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!

Quick Guide to the Essential Sights of Paris

Paris has a number of iconic sights, and if you have just a few days to enjoy this enchanting city, you want to be sure to make these sights a priority. Sometimes, when planning a trip, trying to decipher from afar how much time you'll need to see this or that, or to travel between point A and point B can be very difficult. In this posting, I'll attempt to help you out with that conundrum.

We arrived in Paris at the Gare du Nord Station, having taken the Eurostar rail from London that morning. When you arrive, just follow the crowd to the exit and then get in line for a taxi. Get in the long line for the taxi. There are numerous signs that warn you against taking (something like) "uncertified taxis". We got the impression the short line was for those. The long line is monitored by station employees who will beckon a taxi over for you, once you reach the front of the line, based on how many people and how much luggage are in your party.

Our train got in around 11:30 a.m., and by the time we waited in the taxi line, traveled to our AirBnB rental, checked in there, freshened up a bit, and were out the door again, it was about 1:00 p.m. We devoted all the rest of the afternoon to seeing the Louvre, which was just about a 10 minute walk from our apartment. To get there, we crossed the Seine and paused for a moment to enjoy the view.

In Paris (or before you arrive), you can purchase the Paris Pass OR a Paris Museum Pass. We chose the latter, shipped to our home weeks before we left home, so we were ready to go as soon as we arrived. It allows you free entry to a long list of museums and attractions, and you save much time standing in line for a ticket. It does not allow you to skip any security lines, however.

The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world, and you could not possibly see the whole thing in any sort of adequate way even in one whole day. So, choose the galleries in which you are most interested to visit, and don't miss the the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa.

Don't get so absorbed in the art that you fail to notice the beauty of the architecture of the Louvre itself. Gorgeous!

The entirety of the next day was spent visiting a variety of the must-see sights, eating at some fine restaurants, and walking, walking, walking. We started our day about 9 a.m., and arrived back at our apartment about 8 p.m. It's a long day, but it is possible to do all of this.

First stop was Notre Dame. Again, our Paris Museum Pass got us in the door. We did not get any sort of tour, but merely wandered through, stopping to decipher a few plaques along the way.

From there, we walked to a Metro station and took it to the restaurant, Angelina, for a late breakfast and cups of hot chocolate (link to my food guide at the bottom of this posting). After a leisurely breakfast, we walked up the famous Champs-Elysees.

There are shops all along the famous avenue. We did not stop to shop, but we did stop for lunch at Laduree. (Again, see food posting at the bottom.) Our destination at the end of our long walk was L'Arc de Triomphe. Can you spy the people at the top?

If you purchase the Paris Museum Pass, it will also give you free access to L'Arc de Triomphe.

And if you have stout legs, you can climb the 284 steps to the top of it! The view is quite worth it! This is looking back down the Champs-Elysees, the length of which we had just walked.

Looking toward Basilica du Sacre-Coeur du Montemartre, the highest point in Paris. If you have extra time, it would be great to journey out there to see it too.

And there's a great view of the Eiffel Tower from the top too!

After descending the 287 steps, we wandered about the base of it, pausing to see the flame to the unknown soldier and the view looking up at the arch.

Then we grabbed a taxi to get us quickly to the Eiffel Tower, as we had 3:00 p.m. tickets to go to the very top deck. Your Paris Museum Pass will NOT cover admission to the Eiffel Tower. You can, however, purchase tickets in advance, which I would highly recommend. You will still spend lots of time standing in line and on the second deck, because there are still plenty of lines.

A view from the second deck looking down at the Jardins du Trocadero. Keep that view in mind, because we're headed there in a moment.

Hello, Paris! View from the third deck...the tippy-top of the Eiffel Tower!

And zooming in bit by bit with my camera, you can see the details of the buildings and how most are built around a central courtyard.

After taking the elevator down, and purchasing some ice cream (dark chocolate and pistachio soft serve from a street vendor?...yes please!), we walked across the street to the Jardins du Trocadero. Here is a wonderful vantage point to take great photos of the Eiffel Tower.

From there, we traveled via Metro and on foot to the Jardins du Luxembourg. So beautiful! I would highly encourage you to make this a priority. 

If you arrive at a reasonable daytime hour, you will have the opportunity to rent a boat to sail on the fountain pond. These votes are nearly 100 years old, the idea of one man, who thought children would derive much joy from sailing them here. Over the years, they have been repainted and their sails replaced, but the boats remain the same. We rented one, like all the other 6-8 year olds, and had so much fun!

Next posting will be on our next day in Paris, which was spent at Versailles!

To read about our Paris lodgings, click here:
To read about our food guide to Paris food click here or here.
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