The Broken Road

The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
The original cover (not my NYRB edition)

This is the concluding third volume in Patrick Leigh Fermor's wonderful travel memoir.  The first volumes are A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water.  I loved both of those, and the main reason that it has taken me nearly two years to read all three volumes is because I adore them so much that I spaced them out and read them slowly, so as not to finish them too soon.  This final volume is not quite complete; Fermor was working on it at his death, and he was an obsessive trimmer and re-writer, so this is longer than the other two--because he didn't get to trim it down as much--and also unfinished.  The tale never does quite make it over the final miles to Constantinople.  Instead, two of Fermor's close friends edited the material and added journal entries (very sparse ones) from time in Constantinople and a lovely long visit to Mount Athos in Greece.

The Broken Road is the longest volume, but it covers only two countries: Bulgaria and Romania.  It starts in the fall of 1934, about nine months into young Paddy's cross-European tour, and ends just about three months later (with the addition of next February on the mountain).  As in the previous books, Paddy is either staying with wealthy people (they pass him along with introductions from city to city) who are kind and hospitable and erudite, or with rough peasant folks who are kind and hospitable and talented.  He studies languages and history with incredible enthusiasm and makes innumerable friends--nearly all of whom are destined to disappear tragically over the next decade.

There are some strange adventures.  At only one point is Paddy's rucksack stolen, to his shock.  Once or twice he comes perilously close to dying of exposure.  And he meets a couple of fairly eminent writers too.

Paddy's final visit is to Mount Athos, Greece's holy mountain island.  It's covered in ancient monasteries, and only men are allowed on the island--to the point that all the sheep and cattle and dogs are male, and must be brought over from the mainland instead of bred.  The laypeople who live on the mountain usually move out as older, widowed, men, or go back and forth.  Paddy hikes from one monastery to another until it's hard to believe an island could hold so many. 

After this, Paddy stayed in Greece right up until war broke out four years later, and he fought in Greece for most of the war.  I'd quite like to read more of his writing, so I hope to find Mani next.

If you have the travel bug, I think these are must-read books.  They are just wonderful.  The problem with them is that they're guaranteed to make you long to hike across Europe yourself, or at the very least to visit many of the same places.  I am so glad that some blogger--I have no idea who--mentioned these long ago, so that I could read them!  These are some of my all-time favorite books found through blogging, and I will be reading them again and again.


  1. This sounds so fascinating! Now I want to read all 3 volumes.

  2. I loved the first two books and like you, I savoured them slowly over time.
    The Broken Road is one my TBR pile, but I've developed this crazy idea that I should reread A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water before diving in.

    I read them before I started blogging, so I don't think it was me who put you onto these, although they have made some of my best of lists over the years :-)

    It's lovely to find another Paddy fan though (I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him at one stage during A Time of Gifts!)


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