I just turned 62. I am about to undertake a very serious spinal operation and, as is only natural, my mind is restless, contemplating the inevitability of the end, sooner or later. I wonder, what will I think on my deathbed, what was the purpose of my life?

In the eyes of many, I achieved success: I run a fine brand and design company that produces award-winning work, I live a comfortable life in Sydney, I travel all over the world and I have three wonderful children - what more could I ask for?

Much more… Something lasting, a worthwhile legacy, at the very least a body of inspiring stories that touch people’s  hearts.

I decided to leave the company in the hands of my employees, give away all my material possessions and throw myself into a gloriously mad adventure, walking 8,000 kilometres from Southern Spain to Turkey, free to give rein to my lifelong passions: art, history, gastronomy and anthropology of the Mediterranean.

I’ll call it 8 Million Steps.


On the morning of the Day One of the 8,000 km journey, things are not quite as they should be. Maia, our director and my daughter, is not well.

Weather is terrible - not the best advertisement for the Mediterranean, but perhaps an apt metaphor for the turbulence that the region has been experiencing lately.

I start the walk under the rock of Gibraltar, or the Pillar of Hercules for the Spaniards. It's a bizarre place,a tiny British outpost conquered by pirates in 1703… and still run by pirates! Its main purpose is to launder money and engage in all kind of contraband, from tobacco and liquor to the more exotic substances brought in by high speed boats that cross between Africa and Europe without much interference (surely the cops won't be part of the whole operation!).

The rock itself, an incredibly imposing structure that looks like a piece from a Harry Potter movie set, was apparently created by Hercules on his travels to the "end of the world". Tired of crossing endless mountains of the Atlas range, he decided to crash through it and, having split the mountain with his fist, an opening was made for the Atlantic to rush in and flood the lowlands… hence the Mediterranean Sea was born.

But back to the first day of walk. It is 9:30 in the morning and I am in foul mood; Maia is sick, the wind is very annoying and so is the rock - the more I walk away from it the closer it seems. Every time I look back, having walked for seemingly ages, there it is, rising from the beach, an all-dominating, monstrous silhouette that refuses to go away, making me feel like I haven't progressed an inch.

At long last, I lose the sight of it and I enter Sotogrande, Hotel Milla de Plata, where my crew is waiting for me. It was a hard walk, but a cold beer and a hot bath work wonders.


To say that the last few days were interesting is an understatement. We’ve been in the hills of Ronda where people eek out their living from an inhospitable, rocky terrain, as they’ve done for centuries. No creature comforts there – it’s all rustic in the extreme. We were hosted by Sophie, an English girl who somehow ended up with her daughter Evie in this middle-of-nowhere place. She tried her best to come up with a plausible excuse, but some things have no explanation.

The village consisted of a church, two bars and a cluster of houses with less than 300 inhabitants. As soon as we arrived we were adopted by an odd little man who didn’t leave our side for the two days we spent there, constantly repeating the same phrase: “We’ll get there in time”. Get where? We’ll never know.

We visited a goatherd whose father, grandfather and three generations before that were all goatherds; he was completely at one with his land and his goats, like some Greek demigod, part human part animal. He is the last of his kind. Just a few years ago there were 30 goatherds in the vicinity but now he is the only one left. He has no family and, with a resigned shrug of the shoulders, said “All of this will disappear, no more goats after me".

The change has been more brutal and faster than anyone could imagine. Just days before we were there, the whole village was declared illegal.

Why? Because its inhabitants engaged in a highly subversive activity: selling and exchanging their perfectly natural, ecologically grown produce. Apparently it didn’t meet the draconian sanitary standards set in Brussels by faceless bureaucrats who have never grown anything in their life. One day, without warning, the police swooped down on the village and closed the shop that served as the centre of the community by facilitating the interchange of locally produced food (i.e. you have too many oranges and I have too many eggs - let’s swap some). To make their point, they arrested the lady who ran the shop and poured 300 litres of honey down the river!

Consequently, the poor villagers are forced to travel more than 20 kilometres to buy their groceries in a supermarket… ultraprocessed crap produced by multinationals, foodstuff on steroids that, miraculously, complies with all the government regulations you can poke a stick at.

I talked to the disgraced farmers, visited their idyllic little plots of land, tasted their deliciously fresh produce, and I was left boiling with rage, yet powerless in the face of such injustice and cruelty. As the local beekeper said, “Everything good is illegal and everything bad is legal”.

Who is behind this sinister plot to put an end to the traditional way of life? Is it a deliberate attempt by the big business to take over or is it just ignorance and incompetence on the part of the local and national authorities?

Feeling utterly deflated, we descended a few kilometres from the mountains to the coast, to Puerto Banus, and the contrast couldn’t be greater: suddenly we were on a totally different planet.

The port is home to a huge flotilla of luxury yachts, haute couture boutiques and ostentatious wealth. You don’t hear much Spanish, everyone is a tourist or an expat.

As I take a walk around the back alleys in search of an affordable beer, I am accosted by hordes of drug pedlars and hookers. It’s low season and two Russian prostitutes are only too happy to chat with me over a drink. Anna and Svetlana. The latter has a degree in classical literature, so we talk about Tolstoi, Dostojevski and Chekhov. They swap entertaining anecdotes about their clients, rating the English at the bottom of the heap (always drunk) and the Germans at the top (always pay well).

The difference between the primitive innocence of the people in the hills and this cosmopolitan cesspool of money and vice is too tremendous to comprehend.


The Mediterranean is composed of complex layers of people and cultures; it’s not neatly laid on top of each other as if it were a result of a geological process of sedimentation – there are cracks, spillages and faultlines that muddle it all up.

Each layer exposes a riotous procession of invasions, migrations, trade and all that coming and going that has conspired to create the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious societies that inhabit the shores of the Mediterranean.

The romantic view is that these societies have learned to live together over the millennia, through assimilation and necessity, but history offers a less sentimental picture.

Whilst it’s true that there are countless examples of peaceful coexistence between different ethnic groups, it has always taken very little to upset the harmony – time and time again, the once familiar neighbours suddenly become enemies, they become the alien ‘them’ as distinct from ‘us’.

Yet the concept of pure identity – be it ethnic or national – is deeply flawed. Those who glorify their impeccably unspoilt pedigree probably have ancestors that make mockery of it. A Phoenician sailor, a Greek settler, a Persian soldier, a Nubian slave, a Roman magistrate, an Arab scholar, a Jewish merchant, a Nordic horseman, an endless influx of ‘them’, woven into our societies’ fabric over time, who are they?

They are ‘us’.


After a hectic four weeks of walking, writing, interviewing, editing and dealing with all manner of logistics, I am finally slowing down.

I have no choice - crossing the mountains of Sierra Nevada on foot can't be done in a hurry. Yesterday was monstrous: 24 kilometres of a hard trek across punishing ups and downs in a rocky terrain better suited for mountain goats than an old man like myself. It took eight hours, interminable eight hours that seriously tested my resolve.

You can't imagine how deliriously happy I was to reach my destination in Bérchules!

Today, taking a much easier 20 km walk through the valleys of Las Alpujarras, I feel the after effects - my legs weigh a ton each and every little move hurts. At the same time, I feel a tremendous sense of achievement.

As I walked through the most difficult parts of the mountain ranges, I consoled myself by thinking of those who took the same path hundreds of years ago, without proper shoes (actually, mine are not terribly proper either) or a hot shower in a cozy hotel after a gruelling day.

I am walking on GR7, an ancient route that traverses the whole of Europe and was once used by travellers, merchants, pilgrims, bandits, people invading and people fleeing the invaders... I imagine Spanish soldiers in the 16th century, marching for months through this inhospitable landscape in their heavy armour, carrying supplies and arms while dodging the arrows of the Moorish inhabitants of the region (the mountainous terrain of Las Alpujarras was the Moors' last stand in Spain).

I may not sympathise with the Christian soldiers' cause or actions, but I now have a new-found respect for their strength and determination. They make my epic effort look like a leisurely walk in a park.


The Mediterranean scholars depict the Barbarian invasion of Rome as a destruction of an advanced civilisation and the beginning of the Dark Age which set Europe back one thousand years, whilst their Northern counterparts view it as a replacement of a tired, decadent society by a more virile Nordic one.

The clash between the North and the South has defined Europe ever since – protestant versus catholic, reason versus emotion, discipline versus indulgence, industry versus agriculture, progress versus tradition.

Today we are witnessing the second invasion by the Northern tribes, this time in the form of mass tourism.

The Northern tourist before the World War II was likely to be relatively wealthy and educated, attracted by the romantic notion of the Mediterranean propagated by the likes of Goethe, Byron and Stendhal. Their South was an open-air museum of classical art and architecture, quaint customs and ancient traditions. This kind of tourist may have been somewhat irritating with his superior airs, but he was harmless.

It was in the 1950s that a new breed of the tourist emerged, courtesy of the packaged tour phenomenon: the Mediterranean coast of Spain had been overrun by the hordes of English, German, Dutch and Scandinavian holiday makers in search of the sun and cheap booze. Just like in the first Barbarian invasion sixteen hundred years ago, the local culture is treated with contempt – the new tourist is not interested in an authentic experience, he would rather have his home replicated under the Mediterranean sun.

The island of Mallorca pathetically illustrates the point: traditional Spanish tabernas have been replaced by German stüben where the delirious sun-seekers devour bratwursts, guzzle Bavarian beer and stomp to the the music of imported oom-pah-pah bands.

Similarly, the areas of Costa del Sol and Benidorm have become soulless jungles of grey concrete without an identity. The streets are lined with Irish pubs, Italian pizzerias, Mexican taco joints, Chinese eateries, fast food of every denomination and cafés of no particular origin; bars that had once pulsated with flamenco music are now filled with loud throngs of beefy blokes watching their favourite football teams, be it Manchester United or Bayern Münich; and the old markets selling fresh local produce have given way to shopping arcades selling tacky souvenirs.

The stupidity of man never ceases to baffle me – why do we always kill the very thing we love? We 'discover' pristine places of exquisite beauty only to trample all over them, rob them of their character, and ultimately destroy them.


If you want to understand Spain, you need to move slowly, from village to village, and observe how everything changes, sometimes subtly and other times suddenly.

As I am heading north, the undulated sea of olives that was Andalusia gives way to the flat expanse of orange groves and rice fields.

The music changes, the language changes, the food changes. People change too – I must confess that I miss the exuberance of the south, the ease of making friends for life before you even finish the first glass of wine.

And then there's ancient history. Northern Spaniards contend that Africa begins in Andalusia, and I think it's true in a sense. Eight centuries of Arab rule have left an unmistakeable footprint: an air of slow living and acceptance, of letting things take their own course, of enjoying every moment as if it were the only moment that really mattered. Passion over reason.

They also say that, as you get closer to Catalunya, reason takes over. We are now in the province of Valencia and I've been told that the locals are somewhat reserved. Well, anything but! We're having one amazing experience after another, dished out by incredibly warm, welcoming and generous people!

In just a few days, we've been treated to spectacular feasts, unforgettable journeys and 8 Million Fascinating Conversations – thank you Irene, Jordi, Joan, Toni, Pascual, Esther, Maria Jesus, Mariano, Xavi, Maria, Belen and Chema.

So I discovered that, despite the enormous diversity of Spain, there is a unifying element: the heart.


Sevilla, like a seductive witch, weaves potent magic and casts a spell over those who wisely choose to surrender to it.

The city was founded over 3,000 years ago by a Phoenician seafarer Melkart, who was referred to as Hercules (Herakles) in ancient mythology – the same Hercules who is said to have created the Mediterranean Sea by splitting a mountain in half and letting the waters of the Atlantic to rush in through the Straits of Gibraltar.

A colourful succession of different cultures occupied Sevilla over time: Phoenicians, Tartessos, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Vikings, Moors and, finally, the Castilians.

Each has left an imprint, but none more so than the Moors who ruled the city from 711 AD to 1248, transforming Sevilla into a glittering showpiece of flourishing Arab culture. Their exotic heritage is clearly in evidence to this day: the maze-like plan of Barrio Santa Cruz, narrow alleys where white-washed houses nearly touch across, lush patios decorated with ceramic tiles and trickling fountains that could be perfectly at home in Fez or Marrakesh.

However, Sevilla’s true golden era came after the Christian re-conquest and the subsequent expulsion of the Moors and the Jews in the 16th century.

It became a point of departure for the great voyages of discovery and the city was granted monopoly of all trade with the New World. The influx of the American wealth, particularly gold, converted Sevilla into a thriving metropolis, arguably the world’s richest at the time.

But the gold wasn’t to last forever. Sevilla embarked on a slow process of decay in the 17th century, as if it were put to sleep.

Refusing to accept defeat, its citizens plunged cheerfully into a whirlpool of fiestas and ceremonial rituals, celebrating beauty and passion with a splendour that has become synonymous with this city of superlatives and exaggerated gesture… and, as far as gestures go, La Semana Santa and La Feria have no equal.

La Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is celebrated all over the Mediterranean, but nowhere quite as fervently as in Sevilla. The inhabitants of the city are divided into brotherhoods, each devoted to a particular Virgin Mary from a particular church. The penitents, or nazarenos, who are covered in a hooded cloak so as not to reveal their identity, place their centuries-old statue of the Virgin on a fabulously decorated float (Jesus gets one too) and take her for a long walk through the narrow alleys of the old town.

The theatrical impact of the Semana Santa procession, the precision of the choreography, the sorrowful music of the accompanying band, the heady scent of incense and the extravagant beauty of the pageant are impossible to describe in words. 

It looks very much like a religious ritual, yet it’s more interesting than that – most spectators are visibly touched by the experience, but it’s not necessarily religion that stirs their emotions. It’s the incredible beauty and the perfection of it all… an aesthetic impact so deep that it simply leaves you breathless, agape with awe.

And then, only 14 days after the solemn rite of the Holy Week, just when you thought that the place had a tragic disposition, Sevilla hurls itself into La Feria, a whole week of splendid debauchery, a wild orgy of non-stop singing, dancing and drinking.

La Feria is a heady concoction of everything that makes Andalusia so attractive: zest for life, irrepressible energy, lots of laughter and, quite simply, one hell of a good time!


Truth be told, walking 20 to 25 kilometres a day has its ups and downs, both literally and metaphorically. 

The constantly changing scenery is awe-inspiring: as the mountains descend to the sea, I walk through mountains, forests, fields, deserts, beaches, cliffs and countless villages; it’s as if a new curtain opened every now and then, regaling you with a different spectacle.

The extraordinary variety of the Mediterranean landscape is further enriched by the warmth and generosity of the people we meet along the way. Farmers, shepherds, cooks and waiters, artists, all kinds of people who open their doors and their hearts to me and my crew, making our journey well and truly worthwhile and rewarding. 

But then there are many days, especially the ones that involve crossing endless hills and rugged terrain, when I question my sanity and wish that I could just stay put and do nothing… 

Yet there is some inexplicable force that propels me forward, the sea ever on my right, the sun relentlessly pounding down and the wind sandblasting my face. I just walk on, like it or not. 

I have this odd notion that I’ll be illuminated one day, that some divine revelation will come to me and explain the meaning of this lunacy, but I am no closer to it than I was at the beginning of my long journey.


When I first set foot in Spain some 20 years ago, I was irretrievably smitten. It was as if I finally found home, a place where my heart and soul felt completely at ease.

I still love Spain with the same intensity, even though things have changed since then, mostly for the worse. My son Carlos (a Sevillano!) tells me that I see the country through rose-coloured glasses, uncritical of its faults. He may be right, but that’s what you do when you’re in love. 

I have now walked 1,200 kilometres along the Spanish coast of the Mediterranean and today I am about to cross into France. I feel gutted, as if I were saying goodbye to a lover. I will miss the warmth and the generosity of the Spanish people, the laughter and the intimacy accompanying every conversation, I’ll even miss the noise of the plazas filled to the brim with boisterous crowds! 

Reluctantly, I enter France. I find a bar. Three elderly villagers are sitting as far from each other as possible. Bonjour, I say, but they don’t even lift an eyebrow, they just continue staring into their glass of Pernod, silently contemplating the misery of life... Oh, only the French can truly master the art of existential angst! 

But then, I argue with myself, any nation capable of producing Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot can’t be all that bad...


On the 11th of September thirteen years ago, the world took another giant step for the worse. I vividly remember watching the explosion of the Twin Towers on TV, sensing that it will usher in an era of greater intolerance and hatred. Regretfully, I was right.

By chance rather than design, I chose the date of September 11 to recommence my walk. After a four-week period of summer hibernation with my children in Japan, I was literally shaking with excitement, despite an inconvenience of severe pain in my lower back.

The first day "back in the office" was spectacular! The cliffs north of the Spanish border presented quite a challenge given my physical condition, but I was oblivious to the pain, the adrenalin propelled me forward. I realised how much I missed being at one with the elements, alone, accompanied only by the sound of crashing waves, the wind and an infinite variety of birds and insects. I remembered the words of Armando, our pig farmer friend from Andalusia: "In nature, silence is death".

Later in the day, dining on a steak tartar, I was delirious with happiness. It was Friday evening and the locals were dancing paso doble and tango in the main square... Everything was as it should be.

I attacked the cliffs of the second day with a fierce determination, believing myself to be indestructible. Seven hours later, I was literally crawling through the rugged terrain, suffering from a heat stroke, dehydration and intense pain.

A brutal slog from Cerbère to Argelès-sur-Mer literally broke my back.


I am in Provence. Just saying it transports me immediately to the days when I studied art in Brno (Moravia), when Provence was far away, a figment of my imagination, a paradise on earth inhabited by artists in search of divine light.

At the time, I was particularly inspired by Cézanne, Gauguin and Matisse. I remember spending hours on end in the library, until the dazzling colours got the better of me and I truly believed I was there, overwhelmed by the smell of lavender, pastis and tobacco. Only Nadia, my soul-mate, understood and shared my obsessive fascination; she said she loved me and always will…

Walking is tough now, but in the last few days I made it to Arles and Aix-en-Provence, the two epicenters of art in the beginning of the 20th century. As Van Gogh said, “The future of art is to be found in the south of France”.

The memory of the great artists is ever-present: it feels like stepping into a house you know well, where every room speaks of a shared past. I went to see their work in every museum, drank wine where they used to drink, took a long walk along the path Cezanne used to take, rested a while in his studio, sat in his garden and wrote this blog, by hand, in a tiny notebook, as I always do – I’ll never learn to write directly into a computer.

I am having a wonderful time, thoroughly enjoying my meander through the fragrant hills and mediaeval towns in spite of increasing pain, but I am afraid that my Provence will remain fictional. 

The incredible explosion of artistic energy happened a hundred years ago and today the place is overrun by nostalgics like me, looking for something irretrievably lost. Another world perhaps, more elegant and romantic than the one we live in now.


Imagine a quintessential Tuscan landscape: infinite hills dotted with vineyards and olive orchards, an impressive entrance through a long colonnade of cypress trees that leads to a medieval hamlet dating back to the 14th Century…

You’ve arrived in Locanda dell’ Amorosa, a veritable gem of rustic luxury near Sinalunga. If you’re in luck, you’ll be greeted by a tall man with an unmistakeably noble bearing – that will be Marquis Carlo Citterio, the owner of the Locanda.

I first met Marquis Citterio (“just Carlo please”) over 30 years ago. He dreamt of converting the abandoned village of Amorosa into a world-class rural retreat and, unlike most of us who have entertained a similar dream at some point of our life, he actually did it! Starting with a fabulous restaurant, Carlo has been renovating and adding this and that over time, thoughtfully, with a great deal of taste.

Today, Locanda dell’ Amorosa has 27 rooms, a gourmet restaurant named “Le Coccole” that serves exquisitely fresh local ingredients accompanied by an ample selection of extraordinary wines, and a more casual wine bar “Osteria” where you can sample delicious cheeses and salumi from hand-picked producers, have a drink or two and enjoy the simple pleasures of “buon vivere”.

We settle in for a leisurely chat in the Osteria.

Carlo is a curious blend of a modern entrepreneur and an old-fashioned gentleman. But, first and foremost, he is a committed humanist; he sees the people who work at the Locanda as his family, investing a lot of time and energy in nurturing the potential of every person – he says he gets frustrated when people are not using their full capacity. “It’s more and more difficult to find people with the right attitude, formation and culture”.

Culture clearly matters. “I feel very Italian and I feel European, but at heart I am Mediterranean; my tastes and my way of life are those of ‘L’uomo del Sud’, a Southerner”.

Carlo feels profoundly identified with his land – his eyes light up as he talks about the surrounding fields and forests that have belonged to his family for over a century. His expression changes as he contemplates the future: he has two daughters, but neither wishes to follow in his footsteps. It seems inevitable that the hotel will change hands in time to come, and we can only hope that it will continue in the same spirit, as magnificent as it has been for the last 30 years.

If you’re looking for a haven of tranquillity and an authentic Tuscan experience, you’ll find it at Locanda dell’ Amorosa. 

UPDATE / MARCH 2024: Carlo has finally sold his lovely Locanda.


I’m afraid I have to pull the curtain on 8 Million Steps. My physical condition has not improved since October last year, in fact it has gotten worse. Pain is a strange companion – you almost embrace it because you get used to it and you can't imagine ever living without it.

That’s it then, no more walking the Mediterranean, I’ll just be telling stories. That’s why I am in Italy. I want to tell the story of the “New South”, challenging the stereotypical notion of a backward region ruled by the Mafia. Today, southern Italy paints a very different picture – you can really feel the energy of change in the air, a veritable cultural and social renaissance.

I’ll intend to capture this inspiring transformation in a feature-length documentary, exploring the fascinating history of this part of the world, its exquisite gastronomy, artistic heritage, age-old traditions and, above all, its generous inhabitants.

I am making the film in collaboration with two anti-mafia organisations, Libera Terra and Addio Pizzo, as well as my friends at Slow Food. People I meet are incredibly eager to help – I am constantly regaled with hospitality, delicious food and human warmth.

So that’s what I've been up to for the last four months, trampling through Sicily, Calabria, Campania, Basilicata and Puglia. It’s been absolutely wonderful, but difficult too. The usual 8 Million Steps crew, my daughter Maia and my son-in-law Basil, have not come with me this time because they’re expecting a baby (I'm going to become a grandfather!), so it’s been a hard slog, with a hastily improvised crew that isn't always up to the task. As they say, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”


First day in Sicily, a mad dash from the airport to a small village near Milazzo for a dinner organised by Giuseppe from Slow Food. An amazing dinner awaited at Desio restaurant, run by three siblings, Nino, Andrea and Adriana – a seizmologist, a lawyer and a designer.

My bubbly Italo-Bulgarian assistant Samantha and I are treated to a degustation menu worthy of a three-star establishment. The quality of ingredients and the impressive presentation come as a huge surprise in this place in the middle of nowhere. I compliment Nino on his magnificent achievement and he shrugs his shoulders: “Where is the line between vision and lunacy?”

Since the day we have landed in Palermo, we have been treated to an extraordinary hospitality of the Sicilians for a whole month. We have been hosted by Slow Food’s regional leaders and producers in practically all parts of the island, eating the very finest food and drinking copious quantities of wine. This sounds wonderful of course, but there were days when, like a pair of force-fed geese, we were gasping for air, barely able to move… I was reminded of an old French movie, “Le Grande Bouffe”, in which four friends merrily gorge themselves to death. The trouble with Sicilians is that they don’t take no for an answer.

We’ll always remember the generosity of Slow Food Sicily: thank you Nino, Andrea, Adriana, Giuseppe, Rosario, Marco, Marzia, Daniela, Carlo, Susanna, Mario, Luigi, Salvo and Roberta! I was truly impressed by your passion for traditional food and small producers… if only Slow Food everywhere had the same drive and dedication as you do, the world would be a much better place!