A drive to the Cotswolds and two favourite gardens.

It is a generally accepted, as I wish it to be, that driving into the countryside, spilling from village to village, in England,  is about nostalgia. Life still lived the way it used be, many moons ago.  It’s  the  stuff of Jane Austen’s Longbourne, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford. Stately manors and quaint hamlets seemingly fixed in time. And for me, it always begins with the church.

Two days in the Cotswolds.  Not too far from London and an effortless drive, my first port of call is Burford. For most, Burford’s main attraction is the high street – rather like a high way from hill to bridge, to which most tourists keep.  You sweep down, stop a little, have some tea, browse some more and leave over the bridge and up toward the next village.  There are many to visit in this part of the Cotswolds, all with antique names like Bourton-on-the-water and Stow-on-the-Wold.  Run off the tongue they do, pretty images they make.

But for me, it is always to the churches.  Such as the one in Burford.  The Church is the lesson of the place.  Those who lie in the grass beside the doors.  The locals lads and lasses who went to war and never returned, their ghostly absences fixed on stone beneath the stained glass windows.  There are stories of hardship and loss, woven into the tapestry that are these little towns and most likely found in the church.

Burford is one of the larger towns in the Cotswolds.  Many, like me, fancy themselves an ochre coloured cottage within her boundaries, or down a country lane.  The prices here are high – quaintness costs.  Bus loads of tourists are tolerated, catered for, and valued for their contribution to the village GDP, but few will ever settle here.  Times I think, of course I could: would work in the Tea Room (have experience), do the Nativity play at Christmas and write poems beside the brook. The simple life for me … until I wonder how this soul will survive the quiet and isolating winters?

Eager to continue to the gardens, I crossed the bridge and swept left toward Stow-on-the-wold.

The view back over Burford.  Sweeping fields of Rape Seed beneath a broody sky.

Spring in England could present you with a confetti of seasons in one day.  The Barbour close at hand, the stripping and cloaking of it, a regular past time.  I don’t mind driving when it’s not too hot, besides, it’s lanes are the prettier for it.  As I have been to these other villages en route to Hidcote many times, I skirt them, swinging in, imagining I shall find the perfect house for the price and sadly, sweep out and onto the road again.  The fact finding is not restricted to the main towns, but stopping by hamlets dotted between.  If I did move here however, the mainline to London would dictate, I say to myself in my pretend looking to re-locate.

Another decision on this little road trip, was to leave the GPS at home.  The beauty of the journey is in fact to meander, drive with a semi idea of destination, tempted easily to lesser roads where more discovery is made.  Coming to a cross roads, shall I go left or right and if so, soon they all join up again, which most do.  Going is circles is possible, only they are such pretty circles to go around in.

I know the Cotswolds well.  I always need to return to Hidcote Manor Gardens.

Many years ago, I think it was 1987 or thereabouts, we first visited Hidcote.  Till then I had only been to the gardens of London, mostly parks, and tried to emulate the ‘English’ gardens I had seen in magazines, into my own patch in South Africa. Yup, always the rebel, none of the gorgeous, indigenous stuff for me, like my mother who wanted only European influence in her home – I wanted to pick the lavender, smell the rose and fall into daffodils.  I had an idea of garden design but it was not until I visited Hidcote, did the idea of ‘rooms’, distinctive colour planting and hedging really mean anything.  There are others, like Sissinghurst, that still have me under their spell, and gardens with less restrictive boundaries, but it was Hidcote where the romance began.

Now part of the National Trust (yay that I am a volunteer), Hidcote Manor garden was bought in 1907 by Lawrence Johnson and his mother, Mrs. Winthrop.  The garden development history is fascinating and today much as he initially intended it.  There are rooms throughout the design, so as to maintain a sense of mystery for the visitor.  Not all is revealed at once.  Rooms are colour co-ordinated, such as at Sissinghurst, or built around a particular theme, such as the Bathing pool.  Hedging plays a large role throughout, to create walls of green and lead the visitor from one reveal to the other.  I love the way we are continually surprised by another scene, as if a play with characters in statuary or water feature.  There is an open air theatre present.  Even when visiting for the umpteenth time, Hidcote is still a as curious as she was on my first visit.

The impressive Cool colours and the historical Cedar of Lebanon – older than the garden.

The view from the top of the Serpentine Hedge.  This walk opens up to the countryside, and on the left, the Wilderness.  Daffodils over but the lilacs in full play.

Pleached Hornbeam and the Hot garden, complete with red tulips.  The beds reveal hot reds, yellows, oranges and purples throughout the year.

A downpour was welcome on the day.  This gave only the determined visitor like me an almost empty garden to enjoy.  Timing is crucial when visiting the famous English gardens, for they can be over run with tourists which makes for single file slowness and hundreds of Instagrammers – if you are like me, the sure fire way to grumpiness.  Love Instagram,  hate the lack of really seeing or enjoying a vision but only to say ‘I was there’.  I remember a single visit to Giverney being totally ruined by non-appreciating, loud and rude tourists who only wanted the evidence of the trip and paid little attention to design, or even the story of the place.  Know when to visit gardens in England and Europe. Anyway, I digress, the shower had a few of us huddle beneath a portico, still getting totally drenched but caring little – you would appreciate the joy of soft, post rain beauty in a garden.  Drops of rain, suspended on petals, on the new lime leaves unfurling, puddles in rock crevices, on ducks in the pond – a bonus, on this visit.

Close, but lesser known that the NT Hidcote Manor House, lies another favourite, Kiftsgate. Kiftsgate is a privately owned garden, a triumph and tribute to the dedication of three generations of strong and creative women.  Much of the gardening is traditional, but where this garden is unique is on the level and clever integration of contemporary garden design.

Driving up toward the house, one is oblivious to the precipice on the left, which drops sharply to a level, far below.  If you have vertigo, stay clear, although there is a pathway that curls and leads you down, knowing that you have to climb back up again, but the walk is worth it.  For me, the cliff is colourful and Spring bright with white, pale yellows and bluebell blue.  It is the pool below: half moon and lying within the crescent that echoes, that takes my breath away.  One wonders at the seemingly incomplete circle, it seems almost lunar, and yet intrigues.  We are used to symmetry in a traditional English garden design and though it seems, well, I am not sure really, it is beguiling.

Love this design.

The house is not open to the public, not when I was there, but the cafe did offer a welcome pot of tea, succumbing to the large slice of cake, and a paging through of their beautifully printed coffee book.  Before exploring the rest of the garden, I knew I also wanted to see the water feature by Simon Allison.  There are times when something just captures your imagination, holds your interest and this water feature had me spellbound, many years ago.  I tried to imitate this in my own home on my return. The movement of this feature raises it to a different love.

Most of the garden lies to the front of the house.  There is hedging and intricate ‘rooms’ also, but not on so much the grand scale as Hidcote.  This is still a family home, a intimate space and we are fortunate to be able to visit.

 

 

 

It was time to head to Chipping Campden where I was staying for the night.  The Cotswold House Hotel and Spa is a luxurious boutique hotel in the heart of the village. The garden here is in itself a treat to explore.  At this time of the year, did not partake of the Spa or pool but spend a happy hour with a glass of wine on the front porch before dinner.  Well, planned dinner and then my inclination turned to the very spoiling of a hot bath, robe and slippers and a feat of room service.  Ending the day with cheesy TV and a tray of eating in, it was apt. I was happy to just spend the quiet time.

Chipping Campden was a market town and all signs of this still prevail.  It is a town lived in with great pride by its inhabitants, and many a garden is a testament to this.  Topiaries, manicured beds, typical thatch cottages with wisteria and roses.  There are ruins, another great church and the quaintest of shops.  Walk the lanes and just beyond, the fields, complete with sheep and being the season, new-born lambs.

Driving back to London, with a quick turn in Broadway, I decided to stop at another NT property, Snowshill Manor and Garden. The orchards are breathtaking, but little else compared to the gardens I have visited the day before. It did not take long to discover before I took to the road again.

The Cotswolds House Hotel and Spa.

For those who love gardening, wanting to visit a few iconic examples and indulge in the quintessential English countryside, the Cotswolds will not disappoint. No wonder so many wish to live there.  It’s the chocolate box version of another time, natural beauty, as are many other parts of this glorious mud island.  Extend your visit to Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and Blenheim Palace.  Woodstock to meet the ghost of Inspector Morse and follow all the stories close by. Many lovely spots to stay in, things to do and the stuff of stories.

I will return again, perhaps in the Autumn when the gardens don another cloak all together.

For more information, or to plan your own journey, please contact me on the email karen@mysilverstreet.com.

Image. Own and The Cotswolds House Hotel and Spa

To Our Lady, Notre Dame. Paris.

 

“the essence of Paris is lost if seen through the double glazing of a hotel room or from the top of a tour bus. You must be on foot, with chilled hands thrust into your pockets, scarf wrapped round your throat, and thoughts of a hot café crème in your imagination. It made the difference between simply being present and being there.”
John Baxter,
The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris

I have been in love with Paris, ever since she fell in love with me.

We love each other still. It is a passion ill described to aptly motivate the wordsmith to capture the heart of it all.  What was before a dream, visions and points of exquisite reference, become a sanctuary, a finding of self and many, many walks through her streets by day, by night, but always by way of the heart.

In the last decade in particular, I have to Paris more times than I can remember, but remember each visit as if it were the first, the only and the necessity of it.  And like my mother, Notre Dame was always there, a fixed mark, a point of direction, a comfort at first sighting.

When she burned last night, I felt my heart melting.

We were not exactly friends, the Lady and I.  The more I became accustomed to Paris, the more I felt at home, the less I wanted to intrude – for so many thousands did. The last time I entered, I left vexed, annoyed at the multitudes who paid not homage, but interest and photographed and instagrammed as they edged at a pace of a glacier, one tourist after the other, mystified at the enormity of her cavern, oblivious to the sense of her religiousness.  It was not the place for me to light candles for my family, or sit and be calm, and pray.  It was a spectacle and I found many other beautiful churches to be still in, in Paris.  Yet she was always there.

She is always there.  And the burning, the terror of losing hope and today, finding all is not lost, is the spirit reborn.  I think she sort of had enough of the circus, in a way.  Sort of looked around, touched the gargoyles and fundaments and said, I need cleansing of all this parading and useless reverence. I need to burn to be born again, to remind all that I am a holy place. I am the stuff of Victor Hugo, legends and fortitude.  That will not change, but may become a place of peace again.

So when I went to Paris, when I go to Paris, it is to walk by her side.  In Spring, to see the cherry trees, so often captured, and I thank Georgianna Lane and her book ‘Paris in Bloom’ that I love more when walking past the Notre Dame in Spring.  The pictures capture the essence of Notre Dame at her prettiest season. I walk past the side of the church, to where the children play, and onward to the Ile Saint-Louis, behind the Notre Dame, to my favourite restaurant to view her magnificence from what I believe, is her best view. Quiet view. Reverent view.  The view of a church still holy and the architecture of her 13th Century workmanship, best admired. And she is still there.  Like the spirit of my mother, like the spirit of Hemingway’s Paris, like the romance and loveliness of a city that looks to her for validation of beauty.

 

When Notre Dame caught flame last night, the world wept.  And for a moment, came together in that weeping. United in grief and disbelief.  History was falling into the flames, and losing history that speaks of all of life before, is so very sad.  We need the stories to help us understand, to give us a place in the universe, to allow us to take notes for ourselves and give a sense of purpose.  There are many instances when history is being wiped out, change comes too fast, but we can only learn to move forward when we look back, and in that falling spire, we lost the lives of those who built her. But we will find them again.

I love her most in the winter. When the skies are grey and austere but the season of reflection and comfort, with a scarf around my neck, walking the city and knowing she is there.  When Christmas lights come early in the darkness and the city moves around her.  I love her most then when she is pale and comforting.

And I pray for Our Lady.  For our Notre Dame.  To bring once more the magnificent of workmanship, or dedication to religion and the love of the world.  To be a beacon of light in the city of lights and light up for generations who need to see her, hear her stories and again, be the fixed point for those, like me, who find her, always in Paris.

Three degrees on a Saturday. Sunset 15.51 pm. Wonderful.

‘The constant rendezvous for men of Business, as well as the idle people, so that a man is sooner asked about his coffee house, than his lodgings.’ Samuel Johnson.

If there was ever a need for a coffee house, a warm place, a sanctuary in the midst of winter, I am sitting in one.  The London day of many seasons: bitter with sun, bitter with rain:  bitter with sleet and … well bitter.  

Waiting to take a tour in the bitter outdoors.  ‘The history of London in 4 drinks.’  And it is wonderful, for it is history, and learning, and learning some more.  Two and a half hours of meeting interesting people, being the drama queen, in and out of that doing I love – cold outdoors to warmth indoors – why do I love that so much? and when all is done,  clients wooed and won, to early dinner with friends in Sloane (the place of blue Christmas lights and true selling of steaming chestnuts) to family.  Grayson is leaving on a skiing trip to Austria – a first in many ways.

Some may feel sorry  for me deep in the European gray, and as I know, I feel dreadfully sorry for myself most of the time in the living quarters scenario part of my life, but today I am witnessing a hundred different stories, and I can only say, I feel blessed.  The morning tube ride began with the kindred Christmas spirit of wrapped up children and wrapped up canines, chatting, barking and breaking the normally austere silence of the carriage.  The ‘day out’ thrill was tangible and I do so love seeing little people with fashionable clothes: he is country squire right down to the beret and she in French Rachel Rileyesque prettiness.

Alighting at Temple and a short walk to Somerset House, Christmas well entrenched. Contemplating a skating session (has the hesitation something to do with the fear of falling?) but veer towards Fortnum and Mason’s Christmas – 18th century particular for Tea and Marmalade.  The combination of Wooden floors, fireplaces, baubles and truffles ideally suited to mood setting for the walk up fleet Street.

Have to remind myself that so much of London was bombed.  Between the new edifice of the city lies so many buildings of old, of history with stories I plan to tell on the tour.  If you take the small alleyways, turn the unknown corners, you will find them.  One being St. Brides.

Built by Sir Christopher Wren, the three tired spire was the inspiration for a local baker to create … the three tired wedding cake.  Truth, we get the idea from there.  Close by, the Old Bell, a pub Sir Wren encouraged his workers to frequent to save time on going somewhere else and he could keep an eye on them.  There still.  St Brides was badly bomed, leaving only … the spiral. Restoration was to the original plan but also revealed so much more: an ancient Roman road and Saxon walls, which tells me this church has so many layers to her heyday stature.  She has survived centuries of life.  More poignant, the church is a homage to journalists – alone in her sanctum, I stood before an alter to all those of recent loss, kidnapping, giving their lives to tell the world what was happening.  Haunting photographs of all, including Marie Colvin and now, Jamal Kashoggi. I light candles and think of their parents, their children, their loved ones. Life … oh what diaries we can create about her.

The tour today is about the history of London in four drinks. No, not wine.  Wine is not quintessentially about London – if you think about it, mostly imported.  It is about the history of coffee houses, afternoon tea, beer rather than the disgusting water from the Thames back then, and Gin.  The mother’s ruin.  About poor Judith Dufour.  Pelting rain, gale winds that mock my umbrella, hidden pubs and secret squares. The black cat secret, pineapples and St. Pauls and all goes well.  Interesting guests and new friendships, but I am soaked down to the woollen gloves and soggy socks. 

Suitably sitting in warmth with gin – Sir Christopher Wren gin – I bid them adieu and leave for the tube.  Still raining.  Night.  And I am Bridget Jones on the line, for home.  It is the lights I see as the tube moves through the city, the Christmas lights that needs the dark to dance, on the river, in the puddles and sidewalks trodden by generations before me.  One with it all, with my own story, and it is good.  Christmas is ‘Love Actually’. Love shared in this season, with the bending to offer kindness to the homeless outside Waitrose, the carrying of Pointsettias on the bus.  Passing those dragging the Christmas tree bought, the Father Christmas hats, flashing headbands, the patient faithful.  Jingling songs, choirs in the station and the majesty of spirit at this time.

An ordinary day?  I think not.  An extraordinary day – I call it a London day. Missing the life past, the sun and sea, the easy life, but if I had to be anywhere to feel truly alive, I am there. 

So why do Mince Pies have no mince? Well …

 

 

Borough Market – would I have made a suitable shrimp girl?

 

Interior of Borough Market by Mike Bernard

 

‘Do you know the Muffin Man, the muffin man, the muffin man …  This one lived on Drury Lane, but the song keeps popping into my head when I go to Borough Market.  I am transported back to the days of street sellers, fish mongers, swishing skirts and soot soaked caps – I am not of the present but tripping through the past when I to Borough Market.

Perhaps the cockles and whelks and jellied eels have something to do with it.  Since a fairy friend introduced me to Emma of Coutours, I am learning more about Borough Market.  More about London.  My first tour, ‘The History of Street Food’ had me spilling stories of pineapples, pies and all sorts of doings and goings on in this famous spot that is alive with food and fantasy. I am falling in love all over again.

For years, just admiring the mushrooms was good enough for me.  I love the way they look, cuties all.  Avoided the cheese up close experience: seriously, you have to love cheese to volunteer for the olfactory overture.  As for the seafood – let’s just say a non fish eater was, occasionally, very disturbed by the smell and ghastly, dead eyes staring up at me.  Dead rabbits, dead pheasants … I mean, I liked going there but being a little greenling foodling, happy to amble and hit Waitrose on the way home.

Oh my Word!

The transformation in a short few years.  This growing up, meat, rice and potatoes girl is on a fluffy cloud of food adoration. London does that to you, opens your mind and your soul to the markets of magic in food.  Seasonal Autumn now, risottos in pans, as big as my flat, lure me closer.  I am studying the detail of artichokes, tripping on artisanal caffeine and shhhh, those toasted cheese sarmies are my nemesis. 

Back to yore of shouting sellers, the noise, cacophony of baskets, bales, potatoes and venison.  Sweet cherries licked to dispel the soot. Brine and beer and playwrights and not spoken of.  I am a Londoner now – fully immersed in lore and stories and in these markets, in Borough Market, I think of the Oyster men and the shrimp girls and am grateful to them, and being here to discover more and more each day.

Would I have made a suitable shrimp girl? For the non sea sort, I sort of think I would.  I could sell them, if not eat them. But I think I understand the tale of making the most of what life gives us, how far produce goes from field to fork – the dedication of self to support. 

In Borough, every time, I am happy to be a tourist, a local, a learner. And eater of nearly all now.

In the learning, I am loving the smelliest cheese, the squishiest urchin, the bread, the cured meat, the plums and plaice.  And in love with the idea that I am treading where so many have done before – the ghosts are there, and they are friendly ones.

To the pub she says … to the story.

‘Do you know the muffin man … the muffin man, the muffin man …’ Sort of think I do.

Image: Mike Bernard.

 

All fine travelling alone, but bloody frustrating at times.

Am all good with the travelling solo thing, really I am.  I do it all the time.

The thing is, I do it to familiar places, places I know well.  Get on the train, or the plane and find myself in surroundings of before.  Got it down pat.

The problem is, and you may find this, is when I want to go somewhere and have never been before. If it is in a city, that’s fine, can just Google and deal with the itinerary – cities are friendly places.  Today I thought, maybe I should go to Lisbon and I have no problem with this.  There are many itineraries and bits of advice about Lisbon.

About to go to South Africa again.  Really have my heart set on a few days in the Cederberg mountains, a place I have never been before.  Turns out, this was no easy feat in the planning of it.  No-one seems to have any idea of a woman travelling alone to the area.  The hotels, the hikes, the road maps – nothing seemed conducive to a woman travelling alone.

For sure, if I had won the Lotto, would go straight to Bushmanskloof.  This amazing, five star haven would solve it all.  Game drives, gorgeous accommodation, luxury spa – who would want for more?  But expensive. A little too much for me, so what else I thought was on offer?

There are a few places in the accommodation field, but I know nothing of them.  Would I be safe?  Would I be able to travel on my own? Would my little hired car get me around to the wonderful sights?  I just could not work it out. There are tours, a guided tour with a guide for three days, just me and the guide in a chalet which did not, quite appeal. Oh dear. Am I just being a softy, scaredy cat or should I blow caution to the wind on this one?  If I had someone else, somehow it seemed a better deal.  But I don’t.

So what am I saying here?  Travelling solo is possible.  It’s invigorating and life changing and I have seen the most incredible places, I knew, would be ok to do on my own.  But the unknown destinations still worry me a bit. Am I seeking for another sole traveller’s notes on this? Should I just go and do it? I don’t know.

For some, and I know many women who have travelled to India, Australia, America and the more unknown places, I salute them. Europe has been my solo travelling space to date. I know her well, she is friendly and accessible.  I could go to Croatia, Lisbon, Rome, Paris and anywhere else with total abandon, but when it comes to Africa … my birthplace … my desire to have a road trip of note … is a little worrying. Have I read too many stories, am I just being paranoid? And it not Africa, or South Africa, would I do it to other destinations I have not travelled before? Does it make me feel whatever? Have not done these trips before on my own, now recently on my own.

So I google forever for advice on travelling solo to places I have not been before.  I am the master of European travel and can advise you on most of it – but I want to do something else now, and find myself questioning the solo travel thing.  Like Namibia – would love to go there but on my own? Help me if you know.

In the meantime I am still going to South Africa. I still want to do a road trip to the Cederberg Mountains, through the Karoo and down to Durban – am I going to do it, who knows?  Why do I hesitate to travel, on my own to places unknown?

It is not about being alone. And travelling.  And spending nights in different places.  It is about my safety, and who will help me along the way. New territory for me – and then again, if I have to wait for someone to travel with, it could be me with cobwebs growing from my scalp – so let’s just say, scary or not, I am up for it, maybe I am the one to be the pioneer in this.

If you are a solo traveller, tell me about it. When you plan a trip – do you go for it, or plan it carefully, being alone, being a solo traveller? And if so, how brave are you in doing this? Would love to know.

Image Pintrest

The Chelsea Physic Garden – sanctuary in the city.

 

‘Learn from those whose generosity is given to you.’

In 1673 The Chelsea Physic Garden was established on four acres of land, beside the River Thames, by the Apothecaries in order to gather, propagate and study medicinal plants. In 1712, Sir Hans Sloane, physician, naturalist, collector and founder of the British Museum, bought and offered the Manor of Chelsea to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries for the grand total of £5.00.  This is still paid to his dependents today. Best £5.00 pounds rental ever!

I always knew about this chap from the famous, and often found in Sloane Square, but little of just how much of a legacy this gentleman has left for us to enjoy.  And it was yesterday, admittedly, that I first entered the secret garden that is The Chelsea Physic garden.  Done nearly all the gardens in London, and England, but this little gem somehow escaped me. Guess I was always turning into the The Chelsea Flower Show gates and never really explored this offering. Until yesterday.

Oh dear, you have missed something special, I though to myself as I turned into Swan Street.  Lotto loving maybe one day street.  The houses are elegant, peeps into the gardens alluring, and running my hand along the secret wall that protects the garden, I almost walked right by. The entrance is unassuming, the anticipation like a bride before she enters the chapel. God lives there.

Perhaps she has found her spiritual home in London.  No photographs in 30 degree heat will do justice to the magic, only the gnarled and mighty trees a canopy of cool beneath the beating sky.  The garden is divided into four quadrants, living libraries of medicinal, woodland, edible and historical favours. I took the tour, as I always, do for learning is never wasted. Of course my heart spiked at the sight of atlantic blue aggies, the vivid cannas so often planted as borders to free state farm houses with familiar friends I planted in my own gardens.

Summer colour is everywhere: plump oranges and grapefruits swollen on branches.  Bella Donna, deadly belle that she is, like glass marbles on the bush.  And it does not matter if the latin genus names escapes, a daisy is as pretty called a daisy as any distinguished label.  Edging of Yew and buxus leads one gently from place to place.

A place of peace, and teaching.  Calm reigns. I wished I could bring my friends, and in particular those who struggle with illness, and life to this sanctuary.  Is a garden not the epitome of spirituality then? Plopped sun worshippers with flimsy clothes and broad hats dotted the lawn, rested on benches and conversed in the shady niches. There is a shop and tea room and I instead imagined an evening party to celebrate love here.

In the fading hours of the afternoon, it was to a quiet corner of repose. Softness around, I wished so much that I was an artist able to capture the moment.  I will bring my children here.

 

Let them see coconuts bloom, deserts create.  Let them meander and muse about the power of plants in a garden.  And it has always been my wistful wish to have a garden again, to be part of the seasons and the soil, but that is for another time.  This is a garden in the heart of London that has a heart of curing all stress and replace with sublime sensitivity for life. For breathing in and breathing out easily: to rest and watch butterflies and bees, hear the birds high above and remind oneself of the power of nature in a pretty place.

If I were to have the space again one day, I would plant a garden that tells a story, of healing, of history, of woodland walks and edible fare.  With the sound of water. I would plant a garden just like this one.

Image: The Chelsea Physic Garden.

Romance runs deep in the waters of Lake Como

‘Leave me here with a glass of pink blush, a deep plate of pasta and the view of perfection.’

If hiding were an option from the busy world, it is the lakes that will wrap their mist softly about you, till the ferry horns and feint lights in the distance, are your only companions.  Until you are ready to be found again. Only when the mist rises, the view will have have you spellbound forever.

I return again and again.  Have stayed in Bellagio, Lenno and this time, in Varenna.  The latter is where to alight from when you train from Milan, only long before the quaint station comes into view, your eyes have feasted on the lake, the train curling along her edge for some distance.  It’s intoxicating.

Like most of the towns along the mid-lake, Varenna is carved from cliff, smartie coloured houses clinging till they reach the bluest waters below. She is one of the more known towns, cradling beside and opposite Mennagio, Tremezzo, Lenno and Bellagio. Staying at the Hotel Olivedo could not have been more fitting.  More perfect.  Family run, I felt as if I were staying in a grand home, stylish, grand, my corner room with windows flung open to views of the Lake, I was on a film set about The Grand Tour. Hard to drag myself away in the mornings and delighted to return.  In repose I was, sipping coffee in the morning, watching the ferry arrive, and repose again at night, sipping wine and watching the ferry leave.  In repose I was, in repose.

Time stands still in Como.  Days are passed by wistfully with slow boat rides from town to town, Villa to Villa, Garden to Garden and of course, pasta to pasta. You submerge yourself in the tranquility of Como.  Steep the walks may be, these are taken with gentle walking.  A past era of golden money, lavish parties, unsurpassed views.  Bellagio is the largest of these towns, complete with couture shops and distinct deli’s.  Also in Bellagio, my haunting The Grand Hotel Bretagne.  This is a novel waiting to happen, abandoned majesty that cries of a bygone era.

So, early mornings, post breakfast and a chat to the friendly staff, a Mid-lake ferry ticket and nothing in particular planned.  Get off where you wish, board again when done.  Lenno holds a special place in my heart, a wedding it was that could not have transpired in a more romantic setting.  The Villa Bulbiano, now famous as a film location for ‘Casino Royale’ presents a wedding venue we all dreamed of as little girls. The walk along the water’s edge has one dreaming of lotto’s and estate agents.

The Grand Tremezzo Hotel is a short walk from the Villa Carlotta.  Looking up is the beginning, to look down over views and garden designs, classical and magnificent.  Love and loss story.  An afternoon of cultural beauty.  Of course I am going to create a garden just like this back home.

Swear I could hear the music playing in another room.

Another must see is the Villa Monastero in Varenna.  If you are a garden lover, the tiered walkways and spectacular views into the deepest water, hidden statues and lyrical swathes of flowers will not disappoint. Once a convent, a villa for a wealthy German entrepreneur pre the 1st World War and confiscated, as were many of the villas along these shores, seem frozen in time.  And time is what you need when you explore them, and time is what you have when you visit Lake Como.

Each characteristically infused town leads to a square, and of course, a church.  I light my candles there and read the notifications to young folk who went to war, and never returned.  What peace must have turned to such loss then, how to understand the futility of it all?  I light my candles and one for them too.

Dining on the edge of Lake Como. Perhaps I should have tried the many options, each worthy and enticing, but I found this little place, right beside the hotel, and for me, I was in no hurry to go anywhere else. End of the day repose again. Tranquil setting, deep conversations, life and love and all that happens in between bowls of piping hot spaghetti and chilled wine. Where they know you name kind of place. The Cavallino Ristorante was my chapter place.

 

 

On my last morning, feeling really tearful in the leaving, I waked once more along the edge of the lake.  The painter was there again, as was the man who plays the accordion, and the lady who sits everyday in the shade, right beside the water, knitting. And I also wonder: do they think of it as another day, another opportunity to make a little money from the tourists, or do they realise just how fortunate they are to live there?  It must be difficult during the winter months, when all is shut against the cold and the lake falls silent.  I do not live there but I think they are blessed, they must think I am and I guess, we all are for having touched this piece of heaven on earth.

Oh, and if you have booked into The Hotel du Lac, make sure you know which one … they have one in every town. Love it.

The lustrous beauty of Ville Franche Sur Mer, Cote d’Azur

There are a few places that have captured my heart over the years. Destinations that call me to return, over and over again. In my Silver Street now, I am not so much for discovering new places, but returning to the familiar locations of beauty.

One such is Ville Franche Sur Mer, a town that dips into one of the deepest, natural bays on the Mediterranean and climbs up the cliffs to the Upper Corniche. The three Corniches that pass through the town are roads that travel to Italy, but ideal for cheap bus trips to Monaco, ten miles away, St. Jean de Cap Ferrat, Eze Village and many of the stunning towns that pepper the coastline. Around the corner is Nice, larger, fun to discover and your main entry into the Cote’d Azur.

You will not find sandy beaches here. Hardly anywhere in fact, but the fine pebbled beach that nestles in the bay, is heaven for me. Think the bluest colours of water, swirls of aqua and turquoise – stunning clarity and happiest of lapping waves – all very gentle and my kind of beach experience. This is our summer holiday of getting a tan experience. Without burning. Without funfairs and candy floss, just quaint cafés and inviting restaurants on the edge of the water to while away the hours at sunset with the bottle of Cote de Provence Rosé (summer requirement) and festive fare. Gentle is the operative word, even if your hotel is a mile up the cliff, gentle is the way to get there.

For me, lying on a beach all day, is a little much. I know the places I want to visit again, and first on the list is the magnificent Villa et Jardins Euphressi de Rothschild. I think I must have been part of ‘The Grand Tour’ in a previous life, for the Villas and Gardens of Europe and the United Kingdom are my joy. This impressive Villa and her becoming gardens weaves a story for me. Easily accessible on the 100 bus, for a Euro or two, an afternoon of vistas and glamour is just the thing.

Also on the agenda, of course, is a trip to Monaco and Eze. Monaco for the glamour and glitz of faded days, super yachts and film locations, to view the Pink Palace and remind yourself that the world has super millionaires but not care too much, and Eze, well Eze is where this young girl fell in love with the Cote ‘d Azur. Where this young girl finally realised what her mother had been trying to teach her of places she never dreamed of, this Medieval village that turns and tucks itself away so that each turn is a magical surprise. And the candles are lit in her ethereal church.

‘Upon entering Eze I felt transported back to the Medieval period while walking up the uneven stone streets through narrow passages and under low archways. Such feelings of being in a museum village quickly subsided as an expensive art gallery, gift shop or cafe could be found around every corner.’

Craig O’Sullivan, Huffington Post.

On the other side of Ville Franche Sur Mer, past Nice and a little trickier to get to if using public transport, lies the Artists delight of St. Paul de Vence.

Make a turn at Juan Les Pins and say hello to Scott F. Fitzgerald’s ghost, or Antibes and Cannes. There is so much to do, on the exploring days, and so little you need to do on the languid days. It is a holiday after all.

July and August can be hot, and I would normally recommend early or late Summer, but my flat was let out for Wimbledon and thought, what better to go and swim in the sea, meander through colourful streets and dine with the best company on the edge of the sea – and I did, and I shall return again, which for me, is being happy.

If you would like any assistance with planning a trip to Ville Franche Sur Mer, or the French Riviera, please contact our sister company on www.londongreenafrica.com

We specialise in travel to Africa, South Africa, Italy, France and the United Kingdom. Happy Travelling, be it solo or with loved ones.

Images: Own and pinterest

The Winter is over. Hello Summer in South Africa.

  It’s a funny thing in life.  For me anyway.  When I am in London, I hear nothing but negativity about South Africa.  And I buy into it, for some if it exists, and some are reasons that we re-located to London all those years ago.  No future, everything going pear shaped, crime, high living costs … a little like all the other countries in the world – I mean have you ever sat and thought ‘Where is the perfect place to live?’ and every one you think of has its problems. Politics and headlines have that effect.

But I do find myself a little schizo when it comes to South Africa.  Love London, tell my children to stay and make their lives there … and then I come back, like now, for a holiday and whoosh … my heart just bangs like a thunderstorm with the joy of being here. Other than the familiar, it has to begin with the African landscape that just gets the blood flowing after a long and grey winter.

Truth is it is the end of summer here.  I wear sundresses and sandals and the sun is high and I have this overwhelming urge to be outside and healthy. To drive on open roads, walk on the beach – touch wheat and swim.  Stare at the mountains.  Buy wine from the vineyards and not in an Orange supermarket. It’s nature and landscape enveloping me – and as they say, when life gets tough, nature is what you want.  Here I find her in abundance.

Rather than wake to the view of the garages behind my flat, I wake to Guinea fowl chatting in the garden.  The light is different here.  Can’t explain it, but it is and I see myself in a different way.

The people of South Africa are happy people.  Despite all, and some living in abject poverty, they are always chatting, and smiling and it is infectious. Right down to the street sellers working for a plate of food, they always seem to be positive. Need that after the longest winter yet endured.

So I rose early and went for a walk.  Drove into Cape Town to meet a friend and we drove back to Franschoek to spend a beautiful lunch under the trees – he said ‘you look different’, ‘you look happy’ and I just smiled, again … and again … for I am.

My winter is over. As much as I love London, and I do with her charm and quirks and traditions, I am now rather for a few weeks, for nature, beach and berg, outside living and grateful to be here.  South Africa, you have your problems, but your offerings are greater and I cannot tell you how happy I am to be here for a while. Down to the painted toes and all for now they are on display!

In this Silver street of our lives, we could live anywhere and make the most of it.  Materialism fades but being in a beautiful place, where you are at peace and optimism thrives … that is good enough for me.  Hello Summer, in every way.

Giverny – where I find Monet

‘Always looking for mist and transparencies, Monet would dedicate himself less to flowers than to reflections in water, a kind of inverted world transfigured by the liquid element.’

In 1883 Monet and his family began their lives at Giverny.  So began his obsession to create a landscape of form and flowers to paint.  Ten years later he bought a neighbouring plot, over the railway line to create the pond now forever captured in his painting of lilies and light. Inspired by Japanese art, Monet landscaped nature, his garden at Giverny, his legacy.

I have been to Giverny a number of times.  Early morning train from Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris to the garden my mother spoke of so often in her life, yet never saw herself.  I guess I go for her in a way, to whisper whilst walking – you would love it Mom, just as you told me Mom, wish you were here with me Mom.

It is all about the light.  French vintage home, pebbled walks, spilling of colour. Pink on walls, fuchsia on trellis, hot colour walks, cool water stillness – even the wooden boat moored as if someone may just recline with a good book on a hot summer’s day.  Blues and Greens and purples and lilac and vermilion and yellow and sky.

I grew up with the Impressionists.  Name them all, their works, their histories, but only when in Europe did I see the works before me. The National Gallery, The Orangery, D’Orsay – I find them and stand there, just stand there and know there is passion in life. When life is small, they are immense and I think about their struggles, heartache and joyous fervour when life is at the end of their paintbrushes. Bow down to genius I do.  Monet is different. Monet seemed happy though at times lost for the muse, the vision, but able to find God in flowers and domestic in his family life.  He found his garden and in doing do, he found his art. Though well travelled and documented, it is here that contentment lives.

Sadly, the time I took my children there, the world came too.

 It was August and August in France is not for the weak. As much as I tried to capture the ambiance of the water lilies, others were pushing for a spot along the walk. The lines are awful, the mystery shattered.  I hope they will return when it is calmer and the ghost of Monet walks with them one day. They love the Impressionists, love Art, love gardens and I know they will return to find the magic that lies there.  It touched a little, next time, to drown in the beauty of it all.

For me, once, I was alone and took my time to find the angles, the paintbrush poised before the eyes to find perspective, the lilies bopping gently on water. It was years before that took me back, to the man who rose with the early morning to capture the mist. A short walk away is the Hotel Baudy, more French, more characteristic I could not find.  For lunch, a table beneath the trees on the edge of the meadow.  Looking at the Baudy, I could imagine someone shaking sheets outside the windows, soldiers walking towards anger and away from those they loved.  I revelled in the quaintness of simple cheese and wine at noon, laundry on the line, cows in the pasture and I immersed myself in history, in art and in rural France, on my own, notebook on the table and it is a feeling I remember and love.  

If you love Art, The Impressionists and Monet, make Giverny a place to be. Not visit, but be. Once you have, the Water Lilies at the Orangery in the Tulleries will make so much more sense.  Add more depth to your understanding of the artist and his subject. A day trip out of Paris. Reason enough to understand. A reason to realise that life is beautiful indeed.

Images Paris Vision, Victoria mag and Pintrest. Quote from Giverney