In 1933, at the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set out on an extraordinary journey by foot – from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul (or Constantinople, as he insisted on calling it). A Time of Gifts is the first volume in a trilogy recounting the trip, and takes the reader with him as far as Hungary.
It is a book of compelling glimpses – not only of the events which were curdling Europe at that time, but also of its resplendent domes and monasteries, its great rivers, the sun on the Bavarian snow, the storks and frogs, the hospitable burgomasters who welcomed him, and that world’s grandeurs and courtesies. His powers of recollection have astonishing sweep and verve, and the scope is majestic.
After his walk across Europe, Patrick Leigh Fermor lived and travelled in the Balkans and the Greek Archipelago. In the Second World War he joined the Irish Guards, became a liaison officer in Albania and fought in Greece and Crete – living disguised as a shepherd in the mountains for two years organising resistance activities. He was awarded the DSO and CBE, and a knighthood in the 2004 New Year Honours List. He died in June 2011, at the age of 96.
‘A plan unfolded with the speed and the completeness of a Japanese paper flower in a tumbler. To change scenery; abandon London and England and set out across Europe like a tramp . . . All of a sudden, this was not merely the obvious, but the only thing to do.’ Patrick Leigh Fermor, in a letter to Xan Fielding
‘Not only is this journey one of physical adventure but of cultural awakening. Architecture, art, genealogy, quirks of history and language are all devoured – and here passed on – with a gusto uniquely his.’ Colin Thubron
‘One of the most romantic books of the twentieth century, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s account of a long walk across Europe is also a literary treasure, a rich blend of action and observation.’ Guardian