Chateau de Hautefort and its gardens

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

The day before my parents-in-law were due to fly back to Holland, we went to visit yet another castle — the Chateau de Hautefort.

This castle was about an hour’s drive from our base so we brought our picnic basket. One thing that we loved in this holiday was having a picnic lunch which was just so ideal when visiting places like this castle so we avoid long queues and waiting in the restaurant. Our French picnic basket consisted of French bread, pate, cheese and a very succulent melon which we ate under the walnut trees at the foot of the castle’s ground.

The castle was an amazing revelation although it has seen some untoward development in its history like fire but has since then, been rebuilt and restored to its former glory. Not all parts of the castle was open to the public but there was enough to see. The gardens — left me at a loss to describe beauty in its purest sense.

This chateau has also graced the silver screen when it was used as one of the locations for the movie Ever After directed by Andy Tenant and starred by Drew Barrymore.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the foothills of this chateau -- under the shade of walnut trees.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the foothills of this chateau — under the shade of walnut trees.

Impressive gardens of the chateau -- geometric shapes, topiaries...

Impressive gardens of the chateau — geometric shapes, topiaries…

Parterre garden of Chateau de Hautefort

Parterre garden of Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Our family

Our family

Francesca's idea of family picture

Francesca’s idea of family picture

Another angle of the chateau

Another angle of the chateau

Topiaries

Topiaries

Topiaries

Topiaries

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

One facet of the garden and the village of Hautefort below

One facet of the garden and the village of Hautefort below

At the chateau's entrance

At the chateau’s entrance

Our family

Our family

Another angle of the garden

Another angle of the garden

The garden

The garden

Mam Sil smelling the flowers

Mam Sil smelling the flowers

Beautiful dahlias were in bloom during our visit

Beautiful dahlias were in bloom during our visit

Opa and Francesca

Opa and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

The chateau

The chateau

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

One of the bedrooms open for public viewing

One of the bedrooms open for public viewing

Another accessible room at the chateau

Another accessible room at the chateau

A peek into the bygone era

A peek into the bygone era

A tunnel inside the chateau

A tunnel inside the chateau

The chateau's door

The chateau’s door

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Opa and Francesca at the chateau's gift shop

Opa and Francesca at the chateau’s gift shop

Opa's present from the chateau's shop

Opa’s present from the chateau’s shop

Opa and oma

Opa and oma

Roses

Roses

Pink bloom

Pink bloom

Butterfly

Butterfly

Red roses

Red roses

Yellow blooms

Yellow blooms

Pink blooms

Pink blooms

Blue flowers

Blue flowers

French summer basket

French summer basket

Wishing well???

Wishing well???

My little girl

My little girl

A lovely stay in a French chateau

The Chateau de Sarceaux as viewed from the little lake in its sprawling grounds

I must have been a royal in previous life to have this extreme fascination for castles and palaces and anything royal and regal. Looking for a place to spend overnight somewhere in France, midway to our camping destination came easy with the many choices available through Booking.com. My husband outright told me that we should choose for something outside town because of parking consideration — our car is full with stuffs and we cannot take them out except for the overnight bag.

The chateau we’ve chosen was pretty secluded, with a good amount of wooded area and meadows to be traversed before we could reach it. Not a huge chateau but pretty cozy, we learned from its owners (a marquis and marquise) that they are already the 6th generation of inhabitants to this chateau. We were led to our reserved room which was really charming especially given the fact that the furnishings were still all original. It felt like a step back in time for us. The only seemingly modern feature in the room was the bathroom which was updated to modern times and had plenty of warm water, something uncharacteristic of typically spartan chateaus.

The marquis asked if we would like to have dinner at the chateau so we immediately said, “Oui”. Who wouldn’t want to dine in such a setting? Dinner was at 7:45pm but we first assembled in the living room where together with the other guests, were served aperitif and little snacks. It was nice to meet the other guests — an English couple who live near Cambridge and two old ladies (one Dutch and her English friend who was married to a Dutch man).

It was a lovely evening with lively conversation flowing over drinks and food. Dinner was served in the stately dining room which Francesca found wonderful especially with her faux jewels, feeling every inch the princess of the chateau. ;-)

If you want to know more about this chateau, here’s link to some information: http://www.france-hotel-guide.com/en/14878-chateau-de-sarceaux-valframbert-en.php?langue=en

Another angle of the chateau

Father and daughter

Me and the chateau in the background

Our little princess

She became friends with this lovely dog

Lots of open spaces and new friends to make ;-)

Good boy!

Chase me Mam!

I love the simplicity of this chateau

Very old rose vines and the roses with the most amazing scent I’ve ever smelled

The living room where we assembled for aperitif and small bites later

The small room for Francesca which was connected to our bedroom

The fireplace in our bedroom — not in use anymore because the room in updated with modern heating system

Our bedroom

The bathroom

Simple and cozy feature of the bathroom

The scent from these fresh roses filled the room

The hallway at the first floor

Ground floor hallway

Another living room in the chateau

Small bites

Original pieces of period furniture

Father and daughter playing cards at the living room before dinner

The little princess at the dining room, feeling pretty much at home ;-)

The dinner guests

Salad of greens, avocado and shrimps

Dinner of veal stewed in white wine with chervil served with baked potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms

Dessert of green apple sorbet drizzled with Calvados

The marquis serving the cheese platter

After dinner entertainment — we all went back to the living room for a bit of singing while the marquise played the music on the piano

The very enthusiastic marquise also led us into acapella singing of “Auld lang syne”

At the breakfast table with the other guests the next morning

French breakfast fare

Father and daughter

The chateau just before we left

Bitter sweet parting

Pentecost weekend camping and castle hunting

The Nijenhuis Castle

I take a bit of a break from my Tuscany series and bring back a bit of Dutch flavor to my post.

Two weekends ago, we had this long weekend due to the observance of Pentecost. The Dutch may not be that religious but there are a few Church holidays where an extra day of holiday is observed the following day such as Christmas (Second Christmas Day), Easter (Second Easter Day) and Pentecost (Second Pentecost Day).

The Pentecost weekend had the best weather we ever saw this year with summery temperature that hit beyond 30 degrees Celsius. After the wet, grey and chilly spring, we were just so glad to finally be able to get rid of our coats and wear light clothing and to be able to enjoy sunshine to our hearts’ content. We opted to go camping and put to test the new tent which we were pretty curious to check out. Our old tent suffered irreparable from the mistral last year when we camped in the South of France.

We camped in Heidepark, Lemelerveld which was about an hour’s drive from our place. No special reason to choosing this camping place except that it was a good distance away from home and that there was also a pool which the little girl was so excited about.

I love combining such an adventure with castle hunting and in this country, it is not impossible to find a castle that is within easy reach. The Nijenhuis Castle proved to be a good choice because it had a wonderful sculpture garden and amazing collection of contemporary Dutch art as well. The sculpture garden was a big hit with the little girl who found it a wonderful place to explore and simply perfect for hide-and-seek.

Father and daughter outside our tent

Improvised skipping rope game

Playground at the camping site

This rabbit from another tent charmed her straight away

The rabbit and the little girl

This little girl braved the chilly waters of this unheated pool

Father and daughter at the pool

Father and daughter at the pool

Cold…brrrr….

The Nijenhuis Castle

Another angle of the castle

The Nijenhuis Castle

The Nijenhuis Castle

The little girl enjoyed picking the little white daisies to make little bouquets

The little girl and the castle

The sculpture garden… the little girl and me were fascinated by the strange guy with the long moustache which was groomed in a very peculiar way

Father and daughter

Me behind the camera

Me and my little girl

Our family

Artwork at the sculpture garden turned plaything for the little girl

Perfect for climbing

The sculpture garden with the well-known piece of Queen Wilhelmina (grandmother of Queen Beatrix) in the distance

Our family

Our family

The little girl spent so much time coming up with leis made from flowers and twigs

Perfect place for running around and hide-and-seek

Rhododendrons in full bloom at the castle grounds

Pink rhododendron

Pink rhododendron

Pink rhododendrons

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Lunch of tomato soup

and freshly baked breads

Yet another castle on one fine spring day

Rosendael Castle

There are times in life when our plans take a different turn and yield surprises beyond our expectations. A few weeks ago, we went to the Veluwe intent on exploring Biljoen Castle but that turned out to be off-limits to the public. Instead, we discovered a nature reserve nearby and was pleasantly surprised by the sheer beauty of the landscape and can hardly wait to be back when the season of heather goes full swing.

On the way back home, we took a different route and discovered a very nice hilly hairpin road which is pretty unusual in this very flat country whose great part is even below sea level. That drive led us to discover yet another hidden beauty in the Veluwe forest — the lovely Medieval Rosendael Castle. Being the castle freak that I am, I was right away captivated by the lovely sight in front of me. Too bad that it was already getting late and the little girl after all the playing in the nature reserve fell asleep in the car. I just went by myself to take a few pictures, intent to come back another time. The castle was anyway closed till end-March so I did not feel so bad that I have missed on a lovely visit. All the more reason to return…

I was charmed too by the crocuses in full bloom and the busy bees.

A lion statue at the castle's entrance

Rosendael Castle in the distance

Rosendael Castle

View of the village houses from the castle's park

Rosendael Castle

One of the buildings in the castle's grounds

Rosendael Castle

A thatched house that is pretty common in the area

Yet another thatched house

A white crocus and its visitor

Busy bees

Dainty white crocuses

Purple crocus and its visitor

Saw this horse-drawn carriage just as we were leaving...

One unreachable castle on one fine day

Kasteel Biljoen

Being a big castle freak, I always plan our usual Sunday stroll to be in some castle grounds. We’re lucky to have several castles and palaces nearby but I also want to discover new ones. Two Sundays ago, the weather was so nice that it was a perfect time to go about castle hunting. I checked on the Dutch castles website and saw one which looked pretty in picture and so off we were to the town of Velp to check on Biljoen Castle (Kasteel Biljoen).

Unfortunately, the castle is off-limits to visitors as its previous owner, a baron who died in 2006 has willed that the castle will not be turned into a museum or open to the public. Instead, it will be kept as a private residence by anyone who acquires the castle. Disappointed at first, we found other ways to enjoy the day by going around the castle grounds and at some point, my husband and daughter devised a game of throwing stones to circular targets that they have drawn on the ground. My little girl just loved being out, being able to play with twigs and pretend fishing. I enjoyed savoring the early signs of spring…from the lone crocus coming out of the ground, to the cheerful pigeon up the tree, to the blue sky that reminded me that there will be more days like this.

Life can be fun even when our best laid plans do not work out as we want them to be. Beyond this castle, we discovered a lovely nature reserve area nearby and another castle… Will tell you more in my next posts.

Ducks swimming in the moat

The mound is the ice cellar which in olden times was used to store the ice blocks gathered in winter to chill food in summer

The moat

Sunday stroll at Renswoude Castle Park (March 2011)

Renswoude Castle

There’s nothing more exciting than to have that confirmation that spring has arrived. The moment the crocuses come out of the ground and burst profusely like nature’s floral carpet, there’s nothing more enjoyable than to be out for our usual Sunday stroll.

One year ago, we were blessed with a lovely Sunday weather of bright sun and blue skies. I always like a good walk but I make sure that we go to a place with lots of atmosphere as well. This time, I found a very nice castle not so far from our place (about 25 minutes drive). Renswoude Castle was built in 1654 in the classic Dutch style. In 1708, the castle park was changed into geometric French baroque style with straight lanes, grand canal and a star forest. Between 1816 and 1818, the park has been modernized in the English landscape style where many straight elements were altered with undulating and curved lines.

This castle which was named after the town itself is privately owned but its park is open to the public. We enjoyed the stroll, Francesca loved the sheer space and the freedom to run around. The park is planted with centuries-old trees through which the sun rays shone through its bare branches. The onset of spring was already evident from the patches of crocuses in full bloom. In a month or two, the rhododendrons there will be bursting in profusion too.

The little girl at Renswoude Castle

Renswoude Castle

My family

Crocuses

Father and daughter

Spring bloom

Renswoude Castle

My family

Father and daughter

Chasing game

Father and daughter

Renswoude Castle

Me and my little girl

The castle from across the grand canal

My little girl

Swans at the grand canal

Posing for picture

Me and my little girl

Fun among the trees

The little girl and the tree

Hide-and-seek game

A duck in the grand canal

Father and daughter hiding from me

The castle

The sun through the trees

Chasing game

Disneyland and a side trip to the Chateau de Fonteinbleau

The upside of a trip to Disneyland Paris is that it is possible to combine other activities in the visit which we did. No, it is not a sightseeing of Paris itself because that deserves a separate and dedicated trip but some shopping and a castle visit can be on the itinerary. We took a side trip to Chateau de Fontainebleau which was just a half hour’s drive and then we also went to La Vallee Village, a chic outlet shopping complex just a mere 5-minute drive from Disney park.

Our little princess in Chateau de Fonteinebleau

Our family

Trees in full bloom

The little princess inside the chateau (we just went to the loo)


Being not such big theme park enthusiasts, we were soon bored by Disneyland. The little girl was also intimidated by most of the rides and the park started to become very busy as the day progressed. Long queues to the rides were also very discouraging. Thus, we opted to drive to Fonteinebleau to see the castle which I have read about in Catherine de Medici’s biography by Leonie Frieda. I’m very curious of the Renaissance French chateaus and palaces.

The town of Fonteinebleau was very charming especially in spring when the trees are in bloom and so are the many spring flowers. The weather was pretty pleasant when we arrived in the afternoon though later it became a bit chilly and cloudy.

We went to the chateau but debated whether to take the guided tour or just explore the castle grounds. Guided castle tours were of no interest to a 3-year old girl so we opted to just explore the castle grounds. Our little girl in her princess outfit was just so happy to run around, feeling ever bit the princess of this former royal haunt. We will definitely be back to this place another time and will explore every nook and corner of this castle.

Inner courtyard

She's fond of picking flowers

The horse-drawn carriage

The driver of the horse-drawn carriage has this well-groomed moustache

Inside the carriage while waiting for more passengers

The little princess fell asleep during the carriage ride

The garden looks pretty bare but this must be spectacular in late spring to summer

The chateau was huge and it has a garden which must be spectacular in late spring and summer and a lovely lake. We rode in a horse-drawn carriage that took us around the sprawling estate that also leads to a adjoining forest. My daughter loved the ride (but eventually fell asleep). Later we just went around the castle and viewed it from across the lake. It was a picture-perfect sight!

The chateau from across the lake

Found this sight of the boat with the chateau in the background so enchanting

Looking back to a Valentine’s Day celebration with a noble twist

It’s Valentine’s Day and I am actually thinking of what to post today. There’s no dinner date planned tonight because my husband is attending the company’s annual meeting which will be till 9pm and buffet dinner is also on the agenda. I told him that the big bosses are so insensitive to plan this annual meeting today of all days so I’m sure that many of his colleagues (the bosses included) will have ear-bashing from the angry wives, ha, ha, ha! He works for an engineering consultancy firm which is a male-dominated world so the guys there are quite the nerdy ones who can’t be expected to be romantic and remember to observe this day with reverence. ;-)

Anyway, my husband and I are pretty unconventional. Even without this annual meeting, we were not planning to have a dinner date somewhere with champagne and all the trimmings because we have a little girl who needs to go to bed early for school the next day. We are actually planning to have that dinner date next week, a post-Valentine date when the daughter is with the grandparents for a few days given the one-week school holiday then.

I take you back to our Valentine’s day celebration two years ago when Holland was covered in snow and we were out for our usual weekend stroll. We went to Kasteel de Haar (De Haar Castle) which was just a good half hour’s drive from our place. The castle belongs to the family of Baron Van Zuylen and that’s the noble twist ;-). I love going to that castle because of its sprawling garden and its amazing wooded area. I’ve been there at other seasons but was pretty curious as to how it look like with snow and all. It was magical though the sky was overcast. We enjoyed the stroll and in the end, rewarded ourselves with a nice snack at a small restaurant on the castle grounds. I told the husband that I was such a cheap date for I was happy with my spicy chicken and hot chocolate with whipped cream. He settled for his usual “broodje kroket” while Francesca had her “poffertjes”.

De Haar Castle

Our family

The little girl enjoying the snow

My daughter and me

Father and daughter

The little girl at the castle's door

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

The garden in winter

De Haar Castle

The chapel

The bench

The little girl at the castle's stairs

Father and daughter

View of the chapel from the castle's stairs

My daughter and me

The chapel

The bridge

Spicy chicken

Broodje kroket

Warm chocolate milk with whipped cream

Our little girl after the stroll


We had a great Valentine’s Day. What was important is being together as a family. Expect me to choose a fancy location for a cheap date. A castle no less.

One of my enchanted moments…a picnic in the park

One enchanted corner in the park


Picnic by the water


Father and daughter - my favorite subject


Our happiness as a family consists of simple enchanted moments of togetherness… a walk in the forest, a picnic in the park, a visit to a nearby castle or simple flower picking and blowing bubbles by the little girl in the neighborhood.

One warm and sunny day in late spring last year, we went for a picnic in nearby Groeneveld Castle. The castle itself was under renovation but its sprawling wooded park has remained open to the public. I love it there in late spring because the park was by then very green and the decades-old rhododendrons of all colors everywhere were in full bloom.

My daughter and me


Simple pleasure like playing with grass


We found a nice spot close to the water and under the shade of tall trees which was just perfect for a picnic. We brought a thermo of hot coffee, sandwiches, cookies, cola and apples. Now, who says fun should be expensive?

My little girl was animated by the amazing setting. My husband and I couldn’t suppress the sudden rush of childhood memories as we watched her doing all the things that we did as kids.

Tree climbing


I can’t wait for the time when the weather will warm up again to go back to this same place and re-trace our steps from last year.

My little girl

In the footsteps of French Kings and Leonardo da Vinci

The chateau from across the Loire River


You may after sometime have an overdose of my castle madness but this is just the second castle in my Loire Valley adventure. At some point, the hubby told me that if he never ever see a castle in his life again, he can live with that. He has seen enough…. Not me!

Hubby and me at the chateau's ground


at the chateau


From the chateau with view of the Loire River

My royal fascination continues. From Chenonceau Castle, we drove to Amboise which was about 15 kilometers away. The 15th century Royale Chateau of Amboise belonged to Louise d’Amboise who was convicted of plotting agains Louis XI and condemned to be executed in 1431. He was pardoned by the king but his chateau was confiscated. The chateau became a favorite of French Kings from Charles VIII, Louis XII, Francis I to Henry II. It would, however, figured infamously in the Tumult of Amboise, the failed attempt by the Huguenots in 1560 to gain power of France by abducting the young king, Francis II and arresting Francis, Duke of Guise and his brother, the Cardinal of Lorraine. This event would lead to the Wars of Religion that divided France from 1562 to 1598.

The Huguenots led by La Renaudie attempted to storm the chateau. When he was caught, he was drawn and quartered and his flesh displayed at the gates of the town. In the presence of the King and Queen, La Renaudie’s followers (between 1,200 and 1,500) were also killed and their corpses hung on iron hooks on the facade of the chateau and from nearby trees. Others were drowned in the Loire or exposed to the fury of the townspeople of Amboise.

Castles are not that all glitter and glamor, huh!

What is then the connection of this chateau to Leonardo da Vinci?

King Francis I who was known as “The Builder” was raised at Amboise and during the first few years of his reign, the chateau reached the pinnacle of its glory. Leonardo da Vinci as his guest came to the chateau in December 1515 and lived and worked in the nearby Clos Luce which is connected to the chateau by an underground passage. Leonardo is buried in the Chapel of Saint Hubert on the castle’s ground.

Resting place of Leonardo da Vinci


The chateau is built on a promontory overlooking the Loire River. On the other side, we got to peer down at the lovely town of Amboise. Too bad that we didn’t have sufficient time to linger and explore the old town which is reputed to be loveliest town in the Loire. That’s what castle madness and greed did to me on this holiday — I wanted to see as many castles as possible that I set aside the chance to savor every moment and absorb the beauty that was around me. Next time, I’ll devote a longer time here, explore the town and have dinner in one of the fancy restaurants…someday.

View of the town of Amboise from the chateau


Picture-taking was not allowed inside the chateau so I don’t have indoor shots. It was nice to explore the chateau’s garden. I was so impressed by the centuries-old cedars of Lebanon with the huge scented pine cones. Those cones would have made fantastic home decorations for my mom-in-law.

Huge cones from the centuries-old cedar of Lebanon trees on the castle ground

Hubby with the chateau and the centuries-old cedar of Lebanon

Me and the cedar of Lebanon with the chateau in the background

Exploring Chenonceau, the castle of the ladies

Behind the beauty of this castle in such a splendid setting lies the story of a king, his long-suffering wife and his favored mistress which would make a perfect basis for a soap opera in today’s time and age.

Chenonceau Castle


Chenonceau Castle is known as the “Chateau of the Ladies” in obvious reference to Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II and Diane de Poitiers, his favorite mistress. The king who was so attached to this woman who was 20 years his senior, showered her with gifts from jewelries to properties and the most known of course was Chenonceau, the castle she so coveted. Built in 1513 by Katherine Briconnet, Diane lavishly had the castle embellished and had the arched bridge constructed, joining the chateau to its opposite bank. She then oversaw the planting of extensive flower and vegetable gardens along with a variety of fruit trees. Set along the banks of the river, but buttressed from flooding by stone terraces, the exquisite gardens were laid out in four triangles.

The garden of Diane de Poitiers


Diane de Poitiers was the unquestioned mistress of the castle , but ownership remained with the crown until 1555, when years of delicate legal maneuvers finally yielded possession to her. King Henry II would die in a jousting accident in 1559 and his strong-willed widow and regent Catherine de Medici had Diane expelled. It was her time to exact revenge on the woman who had the king’s affection for which she could never be first place despite bearing him 10 children. Because the estate no longer belonged to the crown, she could not seize it outright but forced Diane to exchange it for the Chateau Chaumont. Catherine de Medici then made Chenonceau her own favorite residence, adding a new series of gardens.

View of the chateau from Catherine's garden


Of all the castles which I’ve visited in the Loire Valley which I can say is the castle mecca in the world (castles were at a close distance of few kilometers from each other), Chenonceau was my favorite. The 2 gardens were simply astounding, competing with each other just like the two ladies who vied for the affection of the king.

We explored the gardens and the castle’s interior. I was pretty curious of Diane’s bedroom, thinking of her and the king ;-) We also saw Catherine’s bedroom but she was already a lonely widow when she went to live in this castle.

Diane de Poitiers' bedroom


At Catherine de Medici's bedroom

I was curious as well of the arched bridge spanning the river Cher. Catherine de Medici actually had a magnificent ballroom gallery built upon the bridge of Diane de Poitiers. It is 60 meters long, 6 meters wide, lit by 18 windows, with a sandy chalk tiled and slate floor and exposed joist ceiling.

We also went to see the kitchen which I found very interesting. I loved those copper pots and pans and I can’t help but imagine how food must have been prepared in those days.

We had lunch at the castle’s restaurant L’Orangerie which had amazing haute cuisine. Too bad that I couldn’t do wine tasting in their cellar because of my condition. I’d love to someday come back again and camp in the same camping site along the banks of river Cher which is a tributary of the Loire River.

Summer is a great time to be there. The gardens are just at their gorgeous best and on weekends, there is a music festival at the chateau which we could listen to from the comforts of our tent.

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New Year’s day surprise at Hernen Castle

After all the indulgences of the past week, we just felt that today, a walk is warranted. Time to shake off the extra pounds from all those rich dishes that we feasted on.

We were feeling a bit sad after breakfast when hubby’s parents bade their goodbyes because little daughter was so distraught so see her Opa and Oma gone. They came yesterday for hubby’s birthday and for the first time, we welcomed the new year together. In the past years, they normally came for their son’s birthday but never stayed for the changing of the year. They used to have a dog which was scared of the fireworks so they stayed at home before those big bangs start.

I quickly checked the internet site for Dutch castles, www.kastelen.nl for some guidance and found this one in Hernen whose plus point is that in case the castle is closed, we can have a good walk because there are suggested hiking routes. It’s new year which is considered a holiday so normal establishments are closed for business.

While we were driving to Hernen, the rain started to pour. It did not help that on the radio the weather forecast was suddenly announced — rain to continue for the rest of the day. I started to rue the decision to visit a castle and do some walking. With bad weather it seemed like a waste of time and petrol as this castle was a good 52 minutes drive according to the car’s navigation system. We could have just stayed at home.

I love castles and on Sundays when we would normally go for a walk, I love doing that against this backdrop. Castles to me are repositories of history from where I get a glimpse of how life was some few hundred years back. We have several castles nearby but I love exploring new ones. This one in Hernen seemed to be a nice one from the pictures, Medieval and well-preserved.

We arrived in Hernen at around 2:30pm and because the weather was gloomy, it seemed even far later than that. Daylight here in winter is short and when the sky is overcast, it seemed even shorter than usual. We parked the car and headed to the castle, assuming already that it must be closed. To our amazement though, the main entrance was open. When we entered the main door, we were led into a small courtyard and suddenly, the castle’s door opened and this old lady at the castle told us that there is a special show for children which is about to start shortly and we are very much welcome to come in.

What a wonderful surprise! She led us into the library where seats were assembled for the children and parents. In front was a makeshift stage and there was the lady performer with her props of guitar, accordion, flute, drum and hats. She started the performance shortly after we came in. She narrated a story of a brother and sister who were always fighting and very difficult and how they were sent away by their parents for misbehaving. The performance involved a lot of singing, role-playing, dancing, and the use of the musical instruments. Little daughter was mesmerized.

The show was amazing! The lady was really engaging and the children enjoyed the very interactive performance. Little daughter lost her inhibition and at one time, even volunteered to play the flute.

The show lasted for an hour and afterwards, we were even treated to free coffee, juices and cookies. What a great way to spend a Sunday and we didn’t even have to spend a cent!

We did a bit of walk after we left the castle. The ground was quite muddy though but it was nice to just have a breath of fresh air and to feel the raindrops on our faces.

How about you? How was your first day of the year?

For more information on this castle, here are some of the links I found on the web:

http://www.castles.nl/hern/hern.html

http://www.mooigelderland.nl/index.php?pageID=3281&n=&categoryID=1895

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Pregnant and camping: Why not?

The camping holiday we took in early summer of 2007 raised a few eyebrows for obvious reason — I was five months on the family way. Hubby and I are so fond of camping that my condition did not deter me then to enjoy the pleasure of an outdoor holiday. We’ve camped in a few countries in Europe, spent our honeymoon camping in Denmark and we even went on holiday in the United States camping in five states (Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico).

With our new tent, I could stand inside

Our tent

Enjoying a drink before dinner (I abstained from alcohol though)

We made a few adjustments though from our usual camping routine. First, we bought a bigger and taller tent to replace our small tent so that I can stand inside it and need not crawl to get in. Next, we plan the camping trip in such a way that we camped in just 3 places during the entire holiday instead of hopping from one camping site to the next on a daily basis like what we used to do in the past. In that way, we didn’t have to set up the tent in the afternoon and dismantle it in the morning as we move on.

We opted to go camping in France as on the holidays we’ve spent there in the past, we either stayed in hotels or holiday houses. It is also one popular camping destination for the Dutch which we’ve never validated if deserving of its popularity.

At Chateau Chenonceau which spans the river Cher

At Chateau de Chenonceau with the garden of Catherine de Medici in the background

My tummy looks like the topiaries at Chateau du Amboise

Our first camping stop was in the Loire Valley. As I love castles and is such a history and royalty buff, the Loire Valley was an obvious choice. More so, I’ve just finished reading Catherine de Medici’s biography by Leonie Frieda which with all the intrigues and drama of Renaissance France, made the desire to visit the castles of Chenonceau , Amboise, Chaumont sur Loire, etc. so compelling. We camped in the town of Chenonceaux itself, on the banks of the river Cher. Camping Le Moulin Fort was just 15 minutes walk from Chenonceaux Castle and literally almost a stone’s throw because we could even hear the outdoor music from the castle during the weekend’s music festival.

We enjoyed our stay in this camping site. What we also learned is that we can have electricity in our tent, we just needed to pay an extra Eur 2.00 per day and place a deposit on the special electrical cable and socket. This was a big improvement compared to our previous camping experiences were we literally have to rely on gas lamps and flashlights. Now, we can charge our mobile phones and even use the laptop.

Because of my condition, we also chose to set up the tent not so far from the toilet/bathroom. That’s another thing that we took into account and for the rest, it was business as usual.

Oh, I loved our breakfasts out there. The nice thing about camping in France was that we could place our orders of croissants and French bread in the evening at the camp shop. Hubby would pick them up there fresh from the oven at 8:30 in the morning. That was really heaven for me. I was eating like a construction worker according to him as I would eat between 3 to 4 of those lovely croissants slathered with butter and strawberry jam.

The Loire Valley must be the castle capital in the world with the highest number of castles per few square kilometers. In the beginning, we were visiting 3 to 4 castles a day (can you imagine that?) and that was because there were just so many of them and all with their own special attractions. At one point, I guess that castle fatigue knocked me off big time. Each castle especially from the inside started to look the same ;-)

Anyway, I will try to cover the castles in my upcoming blogs and give you a bit more insight into each and every one of them.

We stayed at the Loire Valley for 5 days before moving to the Drome which hubby wanted to show me. He spent a few weeks in the area doing field work many years ago as an Engineering Geology student. We would stay there for another 4 days and then it was the choice of driving further to the Provence in the south or heading to the French Alps. The latter prevailed because we didn’t have to drive a lot further and the weather forecast was excellent weather on the French side of the Alps.

At the Drome having fun


At one of the passes in the Drome

Rocky cliffs in the Drome were such breathtaking attractions

At the Alps

At the Alps, with snow still left in early summer

Life is about taking chances and thinking outside the box. I did not allow myself to be restricted by my pregnancy to enjoy a great holiday. Camping is fun and it is an adventure that we will carry on.

One winter morning at Groeneveld Castle

The first speck of snow is yet to fall in Holland and we can hardly wait for that to happen. In years past, we would have already seen snow at this time of the year but so far, no luck of that this year.

Many points to global warming as the culprit. Could be true…our spring was warm and the dry spell that lasted for months was categorized as drought. The summer months were wet and cold with July and August being the wettest and coldest months this century. Autumn turned out to be warm again and dry that in October, we were at the beach. Crazy, huh!

I’m now in a rewind mode for winters past…

It’s two years ago when these pictures were taken one winter morning in nearby Groeneveld Castle in Baarn, some 10 kms. away from our place. We love going to this castle which is just perfect for a walk and afterwards, reward ourselves with some nice “merienda” in the castle’s basement restaurant.

Info on the castle: http://www.kasteelgroeneveld.nl/

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Autumn at De Haar Castle

6 November 2011

Weather forecast from Piet Paulusma (the least favorite Dutch weatherman of the hubby because of his very nasal way of talking) was all sunshine and the temperature will hover between 14 to 17 degrees Celsius. He was completely wrong for not only was the sky completely overcast, the temp never rose above 12 degrees.

We went to De Haar Castle (Kasteel de Haar) for our usual Sunday outing, something that has become rare and scarce as of late given our very hectic schedules. I love autumn and being in the surroundings of the woods and of couse, castles. Perfect time for taking pictures of the fall foliage would have been the week before as now, most trees have shed off their leaves and the colors are mostly headed to shades of brown. Never mind, last week was just too hectic with the yearly activity in our neighborhood (collective pruning of the trees and shrubs before the first winter frost arrives and general clean-up) and of course, hubby then had to prepare for his trip to Serbia. He left early Monday morning and was back only on Saturday evening.

Even though I was initially upset that the sun did not show up, in the end I was glad that the day was just the way it was. Autumn weather is typically wet and gray so to capture real autumn moment should be against that backdrop.

If the weather was sunny, I wouldn’t be seduced to do a tour of the castle as the lure of the fall foliage will just be too difficult to ignore. We did the children’s guided tour of the castle where Francesca was dressed in her Cinderella gown and tiara. Other kids were dressed as knights, fairies, etc. which was interesting.

The guided tour started with a bit of lecture on the castle’s history and on some of the house rules during the visit. The castle is huge, perhaps the biggest in The Netherlands with about 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms. It was funny to hear those kids asking questions as to how can the baron and baroness who owned the castle make use of 30 bathrooms.

Taking pictures was prohibited but I managed to secretly take a few without using the flash. We did not explore the entire castle, just a few of the places starting with the kitchen at the basement which in early 20th century was the most modern of its kind. I loved those copper pots abd pans which were custom-made for the castle. The guide also explained the mechanics of the refrigeration system employed then before the advent of refrigerators and electricity. Quite interesting!

From the kitchen we ascended to another level of the castle and on to the dining room which was richly embellished. The guide explained the sitting arrangements especially as the baron and baroness hosted parties and entertained choice crowds from royalties, politics, finance (the first baroness, Baroness Helene was from the Rothschild family which was prominent in the banking world), and the international jetset. Some of the gowns from the previous baroness (Baroness Gabrielle) were on display in the dining, living and bedrooms. Among the names I can recall were YSL, Ungaro, Dior, Madame Gres, Givenchy…

From the dining room, we went to the biggest open space in the building which must have been the venue for those parties that they loved to host in their heydays. The ceiling was richly decorated with real gold leaves used for adornment. There was a marble structure in this area which looked like a tomb but was open on top with a depth of about a foot. When the guide asked the kids as to its purpose, there were all kinds of answers. Indeed it looked like a tomb and would have suited that purpose but the guide explained that the baron found it useful for cooling numerous bottles of champagne.

The next room we explored was the ballroom. Again, several of the designer gowns of the baronness were on display here. It was an interesting room, richly decorated with tapestries, wall carvings of dancing mythical gods and goddesses plus some children’s carriages were also on display.

We next took a look at the baron’s sleeping chamber which was pretty austere and spartan compared to that of the baronness. Interestingly, the baron and baronness did not sleep in the same room. The bed is canopied and as explained by the guide, way back then, the canopy and the curtains served as deterrent for animals like bats which can easily take residence. Never thought of that, huh!

The sleeping chamber of the baronness was more roomy and decorated with more feminine charm. Warm colours and plenty of light characterize the room. Some more of her designer gowns were on display as well. We could also take a peek at the en suite bathroom which was also tastefully furnished. Oh, how I’d love to be a baronness even for a day! No, make that a week ;-)

The last room we saw was yet again a working and sleeping room for the baron with an amazing view to the castle’s spectacular park. Oh, who wouldn’t want to wake up to such an enchanting scenery of trees and with spectacular colors in autumn!

When the first baron and baronness came to restore the castle and create the park, no expense was spared. The Rothschild family fully financed the castle’s restoration which was then in ruins and has employed the famous Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers whose work includes the Amsterdam Central Station and the Rijksmuseum. The baron did not have the patience to wait at least 20 years for the trees to grow from seedlings so he had 7,000 mature trees uprooted elsewhere, transported and re-planted in the castle’s park.

Not only that, the baron also trasported the original village a kilometer away when creating the park. He bought all the houses in the village, tore them down to give way to the forest park. The village is also interesting to explore because it still carries the family’s colors of red and white. Window shutters in red and white will make you aware that you are in Haarzuilens.

The castle’s ownership is now in the name of a foundation although the baron’s family still enjoys a right to stay in the castle for a month every year. Thus, the castle is closed to the public in September. Hubby told me later that the previous baron and baronness squandered the family’s money in their frivolous party lifestyle so the present baronness who inherited the title lives as a simple school teacher in the South of France. Oh well, being noble and mixing with the jetset crowd comes at a price and that’s one point for reflection.

We enjoyed our tour of the castle. Strangely enough, Siefko and I also did this tour 7 years ago and around autumn time as well. I don’t remember much of what I’ve seen then because I was an obedient visitor who did not take pictures.

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