I always say there’s nothing better than being paid to go abroad and see new places. Last summer, I went to the Côte d’Azur to film Downton Abbey: A New Era. It was tricky, obviously, because we were in the middle of the pandemic, so we had the terrible hardship of having to isolate in a gorgeous hotel in the South of France for a week before we could start shooting. That was a nice problem to have.
Before that shoot, my last big trip had been in August of 2019, when our family and some friends went on holiday to the island of Meganisi in Greece. It’s a real getaway island that I found out about through Simpson Travel. I’d said that we were looking for a place to take a bunch of teenagers—10 of them!—but that we also wanted a bit of peace and quiet, some sea and some fish. The upside of Meganisi is that it’s quite remote and not easily accessible; the downside is that it’s quite remote and not easily accessible. I think the teenagers may have gotten a bit bored, but it was my holiday, too, so there.
The island’s main harbor is called Vathy, and it’s a quintessential Greek fishing port. If you needed to cast a fishing village—with a few cafés, grocers, and bakers, and a guy on a putt-putt going past and some kids playing handball and some boats with their sterns pointed into the dock—you’d cast Vathy.
There’s a bit of a southern Mediterranean mañana feel about everything there, but things happen eventually: Stavros will know Vassilis, who will know Aristo, who could probably do something on Thursday.
Each day, we’d visit beautiful little beaches and coves, and we took a boat out one day and had a wonderful time exploring the neighboring islands. It’s a perfect place to imagine you’re in some Odyssean idyll, on some Homeric voyage, looking out and wondering which of the great warriors from ancient times would have sailed around these islands.
I’m usually quite an early riser, so I’d often find myself up before anybody else. There were two or three days like this, when I managed to catch the sunrise. They normally say, “Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning,” but that wasn’t the case in Meganisi. There was a sense of peace and calm, knowing that all your chicks are safe and asleep, and you’re there with a cup of coffee as this extraordinary sunrise is just beginning to glow over the horizon and bring you into the new day. I felt overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. A moment alone, a moment of peace—in our busy world, those are all too rare.
Now, looking back, I treasure that sunrise even more. At the moment, we’ve all got so many conflicting sources of stress pulling us in different directions as we go through the different stages of this nasty disease. But the one good thing is that the sun will still rise tomorrow.
Hugh Bonneville reprises the role of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, in Downton Abbey: A New Era, in theaters May 20.