When I saw this on display in Daunt Books, I knew I had to have it. For starters, the cover design is absolutely beautiful, and I couldn’t resist such a pretty book. Secondly, after reading the first couple of pages, I was entranced by Sybille Bedford’s lively and poetic descriptions of her glamorous travels across Europe. Knowing what a wonderful writer she is, also thanks to Daunt Books, who republished two of her marvellous and criminally underread novels a couple of years ago, I knew that this collection of travel essays would be pure joy from beginning to end. I spend far too much time imagining myself in sunnier and more elegant climes, lolling by pools or sitting in scenic cafes, being wonderfully mysterious and enigmatic in my dark sunglasses and palazzo pants. Reading these essays, I realised that I should have had Sybille Bedford’s life, as she seems to have spent most of her time in the company of fascinating people, exploring remarkable places and having plenty of thrilling adventures. If someone wants to pay me to be a flaneur and write about it, do get in touch…
The collection opens with a wonderful essay describing Capri in 1948; after the long, hard war years, Europe is open to explore as a traveller again, and Bedford is enchanted by the beautiful, timeless scene she finds. While the war has caused much damage, Bedford also raises the very valid point that war has briefly arrested progress, leaving Capri as yet unspoiled by the race to build hotels and resorts that had started to blight the traditional landscape of fashionable holiday spots in the interwar period. In typical Bedford style, she happens to be staying with famous war reporter Martha Gellhorn, and the sheer exhilaration of luxuriating in Capri is mingled with the glamour of being with such an enigmatic host, and they have a marvellous time soaking up the sun, enjoying the scent of jasmine and drinking coffee in the piazza. Not a bad life.
This vein of leisurely glamour continues in Bedford’s other vignettes of mid 20th century travel across Europe; from Italy to France, Switzerland, Denmark and Yugoslavia, her keen eye takes in the landscape, culture and cuisine with her lyrical and effortlessly atmospheric pen. I particularly enjoyed her description of Croatia and the Dalmatian Coast; I wanted to get on a plane to Split then and there and roam the ancient Venetian streets and turquoise waters Bedford was so enchanted by. The trip Bedford takes in this essay is almost exactly the same as that of Grace Kilmichael in one of my all time favourite novels, Illyrian Spring, which has also been republished recently by Daunt Books. I couldn’t help wondering whether Bedford had read it and been inspired to follow in Grace’s footsteps…I know I certainly have!
If you want to be spirited away to a world of beauty, colour and glamour, then this is the book for you. Alongside being a brilliant series of inspirations for fabulous European holidays, it’s also a fascinating insight into pre-modernised Europe and the early days of the motor tourist. Sybille Bedford is such a remarkable stylist, and her ability to capture the essence of a place is second to none. I can’t recommend this enough for a highly pleasurable summer read; enjoy!