Touring Chatsworth House & Highclere Castle

In addition to touring Hill Top (Beatrix Potter's home) and Levens Hall (for that posting, click here), we toured Chatsworth House and Highclere Castle.

Chatsworth House (click here for more information) is one of the most impressive homes in the UK. It has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549. It was the filming location for Pemberly in the latest version of "Pride & Prejudice". And its park was landscaped by "Capability" Brown and is simply breathtaking! 

A few weeks before we toured Chatsworth House, a new exhibit of costumes and fashions had just opened. And while that was fascinating, it resulted in much of the house sort of being taken over by the exhibit, so I feel like I saw the exhibit, but had a difficult time looking past it to see the house itself. Additionally, many of the windows were shuttered or the curtains drawn, I presume to protect the textiles, so the house was very dark. But here is a glimpse at what caught my eye.

A beautiful John Singer Sargent painting, "Acheson Sisters", was on display.

 Remember this statue from "Pride & Prejudice"?

And in the gift shop, there was this bust with signage that made us chuckle.

The grounds are too beautiful to adequately describe. Statues and daffodils and fountains and grazing sheep and herds of deer and a cascading waterfall. It simply took my breath away!

By far, the favorite English country house that we toured was Highclere Castle, home to the Carnarvon family in real life, but otherwise known as Downton Abbey to the rest of us! (Click here for more information.) Highclere has a limited touring schedule, so booking our trip around a time that it was open for tours was a top priority for us. I booked the plane tickets and immediately purchased our Highclere tickets, and then I planned the rest of the trip around those dates. 

Why was it our favorite? After all those years of watching Downton Abbey, it seemed so real to us! And, unlike other homes that are SO grand that it would be difficult imagining them as anyone's actual home, Highclere is more intimate and home-like. And, because we've seen the Granthams "living" in Downton, it did seem like someone's home. 

Don't we look positively giddy to go inside? We were!

Photography is not allowed inside. And really, it isn't necessary, because if you've seen Downton Abbey, you've seen it. It looks just exactly as it does in the show. You do see some rooms on the tour that are not ever shown in the TV series. And the ones you do see seem slightly smaller in real life than you imagined them to be. Our favorite rooms were the library and the saloon (pronounced "salon").

The tour shows you the bedrooms of Lady Grantham, Lady Edith, Lady Sybil, and the room into which Mr. Pamuk's body was removed. The last is the grandest of the bedrooms on the tour, with its elegant, 19th century red silk damask walls. Just stunning! Colette was very much hoping to see Lady Mary's bedroom, but we learned that her room was always a set. 

We took plenty of time touring the extensive grounds, also designed by "Capability Brown". A pretty view of the house can be seen from all around.

For a great pub for lunch nearby to Highclere, click here and scroll down to read about the Yew Tree.

Touring Hill Top (Beatrix Potter's House) and Levens Hall

I am excessively fond of touring houses. Mostly old houses. I have nearly a boundless appetite for them. It's so intriguing to see how people used to live, decorate, style, etc. Aside from the palaces and castles on this vacation, we toured four houses/properties of distinction. The first two, Hill Top (Beatrix Potter's home and farm) and Levens Hall, were an easy drive from our farmhouse vacation rental in the Yorkshire Dales.

Nestled down a winding lane in the beautifully green Lake District of northern England is Hill Top (click here for more information). 

Beatrix Potter purchased this property after she was an established author. The 17th century house sits on 34 acres, and was the inspiration for the locations of many of the costumed creatures in Beatrix Potter's tales.

Having spent countless hours reading Beatrix Potter's books to our children, it was a joy to tour her home with at least one of mine!

The home is entirely filled with Beatrix Potter's own possessions, books, letters, sketches, and more. I was startled at the quality and/or uniqueness of some of her belongings, and surmised that she was very well off indeed for a woman of her day. Devotees, like myself, will recognize this Welsh cupboard as the one that Anna Maria dashes in front of in the Tale of Samuel Whiskers.

Peering into Beatrix Potter's dollhouse.

The next day, we toured the Elizabethan manor, Levens Hall (click here for more).

The interior was the setting for the filming of A&E's "Wives & Daughters". Unfortunately, no indoor photography is allowed, but it was fun to spot various places throughout the home that we recognized from scenes in the film. It is filled with incredible treasures! It really struck me while there that the treasures of England are almost unimaginable. In just this one, single country house estate are priceless artifacts...a saddle that belonged to Napoleon, jewelry, china, crystal, silver, paintings on par with those found in any major museum, painted leather panels on the walls, and on and on. 

Amazingly, the property was once lost and won in a game of cards. The winner won the estate by playing the ace of hearts card. He immortalized his victory by having hearts adorn the downspouts on the house. You can see them just to the right of me in this photo.

Levens Hall is noted for its famed topiary garden. It was so magical to wander through its tidy walkways surrounded by the stately manor house and the Suess-ical topiaries...quite the contrast!

There are hedges, and then there are HEDGES.

I enjoyed watching this couple play croquet on the lawn. In the house, there is a set of lawn bowling balls that sat on the court from the late 1600's until the early 1900's. Incredible!

And if you visit Levens Hall, don't miss a visit to the Bellingham Buttery on the premises. The lemon sponge was delicious! And the scones were the absolute best we had of the entire trip!

Click here to read about our farmhouse rental in the vicinity.

Versailles: A Visual Feast

On our last day in Paris, we took the train (about a 45-minute ride) to the Palace of Versailles, the resplendent palace of Louis XIV of France, the Sun King.

After disembarking from the train, we diverged from the crowd headed to the palace to pick up lunch at a local boulangerie for picnicking in the gardens at Versailles. Toting along our baguette and other fixings, we meandered toward the palace, enjoying the warmest day of our trip thus far. We were happy that signage to the Palace is excellent, so we could easily find our way, even though we had left the crowd.

While our Paris Museum Passes provided us with free admission to Versailles (but not the garden, you should note), it does not allow you to skip the security line. The line was long...very long. We estimate that there were at least 800 people in line. And the nice warmth we had enjoyed earlier became very hot when standing in it for about two hours to get through security. If you're visiting, come prepared to stand exposed to the elements for quite a while. Here is a small portion of the crowd.

But two hours does afford plenty of time for snapping pictures of all the gilded details of the palace as you wait.

We were hot and hungry by the time we reach the security check, and we planned to start with the gardens so we could eat, and then tour the house. But our bag of lunch fixings was not able to go through security, and had to be checked. Touring the house first it was then!

We have toured castles and palaces and many a grand home, but nothing quite prepares you for the overwhelming opulence of Versailles. It is truly difficult to imagine anyone living on such a grand scale. There was even a room where people were invited to watch the king eat.

The famous Hall of Mirrors!

A glimpse of part of the garden from the house. We were headed there next. I suspected this would be our favorite part of touring Versailles, and I was not mistaken. So beautiful!

But before we ventured further, we stopped at the Laduree display for some macarons. Yes please!

To enter the gardens, you must pay for a separate garden admission. But don't skip it, because it's just gorgeous! A must! 

The biggest unexpected delight of visiting Versailles is that throughout the garden, hidden discretely, are speakers through which play beautiful classical music. There is no part of the garden from which we could not hear the music. Just perfect!

And don't leave Versailles without indulging in a sorbet from the charming sorbet truck!

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