England: Cutting-Edge Cities and Postcard-Perfect Villages
Lush rolling hills, postcard-perfect villages, rainbow-painted seaside towns and cutting-edge cities.
Merry old England is a place where antiquity and modernity coexist peacefully. A journey through England is a journey through history.
Although lots of regions throughout England demand a visit, the number-one destination is London. Here, many of the world’s most famous playwrights and artists blossomed; history’s most bloody and fascinating tales unfolded; and the outcome of World War II was sealed.
Outside the capital there is plenty to explore. Take Suffolk—an east-coast county within commuting distance of London. Part of the ancient kingdom of East Anglia, its 45 miles of shingly shores are washed by the North Sea. Inland is a treasure trove of squat-towered churches and high-hedged lanes trilling with birdsong…thatched-roof cottages painted in summertime colors of rosy-pink and buttercup yellow…medieval towns of crooked streets and half-timbered Tudor houses.
In England’s ‘West Country’, Devon is worth a visit. Devon is a county of thatched cottages, cream teas, and winding lanes hidden behind thick hedgerows. Fringed by splendid seascapes, it has miles of countryside walks for ramblers. In some parts of the county, sea, moor, farmland and town can be seen from the same spot. The historic seaport city of Plymouth is Devon’s main center of population, but the county offers an array of attractive villages and market towns.
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- Population: 63,395,574
- Capital City: London
- Climate: Temperate; moderated by prevailing southwest winds over the North Atlantic Current. More than one-half of the days are overcast.
- Time Zone: UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
- Language: English (Official)
- Country Code: +44
- Area: 94,058 square miles (243,610 square kilometers). Slightly smaller than Oregon.
- Location: Lies near vital North Atlantic sea lanes. Only 35 km from France and linked by tunnel under the English Channel. Because of a heavily indented coastline, no location is more than 77 miles (125 km) from tidal waters.
The setting sun casts a glorious orange hue across the sky and sea as it sinks into the west. As you tuck into some fresh lobster caught just offshore, you recall the friendly seal that nibbled on your ﬂipper during today’s dive. Dessert is a generous helping of thick, local ice cream followed by a walk on the golden-sand beach. Hard to believe you’re in England, of all places. We don’t associate Britain with secluded islands where peace and serenity abide, where warm weather pervades (at least in summer), and white-sand beaches lie unspoiled by throngs of tourists. But you’ll ﬁnd all this on the Isles of Scilly, 28 miles off the coast of Penzance, Cornwall. (It’s the town on England’s southwest tip.)
Many years ago, the Portuguese island of Madeira had a surplus of chestnuts. To make the most of this bumper crop before it went off, the creative locals used chestnuts in every conceivable dish, from soup and cake to bread and even liqueurs. And from November 1 to 2 each year, residents of the rural district of Curral das Freiras commemorate their ingenuity with the Festa da Castanha, or Chestnut Festival.
The Romans’ influence stretches down the millennia into architecture, literature, theater, warfare, politics… They are a pillar upon which Western civilization is built. At its height, the Roman Empire held sway over much of Europe, the Near East, and North Africa. Its borders expanded over the centuries as the Romans took new lands… or shrunk in the face of barbarian hordes that invaded as the empire declined.
Jacques Cousteau once declared the Blue Hole in Belize to be one of the best diving spots in the world—and few would disagree. The Blue Hole, part of the Lighthouse Reef system, is an almost-perfect circular limestone sinkhole that is nearly 1,000 feet wide and more than 400 feet deep. This striking ocean feature sits like a giant blue pupil in a sea of turquoise.
Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s most spectacular wonders. This 580-square-mile natural cove contains some 2,000 limestone islands—occupied only by trees, ferns, birds, and monkeys. Small ﬂoating villages and isolated sandy beaches also entice. The best—and perhaps the only—way to see Halong Bay in its entirety is by boat, or more speciﬁcally, by junk. A junk is an ancient Chinese sailing-ship design, and many junks still sail Halong Bay.
As we move into May, the northern hemisphere continues to warm up, affording you more and more opportunities to get out and explore this weird and wonderful world. The Swiss Alpine town of Le Gruyère is renowned for its cheese, and the town celebrates this heritage with its annual cheese festival. As you’d expect, the world-famous cheese to which the town lends its name will take center stage. Unpasteurized, and still produced in the high Alps using methods honed over centuries, Gruyère cheese is known for its fruity flavor when fresh before developing a more earthy taste as it ages. You can also see traditional Swiss cheese-making techniques for yourself and explore a range of Alpine handicrafts, including exquisite crocheting and lacework. The event takes place on May 3.
The best estimate points to a world population several billion larger than today’s just a few decades from now—Earth may host 9.6 billion people in 2050, according to the United Nations. This population growth is all going to be a strain on Earth’s already stretched-thin resources. So how do you invest in a world like the future we seem to be hurtling toward? A world of rising population and increasingly scarce resources?
Imagine sleeping to the gentle bob of the tide or of a river current, then waking up to cast off the moor lines and set out for adventure. Or, more often, to stay at anchor, enjoying the lull of the water while having a fixed address and access to onshore services. That’s the life that houseboat living offers.
Last year I traveled to nine countries. I stayed in Costa Rica for six months and Mediterranean Malta for three months. This year, I am once again dividing my time between Costa Rica and the Mediterranean…as well as visiting seven other countries. Right now, I’m in London, taking a break from the tropics and the glorious island life. My days are filled with visiting attractions like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the London Eye…while stopping off at quaint English pubs for lunch and perhaps a beer or two. By night, I’m enjoying the buzz around Piccadilly Circus.
My next trip is Las Vegas. No complaints—I’m one of those sinners who enjoys Sin City. The trip is for an International Living conference where I’ll speak on Italy and its sweet life. I’m not wearing my travel-writing hat for this conference, but I’ve visited Italy so many times—at least 20—I’ve gained a great insight into places unknown to the tourist hordes.
I’m on a narrow road that cuts across the bleakest part of Dartmoor. And from here, the view of one of Britain’s most dismally austere buildings is perfect. The road leads to HMP Dartmoor—and HMP is the acronym for Her Majesty’s Prison.
You may think of rare books as dusty old leather-bound tomes with unintelligible text in Latin or some ancient Gothic typeface. But one of the fastest-growing areas of the rare-book world in the last 30 years has actually been in first editions of 20th century literature in English.
Argentina has welcomed its fair share of Italian immigrants down through the years. So it’s fitting that natives of the southern- Italian city of Naples will celebrate the tango with the Tanotango Festival from September 4 to 7. Theaters, bars, and streets across this ancient city will be packed with dancers, demonstrations, and music. Take a visit to the Cape Coast, Ghana, on September 6 to catch Oguaa Fetu Afahye, when local chiefs dressed in traditional garb lead a procession through the streets imploring the gods to keep the town healthy.
England is a magical place. The weather is unpredictable and this day was no different. The mists were heavy. The morning hours were marked by drizzling rain. The land around us was barren, exposed to the elements. Filled with stories of Merlin and the Giants of Mount Killaraus arranging stones on the open vista, we made our way to one of the medieval wonders of the world…Stonehenge. Overcome by the majesty of the sight before us, everything else seemed miniscule.
Many folks in the know want Penang kept a secret. This tropical Malaysian island in the Andaman Sea is one of Southeast Asia’s most attractive retirement havens. For the expats already there it ticks every box…
In August 2013, the Thomas H. Law collection of gold coins sold for over $5 million at a Chicago auction—more than double the presale estimates. Given the popularity of gold coins among U.S. collectors and investors, multi-million-dollar auction sales may not be that surprising—except that this was a collection of English coins.
It’s called the “Old World” for a reason, and despite two world wars and decades of development, history is evident in the architecture of Europe. You can stroll cobbled streets where lords and ladies once rushed to galas, climb castle steps in the footsteps of armored knights, and explore villages preserved for 500 years or more.
Imagine your own floating home, one that takes you from port to port as you island-hop the Caribbean or delve into the history and culture of the Mediterranean… A yachting retirement is surprisingly affordable and for an increasing number of adventuresome folks it’s more than just an idle dream. In fact, in the right places it often costs a lot less than “traditional” retirement back home.
It’s been a retirement haven for decades—one of the world’s most popular—and if you have ever visited Costa Rica, you know why. Living here means access to excellent and affordable health care, living costs of as little as $2,000 a month for a couple, including rent, and natural beauty at every turn.
Originally a winding country path called Green Lane, it was given the name “Porto Bello” after the capture of a colony in Panama during the Anglo-Spanish war. This sea battle which took place in 1739 was also called “The War of Jenkins’ Ear.” The hapless Captain had his ear cut off by the Spanish Coast Guard. When appearing in Parliament to recount the tale, he displayed the shorn appendage during his testimony.
At the end of Wuthering Heights, that novel of untamed passions that reach beyond the grave, the narrator lingers by the tombs of the lovers, Cathy and Heathcliffe, as he watches moths flutter around the heath. He wonders “how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers in that quiet earth.”
In the popular imagination, it’s the great capitals of Europe that get the most attention. Tourists flock to Paris, Rome, Madrid, and London for the big-city flair, museums, and monuments. It’s the thing to do. And granted, you should seize any opportunity to stroll the Champs-Élysées on a beautiful spring evening or explore London’s international cuisine and regal parks.
The Santa Catalina arch is one of the most famous landmarks of Antigua, Guatemala. And for a compact town of 40,000 people, there are a lot of them. Antigua was once the capital of Spanish Central America, and its cobbled streets are lined with the grand mansions and ornate churches of the colonial golden age.
I pull back the curtains, feel the crisp refreshing air, and look out over the waterfront at the colorful buildings of this Art Nouveau town…excited about the “work” day ahead. I’m in picturesque Ålesund, Norway. This jewel-like coastal town is the gateway to Norway’s spectacular Geiranger Fjord making it the perfect base from which to explore the region—and that’s my job for the day.
Its parks are filled with roses, myrtle and the sound of nightingales. Water still splashes and trickles over marble fountains in the courtyards of its kings… “A pearl among emeralds” was how Moorish poets once described the royal palace of the Alhambra. It was from here that Spain’s last Muslim kingdom, Granada, was ruled and it’s just one of the gems you’ll find in Andalusia, Spain’s huge southern province.
If you live on an English narrowboat, you have choices to make. Find another town to explore, with a charming tea shop, an Old-World bookstore or a cozy pub. Take a walk to a church, a castle, or through a field of golden millet or lavender…or find a village in which to stay a while, moor your floating home, and get to know the locals.
My husband, Kevin, and I both turned 30 this year, and while the rest of our cohort is punching a time clock and climbing up the bitter corporate ladder, we’re sipping sangria on the balcony of our seafront apartment on Spain’s Mediterranean coastline… savoring café con leche (Spanish coffee) as the sun rises…or celebrating with cava (sparkling wine) under the moon.
At the end of the calendar year, we hear a lot about goals and resolutions. Television reporters with slow news days on their hands take to the streets to inquire about changes folks are planning to make in the coming year. A few weeks later, the same reporters will share statistics of all the health club dropouts and other abandoned resolutions.
“The grey slate inn with its tall chimneys, forbidding and uninhabited though it seemed, was the only dwelling-place on the landscape.” I adore “forbidding” places. Especially those with cobbled courtyards, sloping floors, shadowy corridors, beamed ceilings, and log fires. So I’ve followed author Daphne du Maurier’s footsteps to Cornwall’s bleakly beautiful Bodmin Moor.
Begin November with a little panache at the 119th Argentine Open Polo Championships in the neighborhood of Palermo, Buenos Aires. Not so much a sports event as a key occasion in the local social diary, it runs from November 5 to the end of the year. For something more exotic, check out camel racing. India’s Rajasthan desert in Pushkar hosts the Pushkar Fair from November 6 to 17.
Sunsets over the Seine, croissants on the terrace, and lunch or dinner at the corner brasserie…life in Paris is as good as it sounds, and you can try it out for a lot less than you think. Just ask the folks living a “roving retirement,” many of whom make the City of Light a yearly stop.
So what would the earliest antique have been? Adam’s discarded fig leaf? A sliver of gopher wood from Noah’s Ark? A stone chip off the tablet on which the Ten Commandments were carved? From cavemen trading mammoth tusks to children squabbling over the sale of Granny’s Meissen dinner service, the acquisition and disposal of ancient (and modern) artefacts has always interested folks.
Awash in tales of smugglers and wreckers, Cornwall is a favorite with UK vacationers. A peninsula jutting into the Atlantic, its coastline of bays, inlets, cliffs, coves and golden beaches covers almost 300 miles. Inland, a maze of lanes leads to lost-in-time villages anchored by squat granite churches and complete with inns, beer gardens and home-made pub grub such as fish pie and steak-and-kidney pudding.
My former attorney colleagues and I used to joke that there were three kinds of closing arguments you could make to a jury: the one you carefully prepared, the one you actually delivered, and the one you wish you had given. Few things ever happen as planned. Nevertheless my “life” plan (the one I carefully prepared) was to practice law until I retired at 65; then I would pursue photography and maybe make a little money on the side.
The pretty thatched cottage nestled in a garden of blue irises is picture-perfect England. Only the sound of a fiddle and a whisper of smoke rising from its chimney hint at the tiny house’s significance.
The earrings are from Hong Kong’s jade market. I bought the fedora hat at a Christmas market in Berlin, the boots from Malaga in Spain, and the shimmering scarf at Otavalo market in Ecuador—one of the largest indigenous markets in South America. You might call it eclectic fashion indulgence. I call it research.
When I started doing this in 2007, I didn’t have a business in mind. It was more of a hobby. I practiced law during the day, and I was a bored with it. I wanted to do something different.
Wake up and smell the lentils! At the church of St. John the Baptist, a grizzled busker with a guitar is playing a Bob Dylan song. Outside the 15th-century George and Pilgrim Inn, another sidewalk musician plucks a Celtic harp.
Strolling the cobbled lanes and streets of Granada, Nicaragua, you can easily see how the city reflects its Old-World heritage.
“You see a picture of a boat, carry it around with you…that’s my boat you say, and you do what you have to do to buy it,” says Nick Symes. Nick’s been brokering houseboat sales in London ever since he piloted his own Belgian barge across the English Channel and up the Thames, and renovated her into his own riverboat dream home. And I’m a romantic, too. I’ve only been in London for a day…