all over the world, including Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong and Nairobi. But as exciting as travelling the world was, Bischof says that it was working during the golden age of travel – a time when flying was seen as a glamorous adventure and service was a top priority – that really made for an exciting career.
“The most important asset we had was the staff,” says Bischof, sitting on the sofa in his Zürich apartment. “When they went to Bahnofstrasse to shop they went in uniform, they were proud to carry their Swissair handbag. They were proud – I was proud – to be part of that and to carry that image out in the world.” Here Bischof explains what it was like working for Swissair in its prime, the importance of flexibility and what’s gone wrong for air travel.
MONOCLE: What did your role as a station chief involve?
Hans Bischof: I was the face of Swissair wherever I was posted. I had a hand in everything beginning when the aircraft arrived until its departure, including opening check-in and screening the passenger list. A lot has changed. Today you have administrators who are there from 9am to 5pm and, when the aircraft comes in at night, they let their deputy deal with it. I was always there when the plane door opened to welcome customers. That was how you built up a relationship with your regular customers – and we had a lot of regulars. And they appreciated it. There was a lot of personal contact.
M: You were part of the company when Swissair was first moving into Asia. What was that like?
HB: Swissair was one of the first airlines to fly to mainland China. In fact, we were one of only two western airlines: the other was Air France. Our first flight there was 1975 and I was working from Beijing in 1976. The aircraft – it was a dc-8 – flew Zürich, Geneva, Athens, Bombay, Beijing and Shanghai, which took exactly 24 hours.
M: What was your clientele like?
HB: In Switzerland we have a big company called Sulzer, which was famous for making ship engines. On our flights you wouldn’t meet the salesmen, you’d meet Mr Sulzer himself. Always the top shots. They all wanted to cut a little piece of the cake in China. They could smell that it was opening up. It was always businessmen or diplomats flying with us and they would all stay at the Beijing Hotel, where we had an office. It was the only place foreigners stayed.
M: How else was airline service different 40 years ago?
HB: Today overbooked flights are everyday business. But in the old days the passenger was all and everything. There was none of this, “Sorry the flight is full.” That went totally against my way of operating. When we trained our flight attendants we benchmarked with Lufthansa and always gave this example: the passenger has luggage in front of them and the Lufthansa stewardess would say, “Can you put your hand luggage in the overhead bin?” And the Swissair girl would say, “May I put your luggage in the overhead bin?” You see the little difference? The personal touch, the charm – we cultivated that.
M: How did you go about handling unhappy passengers?
HB: The worst was a cancelled or diverted flight – any irregularities. But an airline can only show if it’s good or bad when irregularities arise. For example, if your baggage does not come. The most annoying thing is waiting at the conveyor belt until everything is gone. And then you ask where your bag is and are told it’s coming tomorrow. To do it the right way is to approach that person as soon as they come out of the plane and say, “Your bag is coming tomorrow.” That way they’re not waiting for an hour. These are the little differences.
M: What stands out as a key turning point in air travel?
HB: Sometimes seats in one section are overbooked and you need to upgrade passengers. Today computers tell you who to upgrade based on mileage or frequent-flyer points. Nobody told us who to choose. You don’t have flexibility.
M: What is your airline of choice when flying today?
HB: I tend to choose Cathay Pacific now. But nothing is like Swissair in the old days – we were the best in the world.
M: Do you see the role of the station chief ever coming back?
HB: That would be great for the industry but I don’t see it happening. I still say today that the job of the station chief was probably the most interesting job in an airline. We had a lot of power. For example, we could make suggestions to head office to reroute a flight. That made the job very interesting. But we were expensive because we were so good – and expensive is the last thing airlines want now.
The Bischof CV
Joined as an apprentice: 1965
Rio de Janeiro: 1989-1993
Hong Kong: 1995-2002
ABOUT: Megan Gibson is Monocle’s senior editor and would make a very good station chief.
On the buses
Tour London’s architectural gems
Londoners have a habit of looking down. Sit on the top floor of a double-decker bus, look down at the busy streets below and the worst offenders are revealed: phone firmly in hand, eyes firmly on phone, scuttering out onto the road, unaware of the large looming red vehicle just metres away. Brakes squeal, tyres screech and another crisis is averted. Besides missing an early death (and some common sense), these pedestrians navigating the streets are oblivious to some of grand old London’s greatest charms. And all they need do is look up.
Seeing the world above street level is far easier from the lofty vantage point of a slow-moving bus. Cast your eyes towards those climbing upper storeys of the city’s marvellous red-brick, timber, sandstone and concrete buildings and a realm of architectural delight will reveal itself. Georgian buildings with intricate façades and wrought-iron balconies meet Victorian domes and spires, gargoyles and gables, all preserved in remarkable detail. For the architecturally observant, a top-floor seat aboard a double-decker delivers fresh inspiration on every journey.
As glass panes and cheap signage mar London’s street level, solace can be found one storey up by admiring the optimism and pride of those who have applied their craft to forming the city’s architectural texture. The capital’s glorious past – and ongoing stylistic journey – is all there to be appreciated. Londoners might want to swap a descent down onto the Tube for a slower but more rewarding journey on one of those famous red double-decker buses.
ABOUT: Nolan Giles is Design editor at Monocle.
Tourism’s taking flight
“The Canaries are living a very sweet moment,” says María Teresa Lorenzo with a smile. The Canary Islands’ tenacious tourism minister since 2015, she is buoyed by the upswing in visitors (up 13 per cent in the past year). But she is anything but complacent. Poised and prepared, she is pressing on with a mission to recast the archipelago’s archaic image of cheap travel.
“I was born in Lanzarote and the model that the artist and architect César Manrique designed for my island endures today,” she says, with reference to Manrique’s Gaudí-like legacy, which was hewn into the petrified lava more than five decades ago. “He pioneered a sustainable model centred around art, culture and nature: this is my inspiration.”
Surprisingly for a region that has long earned its crust from the tourist coin, only two years ago there wasn’t actually a tourism minister (it fell into the deputy premier’s busy portfolio instead). The arrival of Lorenzo – who is both an economist and businesswoman – in the regional government has honed a more focused vision for tourism. The department was re-badged as the Ministry of Tourism, Sport and Culture and, under her watch, has established 55 new flight routes to destinations in Italy, France and Poland.
However, she’s determined to diversify the islands’ image; for example, most visitors wouldn’t know about the burgeoning food scene. The thrust of her focus has been to encourage travellers to turn their backs on the sandy shore (at least for an afternoon) and venture into the islands’ primordial interiors. “Most people don’t realise that only 4 per cent of the islands’ territory has been designated as tourist land,” she says. “Whereas a whopping 50 per cent is protected natural park.”
Using big data and 800,000 contacts (offering free wi-fi at the airport can be a boon for policy-makers), she has directed a campaign of more personalised messages to visitors. “Before, everything centred on our climate,” she says. “Now we’re focusing on experiences, from sporting events to culture.” The recent “Grow Together” initiative has seen 18 different hotel chains offer more food products from the region and thrown the spotlight on the wine sector. “We can’t rest on our laurels,” says Lorenzo. “As a minister I want to keep striving that one step further.”
ABOUT: Liam Aldous is Monocle’s Madrid correspondent.
Cut the apron strings
Even though I work with food all day, it’s still the most important thing for me when I go on holiday. And I don’t just mean eating: I also cook a lot when I go away. Sometimes I do want to get away from it but I always find that I land and have three days off... then I start getting itchy. I start thinking, “What can I buy? What do I want to cook?”. And I have to get back in the kitchen.
On holiday I try to be quite strict with myself – if we’re in Greece I like to only buy local produce. It’s good to get into the zone of the cuisine. Also, outside the cities, what you can buy is quite limited, which is a challenge I love. On a recent trip to Puglia I discovered an unusual yet simple dish: homemade trofie pasta with prawns, chickpeas and tomatoes. It was an unexpected combination and it’s now become one of my staples.
For chefs, holidays are the most inspiring times because you’ve got space to relax, which fuels fresh ideas. There are some cities I always return to for inspiration. Paris has become really exciting again and, as an Aussie, I never tire of travelling around Asia. In the past year I’ve been to Fukuoka, Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai and Singapore and the food has shone with flavour, texture, variation and downright umami.
The one thing I avoid while travelling is plane food. If I’m hungry I’ll enjoy a glass of champagne and a packet of nuts – and save my appetite for my destination.
ABOUT: Bill Granger is a chef with 13 restaurants; he just opened a new one off London’s Sloane Square.