Chatsworth Gardens, July 2018

IMG_9298

On the day we went to Chatsworth, I spent some time exploring the gardens.  They are world famous- the fountain (above) is one of the most interesting features, but there are many….

IMG_9305

Surprisingly, unlike many other gardens we have visited in England, there were no flowers which were apparent.  (It seems that they were in another part of the garden which I missed) but I did get the chance to see the spectacular water features everywhere..

IMG_9300

As well as an odd collection of Yew bushes…IMG_9283 (1)

The Serpentine walk (one of symbols of the Devonshire family is the serpent.)

IMG_9289

And my favorite part- the Tree of Brass which spouts water from its branches!

IMG_9602

Finally, there was some lovely park land with gravel roads to walk along.  I even came across this beautiful Elephant sculpture.

I throughly enjoyed the Chatsworth Gardens.  *It is worth noting that when in England this summer, it was clear that they were experiencing a massive drought… everywhere which would normally be green was brown, and the fountains at Chatsworth were at perhaps 40% the normal capacity.

IMG_9280 (1)

The Orangery

And finally, an homage to the great Joseph Paxton Green house of the 19th century- which was sadly pulled down due to the exorbitant  expense of coal heating it required.  It still does, however, maintain the famous Lily pads!

If you have any more interest in Chatsworth, as I did, I highly recommend this documentary:

http://www.pbs.org/program/secrets-chatsworth/

Chatsworth, Interior July 2018

Greetings! I have taken a slight hiatus from writing to do some traveling.  Now that I am home again, I thought I would start to share some of my latest adventures.  I was fortunate enough to get another chance to travel to England in July.  During our trip, we went to Chatsworth.  Now Chatsworth, is, frankly,  the epitome of the stately home.  It is the gold standard of country houses.  (Sorry to the other beauties out there: Blenheim and Burghley.) 

IMG_9293

There is so much to cover, that I know I will not do Chatsworth justice.  It is hard to get a photo which accurately shows the the magnificence of this house, but  you can see above the view from the gardens which somewhat conveys the scale.

The painted entrance hall alone is breathtaking…

IMG_9260

I think one of the aspects of this house which makes it stand out, is the vast collection of treasures it still contains.  It has a very personal feel, there are small objects as well as famous paintings which are displayed everywhere and the attention to detail is extraordinary.

 

The gold leaf window frames and the contemporary art in the interior court yard show how this house seems to mix the modern seamlessly with the past.

IMG_9270

Above is a picture of one of the state rooms.  The gold is really breathtaking.  I believe that these rooms rarely inhabited, which is a pity.  Below is a portrait of Georgiana Cavendish, the wife of the 5th Duke.  I read the biography by Amanda Foreman before coming to see Chatsworth, which gave great insight into what life was like in this house during the Georgian period.

 

IMG_9272

The amount of art is also really staggering.  What I will call the “secondary staircase” is nearly covered with portraits….(and of course the two malachite urns are stunning.)

Chatsworth boasts 40 bedrooms which might seem excessive, until you remember that these country houses acted largely as hotels for invited guests, and they are, in many cases in the middle of nowhere.  (According to my good friend Wikipedia, more that half of the house is closed to visitors, which, considering the number of rooms on display to visitors means that this truly a giant.  Interestingly, it did not feel as vast as it actually is…I myself could live there quite comfortably 😉

IMG_9277

So many small details were what made this place special.  They had put down special foam rubber matts on the floor which looked exactly like the floorboards and matched the real rugs on display.  The servants staircase, which we took at one point in the tour, was decorated with empty picture frames to illustrate, in my opinion, the number of works of art which had been sold. (*Note: I have no basis for this, it is just my opinion.)

IMG_9278

The library (above) was also spectacular.  We were not allowed to enter, but as you can see from the doorway, it is really stunning.

IMG_9279

Finally, we saw the dining room.  The ceiling was, again, gold leaf.  The silver service, I think speaks for itself.  The detail on the candlesticks was astounding- there were intricate figures and representations of stags as well as tiny curled leaves.

I loved Chatsworth.  IT has been called “Britain’s favorite country house” and it is easy to see why.  In addition to being very grand, it also has a personal feel, and the visitor gets the feeling that they are visiting a home in which people actually live (albeit on a very grand scale.) Until next time!

Blois, France May 2018

IMG_8662

In celebration of a speeding ticket we got going from Tours to Blois (the second we got via mail from the French highway system a month after our return) I thought I would post about our visit to Blois which caused this infraction. * (A note about the French Highway system- the roads are very smooth and immaculately maintained.  However, they have a challenging ticketing booths on the road, and if you ever need to pull off- to, say, use the facilities, they charge a fee.  There are no rest areas like we have here in the US. Also, there seems to be an elaborate way of monitoring speeding, whereby you are not pulled over, but your speed is periodically checked. If speeding they then find you and send you a ticket.  A waring to lead-foot drivers traveling to France! BE CAREFUL.  Figuring out how to pay these French tickets is almost more painful and difficult than actually the fee itself.

IMG_8672

Blois itself is another royal residence of our friend, Catherine De Medici.  For a time, this was the center of French government. The staircases you can see, were copied by the the Vanderbilt estate, the Biltmore in North Carolina.

IMG_8674

The castle is full of history and peculiar paintings…. The one on the right is of a person with hypertrichosis who was under the protection of the royal house hold at one point.

IMG_8670

 

Château de Langeais, France, May 2018

Hello, I wanted to share with you another marvelous Chateau we visited while on our trip to the Loire Valley: Langeais!

IMG_8616

The weather was perfect and we had quite an interesting visit.  This 15th century chateau was most famous for the secret wedding between Anne of Brittany and Charles VIII which took place here on December 6, 1491- infamously at dawn.

The oldest part of the castle complex is the “keep” which was built in the 10th century.  (According to my wikipedia research, this makes it the second oldest castle in France.)

IMG_8609

The interior of the castle was quite interesting itself- there is a wax model of this secret wedding, complete with a narrated video of the events surrounding it. (Strangely enough, this was in English- perhaps to accommodate the number of pesky English speaking tourists.)  I have a link to an image of the tableau, as I  was so distracted by the impossibly small size of the figures that I neglected to take a picture.

I am not sure if these figures were made to scale, but they all appeared to be no more than 4 and a half feet in height.  Considering the small size of the doorways- I had to stoop and I am 5’7″- this might be the case.  Although, I find it hard to believe.  The rooms all featured heavy wooden beams and intricate tapestries.  The floors were tiled in a color we came to know as “blush apricot” which seems to be quite popular in France- many of the chateaus and buildings we visited featured this type of tile.  IMG_8606

(Please disregard the Americans featured above- those are my parents who are clearly fascinated by something on the wall opposite).

Langleais also features an extensive turret walk: it allows the visitor to traverse through an enclosed walk way on the upper level.  This seems to have been part of the castle’s defenses, as you have a good view of anything happening beneath.

IMG_8607

Thankfully, the wiring was in place to prevent any overly curious tourists from falling in the moat while trying to retrieve a dropped iPhone.

We ended our visit with a great lunch in the village. It was perfect- there was only one item left on the menu- jambon et fromage,  so the amount of challenging translating when ordering was, blissfully,  kept to a minimum.

IMG_8604

Chenonceau, France May 2018

Beautiful Chateau, shaped by powerful women

During my trip to the Loire Valley a few weeks ago, we had the great fortune to spend a day visiting Chenonceau, one of the loveliest architectural masterpieces I have ever seen.  The Chateau was home to some powerful women- Diane de Poitiers, and Catherine De Medici. While the chateau itself is stunning, and the situation is majestic (it spans the river Cher) what made this Chateau so special to me was the relationship between Diane and Catherine.  I had read a book by Leonie Frieda about Catherine DeMedici which gave me some insight into her life and what her marriage with Henri the Second was like.  Fundamental to this relationship was Diane de Poitiers relationship with the king.  Diane was his mistress.  I found it fascinating that this woman, 20 years his senior, could maintain such control over him and command such fascination and amorous desire.  Thinking that she must have been truly beautiful or full of charm, it was eye opening to discover that in reality, she was a cold fish who was generally disliked by everyone.  (The only nice thing that was said about her was that she was a thrifty house keeper.)

At Chenonceau there are two gardens, symbolizing the two women: The Catherine garden, and the Diane garden. They are on opposing sides of the chateau and create totally opposite feelings in the visitor.  the Diane garden, which is much larger, was  stark and austere.  The sun beat down and  there were no trees only copious gravel pathways.  All the plants and flowers were so constrained; it was difficult to get a sense of beauty when walking in it.  Only when seen from above, inside the chateau, does the visitor get a sense of what it actually looks like.  From the ground it felt large, flat and hot. (Below) Perhaps similar to the character of Diane, beautiful, remote, distant and austere.  Like I think Diane would have, this garden left me feeling cold and unwelcome.

IMG_3188

The Catherine garden, by contrast, had an entirely different effect.  It was surrounded by tall trees and woodlands.  the river felt closer, even though both gardens adjacent to it. I was full of wide expanses of grass and lovely little trees and plants.  The lawns were inviting, there were benches in the shade, encouraging people to sit and relax.  While smaller is scale and size, this garden felt like it was naturally part of the landscape.  The feeling is almost maternal, as if you are being taken care of and accepted.  Which, given that Catherine had 10 children, makes sense. IMG_8468

These two very different experiences in the gardens made me wonder if they were a reflection on the  characters of the two women? It seems like it might be so.

The crowning glory of Chenonceau was the grand hall.  This ground floor hall runs the expanse of the river.  It began as a bridge during Diane’s time, but Catherine when she took ownership of the chateau, had it enclosed and turned into this majestic space.  Catherine used this hall to hold a grand party for her son upon his succession to power.  Being there, you can picture the dancing revelry which took place.  (Also of note, the black ans white floors- Diane famously only ever wore black and white clothing for the majority of her life. Could this floor be an homage to her time at Chenonceau?)

IMG_8482

One of the unexpected joys we discovered was the village area next to the chateau which housed, presumably, the workers of the estate. This is a lovely enclosed little community, full of beautiful houses, a duck pond and carriage house.  The houses are surround lovely grassy common area.  It felt cosy and comfortable, as opposed to the grandeur of the chateau itself.  Being there, it was easy to picture what it might have been like when the estate was working- full of chickens, children and people bustling around.  Today the area is immaculately kept with matching buildings crawling with Wisteria bushes.

Finally, the drive up to and away from the Chateau is worth showing.  the elegant tree lined road really illustrates that this is a royal residence. There is no ambiguity of the power of the resident one is visiting. (There is even a guard cat today in residence!)

IMG_8465.jpg

“Un Chat de garde!” I believe his/ her name is Noisette. Well worth the visit.

IMG_8464