To describe Patrick Leigh Fermor, who died on June 10 at age 96, as a travel writer is like saying Maria Callas could carry a tune. It wasn't just that his books were wise, beautifully observed pieces of nonfiction. It was that writing and travel were only parts of his renown. A linguist, novelist, soldier, conversationalist and romantic, he left school at 18 to walk across Europe, a tale he told later in two books, A Time of Gifts and From the Woods to the Water. He had a good war, taking part in a famous feat of derring-do in Crete in 1944, and then, in the 1950s, won acclaim for his writing. What did Leigh Fermor do best? He lived a great life.
This text originally appeared in the Jun. 27, 2011 issue of TIME magazine.