Category: Journalism

Why 2019 is the best time to discover Ruskin’s Cumbria

I started the year with an assignment in the Lake District and I was back this weekend for probably my last freelance job of 2018 — a feature for Discover Britain magazine.

This time it was Coniston water [pictured above] and a visit to Brantwood for a preview of events to mark the bicentenary of the birth of John Ruskin in 2019.

Ruskin was a hugely influential figure but has fallen out of fashion compared to the Romantic Poets.

Next year is a chance to put his legacy back on the map of the Cumbrian fells.

Inspiring landscape

While the Romantics were busy crafting purple prose about the beauty of the Lakes, a new movement of artists was also discovering Cumbria.

JMW Turner, Gainsborough and, later, Constable all journeyed north in search of those quintessentially brooding Lakeland vistas.

Most importantly, it is the Victorian polymath, John Ruskin, who picked up the mantle and took the Romantic Movement forward to a new era.

Lakeland home

When Ruskin moved to Brantwood House, the elegant, stately home on the peaceful eastern shore of Coniston Water, the Lakes Poets had waned.

Wordsworth had become increasingly disillusioned with what he saw as the invading hordes and Coleridge, a victim of ill health and opium addiction, had settled into a steady decline.

But Ruskin, the artist, writer and social reformer, took their ideas, blending them with his patronage of Turner and his friendship with Charles Darwin.

His ideas would inspire a new generation of thinkers, writers and activists, Ghandi and Tolstoy amongst them.

Brantwood Director, Howard Hull, explains:

Ruskin evolved the ideas of the Romantics. His vital role was taking the notion of nature as an inspiration to the human spirit and reconciling it with the scientific world.”

Accommodation at Badger’s Cottage, Coniston, provided via The Coppermines & Lakes Cottages Ltd.

Making The Most Of The Amazing Light Festival In Lyon

We live in dark times.

As if the political climate wasn’t bad enough, changing the clocks to winter mode casts an even longer shadow.

But not so in Lyon, a city I hadn’t visited in over ten years.

The city hosts the world’s biggest light festival each December and I was back in Lyon, or Lugdunum as it was founded by the Romans in 43AD, for a preview of this year’s event.

With the gloom of winter setting in, it brightened up my week no end.

Light relief

“Lyon is the mother of all light festivals,” said Jean-Francois Zurawik.

I was having lunch with the Event Director of Lyon’s Fete des Lumierés in one of the low-key bistros France’s capital of gastronomy does so well — see the mural of Lyon’s most famous chef, Paul Bocuse, above.

“Light is universal. The battle between light and darkness is fundamental to the human condition,” he added.

This year’s event runs December 6-9 with 75 light and laser installations at 45 locations across the city, many focused on the historic buildings of Old Lyon.

The festival has its origins in the Middle Ages and took its inspiration from a 1852 celebration to mark the blessing of the Virgin Mary by placing candles in the windows of houses across the city.

It will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2019 and has grown to a spectacle attracting some 2m people to the city, spawning spin-off festivals in places as diverse as Ghent, Hong Kong and Durham.

Come together 

For Jean-Francois, however, it’s less about the size of the spectacle and more about bringing people together.

“My job is to find light artists to create a poetic moment. It’s about emotion, not technology,” he told me, finishing his petit café before heading out to another last-minute planning meeting.

And let’s face it: when we live in dark times like these, anything that can bring people together is something to cherish.

Vive la lumiére!

More: Fete des Lumières Lyon

The best hotels in Liverpool to see the Giants

Image: istock

My latest article for Independent Travel is a guide to the best hotels in Liverpool.

It’s a timely piece to plan a visit to the area for the forthcoming Liverpool Dreams event, the street performance by French giant-puppet troupe Royal de Luxe over the weekend of October 4-7.

Featuring the likes of the Hope Street Hotel and 2 Blackburn Terrace, here’s a preview:

The city on the Mersey is celebrating 10 years since its successful tenure as the European Capital of Culture and has continued to boom since. Based in the Northwest, I’ve seen Liverpool’s fortunes ebb and flow with the tides of the Mersey estuary. Today, it’s a vibrant city with a strong cultural scene and a hedonistic nightlife. But it also has a rich heritage of classical architecture, notably the Unesco World Heritage-listed sweep of the waterfront.

Read the whole story, Liverpool hotels: 10 of the best places to stay.

See also the follow-up article: Liverpool – 7 best places to stay for value for money.

And plan your Giants itinerary here.

How a nostalgic return to Paris made my summer special

It looks like an innocuous apartment building.

It is in many ways but, to me, that faded-green front door represents far more.

Welcome to 60 Rue Letellier [pictured above], located near Place Cambronne in Paris.

This was my home from September 1992 for one year as part of my study-abroad placement via Leeds University.

It was a year in which I really learnt to speak French, discovered the joie-de-vivre of Les Inrockuptibles and embarked upon a lifelong quest for the perfect Couscous Royale.

And no 60 was the epicentre of all the madness — a tiny, second-floor apartment just a few minutes from the green Metro line to Montparnasse.

Prodigal return

I stood outside that green front door again this summer.

It was 25 years since my last visit and I was back in Paris on a Monet assignment for France magazine. I’d stopped off for a nostalgia trip en route from seeing the Water Lilies at L’Orangerie.

There were so many memories forged in that flat, accompanied by a soundtrack of Screamadelica and a diet of Pelforth Brune.

But one of the most memorable was the bar opposite, where Salar and Messaoud ran a ramshackle café-bar on an Algerian motif.

It was the place to start every big night out and to put the world to rights with a mix of English-abroad innocence and undergraduate change-the-world confidence befitting our formative ages.

It was as much of my Paris experience as the Eiffel Tower and Musée Rodin.

The bar had long since gone, of course but, I stop there, a waiter in the now pizza restaurant told me he still remembered Messaoud.

“It didn’t end well,” he frowned. “People say he ended up living in the Metro.”

Moving on

A lot has changed in those 25 intervening years. But standing back on Rue Letelier brought me a sense of peace.

Afterwards I headed to Place Cambronne and had lunch at a pavement cafe, sitting alone with a plat du jour and a glass of rosé in the sunshine. The square was as lively as ever.

It was the defining moment of my summer.

Older but maybe also wiser. I may not the same person who lived in that little apartment. But I’m not that different either.

I’ve still got that Screamadelica CD and still love a good Couscous Royale.

And, by going back, I’m all the more ready to move forward.