Places of the Heart
The destinations that stopped Sarah Ferguson in her tracks
1986 | Italy
MONTERCHI My friends and I had come to this Tuscan hillside village to see a fresco – the Madonna del Parto by Piero della Francesca – in a little cemetery chapel. The fresco shows a young Madonna in a dazzling blue gown. She is pregnant, which is quite an unusual depiction, with one hand at her hip and the other on her belly. Two angels are holding back a tent to reveal her.
I’d been to galleries but this was my first truly personal experience with a painting – and the first time a work of art made me cry. It felt like Piero had painted the Madonna to talk to you. This young woman with a cool gaze, so serene and exquisite, asking you to consider who she is and the mysteries of her position.
The fresco is now in a small museum but seeing it in the chapel moved me deeply. I can still feel it.
1992 | Italy
VENICE My now-husband [ABC TV presenter Tony Jones] and I had taken the night train from Paris to Venice. Strangely, we slept soundly, waking only as the train pulled in to Santa Lucia station. I saw that the belt containing my money was missing. Our wallets were also empty of cash and all but one of our credit cards.
We found a guard, who seemed unconcerned, so we pressed on to the stationmaster. He shrugged. “You’ve been gassed.” The guards were in cahoots with the robbers, he told us. They get a key, gas you and take all your stuff. He wasn’t even shocked. And he said the city was in flood and impossible to enter; we should go home. Instead, we put our cases on our heads and splashed through the water in the limpid winter light to the nearby Hotel Bellini – me in my little Paris skirt, heels and fake-fur-collared coat, trying not to waddle.
I’d just met Tony and I’d never been to Venice. It was a hell of a way to arrive.
I have a deep tendency when travelling to want to see around the next corner. Sri Lanka is the first place that made me stop.
We stayed on a promontory in the south in a simple, modern pavilion – the last work of the renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. So stunning was this place, it made me want to stay still. Eventually, though, I began asking about local temples. The man who ran the house was a bit evasive but finally agreed to take us to Veheragalla Samudragiri Vihara, a temple I hadn’t seen in any tourist guide.
We went in the evening, walking down a densely wooded path, and young monks, skipping around in their robes, joined our procession. In the little temple, lit by just three or four bare globes, were the most exquisite murals depicting the life of the Buddha. And, in the inner room, a large reclining Buddha that you could stare at forever. This little temple, so important to the evolution of Buddhism in southern Sri Lanka, was right there on the edge of the property, just beneath the house. We could so easily have missed it.
2016 | Sri Lanka