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Posts tagged ‘Visit’

Tuscan Towns #4 – Castagneto Carducci

For a town with a mouthful of a name, Castagneto Carducci, just uphill from the sandy beaches of Donoratico, is paradoxically small. Distinctive for its coloured houses painted, unlike so many of the stone villages of Tuscany, in sunny shades of pink, yellow and other pastel tones, Castagneto contrasts perfectly with its surroundings of green hills and perfectly regulated striped vineyards. This is not the first time the village has featured on   The Daily Norm, since it is the closest little Tuscan town to my in laws’ home. In fact as we proved on this occasion, a brisk 40 minute walk through the vineyards of Donoratico followed by an uphill climb will see you arrive on foot at the church topped-summit of the town in no time. From there, it is views a plenty, not only of the surrounding countryside but of the quaint streets spilling out across the hilltop.


Like so many of the Tuscan Towns I am featuring on this blog, Castagneto is a town which oozes idyllic charm. While the tourist trade has made sure to embellish the town’s best features and offer visitors boutique shops selling local produce, cuddly wild boars and hand-painted ceramics, my favourite places to visit are those which are the preserves of the locals – the small little cafes where locals prop up the bar to drink an espresso and a brioche; the hilly side streets whose pot plants and strung out washing are just as picturesque as the countryside views over which the tourists ogle; and the little passages where a simple parked vespa or a decorative street lamp look like works of Italian art.

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If you can only get to tour one or two of Tuscany’s quaint little towns, Castagneto is a perfect choice. With its various cafes and small up-scale shops, several restaurants making the most of the views and a perfect winding route around town which will take in the small church and iconic town hall, Castagneto has all the ingredients to afford the visitor a satisfying stroll. And if I were to recommend Bolgheri at around 5pm for a cocktail or afternoon coffee, Castagneto is a perfect choice for a morning coffee. Our sun drenched cup accompanied by brioche and croissants stuffed with frutti di bosco and cream was the best breakfast experience of my trip, and should not be missed, especially with views as fine as this.


© 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. 

Hampton Court Palace, Part 2: Bipolar Palace

For me, Hampton Court Palace is all about its gardens, or at least it certainly was when I visited, and outside the fragile glass which history has maintained within the ancient woodwork of the Palace’s hundred-fold windows, the sun shone with a rare early glimpse of British Summer in Spring. Yet there is something unapologetically festive about the hallowed halls of the Tudor-come-Baroque palace, which I’m sure on a colder day would be all the more enchanting. For Hampton Court Palace has the power to ensnare like no other.

Tudor exteriors


First it is characterised by the glamorous myth which surrounds the British Tudor Dynasty. Whether it be the 6 wives of Henry VIII who were either divorced, beheaded, died (naturally) or survived, the great religious schism triggered by Henry’s thirst for a male heir, the very bloody Queen Mary, or the flame-haired majesty of England’s favourite Queen, Elizabeth I, the Tudors are the stuff of legends, not just in English classrooms, but around the world. Seen as the very archetype of Britain in the Middle Ages, Hampton Court Palace was, and remains, the backdrop of that tumultuous time, and today its walls literally echo with wealth of that history, ghosts and all.

Tudor interiors


Secondly, the Palace is enticing because of its dual personality. A very Tudor entrance, a grand hall and a suite of wood panelled, stained glass rooms lead swiftly on to a complete architectural about-turn, as the gothic metamorphoses into the palatial Baroque, and a construct more akin to Versailles emerges from behind the forest of Tudor chimneys. This great change was the result of a complete renovation project began by King William and Queen Mary of Orange when they moved into the palace in the late 1600s and who felt the need to modernise, largely to compete with the Sun King in France. Sweeping aside whole swathes of Henry VIII’s palace, they replaced it with a grand symmetrical construct based around quadrangles of triple rowed grandiose windows, elaborately frescoed interiors, and a new landscape of neatly geometric flowerbeds and fountains. However they ran out of money before the restauration was complete, and it is for this reason that today’s Palace is the hybrid of Tudor and Baroque, something for which we must be grateful – how else could we explore a slice of the grandeur at the heart of the Tudor Dynasty which today remains so remarkably intact.

The Baroque alter ego  


The photos which are shared in the post give a flavour of the great contrast between the Tudor and the Baroque aspects of Hampton Court. What perhaps the Tudor side lacks in elaborately frescoed ceilings it makes up for in colourful stained glass and the stunning gothic ceiling of the Royal Chapel. And what the Baroque side lacks in stag heads and grand vaulted ceilings it instead replaces with wide sweeping staircases and rooms flooded with light from the masterfully manicured garden beyond. All in all, this is a tale of two Palaces, offered, very conveniently, to be enjoyed all at one time.

© 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. 

Discovering Mallorca: La Granja de Esporles

Sometimes the very best discoveries are those made by chance. And such a chance recently led us to a jewel of Mallorca’s Tramuntana mountains – an ancient palace surrounded by the most lush gardens and grounds – of which we previously had no knowledge. Almost like entering a kind of Lewis Carroll surreal wonderland, we came upon La Granja de Esporles in a densly forested turn in the road as we entered the mountains near Valldemossa. Through an opening in the vegetation, a grand building decorated with a series of elegant arches framing an open portico came into view. Around it, a mix of floral gardens, free formed parklands and formal lawns were just about visible. And in the air, a distinct harmony of birdsong became even more evident than normal. We knew that we had to park the car and discover more.

The lush surroundings of La Granja

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Reaching the front gate, the surreal feeling of this wonderland grew stronger as we encountered people dressed in traditional Mallorquin costume. Only a camera in their hand and a cash booth for tickets betrayed a sense of modernity, but beyond we were once again plunged back into the past as we toured a house packed full of the artisan crafts – lenguas fabric, pottery making, wine production – which are famous across the island, and beyond, the sense of surreal unease increased as we toured a cellar full of medieval torture instruments and childrens’ dolls with two heads…

From the ancient to the surreal…

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The pure light of reality flooded down upon us as we entered gardens abundant in flowers and larger than life trees. But this was a better kind of reality – a kind of bucolic nirvana in which birds gave out almost tropical sounding calls, and the air was suffused by the fresh dampness given off by a nearby 30metre tall waterfall. Meanwhile beyond this watery masterpiece, sun-dappled forests were enriched with further touches of wonderland, as we encountered baby donkeys asleep under trees, and mountain goats strolling fearlessly across our path. Had we entered paradise?

Freely roaming animals, a vast waterfall and other touches of paradise…

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Paradise or otherwise, La Granja is a former lorded estate today owned by the Segui family and opened as a museum in order to promote recognition of traditional Mallorcan crafts and to share the kind of blissful manor house living which was once possible on the island when you had pockets full of money to match. Amongst the natural beauty and a house packed full of history, a horse gala showcasing the incredibly skills of Spanish horses (rearing up on hind legs, trotting to rhythm and so on) rounded off a thoroughly fantastic, much unplanned discovery. Now we are looking forward to the next secret we stumble upon on this ever intriguing island.


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.