Identifying the unique and flavorful is our mission at Travel + Leisure, but the Europe Issue we publish each May is always a stimulating challenge. The need to uncover the real in this age of global brands and global culture requires the magazine's writers and editors to forge ever farther afield. Bruce Schoenfeld did just that for his report on the little-known Hungarian wine country in the Lake Balaton region ("Wine's Next Frontier"), where wines from the local grapes called Hungaricum, tokens of nationalist pride during the Communist era, are the true bounty. When Ian Buruma pronounces that "Belgium is a strange country," harking back to an opinion hatched during his childhood in neighboring Holland ("Belgian Dreams"), and Kurt Andersen observes the remarkable similarities between the people on opposite extremes of Danish society ("A Different Denmark"), you can be sure that they are responding to the realities of place. Napoleon III, Theodore Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill were among the devotees of that bastion of gentility in London, Brown's Hotel, which was recently redone. Daphne Merkin, a fan of the property's previous incarnation, returned with some trepidation and found a respectful contemporary reinvention, where a genuine welcome endures ("Mayfair Lady"). Even though Prada and Gucci have put down roots in that most atmospheric southern Italian city of Naples, Guy Trebay is captivated by the town's eternal truths—from seductive, simple food and "assertive" wine to world-class men's tailors to crossing the street through heart-in-your-throat zooming traffic ("Sempre Napoli").
There's an ironic twist to the pursuit of the real, as Stephen Metcalf describes in his piece on tourism inspired by books and movies ("On Location"). Never mind that Paris's St.-Sulpice denies it was once the site of a pagan temple: the crowds of Da Vinci Code pilgrims huddle around bulletins posted in the church's transept bearing just this disclaimer. Metcalf writes: "the larger the experience of fandom becomes to the average human life, the more we demand places to be what a book or movie told us they were, authenticity be damned." But until the movie is made, it's the undoctored version of reality that we're after.