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Posts tagged ‘Explore’

An Extraordinary British Summer, Part 1: Glyndebourne

I have been to Glyndebourne, the wonderfully bucolic Sussex opera house, many times. Yet I have never, ever enjoyed the kind of idyllic summer weather which is promised by all the archetypal postcard shots. Many a year I have struggled to pin down a picnic blanket in ferocious blustery winds, cowered in marquees to avoid sudden rain showers, or taken refuse in the covered balconies of thered-bricked opera house building. This year couldn’t have been more different. For we are enjoying an exceptional summer in England, with a sustained period of heat the likes of which has not been seen for decades. Just reward, one might say, for a hellish winter that saw snow storms in March and a cancellation of Spring, but another sign that the world’s weather has all gone a bit mad.


So finally this was the year for the sunny Glyndebourne picnic which I have long been pursuing like a Templar Knight seeking out the Holy Grail. While the concept of donning a dinner jacket in 30 degrees was far from pleasant, we were at least able to benefit from the shade of drooping willows and the light breeze rolling off green Sussex hillsides. In fact the weather was easily good enough to picnic in style, and we went all out – gone was the bobbled blanket in favour of foldable furniture, a Mallorquín tablecloth and fine china tea cups, all setting the scene for a lakeside picnic which beat the very best of Glyndebourne idylls.


As for the opera – Pelleas et Mélisande by Debussy – it offered a suitably dreamlike fantasy whose imagery could have come straight out of a painting by the Pre-Raphaelites. Known for its highly symbolic qualities, the narrative was not always one which could be easily followed, but Debussy’s score – at times elegantly impressionistic and at others dramatically Wagnerian – was so exquisitely moving that all one had to do was sit back and enjoy the waves of rousing orchestral crescendo wash over you like water crashing over the eager Sussex shoreline.

Best of all was the the moment when the curtain fell, and we wandered out into gardens still lit by a sky tinged pink from a recently departed sunset. The heat of the sun was now dissipated and a fresher yet balmy breeze enticing us to enjoy the Sussex landscape in this most pleasant of summer hours. If only the British summer was always like this.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

London, Rediscovering My City: Eltham Palace

Of all London’s historical palaces, rich in Medieval armour, Tudor ceilings, Stuart art and lavish Georgian interiors, there is one which is a little more unique in its ability to showcase a chapter in England’s history. For Eltham Palace, located just a few miles away from Greenwich, was not just the childhood home of Henry VIII. It was also later the jazz-age cocktail-swilling party palace of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld who found the Tudor palace in a stage of complete ruins. Therein began an ambitious architectural project which not only undertook to restore the Great Hall of the Tudor age, but to create a brand new palace alongside it which would turn out to be the very celebration of the Art Deco age.


Looking at its heavy stone exterior, created to intone with the Great Hall, only the addition of some curving but unmistakeably 1930s nudes in the stone work betray the modern masterpiece within. Step through the doors and you enter a modern, minimalistic space where decadence and luxury are founded in a perfect, uncluttered line, curved white spaces inlaid with gold and aluminium leaf, and a complete dedication to perfecting the design fashions of the era.

The result is a true wonder of Art Deco, and as historical houses go, this is one that truly comes alive as you imagine the endless society receptions which went on there. The character of the hosts is evident wherever you look, from the lavish gold-mosaic bathroom of Virginia (I want one of those) to the centrally heated suite created solely for use by the eccentric couple’s ring-tailed lemur.


But as ever, half the joy of visiting a great house is to enjoy its great gardens, and we cannot have picked a better time of the year to go. For the grounds of Eltham Palace were alive with the most lavish display of multi-coloured tulips and fragrant blossom which wafted gently in the breeze, settling upon the sparkling pond which, like a castle moat, encircles the palace like a silk scarf from a 1930s couturier.

Eltham Palace is a true example of how the ancient and modern can partner one another with spectacular results. And while the Art Deco house is now itself something of a historical artefact, it feels as modern and liveable today as it would have done 90 years ago. So if English Heritage ever feel like giving it up, send me the keys… I’m moving in!


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

London, Rediscovering My City: Hampstead Heath

There are a surprising number of places in London that I have never visited. Before moving to Mallorca, I lived in London for 12 years, and yet the closest I have ever come to Notting Hill was the image of Hugh Grant’s droopy eyes in a book shop and his scantily clad lodger jumping around in front of a widely grinning Julia Roberts. I’m determined to explore the whole city, when time allows, and one place that I can now cross off the list is Hampstead Heath.

London viewed from Parliament Hill


Located in the far North of London, the Heath is famous for many things, amongst them its bathing pools (men’s, women’s and mixed), sprawling countryside, the setting for Kenwood House, and fantastic views of London from Parliament Hill. Hampstead Heath has been the setting for various outdoor pursuits, water-sports and bucolic perambulations for years, and I’m not just referring to the less salubrious kind. It’s not difficult to see why the 700 acres of greenery are one of Londoners’ favourite places to spend recreational time: the sprawling landscape is so diverse and verdant, including vast forests, open heathland, rolling hills and various ponds, that a stroll within the park feels like a weekend away to the far reaches of the Kingdom.

Rolling countryside minutes from London


But Hampstead Heath is not just a pasture of green and plenty. For the North-most extent hosts a grand and lavish manor house whose pearly white stucco and delicately embellished facade glimmers against its verdant surroundings. This is Kenwood House, once seat of the Earl and Countess of Mansfield, and today home to one of the UK’s best kept art collection secrets. Including one of Rembrandt’s most striking self-portraits, light-infused works by Vermeer, rococo masterpieces by Gainsborough and moody weather scenes by Turner, it is a veritable treasure-trove of art history’s greatest stars. And what’s more, the collection can be seen for free.

Kenwood House


Less easy on the wallet perhaps are the homes which surround the Heath. Palatial, detached properties overflowing with rose-bordered gardens adjoin this leafy landscape, and are undoubtedly some of the most desirable homes in all of London. While my back pocked literally ached at the thought of what they must be worth, I dreamed myself a little dream that one day such a property could be mine. In the meantime I spent a little more within my means: on coffee in Hampstead’s other great treasure: it’s chic village High Street. One day…

Hampstead Village


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The Sicily Series | Part IX – Momentous Modica: the Churches and the Chocolate

Modica, the momentous mountainous town lying somewhere in the craggy landscape between Ragusa and Noto, was the last visit of our multiple Baroque exposure during just a few days in the south of Sicily. Who knew that there could be such a concentration of putti and angels, of curling stone foliage and grandiose capitals, all to be found in comparatively tiny towns heavily overshadowed by these architectural masterpieces. But just as Noto had been notable for its golden yellow consistency, Ragusa for its hillside spectacle, and Ortygia for its elegance on water, Modica impressed us with the sheer magnificence of its churches, and for the unique quality of its famous chocolate.


Modica, like Ragusa, is a town clustered around several steep hillsides before filling, in a dense mass of stone coloured houses and richly decorated public buildings, the lower town below. It is so tightly packed into and around the natural valley carved into steeply sloping hillsides that Modica is almost like shanty towns of South America, only much richer in its decoration. For amongst this swathe of little stone houses are two spectacular churches which just take the breath away. The first, the Chiesa di San Pietro, is framed by a series of fully lifelike, wonderfully detailed statues which line the grand staircase leading to its vast iron doors and another ridiculously over the top facade comprising an opulent broken pediment and rusticated pilasters. But if this church was to win the prize for its excesses of sculpture, the church of San Giorgio would carry away the award for theatre. For sat atop of sweeping soaring multi layered staircase, this masterpiece of the baroque is like the hotly anticipated starlet descending onto the stage from on high, a veritable wedding cake sitting abreast a multi-tiered display stand from which she demands the respect and astonishment of all who come before her.


But Modica is not just a place which is inspiring for the eyes. The tastebuds will get a good tickle too. For Modica has another defining feature too: its chocolate which, usefully in this climate, never melts. Reticent to indulge too heavily (this was the end of the holiday after all, and the pasta carb-count was already at an all time high), we were nevertheless dragged into the chocolate dream that Modica presents so well by a very charming shop keeper from whom we had bought a parking voucher in his Pasticceria Frisby on the Via Vittorio Veneto (n.38). Generous to the full, he not only allowed us to taste the uniquely granular chocolate, but took us out to his kitchen and showed us how to make it too. Comprised essentially from bitter dark chocolate heavily sweetened with a coarse sugar which is not allowed to melt (hence the grainy texture) and various dried ingredients to make different flavour variations, the resulting chocolate paste is essentially banged into shape in a series of traditional moulds before being set in the refrigerator, traditionally wrapped and sold.

Learning the trade: Chocolate making in Pasticceria Frisby


In that chocolate shop, we had our share of banging the chocolate, of tasting the various stages (pure bitter chocolate not to be recommended) and generally enjoying the utmost hospitality of this wonderful shopkeeper and his wife. Of course we left their store with far too much chocolate at frankly stupidly cheap prices. But above all things we left with a warmth in our heart founded on the great kindliness shown by those two chocolatiers. We arrived to Sicily thinking it would be a hard land full of mafiosi and moody islanders. We left touched by the hospitality we had been shown, and determined to return to this island of plenty.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.