Magazine article The Spectator

The Real Deal

Magazine article The Spectator

The Real Deal

Article excerpt

Sparta

Forget Tuscany it's for the likes of Kinnock, Blair (wearing ludicrous sandals and using a Queen's Flight), Fergie, and a paymaster-general who forgets to list his assets when it suits him. Sparta is a place where only real men go for the summer. When Byron and Shelley fled to Tuscany in the early 19th century, the place had not as yet been polluted by Brit expats. The locals were and are a truculent bunch, treacherous and dour. Except for the beautiful houses and churches, Tuscany is a dust bowl inhabited by the unfriendliest people in Italy.

Now compare this with Laconia, whose capital is Sparta, at the foot of Mount Taiyetos, and it's a bit like comparing Leonidas and the gallant 300 to Mussolini and his 20 million cowards. There is no comparison. One is the real deal, the other is Hollywood buzz and Tina Brown-like glitz.

I started my epic voyage from Mycenae, where the House of Atreus came to a grisly end 3,500 years ago. The last time I had visited the architectural masterpiece of Agamemnon's tomb - Tholos, or beehive, for those of you who prefer real tragedy to opera buffa - was 20 years ago. Andrew Fraser, now hunting buffalo in that vast safari park up above, was an expert guide. My present Fuhrer was a 26-year-old Greek professor of antiquity, as sexy an egghead as I have ever come across, and, like most professors, a sex maniac.

From Mycenae to Navplio, the delightful and charming first capital of Greece, for a delicious lunch and a walkabout. Across the bay is Bourtzi, the Venetian fort in which the 600 defenders were massacred by the Turks. The Venetians may have been a treacherous and slippery bunch, but they fell for the oldest trick of all. Safe passage. To believe the Turk, especially back then, when he offered safe passage in return for opening your gates was nothing but criminal stupidity. Or perhaps a subconscious desire to die with a hot poker up you know where, a favourite Turkish custom of the time.

Above Navplio is the conspicuous fortress of Palamidhi, while below the narrow streets are lined with beautiful old balconied houses. The first Greek school stands near the first Greek courthouse, both started by King Otto, our first Bavarian monarch who arrived in 1833 and turned the place into a Bavarian jewel by the sea. …

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