Scotland in France? Germany in Argentina? Curious towns that lost their compass
Schnitzel in the South American pampas? Bagpipes in the Alps? Our writers have discovered some misplaced towns on their travels.
Germany – in Argentina
In 2017 Clare Wiley paid a visit to La Cumbrecita, a surreal slice of Deutschland in rural Argentina. “The street signs are in German, the restaurants serve schnitzel and goulash, while the delis peddle Bavarian-style beer and jars of homemade sauerkraut,” she wrote. “It’s undeniably kitsch.”
La Cumbrecita was designed as a faithful recreation of a Swiss-German village, but a gimmick it is not. The settlement was established by a German family, who migrated to Argentina in 1932 and built a holiday home in the mountains to remind them of the motherland. Find out how their little bolthole evolved into a Bavarian-style village here.
Germany – in America, Africa and beyond
It isn’t just Argentina. German enclaves crop up in some other unlikely places. There’s the “Germany of the Caribbean”, Colonia Tovar in Venezuela (actually a few miles from the coast), founded by immigrants from the Grand Duchy of Baden (later incorporated into Germany); Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, once part of a German colony and where evidence of Germanic culture remains, not least in the profusion of beer houses; and Bismarck in North Dakota, named in honour of the Iron Chancellor.
The US town’s authorities hoped naming the town after Otto would attract German immigrants, which it did. Ensuing settlers brought an appetite for beer with them, which lives on in German-themed bars such as Lüft, where punters can quaff strong brews and sizzling bratwurst.
There is also a big German community in Cincinnati – so much so that its (now) hipster district is called Over The Rhine. A lot of the streets still have Germanic names, despite many being changed due to anti-German feeling during the First and Second World Wars.
Scotland – in France
Our France expert Anthony Peregrine recently visited Aubigny-sur-Nère, a half-timbered country town in a Caledonian cloak. “The Saltire is ubiquitous, high-street shops have kilted blokes adorning their façades and there’s a three-metre monument to the Auld (Franco-Scots) Alliance outside the library,” he explained. “The place abounds in unexpected jockery, and has done, off and on, since the Hundred Years’ War. Around 1420, Charles VII was having terrible trouble with the invading English.
His own nobles being unreliable, Charles called on the Scots for help. Predictably, they came hurtling across the sea, some 10,000 or so under John Stewart to rip into the Sassenachs at the Battle of Baugé. Following that victory, they remained mainstays of the French military for 250 years. The links remain. Aubigny has its own blue and green tartan, its own whisky, an annual Franco-Scottish festival (July 14-16 2017) and, Lord help us, a pipe band.”
Scotland – in Italy
There’s echoes of Scotland elsewhere. The little village of Gurro, in the Italian Alps, is populated by the descendants of Scottish soldiers, who – according to local lore – arrived after fleeing the Battle of Pavia in the 16th century. Why were Scots fighting in a war between France and The Holy Roman Empire?
It was in fact commonplace, under the Auld Alliance, for Scottish warriors to stand beside their French counterparts (in 1418 the Garde Écossaise, an elite Scottish military unit, was even founded to protect the French monarchy). Five centuries on, tartan and bagpipes remain the order of the day and many residents cheer on Scotland over their home country in Six Nations rugby matches.
Wales – in Patagonia
Argentina is also the unlikely home to a large Welsh community. Michael Kerr explains: “On July 28 1865, more than 150 Welsh-speaking men, women and children landed at what is now Puerto Madryn on the Atlantic coast of Argentine Patagonia. They had sailed in May from Liverpool on the Mimosa, a converted tea clipper, with the intention of establishing a community where they could practise their language and faith.
“Patagonia, their leaders had assured them, was much like the green and fertile lowlands of Wales. In truth, it was a hard, inhospitable place where water was hard to come by and there were no trees to fell for fuel or building. But for the help of the Tehuelche, the indigenous nomads, who bartered guanaco meat for Welsh bread and offered lessons in hunting, the settlers would probably have starved. They persevered.
Having established their first settlement at the mouth of the Río Chubut, Rawson, they pushed inland, defying drought and flooding to build houses and chapels and towns and a railway.”
In 2015, the Welsh celebrated 150 years in Patagonia, and visitors to Chubut province can expect to see the red dragon fluttering alongside Argentinian flags.
The Basque Country – in Canada
The ikurriña, the red, white and green Basque flag, flies alongside the maple leaf in Red Bay, a remote settlement in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The links have existed for 400 years, when Basque whalers first negotiated the savage seas that protect it.
Nigel Richardson writes: “The precious commodity they were after was the oil produced by the rendering of whale blubber, which was used in lamps and paint – the castles and cathedrals of 16th-century Europe were decorated and lit from this faraway place.
“The men who produced the oil were like modern-day oil-rig workers, putting up with hardship, danger and social isolation for the sake of reales in their pockets. Every spring they set sail from the city of San Sebastián and surrounding ports, taking eight weeks to make the crossing. Every autumn, before the winter ice froze them in, they sailed back with holds full of whale oil. What happened in between is the story of Red Bay.”
Ireland – in the Caribbean
“Montserrat has a longstanding connection with Ireland which was borne of desperation and escape,” explains Chris Leadbeater. “It reaches back to the 17th century, when the island became a refuge for Irish men and women fleeing persecution in their homeland.
It first began to receive Irish migrants in 1628, but a steady flow became a flood after 1649 when Oliver Cromwell – freshly empowered in London after Parliamentarian victory in the English Civil War and the execution of Charles I – invaded Ireland and began an oppression of the Catholic members of its population.”
Visit Montserrat in March to really celebrate the Irish connection. “St Patrick’s Festival on Montserrat is exactly this – an unlikely hurrah that is hugely and strangely removed from geographical context, and yet enormously exciting. It stretches out for a decadent 10 days, building up to high point on March 17, St Patrick’s Day itself.
Attend it and you can expect all the usual paraphernalia and knowing clichés of Ireland’s most feted party – shamrocks, endless pints of famous beer brands, people dressed as leprechauns. But you also see – and have the opportunity to take part in – events with a distinct Caribbean flavour.
Noisy street-drumming jams. Twenty20 cricket matches. And particularly, a twisting, leg-sapping five-mile Freedom Run, at dawn on the big day, from Cudjoehead in the north of the island to Salem Park on the verge of the west coast.”
France – in India
Pondicherry was a pocket-sized French colony between 1672 and 1954. “They left a legacy that reveals itself in surprising ways,” wrote Mick Brown after a visit. “The long, sweeping promenade – the Rue de la Marine – that borders the Bay of Bengal carries echoes of Deauville or Biarritz. The street signs would be at home in any French provincial town; and this is the only place in India where the police wear red képis.”
Stay at the 18th century Hotel de l’Orient, beautifully restored to showcase its old world charm.
London – in China
There are plenty of weird tourist attractions in China, from an upside-down house to a theme park staffed entirely by dwarfs, but most incongruous must be Thames Town, around 20 miles from Shanghai, which comes with cobbled streets, Victorian terraces, traditional English pubs and corner shops. Permanent residents are few and far between, according to reports, but it is a popular venue for weddings.
Arizona – in Spain
Spain’s Tabernas Desert looks for all the world like a few million acres of Arizona has been airlifted halfway across the world. Indeed, it is regularly used by filmmakers shooting Westerns and the three Western-style theme parks in the area – Fort Bravo, Western Leone and Mini Hollywood – serve to exacerbate the disorientation.
The Netherlands – in South Africa, America and beyond
Evidence of the Dutch Empire is scattered around the world. Stellenbosch seems like a Dutch village dropped into the middle of South Africa (expect to see gabled homesteads galore), two-thirds of the population of Sioux Center in Iowa have Dutch heritage, while a trip to Willemstad in Curaçao is truly confusing. Gail Simmons explains: “The rows of tall, waterside warehouses are downright Dutch, but their cheery rainbow colours most definitely aren’t. The street names – Handelskade, Dijkstraat – are also definitely Dutch, though the sounds of salsa wafting from the shops are positively, gaily South American. It seems this small island, about the size of the Isle of Wight, has always had an identity crisis.” Needless to say, you can fly there direct with KLM.
France and Holland – in the Caribbean
European influence in the Caribbean extends to the island of St Martin/St Maarten. The latter name refers to the southern half of the island, a Dutch outpost, the former to the northern half, a French one.
Nigel Tisdall explains: “Venture to the south of the island, and St Maarten offers Holland with hedonism. Mega-yacht marinas, gaudy casinos, high-rise condos, a daily drenching of cruise-ship passengers – everything is devoted to raking in the tourist cash. The only reason to linger is for the fairground thrill of Maho Beach, where bathers lie on the sand as the jumbo jets flying into Princess Juliana airport tear overhead with a heaven-ripping roar.
“Go to the French north, however, and life feels more refined. Here the coastline is sprinkled with waterside bistros, small resort hotels and an impressive choice of 36 public beaches. It’s busy, but the familiar frenzy that is modern tourism is mollified by the presence of chic swimwear, pert-bottomed gendarmes and patisseries serving featherlight quiches and tartelette aux framboises. In the French model of the Caribbean dream, buildings are limited to four storeys and everyday life stops for a civilised two-hour lunch break.”