With foreign holidays still a grey area, Scottish writer Catherine McEachern decided to assume a European persona at home. Here’s what happened…
Bike rides, al fresco lunches, late dinners, sipping wine in the sun… Europeans just seem to nail the spirit of summer, don’t they?
And they do it with such elegance too. I mean, when I compare myself, a 25-year-old pasty Scot who has been known to burn when it’s raining, to a chic, Italian woman reading her book while she tans effortlessly in the Roman sun, I have to laugh. Or I’ll cry with envy.
It’s true, my freckles and pale complexion have cursed me with the inability to achieve a naturally bronzed glow.
But I thought, maybe if I copied other aspects of a European’s summer routine for a week – spending more time outdoors, drinking Italian wine while flicking through fashion magazines, wearing simple yet sophisticated outfits – I might be able to channel a more relaxing, Mediterranean way of life.
And as summer holidays abroad are still uncertain, this was probably the closest thing to a Spanish villa retreat I was going to get.
Let me talk you through the seven days that followed.
1. I spent evenings on my bike
When I think of holidaying in Europe, I picture leisurely bike rides around cute little towns, stopping off at local gelateries for ice-cream and admiring sun-soaked countryside views (yes, I have just re-watched Normal People for the fifth time).
Try picturing an Italian woman on a rail replacement bus. You can’t do it, can you? She’s definitely on a bicycle.
Now while there isn’t an ice-cream parlour on every corner in sunny Scotland, I do live in a vaguely picturesque rural village, with a cycle path just down the road from my house, so to kick off my week-long experiment, I dusted off my old road bike and set off on a Sunday evening pedal.
I wasn’t expecting much from the exercise, if I’m honest – little did I know that cycling through trees, winding around fields and listening to nothing but the wind is actually the perfect way to unwind.
There’s something about riding your bike – when you’re not doing so simply to get from A to B – that’s both calming and liberating at the same time.
And while I probably didn’t look quite as cool as I felt, I still felt thoroughly continental.
2. I drank Italian wine al fresco
To reward myself for getting halfway through the working week, I decided to have a couple of glasses of wine after work on Wednesday.
This may not technically be a massive change for me, but the wine was Italian and I did have it outdoors, so.
I opted for a tipple of Freixenet’s Italian Sparkling Rosé, took myself into the back garden and settled down with a magazine.
I would argue that rosé is the ultimate holiday drink, and this sparkling variety was fresh, crisp and brimming with florals and red fruit notes, and an elegant base of white flowers and apples.
Factor in the glitzy cut-glass bottle, and I felt as though I was living the high life - albeit without actually leaving my house.
Usually I wouldn’t have a drink outside unless the temperature is rocketing, but even in a jumper and jeans, I could feel the fresh air helping me to leave the stresses of the work day behind.
Turns out birdsong and a light breeze is more relaxing than my sofa and The One Show. Who knew?
3. I took long lunch breaks
Baking hot temperatures mean that lunch in the Med is a leisurely affair, and frankly, I am here for it.
I currently work from home, and so with a slightly earlier start, and a slightly later finish, a two-hour lunch break is actually pretty achievable.
So, instead of shoving a cheese and ham sandwich into my mouth while watching an episode of Friends for the hundredth time, I had time to make delicious food and actually enjoy it.
I made fresh salads for two days, swerving the usual lettuce and cucumber in favour of olives, boiled eggs, sun-dried tomatoes, feta, red onions, avocados, fresh fish… well, you get the idea.
I also had time to go for a walk without the stress of rushing back to my laptop, which meant I actually managed to forget about work, even just for a little while.
I was slightly worried that I would find it hard to work after such a long break, but it had the opposite effect. I felt far more motivated on both days, thanks to a proper break from my screen – definitely something I’ll try to keep up.
4. I ate late dinners
Carrying on with my experiment, I had dinner at 9.30pm on Thursday, pairing my pasta with a delicious glass of Freixenet Chianti D.O.C.G., a lightly-spiced red, bursting with delicate berry notes.
As someone who considers 7pm a late time to eat, sitting down to dinner at this hour was a big deal for me - also, I go to bed at about 11pm, so it meant I fell asleep with a belly full of food… and I didn’t hate it.
While I, and I’m sure many others, have always believed that eating late at night is bad for you, research in fact shows that having food before bed can significantly improve your sleep.
Weirdly enough, you need energy to have a decent kip, so going to bed hungry can leave you tossing and turning.
Yet again, an aspect of the Mediterranean lifestyle worth mimicking.
5. I dressed the part
On the last day of my experiment, I tried to emulate classic, European street style.
After flicking through some magazines and scrolling through Instagram, I decided to go for timeless items of clothing that wouldn’t look out of place in a café in Milan: loose-fitting pale jeans, a tailored blazer, loafers and structured shoulder bag.
True, I probably looked a bit out of place in my local greasy spoon, but as I sat outside with my sunglasses on, sipping a double espresso, my self-consciousness evaporated.
I felt pretty confident and – dare I say it – sophisticated.
Now, as I reflect on my week of embracing the Mediterranean lifestyle, I realise I enjoyed literally every aspect. The al-fresco dining, the café culture, the leisurely lunches, it all felt so refreshing.
I even found I could pull off an entirely different sense of style.
Yes, I will miss the spectacular vistas of a foreign landscape this year, and I’d still rather ride my bike through a Tuscan vineyard than down my own street, but by adopting a different mindset, I actually felt just as relaxed as I would on holiday on my own front lawn.
And while I definitely didn’t get a sun tan, maybe I have more in common with our glamorous Mediterranean cousins than I first thought…
Looking for the perfect drink to sip while embracing a European lifestyle? Having long been experts in Cava, Freixenet has now extended its 150 years of wine-making expertise to create a range of high-quality Italian still and sparkling wines, all of which will add a touch of Mediterranean joy to your summer. Shop the range here.