A British travel writer
between Veneto and Middle East
Freya Stark was a scholarly British travel writer, a passionate explorer and photographer.
She was born in Paris in 1893 to a wealthy family of globetrotters, thus she grew up in many houses between England and Italy. Her father was a sculptor, and her mother a pianist and painter.
In 1972 she was invested as Dame by the British Empire.
She died in 1993, at 100, in the Veneto’s hamlet of Asolo, an enchanting medieval town - considered one of the most beautiful of Italy - which had become her source of inspiration, and beloved by many other artists and poets for its tremendous allure and beauty of the surrounding landscape.
She is now buried in the small cemetery of Asolo, after having lived an adventurous life, first as a nurse in Italy during the first world war and later on as an enthusiast off-the-beaten-path traveller, eager for knowledge and life experience until her last breath.
She was really a lively woman, active, passionate and open to life until her last years.
At 93, while planning a new journey to Spain, Freya Stark was asked about her relationship with death.
Her reply: I feel about it as about the first ball, or the first meet of hounds, anxious as to whether one will get it right, and timid and inexperienced (..) all the feelings of youth.
Villa of Freya Stark in Asolo Italy
Her villa in Asolo and the surrounding park are usually open to visit. The so called Villa Freya was built between the end of 1700 and the beginning of 1800, along the pre-existent medieval walls.
The big romantic park behind the house, besides housing the remains of the foundations of a roman theatre – still visible - is a fine example of a landscaped garden, that she personally planned and took care of during her years spent in the hilltop medieval town of Veneto.
Unfortunately the garden has been altered because of many changes occurred over the years. For this reason, both the house and the garden are currently closed to visits as they are being remodeled (allegedly until the end of 2011).
The plan is to bring back the park to its original aspect, like Freya Stark had conceived it, just the exact look it had when she described it:
The garden was quite small but it had all a garden needs, a pleached alley of hornbeams over-arching, a statue of Bacchus under dark laurel boughs (...) that seemed to focus the colours of the plain and of the far Euganean hills. The wall of the house was heavily clustered with a rose called Fortune (..) and the memory of its rich bunches, nectarine coloured (...) comes to me as a symbol of happyness even now.
Her passion for the Middle East started at 9, when she received a copy of the book Thousands and one nights as a gift. From then on, she turned into an avid reader, becoming soon in her youth fluent in Arabic and Turkish, and over the years mastering other languages and dialects.
She has been both the first woman and the first Westerner to travel across some areas of the Middle East, from Egypt to Irak, Arabia, Syria and Turkey, as far as India. Over there she spent part of her life getting to know – among others - Bedouins, their culture and lifestyle that she learnt to love and respect.
Those journeys were often adventurous and hazardous, made both by jeep and on the back of a camel or donkey.
In the second world war she also worked for the British Information Ministry to favour the neutrality of the Arabs.
No wonder she was also keen on the quiet and soothing small town of Asolo in the heart of Veneto.
Based on her travel experiences, in 50 years of career spanning from 1930’s to 1980s’ she wrote over 20 travel books plus several volumes of letters.
Here are some publications of Freya Stark:
Baghdad Sketches From Freya Stark to Medieval Towns Go to Veneto Explorer Home Page
The Valleys of the Assassins and Other Persian Travels
The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut
A Winter in Arabia
Letters From Syria
The Freya Stark Story
Gateways and Caravans: A Portrait of Turkey