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Posts tagged ‘Summer’

An Extraordinary British Summer, Part 2: Provençal luncheon, Sussex setting

Everyone dreams of those typical Provençal scenes – the rustic wooden table, set out under the dappled shade of a bounteous fig tree, chairs collected from all over the house set around the table as a miscellaneous collective of dissonant styles, and upon the table pitchers of wine, large bowls of salads and platters loaded with fruits and meats set down in waiting for a large family gathering…Such was the idyll we created last weekend, but not in Provence. In England, where the country’s best summer in decades continues to bring smiles of sun-inspired joy across all four corners of the Kingdom.

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For me, the heady mix of sunshine and a lush flower-filled English country garden, is one of the very best ways to enjoy the summer. My childhood memories are full of nostalgic reflections on summer picnics on the lawn, the feel of grass between my toes, the smell of lavender wafting in the wind, the sensation of stone paths baked by the sun (I think I must have deleted the memories of the rainfall which inevitably dogged other days – who needs to remember those?). So on those occasions when the English summer bears fruit, I head to my childhood garden where the flowers still grow abundantly, and the family can still gather despite the many years that have gone by.

So all things combined, and with my family now double the size what it was in my childhood, my homage to the English summer was a table laid under an iris tree, freshly cut flowers hung overhead so their perfume imbued the air during a lunch of barbecued meats and elaborate Mediterranean style salads. The wine, of course, was flowing, and as my birthday fast approaches, a first cake and early presents were enjoyed to mark an occasion perfectly fitting for this fine English summer. And as befits a luncheon more Mediterranean than British, our afternoon was spent at the seaside, where the waters of the South Coast are easily as warm as Spain’s.

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Vive the English summer! Long may it continue.

© 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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© 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.

Marseille to Marbella, Part VIII: Home Sweet Home

No matter how riveting the travel or how dazzling the sights, there is nothing quite like coming home, especially when that home happens to be combined with a holiday. For I am lucky to call Marbella, as well as London, my home, and every year I look forward to heading down to Andalucia, to the jasmine-perfumed, sun-baked land of my youth, and the ever present inspiration of my adult years. So, much perfumed, sun kissed, and infused with something of a je ne sais quoi spirit, we left Marseille and the lavender filled hills of Provence, and flew down to the earthy, olive-honeyed lands of Southern Spain. We had finally made it from Marseille to Marbella.

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Marbella has featured countless times on The Daily Norm, as is only appropriate for my second home, and each time I feel the need to justify the town’s place as one of Andalucia’s true gem. The fault is the ravages of tourism and crass hedonism, although this species of club-land savagery is luckily limited to the outskirts of Marbella’s coastal sprawl and has left the charm of the casco antiguo – where our home is to be found – quite mercifully untouched. Marbella for me is no club land. It is, instead, a place of true calm. Where bird song fills the air, the smells of garlic and seafood, barbecued sardines and sweet evening jasmine waft in perfumed waves, and the sound of the sea resonates across the town.

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Like the face of a favourite grandmother, Marbella is a town whose sun-baked walls are cracked with age, and its streets warped from the passage of time, but it is a place whose history has been preserved in every layer of its thickly white-washed walls, and which unites with its locals and countless bars, restaurants and little boutiques to make it one of the most welcoming and quaint towns on Andalucia’s magical Mediterranean coastline. And above all things it is my home. How lucky I am to say it.

© 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.

Marseille to Marbella, Part I: Downtown City

Marseille is one of those cities that’s got a bit of a reputation. Like Naples and Palermo, (and even Barcelona before its Olympics regeneration), Marseille is characterised by an idyllic location which has been both its enemy and its friend. For with popularity has also come rapid growth, and the result is an uncontrolled urban sprawl where street crime has taken the place of riviera recreation, and the high temperatures have combined with a generalised lethargy to improve what are often grave social divides and ever evident crime and economic issues. Yet for all that, Marseille is a city with an undeniable arresting quality; which is so historically wealthy and with so vibrant and diverse a population that you cannot help but be mesmerised.

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Such is Marseille, France’s second city, and in many respects like Paris by the sea, except that in Marseille the social divide is perhaps even more visible. Here, Haussmann mansions have been given a graffiti facelift, and where the Seine would cut through Paris with all its luxuriant wateriness, in Marseille the sea, and all its accompanying ship building industrial heritage and fishing paraphernalia, predominates all.

This first look at our summer trip from Marseille down to Marbella takes the Daily Norm back a few weeks, to the sunny days of August when temperatures were at an all time high. Our arrival, on the Eurostar train from London into Marseille’s Gare St Charles, was one greeted by temperatures close to the 40s. Yet this was no blue-shuttered port or seaside retreat in which to enjoy the summer weather at ease. Marseille hit us with the full impact of its teeming urban sprawl which literally shimmered in the heat as the fumes of traffic and food and generalised humanity combined with fresh sea breezes and an awful lot of sunshine.

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From streets crammed with shops and markets, and bustling with faces from across the world, to the city’s true heart, the Vieux Port, where people milled to watch boats stride in and out of the harbour, it wasn’t hard to get to know Marseille: a city which wears its heart on its sleeve and is emotionally, viscerally real.

Marseille may be the capital of the French Riviera but St Tropez it is not. Rather, this thriving metropolis combines elements from across France and its ancient empire: it is a true world city with an evidently international demographic. What it lacks in luxury, it makes up for in spirit. And as you can see from this first raft of photos, it is a city of a not insignificant aesthetic appeal.

Bienvenue à Marseille!

© 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.

A Windsor Weekend, Part IV: The Park

The true might and scale of Windsor Castle is best appreciated at a distance. When approaching by train, the station at Windsor and Eton Riverside gives the appearance of a toy town construction as it sits in the shadow of the mighty castle silhouette on the skyline behind it. From the river, the great Castle pervades all watery reflections as a mirror image in the Thames doubles its impact. But best of all is the Castle viewed from the vast grounds which surround it, as the sprawling regal complex stands at the apex of a 2.65 mile perfectly straight road which cuts through Windsor Great Park: a true demonstration of its domination over the land.

Windsor Great Park is great indeed, humongous in fact. Had we wanted to explore each of its 2020 hectares we would have been exhausted indeed. And it would almost certainly take weeks to do it all. For these great hunting grounds of monarchs past are today the site of sprawling forests, vast landscaped gardens and agricultural land, and contain some of the most beautiful unspoilt countryside within the outer reaches of London.

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We restricted ourselves to the closet section of the park to Windsor town centre, namely the Long Walk and the land around it. Stretching from the Castle at one end to a grand imperial sculpture of George III upon a stallion at the other, the path is at the centre of a stunning tree and lawn lined avenue which seems to stretch as far as the eye can see. When setting off, the equine statue appears to be at the end of the world as it appears, tiny like a speck of dust on the far horizon. But as you proceed upon the Long Walk, admiring a progressively more bucolic scene unfold on either side, the true pomp and  enormity of the sculpture becomes clearer as behind, Windsor Castle shrinks in size.

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It was a hard slog, but we eventually reached George III, with the final efforts of our ascent to the base of the statue aptly rewarded by the most dazzling view of Windsor Castle far off in the distance. But turning the other way, we saw an idyllic landscape of rolling hills, woods and fields unfurl into the distance, and unable to resist a little embrace of this less landscaped scene, we delved into the forests and fields, snacking upon beautifully sweet forest berries as we did so. Here, only the unfortunate sound of Heathrow aircraft interrupted us. Otherwise the world was utterly still, and we found ourselves wonderfully at ease in this most heavenly of natural surroundings – the playground of the many Kings and Queens who have enjoyed the very rich landscapes which surround their home at Windsor.

© 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.

A Windsor Weekend, Part II: The Town

The title of this post is perhaps a little misleading. For as any visitor to Windsor by train will know, Windsor is not a town that flies solo. Rather, just across the river is the equally prestigious town of Eton, and together they make up an inseparable twosome with only a narrow stretch of tranquil water flowing between them. So today’s post will look, photographically speaking, not only at Windsor, but Eton too, for each one of them is historically important and aesthetically quaint, and both are surely the very quintessence of the picture-postcard English town.

The little town of Windsor is very much shaped by the castle which sits at its heart. The main high street encircles the vast outer walls, and every shop and business is turned towards the Castle as though they are spectators at a show. Given the size of the Castle, it is perhaps unsurprising that Windsor looks small and cute by comparison – much like Queen Mary’s dolls house which resides famously within the State Rooms of the Castle on the hill. But it is this scale which characterises Windsor as being an idyllic little urbanisation, with history oozing from its shops and houses as much as from the Castle.

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As though playing up to the English stereotype, the town is a hotpot of quaint little English pubs, sweet shops and of course fish ‘n chips – tourists must flip out when they stumble upon this paragon of Britishness. Not quite as entertained by the English ideal, I was instead enamoured by the chocolate-box quality of the place – by the houses which appeared to be leaning and creaking in every direction, as though reminding all visitors that their foundations are historical, a far cry from the modern lines and standard shapes of the 21st Century.

This charming idyll continues across the river to Eton, which is of course famous for its school, educator of Kings and Prime Ministers from across the ages. While Eton’s high street will greet you, long before the school, it is clear that Eton is very much subservient to its principal offering: hence why the shops are in business to take photos of the students, to dress them in their Sunday and uniformed best, and to boast, through souvenirs, the great educational treasure which the town holds within its midsts.

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Not far up the high street, that great bastion of refined education and privilege looms from beyond the buildings like a Tudor palace. It wasn’t possible to gain entrance, but peeks inside from the grounds betrayed a college which, like the Castle over the river, plays to the global mythology of a Harry Potter-like college oozing with age and historical significance. This is an expensive school, and the ravishing historical lines of its red-bricked building, its gardens abound with flowers, and its grounds running straight down to the river betray an establishment where students will benefit from the very best education and exposure to England at its verdant, bucolic best.

There was no hiding our pleasure at walking these grounds, smelling the fresh air and sitting back to enjoy the somniferous trickle of the calm river Thames. And even though a hint of envy might have entered our afternoon tranquility, when our own schools compared, somewhat less favourably, with this, it was largely with a sense of pride that we traversed the grounds of Eton. For as English stereotypes go, this is a ravishingly beautiful one, and something which the lucky few should enjoy to the full, never taking for granted the unspoilt beauty and prestige with which they will formerly enter the world of adulthood.

© 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.

London, Rediscovering My City: Ham House & Gardens

There’s nothing like a good old National Trust property. With some of the finest country estates that the UK has to offer, the National Trust is a true beacon for Britain’s finest cultural heritage, offering visitors the chance to stroll around like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy…to relive the Brontes, Thomas Hardy, Wordsworth, Tennyson. Some of the best memories of my childhood flood back when I enter a National Trust shop – that most prized reward at the end of a visit, when the excitement of a souvenir – maybe a lavender filled drawer sachet, a candle or a wooden mouse – was heightened by the delicate fragrance of rose and lily of the valley which always pervaded these most gentile of English boutiques.

Now in adulthood, those halcyon days feel far removed, and in London, the idea of visiting a country estate is perhaps as exotic a concept as a trip to Thailand. So it was with some delight that on a recent weekend, a trip merely 20 minutes away brought us to  the Royal Borough of Richmond, and just beyond the delights of Ham House.

The House from the River and the gardens

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Set just inland from the meandering banks of the River Thames, the solid and grandiose symmetrical red brick facade looks from afar like a dolls house, whose perfectly apportioned facade might swing open at any moment to reveal the chequerboard floors and exquisitely painted ceilings within. Upon our approach, the very human scale of this grand mansion became clear, and Ham House revealed itself as one of the grandest Stuart mansions still standing.

The kitchens

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While perhaps a little gloomy, the elaborate interiors hung with large scale mythological paintings and finished with exquisite balustrades and richly carved furnishings are a reflection of the tastes of the House’s 17th century owner, the Duke of Lauderdale, who transformed Ham after its original owner, a childhood friend of King Charles I, came to no good during Britain’s great Civil War.

Details of the interiors

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For me, the greatest charm of Ham (the lavender-filled gift-shop asides) was not its house but its gardens. Expanding way beyond the house, the gardens offer a mix of the formal with the more tempered wilderness, as a beautifully trimmed topiary garden leads onto expansive lawns, a richly planted South terrace border, and walled gardens within which a wilderness of grasses and wild flowers is the perfect setting for a very philosophical stroll. Appropriately for England, the highlight comes of having afternoon tea in the garden’s very well appointed cafeteria, from whose tables the heady perfume of peonies and rose permeates a beautifully presented afternoon tea.

The formal gardens

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We left, via the gift shop, feeling that much more gentrified after our interaction with history, and the finer things in life. Ham’s handsome house and gardens bid their farewell and led us gently onto the leafy riverbank between Richmond and Teddington… perhaps one of the finest of all stretches in the remarkably green capital city of England.

 …and the less formal gardens

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© 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 IV – Beaching at Isola Bella

I am something of a lucky Mediterranean beach regular. Whether it be hanging out on the beaches of the Costa del Sol at my parents’ house, or whiling away the hours during almost 3 years residency on the stunning island of Mallorca, the beach and I have become firm friends. I was even born by the sea in England, and lived by the coast my whole pre-adult life. But every beach, and every coast has its own character, never more so than the Italian Riviera which is synonymous with carefully raked sand, striped umbrellas, and sunbeds usefully fitted with a kind of head shade contraption. Genius. I don’t spend all that much time on Italian beaches, so it was with some delight that I passed some brief hours on the beach of Isola Bella, the stunning little semi-circular inlet which, as the name suggests, has a “beautiful island” at its centre. That island, rumoured to have once been the home of long term English Taormina resident, Florence Trevelyan, is today a natural habitat, but retains a cute little house and a pebbly walkway which, when the tide is low, allows access to those beachgoers wanting a stroll around a mysterious feature of this otherwise very Italian beach.

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Having explored the island ourselves, a venture which required a carefully balanced walk across countless pebbles and the urgent purchase of jelly shoes to protect our battered feet soles, we spent the rest of our time on this beach lounging amongst striped umbrellas aplenty, reading calmly as the sound of waves gently nudged the shore, and best of all, breaking for lunch, where a beach side café served up grilled squid with a picture perfect view of the sea from whence it came. However perhaps my favourite experience at this splendid Sicilian beach came not from our daytime sampling, but from a walk at night, when the hoards had gone, and only the moonlight remained, casting an eerie silvery glow upon Trevelyan’s island sanctuary and the calmly rippling waters. Lying on the pebbles, feeling the heat of the day slowly reflect off their surface, and listening to the water and is popped and sploshed against the larger rocks made for one of the most memorable, and romantic, moments of our trip. It wasn’t so much the time for admiring the beauty of this beach, but one in which the senses of sound and smell were tantalised like never before.

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© 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. 

Tuscan Towns #2 – Bolgheri

Bolgheri is a tiny town, more of a hamlet really, based as it is along one main street which latterly converges into two, a sunny square and a row of delightful little houses and restaurants precipitating the divide. For the majority, the closest they will come to knowing Bolgheri will be to read its name upon one of the plethora of nectarean bottles of wine produced by the region every year. Yet for the lucky few, who are led, magnetised, down the perfectly straight cypress-lined Roman road to the tiny little village, finding Bolgheri will feel like stumbling upon a hidden jewel.

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While Bolgheri has a castle, it is as proportionately small as the village. It is not a place for museums, nor a city for those wishing to stroll endlessly from one new corner to another. No, the real attraction of Bolgheri is its atmosphere. It is enchanting. While a visit at any time of the day will be enthralling enough, there is a poetic grace about Bolgheri in the late afternoon, as the sun starts to set over the vineyards and rolling hills to the West, and every cafe and shop and house seems to fling open its shutters greedily urging the peach coloured light to spill into its small little terracotta buildings.

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Bolgheri in the afternoon is a place in which to sit and close your eyes, feeling the sunlight spill across your face. It is a village where sipping upon an aperol spritz takes on new majesty, and where an ice cream glimmers with a precious golden aura. It is a time which is all about relaxing, chatting, strolling, thinking, and if I wanted to do anything when I set out to take these photos, it was to capture this time of utopia. So apologies in advance to the fellow visitors who ended up in the photos on this post, but without the look of sheer pleasure and relaxation written all over their faces, I don’t think I could ever have properly expressed the blissful experience of an afternoon in Bolgheri.

© 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. 

Our Alhambra Terrace

People take inspiration from holidays in various ways, weather through collating a set of ravishing photos, collecting foodie ideas, or even rounding up the tackiest and most whimsical souvenir. For me, it’s all about art.  There is no better way, in my mind, to look back on a holiday than through the art I great during that time. Because more than just taking a photo, the process of creating a painting or sketch involves time and contemplation, and therefore has the power to instil the final product with the great value of a comprehensive collection of memories and sensations. That is why I always do my best to get a hotel room with a view, in the knowledge that that alone will provide me with much of the inspiration I will need in the place I will feel most comfortable creating.

On our trip to Granada, we stayed in the Hotel Casa 1800, a stunningly quaint property characteristic of the rickety old houses and palazzos crammed into the ancient Albayzín district alongside the banks of the Darro River. Incredibly located just off the Plaza Santa Ana, the hotel boasted an unrivalled view of the Alhambra, but not in every room. In fact very few benefited from the crème de la crème of Granada views, but with ours, we were given the opportunity not just to enjoy the view through a window, but from our very own little terrace.

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Alhambra Terrace (Hotel Casa 1800 Granada) 2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper

As soon as we saw it, we knew it would be hard to tear ourselves away from the hotel. Such a cosy space and an unbeatable view could not easily be rivalled by a public space after all. With a moment’s glance, I knew the painting I would create that would best befit our experience of this space. And here it is. Making clear reference to the Honeymoon Suite collection created one year ago, this gouache painting continues the trend of painting the view from the hotel rooms enjoyed on our various travels. However with its Alhambra view, painted in a creamy orange with deep green shadows, this is one hotel room it will be hard to beat, no matter how much my future painting needs might demand it.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. 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. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com