The Secret Mediterranean with Trevor McDonald

by Lisa McGarry

Spanning three continents and 21 countries, the Mediterranean has nurtured some of the most dazzling civilizations of antiquity. Today, amid the stunning landscapes, more cultures live side by side here than anywhere else on earth.

In this new series Sir Trevor McDonald explores the various countries that make up the Med, their individual cultures and traditions and looks beyond the beaches and old towns of holiday brochures to discover the truly secret Mediterranean.

The series gives viewers unique access to hidden, forgotten and overlooked wonders from across the entire region, from the south of France, to the Greek islands and into the north of Africa as Sir Trevor visits cities both ancient and modern, architectural and natural wonders and meets the people who live very different lives in this area.

In the tourist hotspot of Venice, Sir Trevor explores the city’s backwaters with one of only two female gondoliers and looks at how Venice’s infrastructure can hamper modern living. While in Istanbul he discovers how the city’s ancient past has halted in its track a desperately needed solution to it’s huge transport problems.

The series goes behind the scenes in locations that the average visitor to the Med wouldn’t have access to. From the Christina O yacht which costs a cool £400,000 a week to hire to the abandoned airport caught in the middle of the Turkish / Cypriot conflict, which has been frozen in time since the 1974.

Sir Trevor also meets some of the Mediterranean’s most colourful and interesting characters including Cypriot Easyjet owner Stelios, the British vet working to improve the lives of Morocco’s working donkeys, the movie mogul who brought Star Wars to Tunisia, the aristocrat whose family have lived in their giant house in Malta for 700 years despite losing the front door key generations ago and the Italian judge who puts his life on the line trying to bring down the mafia..

The series looks at the area’s stunning landscapes including one of the world’s most dangerous volcanos, Vesuvius, and the people who live in its shadow knowing that it could erupt at any time, and the less tempestuous volcano on the picturesque Greek island of Santorini. But there’s also man made wonders in the Mediterranean, as Sir Trevor visits Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, it has taken over 100 years to build and is nowhere near finished yet. Trevor meets the people hoping to finish it in their lifetime.

The Secret Mediterranean goes beyond the tourists’ favourite destinations and explores places and events hidden from most visitors’ view as Sir Trevor experiences everything from desert rally driving, and being fitted for a fez hat to watching camel wrestling and riding to an emergency callout on board a Venetian ambulance vessel.

Episode One:

In the first episode Sir Trevor visits three countries where history cannot be ignored by those living their today: the Italian city of Venice, Turkey’s capital Istanbul and its southern coastline and the Mediterranean’s most famous coastline which has always traded on its glamorous reputation, the French Riviera.

The French Riviera is where many of the most luxurious yachts in the world are moored in idyll splendour. Chief Officer Lee Wilkes takes Sir Trevor out to sea to board one of the most famous ships to have sailed the Mediterranean in the 1950s and 60s, the Christina O. This boat more than any other epitomises old Riviera chic and has played host to some of the biggest names of the 20th century. Here he meets general manager David Jean Jean whose job it is to cater to every whim and fancy of his wealthy guests.

Bought in 1954 by the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and used for both business and a tool of brazen seduction the boat is pretty much exactly as was when stars such as Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra enjoyed it’s stylish lines. It is no longer owned by the Onassis family, and the present owners offer the vessel for charter at a cool four hundred thousand pounds a week..

Sir Trevor comments: “Walking through the staterooms it’s impossible to ignore the sense of quiet opulence and everywhere there are reminders of the shipping magnate who once owned it. This is where Onasis met his future wife Jackie who had come on board with her then husband John F Kennedy.”

After exploring Aristotle Onasis’s yacht, Sir Trevor travels to the shipping magnate’s birthplace of Turkey. A short journey inland from the university town of Izmir he experiences one of the world’s most unusual sports: Camel Wrestling.

Upon arrival Sir Trevor says: “It’s an extraordinary scene isn’t it – mountains in the background, smoke rising, and the camels in the ring here. Oh here comes one charging this way!”

His guide explains that the event takes place during the breeding season and talks Sir Trevor through the rules: “There are three ways to win the game: the first one is if one camel strikes down the other, the second one is the camel runs away, and the third one is interesting, if the losing camel starts to cry.”

“You are joking!” responds Trevor.

If camel wresting is representative of old traditional Turkey the place Sir Trevor headed to next couldn’t be more different. The coastal town of Antalya houses the most expensive hotel ever built on the shores of the Mediterranean, the Marden Palace Hotel, created by a Russian Billionaire.

Sir Trevor says: “I was given a towel by one member of staff, another took it from me and yet another offered me a cocktail. I managed to pass up the chocolate tray before I was taken up to my room. Because this is the low season and there were few other guests around I had virtually the entire hotel to myself… I had the full attention of some of the 900 staff employed at the Marden Palace Hotel.”

After the luxury of the hotel, Sir Trevor heads back to reality and the city of Istanbul. Home to 13 million people, its bigger than London.

Tall modern buildings rise prosperously into the sky jostling for space with ancient mosques and churches. But what makes Istanbul unique is its geography. It straddles the continents of Europe and Asia. The two are separated by The Bosphorous, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

After 150 years of talking about it and planning, work began to build a railway tunnel under the Bosphorous to help calm the city’s huge traffic problems. But the monumental undertaking has been disrupted and halted almost at every turn as the ghosts of Istanbul’s past have come back to haunt the construction work. Sir Trevor visits a ventilation shaft where work had hardly began before a thousand year old stunningly-preserved Byzantine Palace was discovered. And at another part of the tunnel engineers discovered the remains of one of the biggest ancient ports ever to be found, where more than 35,000 pieces of pottery and artefacts have been unearthed. The whole project should have been completed by now – it’s nowhere near finishing and has already run some $300 million over budget.

Visiting the site Sir Trevor says: “Every time you step on something, you feel you are treading on something precious – every time it crunches. Everywhere you walk are these artefacts. It’s astonishing.”

On to his final destination in this episode Sir Trevor heads to the iconic Mediterranean city of Venice, where daily life is a constant battle to adapt the modern world to a city built around ancient waterways. But of the 400 gondoliers who navigate the canals only two are female, and one of them, Alexandria Hai, has agreed to take Sir Trevor on a tour. She can only do private work for a few hotels and is not allowed to tout for customers at the main boat stations.

Alexandria faces a lot of hostility and, after witnessing other gondoliers’ reactions to her, Sir Trevor tells her: “I am just struck by the fact that your colleagues just pass silently by.”

While Venice is steeped in tradition, it still has to have all the services of a modern metropolis. Sir Trevor meets the Chief of the emergency room, Dr Michele Alzetta, who explains how the city’s ambulances have to be adapted to work on water and the problems this poses. He says: “If the tide is normal there is no problem but if there is an exceptionally low tide it may be un-navigable so we just have to land further away and go by foot.”

Sir Trevor accompanies the ambulance services on an emergency call and says: “It was inspiring to see how Dr Alzetta and his team had managed to adapt to one of the Mediterranean’s most challenging cities.”

Tuesday, 4 January 2011, 8:00PM – 9:00PM ITV1