Where to begin—with the history, the sea, the legends or with the food, literature, art and architecture? For me, the Magic of the Mediterranean begins with a postcard. I was eight years old and had never been farther than around the block when a glossy 4-by-3-inch image, stamped “Par Avion” on one side and addressed to “Master Richard David Story,” arrived in the mailbox. There in my very own hands I held a piece of magic: a picture of a dark, slightly sinister cave through which pierced a brilliant apocalyptic-like burst of sunlight illuminating perfume-blue waters. In the middle, a little fishing boat holding four people appeared to be bobbing back and forth. More than 50 years later, I still remember how it was all described on the other side (what my aunt wrote, alas, I have no idea): “The Blue Grotto is the most popular sight of Capri and is located in the Mediterranean Sea.”
Our love of travel so often begins with something as simple as a postcard, an overheard fragment of a conversation, a fragrance, a taste…a book or a building. For me, they are all part of the romance of the Mediterranean, which is the subject of this year’s special Destination Issue. Though I’ve been to Capri many times over the last 20 years, I’ve never visited the Blue Grotto. I’ve spent too much time shopping, eating and luxuriating at my favorite hotel, the Capri Palace Hotel & Spa in Anacapri, well above the day-trippers and, yes, those little boats bobbing their way out to the Blue Grotto. Tonino Cacace, the Palace’s second-generation owner, has assembled one of the most glamorous hotels anywhere, with some of the most beautiful (and fancifully named) suites in the world, including The Gwyneth Paltrow Penthouse with two private swimming pools.
With this issue, we’ve tried for an intellectually authentic but also well-rounded portrait of what our introductory essayist, Nicholas Woodsworth, in one of his more elegant books, calls The Liquid Continent. For those just looking for the voluptuary’s Riviera, it’s there for sure: Take Le Figaro’s food critic François Simon, who table-hops across the Côte d’Azur. For those wanting nostalgia, Truman Capote recollects a sail to Greece as keen today as it was in 1958. And nothing captures the naughty glamour of Monte Carlo better than Helmut Newton’s iconic photograph of a woman in black stockings leaning against the rocky ramparts there. We’ve provided a guide to great movies and books set in the Mediterranean and a look at the bare-chested and scantily thonged on a page called “Sexy Beasts,” and Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter shares his thoughts on drinking rosés in Provence. Reporter Guy Martin does an edgy dance on the lip of the volcano in “Taking On Tel Aviv and Beirut,” and with scholarly credentials and a populist’s enthusiasm, Maureen Cassidy-Geiger reveals all about Paestum, Italy, perhaps the most important but regrettably least-visited Greco-Roman ruins, just an hour from Naples.
But then the world of the Mediterranean means many different things to so many people—from buying sandals in Capri to sailing the Aegean to biting into a blood orange in Taormina or fresh grilled langoustines from the salty waters off the Costa del Sol. God knows we’ve tried our best to cover as much as we could, managing both your expectations and your bank account but knowing, too, that dreams and imagination are also part of any true traveler’s spiritual itinerary. It was once said of Alexander the Great that he wept when he realized there were an infinite number of worlds.
Here’s to all of them.
Follow me on Twitter @MrDepartures.