Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

My battle with a Puglian pugilist

To nearly any English tourist, the small southern Italian town I’m currently living in, half an hour from my daughter’s school, would seem idyllic. It has an old castle, a monastery and olive groves in all directions, but in Puglian guidebooks it barely rates a mention. It’s the scruffy, down-to-earth cousin of richer or bigger

The beauty of Atrani, now ruined by Netflix

Some time in the Noughties I sat next to a guy at work who told me he’d just had a holiday in a village on the outskirts of Amalfi. The village was called Atrani – quite unknown then, but now swooned over as the setting for the ominous but dreamy black-and-white Netflix adaptation Ripley. That

My strange hobby: a life in search of death

As George Orwell astutely observed, England is a nation of hobbyists – and their sometimes eccentric private pursuits are one of the reasons that this country did not follow the rest of Europe into totalitarian dictatorship during the 20th century. A people bent on taking a fishing rod to stream or canal every weekend, or

Philip Patrick

Why are the Japanese so bad at English?

Tokyo, Japan ‘Shhh! Now on face to respectable great eels life’. How’s that for the first line of an article? I spotted this gem written on a sign in the window of a seafood restaurant in the Hibiya Midtown shopping centre in Tokyo recently. I was delighted. I’ve spent 25 years in Japan and have

Ross Clark

Hate people? Visit Iceland

No-one seems to like tourists any more. This week Venice introduced its €5 entry charge – which merely buys you the right to go into the city and be ripped off by cafes and restaurants. On Tenerife, residents have been marching and daubing slogans on the walls ‘tourist – go home’. So much for free

Alexander Pelling-Bruce

What happened to the London bus?

To understand Sadiq Khan’s tenure as Mayor of London, you need only ride one of his buses. Eight years of repeating that he is the ‘proud son of a bus driver’ have not yielded a single improvement to the experience of travelling by the famous red bus. In fact, many things are worse.  she suggested

The lost America of Palm Springs

California was once home to a certain vision of the American dream; Mamas & the Papas records, grinning surfers, chrome bumpers. Now LA and San Francisco are full of glass and steel and petty criminals. Escape their sketchy downtowns and you’ll find huge copy-and-paste estates of identical homes. Urban sprawl has choked off California’s charm

Jonathan Ray

The Third Man fan’s guide to Vienna

The greatest movie ever made celebrates its 75th anniversary this year and I’ll be watching it – for the umpteenth time – with appropriately fine fizz at hand. Sorry, what? Oh, come on, I’m talking about The Third Man. There’s no finer film. I thought everyone knew that. You know, written by Graham Greene, directed by Carol

Why is Latin America so violent?

As locations go, they don’t get more humdrum than the address ‘Carrera 79B, #45D/94’. It is so anonymous it sounds encrypted. Nor, in reality, does it look like anything special: a flat roof, next to a shuttered language school, above a wall of graffiti, in a lower middle-class suburb of another Spanish speaking city. But

My loveless nights in post-Soviet hostels

I suppose there are people who stay in four or five-star hotels all their lives and become a kind of expert in them, turning their noses up at rooms I would regard as the acme of comfort, but since my parents stopped paying, I never have. In adulthood my standards have plummeted and, as a

Euro 2024: a guide to Germany’s cities

Here’s a question for Spectator football fans: what’s the most memorable match you’ve ever seen? I don’t mean on television. I mean in an actual stadium, the way football should be seen. For me it was in 1996, seeing England play Germany at Wembley, in the semi-finals of the Euros. England were the better team

Lara Prendergast

Skiing without the crowds? Go to Japan

When trying to imagine what it would be like to ski in Japan, I pictured a minimalist ski resort. I saw chic local skiers in monochrome outfits elegantly swishing down the slopes, before stopping for sushi and ramen. I assumed revellers would drink whisky, sake and beer in the evenings, although perhaps not to quite

Cindy Yu

Sail the Nile in style

It’s hard to resist a bit of amateur sleuthing when you’re on a Nile cruise. As my boyfriend and I boarded the luxury liner Oberoi Zahra, we scrutinised the other passengers like Hercule Poirot might. Was the elegant Chinese-American businesswoman’s young companion her son or her lover? What resentments lay behind the silent mealtimes of the

It’s time to ditch the all-inclusive

There are some who would love to spend an eternity by a pool in Spain dancing the ‘Cha Cha Slide’ until they pass out on a sun lounger. There are others who would prefer to spend the afterlife with bifid-tongued demons than wait in line for a subpar continental buffet. I fall into the second

Philip Patrick

Japanese toilets aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

What is the world’s best city in which to be caught short? You can imagine a lively discussion on this question on a TripAdvisor forum. A strong candidate would be Tokyo, which has recently added to its long list of otherworldly attractions, a collection of 17 high-tech architect designed public lavatories. The toilets feature, and

Why Cambodia is the best country in the world

Yeah, I know, ridiculous. Cambodia? How can that be the best country in the entire world? For a start, most people can’t place it on a map. This includes close relatives of mine who are studying geography at A Level. They know all about the Marxist topography of urbanism, but Cambodia, err, um, is that

The horror of travelling with pets

It’s 7 in the morning, I’ve got to Milan Linate airport two hours before my plane to Bari, and already things are going horribly wrong. The airline aren’t letting my cats fly with me. I’ve got documents to show they’re microchipped and all their vaccines are in order, but two uniformed men, straight out of

How to check in to a haunted hotel

The haunted hotel. It’s a definite thing, isn’t it? From Stanley Kubrick’s classic The Shining to the slightly less classic I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, the hotel with an unwanted and probably long-dead guest is a leitmotif in scary cinema. It can also be found in poems, plays, novels; possibly the first

Philip Patrick

Japan’s naked men are no longer sacred

For the first time in its 1,250 year history, Japan’s Naked Man Festival is to admit women to its sacred rites and rituals – well, one sacred ritual anyway. Later this month, a cohort of 40 women, clothed, will be allowed to participate in the naoizasa ritual where they will carry bamboo grass wrapped in

Jonathan Miller

Embrace your Franglais, mes amis

Having breakfast at a hotel in the chouette Eighth Arrondisement of Paris last weekend, and employing what I imagine to be my faultless French, I asked for a boiled egg, ‘un oeuf à la coque.’ The waitress asked, did I want glaçons (ice) with that? Err, no, I replied, bemused. The waitress then brought me a bottle of Coca-Cola.

Jonathan Ray

How to spend 48 hours in Munich

So, what are you up to this summer? Going to Germany, right? I mean, with both England and Scotland having qualified for the Uefa 2024 Euros (and with Wales still in with a chance via the play-offs) 14 June to 14 July is surely blocked off in your diary? It certainly is in mine. And

I envy the hippies of Finisterre

I can’t stop thinking about Pierre. I first met him at the end of December in a Finisterre bar much favoured by the hippy types drawn to the strange energies of the western coast of Galicia. With his sunned and bearded swarthy face, solid build and tattoos, I initially thought he was a Galician fisherman.

Jonathan Miller

When did flying lose its glamour?

As we celebrate 120 years of aviation with a plug door and several iPhones tumbling from an in-flight spanking-new Boeing 737 Max, and a new Airbus A350 burning to a cinder in Tokyo, it is fair to note that not a single passenger was killed in either incident (although four Japanese coast guards perished on

Sicily and the slow collapse of civilisation

Even in the long-shadowed depths of winter, Sicily can be a seductive place. From the hushed, hidden and time-polished marble piazzas of intricately lovely Ortygia, to the White Lotus out-of-season treats of ‘so pretty it hurts’ (Ernest Hemingway) Taormina, this blessed island has for obvious reasons been attracting invaders and colonisers for thousands of years.

The strange rituals of Taiwan’s bin men

The bin system in Taiwan is strange. There is no single bin day. A citizen retains responsibility for their rubbish until the moment the bin lorry arrives on their road, at which point they must take it upon themselves to put it into the appropriate receptacle or shredder. In my bit of Taipei, where my

How BA lost the plot

I am writing this from Nashville, Tennessee, where British Airways was supposed to have flown me and a planeload of Boeing 787 customers on a direct service from Heathrow. However, the night before our intended departure I received a terse message from the airline saying that the flight had been cancelled. A later email informed

There’s something sad about Sandbanks

I’ve always had a soft spot for the English seaside. It’s idiosyncratic, a little kitschy, a little gross. There are those pre-war beach windbreakers. There are tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches in packed lunches. There’s a mangy dog nipping at your feet as you run into icy waters. It’s always windy, often pebbled, and full of

The mystical power of Assisi

In the courtyard of the bishop’s palace, the young man who would become Saint Francis stripped naked in front of his parents and various town and church officials. He handed his clothes with a bag of money on top to his father, saying: ‘I give these back to you. From now on I have one