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Posts tagged ‘Village’

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. 

The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part VI: Cagnes-sur-Mer

Sadly our stay at La Colombe d’Or could not last forever, and for our last remaining two days on the French Riviera, we packed up our things and moved a 20 minute ride or so towards the coast to the unique little old town of Cagnes-sur-Mer. As the name suggests, it’s a town which is well appointed alongside the sea, and also handily close to Nice airport. Split more or less into three parts, it has a coastal town, and upper main town, and an ancient little old town atop a hill (le Haut-de-Cagnes). We had no interest in the first two parts of the triptych, these having been very much ravished by the overdevelopment which in my opinion has cast a horrible shadow over the French Riviera. But the old town, which could never be easily redeveloped such is the character of its ancient steep streets crammed into ramparts hanging on precariously to the edge of a rising highland, was certainly worth further exploration. And luckily it was also where our hotel was situated.

The cemetery of Cagnes-sur-Mer

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We entered Le Haut via a beautiful cemetery, also clustered steeply up hill in rising tiers of decorative stones, crosses and angels. We knew that there was something familiar about it, and were excited to discover that this was the very same graveyard used for scenes of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. Having then explored the site, and had our fill reenacting said scenes from this, one of our favourite films, we headed steeply up hill to the old town.

Le Haut-de-Cagnes

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Le Haut-de-Cagnes is a uniquely medieval other-worldly kind of place whose streets appeared even narrower and steeper than those we had enjoyed in Vence and St-Paul. Somewhat shedding the Riviera vivacity of pastel colours, the houses here were altogether more sombre, with stones and beiges dominating with an innately historical result. At times it felt like we were in the world of King Arthur, not least when we got to centre of town, whose huge square castle can be seen for miles around. However lighter relief could also be found in the main Place Grimaldi, which offered beautiful views Northwards to the stunning mountain range which dominates the region.

Rosy views as the sun went down

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However all in all, this historical richness was somewhat spoilt by the inevitable creep of modernity and development, not in the old town itself, but by the views looking south, west and east. For the French Riviera is nowadays far from the wild paradise which tempted the likes of Auguste Renoir to move south to the Riviera, and in fact to the town of Cagnes where he later lived. Today, it is a sprawling metropolis of busy roads, hotels, and villas crammed one upon another. This did not feel like a coast of luxury, but rather one of the busiest tourist destinations I have experienced outside of London. Sadly, the golden years of the world’s greatest artists discovering a ripe Riviera seem to be long past. But at least we have their paintings, to look upon that lost paradise once more.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.

 

The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part V: Vence

Just up a lush winding mountain road from the beautiful little village of St-Paul de Vence resides its bigger sister, the no less pretty town of Vence. Despite having spread into quite a substantial modern town, not all of which exhibited the most picturesque of sights, the core little old town, nestled within a tight ring of medieval walls and set up on a high hill above a cool mountain spring in the valleys below, is the very epitome of a quaint Riviera gem.

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Through the ancient Peyra Gate into the pastel-coloured square bearing the same name, we entered a medieval fairytale of a town whose shuttered houses, little gift shops and typically French restaurants spilling out onto the cobbled streets and squares made for the most idyllic of scenes. Photographing the picturesque sights as rapidly as I took steps to discover them, I was completely enamoured by this beautifully appointed little gem of a town, from the grand Peyra fountain at the entrance dating back to the early 1800s, to the stunning Place Clemenceau, whose baroque little cathedral is allegedly the smallest Cathedral in France.

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However in addition to the little old town, Vence boasts another attraction which we trekked the 20 minute hot walk out of town to see – the Chapelle du Rosaire designed by Matisse himself. I remember extolling the originality of Matisse’s designs for this little chapel when I visited his cut-outs retrospective at Tate Modern last year. But nothing in that exhibition came close to seeing the Matisse Chapel in reality, with the light shining through his vivid blue and yellow stained glass and bouncing off the white walls of the interior. I wasn’t as sure about the rather sketchy ceramic tiles which otherwise dominate the interior and fell somewhat flat compared to the magnificence of the windows, nor the exorbitant entrance free for such a small space, but seeing Matisse’s chapel surely made our visit to Vence complete.

Chapelle du Rosaire, by Matisse

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Discovering Mallorca: Valldemossa and its port

Mallorca has been, and continues to be, the home of many notable persons, and chief amongst them were Fédéric Chopin and his lover, the pioneering French writer George Sands, who, in her account of their 1839 stay described the natural beauty which pervades Mallorca. That is no more so than in the stunning hilltop village where Chopin and Sands made their home, Valldemossa, a picture-perfect rural retreat which is every bit the archetypal Mallorcan village, with its stone-built houses, green wooden window shutters, and small shop-lined cobbled streets.

The hilltop village of Valldemossa

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It was to this bucolic idyll that we recently ventured, taking with us our friend visiting from London in order to share with her this most perfect example of a Mallorcan pueblo. Valldemossa is not huge – indeed it comprises of a main shopping street with a few narrow side streets each plied with their fair share of pretty cafes and shops selling local produce. But its best selling point is the grand turquoise-tile-topped Real Cartuja monastery which was itself home to Chopin and Sands. Towering above both the town and the stunning mountain valley which gives the village its name, the monastery is a place of utmost solitude and tranquility, not least on its breathtaking garden terraces, which tickle each of the senses with their bounty of flowers, perfumes and unbeatable vistas, all accompanied by the gently bonging of sheep bells in the distance.

The Real Cartuja monastery and its surroundings

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But Valldemossa does not stand alone, and rather benefits from its own little fishing village; an even more idyllic spot which, while appearing to be close to the upper village on the map, is in fact down a perilous zig zag of hair-pin bends which are enough to put the fear of god into the most experienced of drivers, let alone me. But the views which greet the visitor upon their descent are well worth the effort, for the little port of Valldemossa is surely one of the most beautiful I have seen on the island.

The port of Valldemossa

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In the port itself, a handful of unostentatious fishermen’s cottages make up a tiny settlement which is situated amongst some of the most stunning mountain scenery imaginable. For surrounding the port are steep rocky mountain cliffs plunging directly into the crystal clear seas, while on the odd beaches formed from falling stones, one can find rocks of hugely varying colours, from the most peachy pink to a deep golden ochre.

A rainbow panoply of rocks

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Between these two sites, both the port and village of Valldemossa, there could be no doubting the reasons as to why George Sand had been so inspired to describe the natural beauty of Mallorca, nor the impetus for other visitors, both renowned or otherwise, to make the island their home. But while many of Mallorca’s most beautiful spots have been ravaged by tourism and modernity, both parts of Valldemossa retain a local authentic charm which cannot help but present Mallorca at its very charming best.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.