Frances Mayes is best known for Under the Tuscan Sun, an account of her purchase and refurbishing of a house in the Tuscan region of Italy. It's been made into a movie and widely lauded. I've been reading her now book, A Year in the World enjoying her leisurely travels across a variety of countries. This is a woman who knows how to leave the well-worn tourist track to find life as the natives live it. She and her husband make their way through rural Europe, savoring the whitewashed villages, the flowers, and the culinary delights.
I can identify to some extent--I loved Portugal when I was there several years ago and yearned to see more of it. But rather than leisurely savoring, we had little more than time to spend a hot and dusty day driving through the Alentejo region because we had committed to attending (and had spent big bucks on tickets) a flamenco performance in Merida, Spain that evening.
As stirring and evocative as the dance performance was--perfomed in a Roman-era amphitheater, lit by torches--I still think about that day spent driving through rural Portugal and wish we'd been able to detour into towns with names like Evora, Beja, and Portalegre...
Will I ever be lucky enough to be able to retrace my steps, at that enviable slow pace, staying in lovely Portuguese government-owned pousadas and enjoying coriander scented soups, local wines, platters of olives, and fresh-baked bread? I can only hope. Until then, Frances Mayes' books do a great job of readers feel like they're THERE.