The Best Books, Films and Music for Your Summer Holiday

The Guardian, July 8, 2014


The book to read: The South by Colm Tóibín
Ringing with both the excitement of travelling around the region and of getting off the leash and on to the page for the first time, Tóibín's debut fiction follows a woman who has left her husband and son in Ireland and gets drawn into the heat and vitality of Barcelona in the 1950s.

The music to listen to: John Talabot
Talabot is Catalonia's finest dance music producer, making tracks that both swing with hedonistic sexiness and broodingly cup their chins, leading to a brilliantly dissonant dancefloor experience.

The film to watch: Barcelona
Vicky Cristina Barcelona, by Woody Allen, makes the titular city look almost as hot as its trio of eads, but lets it down by putting utter tripe into their mouths. Much better is this from the debonair Whit Stillman, in which, as in all his work, Americans casually gad about making dry pronouncements and having slightly aloof sexual encounters.


The book to read: Blood Wedding by García Lorca
García Lorca's play of adultery in the countryside reaches such a fever pitch of emotion that it tips into trippy reverie – on seeing the broken marriage, the moon starts soliloquising in gorgeous poetry: "I'll make the horse gleam with a fever of diamond." So full of drama and wildness that it'll make even the most tempestuous holiday romance seem tame.

The music to listen to: Tunisia, Vol 1: The Classical Arab-Andalusian Music of Tunis
It seems perverse not to select flamenco, but this album from label Smithsonian Folkways, recorded across the water in Tunisia, is testament to Andalucía being a gateway to Europe. Muslims who had been driven from Spain settled in Tunisia but kept these haunting flute songs and drowsily waltzing sarabandes more or less intact.

The film to watch: A Fistful of Dollars
Sergio Leone's classic spaghetti westerns used Andalucía in place of wild west deserts, populating the sparse, uncaring countryside with pockets of pure violence. Like his later Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood is a deadly mix of moral righteousness, lethal force and, you suspect, enjoyment of murder – cue plenty of bad impressions to accompany a tramp through the hills.


The book to read: poems by Shelley
As idolised by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in their recent Trip to Italy, the Italian countryside inspired Shelley to write some of his most celebrated poetry (as well as continuing to squire anything that moved). As The Cloud, he sees Tuscany being constantly refreshed underneath him in spectacularly beautiful fashion: "I all the while bask in Heaven's blue smile, Whilst he is dissolving in rains." Let's hope it'll stay dry when you're there, though.

The music to listen to: Mascagni and Puccini
The voluptuous Edenic madness of the Tuscan coast is offset perfectly by the cool, sweet Puccini, whose arias are tenderly emotional, swelling between optimism and melancholy. Another famous Tuscan son, Mascagni, created similarly lyrical passages for his Cavalliera Rusticana.

The film to watch: Stealing Beauty
Bertolucci tones down the seething social commentary that beats behind the sensuality of his films, instead going for pure beauty as Liv Tyler loses her innocence among the fields and trees of the region.


The book to read: A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
It may have triggered a thousand smug second-homers to "slum it" in glorious converted barns, but Peter Mayle's 1989 account of his move to the south of France is still a guiltily aspirational pleasure. His portrait of rustic, clarinet-playing plumbers and the like verges on us-and-them territory, but his love for the area is infectious and warm.

The music to listen to: Darius Milhaud
Far from anachronistic wheezing accordions is the work of Darius Milhaud, a modernist globetrotter who constantly returned to his native Provence (except during the second world war, when he lived in California and taught Dave Brubeck). His cosmopolitanism means that Brazilian and jazz themes are sewn into Provençal pastoralia that's variously serene and boisterous.

The film to watch: An Autumn Tale
Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources – which, despite their parched bleakness, still make Provence look stunning – are the obvious choices, but even better is this from Eric Rohmer. Shot naturalistically with birdsong vying with sexy chatter, it's witty, relaxed and charming.

Greek islands

The book to read: the poetry of Sappho
Regarded as the finest female poet of ancient times, Sappho's work still feels utterly fresh and modern. Rather than focusing on epic storytelling, she homes in on close personal feelings and encounters. Even in fragments, there are moments of absolute wonder:

"Cyprian, in my dream
the folds of a purple
kerchief shadowed
your cheeks – the one

Timas one time sent,
a timid gift, all
the way from Phocaea."

The music to listen to: Into the Light: a Journey into Greek Electronic Music, Classics & Rarities (1978 – 1991)
Forget plate-smashing hoedowns – there's nothing better for the crystal shimmer of the islands than this collection of Greek synth pop. Relaxing ambient tracks are laced with soft rock saxophone, and synthetic tribal percussion drives kitschy disco forward – imagine Giorgio Moroder left to warp in the sun.

The film to watch: Eternity and a Day
Greece is being gripped by a new wave of social realism from Yorgos Lanthimos and others, but it won't make you hop happily on a plane. This is similarly mordant, but with a lushness and muted sentimentality that prove magnetic. An elderly man begins caring for an immigrant child, triggering predictably massive emotional moments alongside some stunning flashbacks to lovestruck days on the Med.

Turkish coast

The book to read: The Lovers by Vendela Vida
Vida headed for the Turkish coast (perhaps paradoxically) to finish a novel set in the Arctic Circle. The setting entranced her into making it the basis of her later novel The Lovers, featuring a woman trying to get wrapped up in the Turkish coast and its people to smother the grief of losing her husband.

The music to listen to: Kutsal Toprak by Soner Sarıkabadayı
Turkish pop is some of the best on the continent, blending dancehall rhythms with the devastating melancholy that is, weirdly, so often a hallmark of cheesy Europop. Here a sorrowful lamentation is wed to alcopop-downing electro in a confusing but beautiful combination – evoking both the boozy taverna romance and tears on the plane home.

The film to watch: Climates
Nuri Bilge Ceylan is the Bergmanesque master of less-is-more Turkish cinema who won the Palme d'Or this year for Winter Sleep. He stars in this himself, a sadly beautiful film of thwarted intimacy featuring gloomy shots of the Turkish coastline.

Sweden (west coast or Stockholm)

The books to read: Scandinoir
The west coast of Sweden is the home of the country's vibrant crime fiction scene. As well as Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, Camilla Läckberg creates the Scandi equivalent of Midsomer Murders with mysteriously violent happenings in the exquisite village of Fjällbacka, while Åke Edwardsson's iconic Inspector Winter scoffs posh food and listens to jazz in Gothenburg in between bouts of sleuthing.

The music to listen to: GBG Belongs to us by Air France with Roos
Gothenburg is a hub of whimsical Swedish pop – Jens Lekman, Sally Shapiro, JJ and José González all hail from there. Best of all is this anthem to how wonderful the town is, a feathery, sun-dappled confection full of pianos and cooing.

The film to watch: Wild Strawberries
Traversing the country from Stockholm to the west-coast town of Lund is an elderly professor, Isak Borg, off to receive an honorary degree, and picking up various hitchhikers along the way. Each encounter resonates with his own life – just the thing to make your own road trip full of self-reflection.


The book to read: The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
Fernando Pessoa's "factless autobiography" is full of the crazy ups and downs of Lisbon itself. Part literary theory, part journal, all bonkers, it negotiates its way through the city and a lifetime of eureka moments with an inscrutable but addictive logic.

The music to listen to: Principe Records
DJ Marfox is the head of what is perhaps the most exciting underground dance scene in Europe just now, Lisbon's ghetto house sound, where the propulsive Angolan kuduro style gets blended with US trap in a sweatily banging whole. Check out the mixes and tracks put out by the Principe label to get started.

The film to watch: The Winter in Lisbon
Lisbon itself is perhaps the best thing about this film 1991 film directed by José A Zorrilla, which is an odd blend of hardboiled thriller and softboiled romance – the swooning sunset shots of the harbour help ground its tale of a jazz musician scuppered by a femme fatale. Dizzy Gillespie also stars, and the soundtrack album was his last studio work.

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This article was written by Ben Beaumont-Thomas from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.