Don't worry, we're not going to wax lyrical about the travels of the annoying nodding dog off the telly; rather those of Sir Winston Churchill, the man often acknowledged as the Greatest Briton ever. This Saturday (24 January, 2015) is the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston's death and as a travel company, we're focusing on the many and varied destinations he visited during his extraordinary life. We think it's safe to say his travels were considerably more interesting than those of the Churchill insurance pooch. So without further ado, and with a giant dollop of gratitude to Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre, we present our guide to the 10 places that helped define Churchill.
A young Churchill, newly commissioned as an officer in the 4th Hussars, was chomping at the bit to see his first action and managed to secure a posting to Cuba in 1895 during the Cuban War of Independence, albeit as a journalist rather than a soldier. While in Cuba he experienced the thrill (for him, at least) of coming under fire for the first time, appropriately enough on his 21st birthday, and also developed a lifelong love affair with Havana's finest cigars. Churchill later stayed at the Hotel Nacional in Havana en route to the States to deliver his famed 'Iron Curtain' speech in 1946.
Churchill's next posting was to India, with young Winston seeing action first on the polo pitches of Bangalore in 1896 and then in the marginally more hostile North West Frontier in 1897, fighting and writing with equal gusto.
Another year, another conflict, and by 1898 Churchill was well on his way to becoming the only British Prime Minister who could claim to have been shot at on four continents. This time the dust up was in Sudan, where he took part in the last great British cavalry charge at the battle of Omdurman, just outside Khartoum. A tour is highly recommended, as is exploring the rest of this fascinating country, with more pyramids than Egypt and a tiny fraction of the visitors.
Churchill's exploits during the Boer War in South Africa in 1899 included an act of conspicuous bravery when the armoured train he was travelling on was ambushed by Boer commandos. 'He was taken prisoner', explains Allen Packwood, 'and it was his escape from a Boer prisoner of war camp that first made him a national and international celebrity and which assured his election to Parliament, where he remained, with only a short break in the 1920's, from 1900 till 1964.' Three Trees at Spioenkop is the perfect place to base yourself for a superb Boer War battlefield tour, ideally in Churchills, a two bedroomed cottage.
Churchill visited Egypt several times, including in 1898 en route to Sudan, and then again in 1902 when he stayed at the Old Cataract Hotel before the inauguration of the Aswan Dam. He later stayed at the Mena House Hotel in the shadow of the Pyramids. In his honour, both hotels have luxurious Churchill Suites.
Churchill's experienced France from the trenches of the Western Front in 1916, where he served in part to rehabilitate his reputation after the debacle at Gallipoli. He yet again displayed his trademark bravery (or recklessness) by making regular forays into No Man's Land while commanding the Royal Scots Fusiliers. In later life the French Riviera fulfilled a very different purpose for Churchill. 'It was,' says Packwood, 'somewhere to paint and relax in old age.' Churchill became famous for speaking an extraordinary form of franglais that prompted General de Gaulle to say he'd learnt English in order to understand Churchill's French. Miaow.
Morocco was another place 'where Churchill escaped to paint, write and think from the 1930s to the 1950s,' says Packwood, 'especially in Marrakech.' We can recommend several lovely riad rooftops from which to watch the sunset turning the nearby Atlas Mountains a deep red. It was this view that made Marrakech, in Churchill's view, 'simply the nicest place on Earth to spend an afternoon.'
At the Potsdam Conference just outside Berlin in July 1945 Churchill realised that while he may have helped win WWII, he was already in the process of losing the peace as the USA and USSR flexed their superpower muscles. His humiliation was complete when the general election results delivered a landslide Labour victory and Clement Attlee took his place alongside Truman and Stalin at the negotiating table.
'New York was his mother's birthplace,' says Packwood, 'and the American city Churchill visited more than any other from his first visit aged 20 in 1895 to his last in 1961.' Churchill visited the USA on many other occasions, especially during his attempts to persuade President Roosevelt to come to Britain's aid in the bleak war years of 1940 and 1941. One evening at the White House the President famously wandered into Churchill's rooms and surprised him in the bath. The Prime Minister insisted he stay and chat, much to Roosevelt's embarrassment.
In search of somewhere to paint and write his WWII memoirs, Churchill visited Madeira in 1950. He had hoped to travel incognito, but as his liner, the Durban Castle, docked in Funchal the harbour walls were lined with crowds hailing 'the man who saved the world'. He stayed at the (recently revamped) Reid's Palace, another hotel to have subsequently honoured him with a Churchill Suite.
That makes 10, but the list wouldn't be complete without....
As an elderly man Churchill fell and broke his hip while in France. Fearing the worst, he begged not to die away from England. As it happened, he would go on to live until the age of 90, and did eventually die in the land of his birth. This anniversary year is the perfect time to visit some of the places in Great Britain most associated with Churchill. There's his birthplace, Blenheim Palace; the Houses of Parliament, the scene of most of his sparkling speeches; the Churchill War Rooms, where we can even arrange a private out-of-hours tour with the Museum Director; and Chartwell, his beloved country house, now a National Trust property and home to many of his finest paintings.