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

Market day in Sarlat-la-Canéda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

On this particular warm summer day, we were celebrating a special day, my father-in-law’s birthday. In earlier years when they still live up north in Holland in the Friesian farm house which has a very beautiful garden that my mom-in-law lovingly tended, this birthday celebration was usually on home ground with a barbeque party. For the first time, we celebrated this happy occasion abroad and on a completely different atmosphere.

Not wanting to waste opportunity to see as much during their few days in Dordogne, we decided to visit Sarlat-la-Caneda which on a Saturday in summer, also has its open market. Sarlat is a very alluring town, still well-preserved and very much representative of 14th century France. Being there is like taking a step back in time given its many impeccably restored stone buildings from that bygone era. No wonder then why it is the third most popular location for movies in France after Paris and Cannes.

Comparing the open market in Sarlat to that of Le Bugue which we visited earlier, Sarlat has more to offer and there was more to see too. I enjoyed checking out the stuffs on offer from stall to stall but resisted the urge to do my usual panic buying especially of those wonderful dried sausages, terrine, macaroons, cheeses, etc.

As with any birthday celebration, cake and coffee are a must so the first item on our itinerary was to find a nice pattisserie. We found one along the busy main street and enjoyed our cake and cappuccino. Then it was off to see more of the city and for my mom-in-law to also buy her French basket.

Lunch was a simple fare. We found a quaint little restaurant in the city centre where it was amazingly cool on this very warm day. They opted for omelets and salad while I found the prawn flambee in brandy more appealing especially with the little rice on the side.

Dordogne as we experienced it was spectacular. On the trip back, we were beckoned by the picturesque sunflower fields to make a stop for a few pictures.

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad's birthday

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad’s birthday

My little girl wanted this toy so much

My little girl wanted this toy so much

Walnut cake

Walnut cake

Raspberry cake

Raspberry cake

Lemon cake

Lemon cake

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Admiring the macaroons

Admiring the macaroons

Cakes and pastries

Cakes and pastries

A stall selling dried sausages

A stall selling dried sausages

Dried herbs and spices

Dried herbs and spices

Spices

Spices

Dried spices

Dried spices

Bags

Bags

And more bags

And more bags

Walnuts

Walnuts

And nutcracker

And nutcracker

Cheeses

Cheeses

Bamboo-based utensils

Bamboo-based utensils

Old books

Old books

Dried fruits

Dried fruits

Honey

Honey

A local artist

A local artist

Sarlat Cathedral

Sarlat Cathedral

Ivy-covered old house

Ivy-covered old house

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Pink roses

Pink roses

Outdoor restaurants

Outdoor restaurants

My little girl

My little girl

Ivy-covered building

Ivy-covered building

Narrow streets

Narrow streets

Outdoor restaurant

Outdoor restaurant

Former church turned market place

Former church turned market place

Narrow street

Narrow street

Sarlat

Sarlat

Facade of an old building

Facade of an old building

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

My little girl

My little girl

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

Summer outfit

Summer outfit

My little girl

My little girl

French bread

French bread

French omelet

French omelet

My prawn flambee

My prawn flambee

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Dad buying mom's French basket

Dad buying mom’s French basket

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Sunflower and its bee friend

Sunflower and its bee friend

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Exploring Paulliac and the Medoc wine areas

The little girl among the wild flowers

The little girl among the wild flowers

The wines of Paulliac came highly recommended from the marquis of the chateau where we stayed in Alencon. Since it was our first time to be in the area, we had no clue as to what can be expected. We were pleasantly surprised during the drive to Paulliac as we passed through scenic vineyards, lovely wine chateaus and fields of wild blooms.

Paulliac lies on the banks of the Gironde estuary and it could this crucial geographical location and geological phenomenon that account for the special quality of red wines from this area.

We took our time savoring a lovely lunch of seafoods in one of the many nice restaurants along the harbor. On the way back, we stop by a lovely wine chateau along the way and just took our time to savor the blissful atmosphere under the blue skies. We also made a short stop at a field of wild blooms and really had a great time savoring nature’s incredible ability to create beauty that pleases the senses.

One of the many vineyards and wine chateaus

One of the many vineyards and wine chateaus

Paulliac

Paulliac

Seafood paella

Seafood paella

Seafood lunch

Seafood lunch

The harbor of Paulliac

The harbor of Paulliac

The Gironde Estuary - it's mineral-rich waters could be the reason why the wine in this area is special.

The Gironde Estuary – it’s mineral-rich waters could be the reason why the wine in this area is special.

Our family

Our family

She's one little comic

She’s one little comic

Also a good tattoo artist

Also a good tattoo artist

And an acrobat

And an acrobat

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Paulliac

Paulliac

Wine chateau

Wine chateau

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Prized grapes

Prized grapes

Vineyards

Vineyards

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Wine chateau

Wine chateau

A little girl in the vineyard

A little girl in the vineyard

A cross structure in the middle of the vineyard

A cross structure in the middle of the vineyard

Field of wild blooms

Field of wild blooms

Can't resist to do flower-picking

Can’t resist to do flower-picking

My little girl among wild blooms

My little girl among wild blooms

Flower girl

Flower girl

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Our family

Our family

Flower girl

Flower girl

Of course, she loves lady bugs

Of course, she loves lady bugs

Fort Medoc

Fort Medoc

Entrance of Fort Medoc

Entrance of Fort Medoc

Display of period costumes inside the main building of Fort Medoc

Display of period costumes inside the main building of Fort Medoc

A bit of history on Fort Medoc

A bit of history on Fort Medoc

Monet’s home and garden in Giverny

Monet's home in Giverny

Monet’s home in Giverny

Monet entered my consciousness as a college freshman taking up the elective subject of Humanities.  His paintings of water lilies from his garden in Giverny were special favorites.

Fast forward to over two decades later I would be in Giverny, admiring his amazing gardens and being inside his home which gave me a glimpse of his life way back then.  Unfortunately, taking pictures inside his home was forbidden so I could only commit to memory the lovely and cozy atmosphere of his family home.

Giverny is a short distance from Paris and a one day side trip is what many visitors to the City of Lights do. Pretty popular, it is advisable to go there a bit early in the morning to avoid the big crowd of tourists who come in huge touring buses. We took a lazy approach to our sightseeing, staying two nights at a lovely bed and breakfast in a village that’s about 10 minutes drive from Giverny.

Water lilies at Monet's garden in Giverny

Water lilies at Monet’s garden in Giverny

Bridge over a pond of water lilies

Bridge over a pond of water lilies

Water lilies - inspiration for his many paintings

Water lilies – inspiration for his many paintings

Yellow water lilies

Yellow water lilies

Our family

Our family

Well tended garden with flowers carefully organized to bloom from spring to fall

Well tended garden with flowers carefully organized to bloom from spring to fall

Monet's garden is paradise to butterflies

Monet’s garden is paradise to butterflies

My little girl

My little girl

Pink blooms

Pink blooms

zinnia

zinnia

Roses

Roses

One of the many summer blooms

One of the many summer blooms

Monet's home from his garden

Monet’s home from his garden

Flowers everywhere

Flowers everywhere

Water lilies

Water lilies

Pink zinnia

Pink zinnia

Dahlias

Dahlias

Monet's home from the garden

Monet’s home from the garden

My little girl

My little girl

The Mr. outside Monet's home

The Mr. outside Monet’s home

Moi

Moi

Water lilies pond

Water lilies pond

Monet's garden

Monet’s garden

Yellow blooms

Yellow blooms

Monet's garden

Monet’s garden

Bamboos

Bamboos

Monet's garden in Giverny

Monet’s garden in Giverny

Fishery Day Observance in Spakenburg

Spakenburg wooden boats and fish catch ready for smoking

Don’t we oftentimes look far beyond the horizon for many exciting things to see and miss what is right under our noses?

This would seem the case with me for having been to other places to witness interesting cultural phenomena and overlooked what was simply amazing in a place that is even just cycling distance from home.

On this post, let me take you to Spakenburg, a fishing village which to this day still clings to age-old traditions and way of life. Many of its older generation of women for instance, still go about their daily lives wearing traditional costumes. Sundays are still strictly observed as day of obligation to the Lord so apart from going to church three times, all establishments are closed for business and typical Sunday activities like football games are forbidden.

Considering that we’ve lived here in Amersfoort for almost seven years, I was never aware of the Fishery Day observance in nearby Spakenburg. Thanks to a tip from our friend Tammy, we were finally able to witness this wonderful spectacle last 1st of September (Fishery Day is every first Saturday of September so we learned).  Wooden fishing boats had the sails on their masts raised and the local men, women and children were dressed in traditional costumes. (Normally only the older Spakenburg women wear the traditional costume on daily basis.) Every aspect of the traditional way of life here was out in the open and it was amazing to see how this village is able to keep the traditions alive and well to this very day.

Raised sails on the wooden masts

The mayor and the women of Spakenburg

Laundry-drying

Thick woolen socks that go well with the wooden clogs “klompen”

The dry dock at the harbor

Spakenburg women

Francesca and me with the Spakenburg ladies

Spakenburg children

Spakenburg girl

Fish auction house

Father and daughter with smoked mackerel bought at the auction

Smoking of fish is a traditional way of preserving them in the old days but is still very much in practice to this day

My little girl playing with the fish net

Spankenburg ladies and Spakenburg textiles

The traditional way of cleaning raw herring – head is removed as well as the bones then eaten with chopped onions and pickles

Spakenburg ladies

Spakenburg

Discovering the Atlantic

First glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean

I grew up in a country bounded on one side by the Pacific and the other side by the South China Sea. Imagine turquoise blue waters and coconut-tree lined beaches with powdery white sand… yes, the classic definition of paradise.

The Atlantic on the other hand, paints a totally different picture. Forget the coconut trees (this place is too cold for that) but there is certainly lots of charm in its beaches whose sheer breadth is astounding, its golden sand that’s an amazing contrast to its turquoise blue waters and the dunes dotted with amazing flora.

We had a lovely time discovering this piece of paradise on earth. No busy structures along the beach, no ships or boats in the horizon and save for a few others soaking in the sun, this place was totally our own.

Wide beach and hilly dunes

The road leading to the ocean – tough on the calves but the sheer beauty of this place was worth the hard walk

The Atlantic Ocean from the dunes

The dunes with its amazing flora and the blue waters of the Atlantic

One of the many interesting floras in the dunes

The beach, the dunes and the immense sky

The ocean, beach and dunes underneath the immense sky

The beach, the ocean and the immense sky

Golden sand, turquoise water and blue skies

The dunes and the Atlantic Ocean

Father and daughter heading to the beach

Footprints in the sand

Despite the absence of coconut trees, the Atlantic has other charms like this dune teeming with amazing flora

The Atlantic and its dunes

Shells…

Father and daughter all poised to test the water

The little girl attempting to surf (inspired by a Barbie film she’d seen)

The little girl with her Dora floater

Our shelter from the sun and wind in this very empty beach

Our family

Our family

Fun in the sand

Sheer delight for the little girl

Father and daughter

Papa’s girl

Papa’s girl

Father and daughter enjoying the water

Camping life

Dinner time – our simple dinner fare consisted of rice, fried mackerel and salad

 

From the chateau to the tent — that’s many notches downgrade to our accommodation but we truly love going to the basics.  To our little girl, the tent is more fun than the chateau and she can do a trade-in anytime.  She was actually least happy at the chateau because the other guests were all senior people so aside from the dogs, she had no one to play with.  At the camp, she was in her best element having made friends easily with the other kids, notwithstanding the language barrier.

 

Dinner preparation — rice and fried mackerel

Fried mackerel

Fresh salad

Card game and warm drinks while waiting for the fresh bread that will be available at 8:30 am.

Sampling the croissant

Our little camper

At the camp playground with other children

Lots of fun between these two girls though one speaks Dutch and the other one is French

A friendship is born despite the language barrier

Two girls enjoying a beautiful friendship

These two girls tried table tennis but …. most times were busy picking the ball from the ground

Very determined table tennis players

French pride on their local products

I envy the French on their pride for everything French and it is no wonder that the local industry is alive and well. Local markets and shops selling traditional French products are everywhere and I am always drawn to them. There are times that I need to remind myself that my eyes seem bigger than my tummy at those mouthwatering goodies of theirs.

Every region takes pride of their local products which also show what are endemic in the area.  Wines, pates, cheeses, sweets, sausages, honey, hand-painted chinas, baskets, etc. are just among the many things that can be found in these shops.

Here are some snapshots of the local goods on one of the local shops beside a petrol station along the French peage.

I could have taken more pictures but I was later told that it was actually forbidden to take pictures inside the shop. ;-)

French wines

French wines and spirits

Various types of honey

Various sorts of caramels

Caramels

Cookies and sweets

French hand-painted chinas

Hand-painted ceramics

Hand-painted ceramics

Various shop merchandise

Our first foray exploring the area around Arcachon Bay

The little princess gathering oyster shells on the shores of Arcachon Bay (Cap Ferret)

Heading to the west coast of France further down Brittany proved to be a pleasant surprise. For one, it was not as busy as what we had experienced the previous year in the South of France. Even at the height of the summer season, there was enough room to move around.

Our camping place in Lege, Cap Ferret was a location where we had the best of two worlds — the mighty Atlantic Ocean with its wide empty beaches on one side and the Arcachon Bay on the other which is ringed by many quaint oyster fishing villages.

On our first foray to explore the area around Arcachon Bay, we wanted to see the lighthouse in Cap Ferret but Francesca was more excited to check out the beach. She immediately headed to the water and before soon, was taking her clothes off to be able to swim. Unfortunately, it was low tide and still a bit chilly and we were not prepared with towels and all that so we promised her that that was something that we will do another time.

We then embarked on a search for a restaurant to have lunch but got a bit sidetracked by the wet market that we passed by which as always, charmed me to bits. I could have stayed there forever ogling the fresh produce especially the seafoods that I normally don’t get to see in Holland. My mind was already churning with ideas as to how I would prepare those crabs, lobsters and shrimps which I really miss from my life in the Philippines. Unfortunately, my two bosses were getting so impatient and hungry that we have to stick back to the plan of finding a restaurant for lunch. I thought that we would return to the market before we head back to our camp.

We found a simple restaurant with seafood as its specialty in the town centre. For starter, we shared the pate which was great with the fresh bread. For the main course, the Mr. had mussels and fries while I settled for the lovely sauteed squid served with rice and fennel. Our little girl who’s very picky only had bread and fries as well as her fave chocolate ice cream with lots of whipped cream. The Mr. and I again shared the dessert of tiramisu.

We went back to the wet market after lunch but unfortunately, it was already closing. I was very disappointed especially as I already had dinner figured out in my head. We then dropped by the supermarket and had to make do with the seafood display they had. I settled for a kilo of sardines which for dinner I fried and served with boiled rice and salad.

Arcachon Bay on a cloudy day which would later clear up

The little princess with her haul of oyster shells

Giving her haul of oyster shells to her father for safekeeping

Excitedly rushing to the water

Time to go swimming

A little stop at the playground near the beach

Waiting for our order at the restaurant

Fresh bread

Very yummy “Pate de maison”

Mussels and fries

Sauteed squid served with rice and fennel

Tiramisu

Chocolate ice cream with whipped cream

Savoring her ice cream

She charmed the waiter at the restaurant so she got this foldable hat as a present

She got sidetracked by this picture

Father and daughter

Flower of passion fruit

Dill flowers

Peach colored oleanders

One of the many blooms common in the area

Supermarket scene — langostines

Supermarket scene – snails

Supermarket scene – lobsters

Supermarket scene – crabs

Supermarket scene – lobsters

Supermarket scene – lobsters

Supermarket scene – sardines

Supermarket scene – crabs

Supermarket scene – shrimps

Supermarket scene – oysters

Supermarket scene – squid

Supermarket scene – snails

Supermarket scene – mackerels

Supermarket scene – fish

Supermarket scene – 1-kilo steak cuts

Supermarket scene – dried sausages

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

Holiday afterthoughts

Chateau de Sarceaux from the distance

My sincere apologies for the long absence on this space. First, both work and home fronts went haywire in the weeks preceding our holiday and then our holiday for almost 3 weeks in France kicked off but internet connection then became a precious commodity.

Lots of stories to tell — which would take me a while to do together with the pictures that I also enjoyed taking along the way. Just when I thought I’ve seen it all from the many travels I’ve done in the past, this recent holiday brought in new and amazing surprises.

I will take you along to a French chateau where we spent one lovely evening wining and dining with the marquis and the marquise and to our camping experience in Cap Ferret where we had the best of both the Arcachon Bay and the Atlantic Coast as well as some of the amazing vineyards which produce some of the best French wines. Then we will move on to the Dordogne Valley which at first I thought was some backwaters of France but whose charm would hook me forever from its many amazing surprises that run from its many feudal castles to spectacular gardens, sunflower fields, Medieval villages, lively markets and so much more. Capping our holiday was a side trip to Monet’s garden in Giverny complemented by a lovely stay in a very cozy bed and breakfast where we felt very much at home.

Francesca became friends with the family dog right away

Our bedroom with original period furnishings — felt like a step back in time.

The little princess at the dining room

The Atlantic coast

Father and daughter are such water lovers — this place is paradise for them.

Our family

One of the many games to enjoy in the almost empty beach front along the Atlantic coast

Oyster stalls in Gujan Mestras along the Arcachon Bay

Father and daughter with the Medieval city of Saint Emilion in the background

The little girl in Saint Emilion

Our family in Saint Emilion

Saw lots of macarons in Saint Emilion and had to buy a dozen of different flavors.

Wine chateaux abound in Saint Emilion and this is just one of the many that we saw along the way. The little girl is showing off her tumbling skills here.

Wild flower fields we passed by in the Medoc area

Vineyards in the Medoc area oftentimes stretching to as far as the eyes can see

Sunflower fields

Sunflowers

Our family in a field of wild blooms

The little girl with her haul of dead crabs in Gujan Mestras

The Dordogne river in the afternoon

Netting young trouts in the Dordogne

Opa and Oma flew in through Bergerac for a few days, much to our delight. They stayed at a very cozy hotel in nearby Le Coux et Bigaroux.

We celebrated Dad’s birthday with lunch in Sarlat and dinner in Audrix.

Together we visited the Chateau de Hautefort and were very impressed by its gardens

Our family in Chateau de Hautefort

Monet’s home in Giverny

Monet’s pond of lillies

Lillies in Giverny

Holiday at last

20120709-180025.jpg

After leaving a very wet Holland, we arrived in Normandy for an overnight stay in this lovely chateau just outside Alencon. Wonderful experience!

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Duomo and the leaning tower of Pisa

After a lazy day yesterday of just being at the pool and not having anything else on the itinerary, we decided to do some sightseeing in Pisa, a place whose claim to fame is its leaning tower. It’s a case of “been there, done that” kind of thing that we can cross off our lists of what to see in Tuscany.

Pisa was about an hour’s drive from Pelagaccio (40+ kilometers with about 20 kilometers on secondary road and the rest was through the highway). The trip took us a bit longer because I got distracted by the sight of sunflower fields with the perfect backdrop and wanted to take some pictures. Unfortunately, the fields that I saw were not accessible, being barricaded by road blocks. Another time I’ll be lucky!

When we reached Pisa, the temperature was hitting the 40’s (Celsius) so it was not so pleasant to go around exploring an unfamiliar place with a very young child. My father-in-law Dad couldn’t stand crowds and busy places, my mom-in-law couldn’t stand the heat and was prone to hyperventilation.

We found a parking area which was pretty close, about 2 blocks away from the Torre Pendente (the Leaning Tower). I had mixed emotions in seeing the tower with my own eyes for the first time. It was like stepping into a dream because I never thought that I would even see this place for real. What came to mind was a story in my high school science class of Galileo conducting an experiment of dropping two objects of different mass from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to test his theory of gravity.

The tower was not as high as those other towers where I´ve been but the leaning was very obvious. What was striking about the place itself was the amazing contrast of all the elements – the tower and the duomo were all built from white marble that glistened against the blue sky creating an amazing picture.

Pisa was extremely busy with many people all wanting to execute poses of either holding off the tower from leaning further or of holding the tower from top to bottom in their hands. I tried to do the same but wasn´t very good at it as you can see from my pictures. My father-in-law won´t do that pose either but my mom-in-law did her own version.

After the photoshoot with the tower in the background, we decided to see the interior of the duomo. Unfortunately, we needed to first get entry tickets which were being sold at the museum about 100 meters away. Hubby went to get the tickets while we waited in the shade at the church entrance.

The interior of the duomo was impressive with those frescoes, paintings and murals that really told much of its history. Francesca loved it being inside the duomo although she also did naughty stuffs — jumping, talking too loud, pointing at things she found interesting and climbing the pews. It was very strict there when it came to the dress code – visitors who were deemed inappropriately dressed such as women in sleeveless blouses and plunging necklines were asked to put on the light blue blouses that can cover their naked arms and cleavages.

After the church visit, it was time for lunch. We found a restaurant nearby where we can rest our tired feet and chill out after the exasperating heat outside. The menu was simple and the prices were reasonable considering that the restaurant location was a typical tourist trap. Hubby and his mom opted for pizza, Dad for tuna sandwich, the little girl had her fries with fried eggs sunny side up and I settled for the grilled shrimps and squid on a bed of salad. I truly enjoyed my meal especially as I can dissect and suck the shrimp heads Pinoy style with gusto. Lunch was capped with some cappuccino and of course, tiramisu which was really yummy. The bottom was an ice cream, again a different version from the tiramisu that I´ve eaten before.

Then it was time to head back to Pelagaccio as the little girl needed her afternoon nap for we had an invite for the pasta party at Diacceroni in the afternoon.

The Baptistry, the Duomo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Duomo and the Leaning Tower

My parents-in-law

My family minus me

Holding off the tower but missed! ;-)

Father and daughter

Our family

Holding off the tower from further leaning…

The leaning tower

Top of the tower

Details of the main door of the Duomo

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Taking a break…

Intricate craftmanship

The confessional

Church ceiling

One of the altars — Madonna and child

The altar

Oma and Francesca

Couldn’t resist being a child inside the Duomo…

The little girl and her tricks…

Horsey encounter… ;-)

The little girl and the Baptistry behind

Part of the wall surrounding the Duomo

Detail of the wall inside the restaurant

Grilled seafood on a bed of salad

Pizza

Souvenir items

Fake designer bags being peddled by African immigrants — they almost took my camera because they don’t want this picture taken

Father and daughter making a purchase…

…wiggly spiky ball

Funny aprons ;-)

Funny aprons… ;-)

Trying a hat…

Laid-back life under the Tuscan sun

Misty morning

After a busy day in Florence and staying late for the pizza party and the subsequent football match, we took it easy the following day, just stayed at Pelagaccio, went for a dip at the pool and simply enjoyed the laid-back Tuscan life away from the pressures of work and the rigors of daily life.

I oftentimes had to be reminded to take it easy once in a while and as we were here for two weeks, there was plenty of time still for sightseeing. Francesca’s needs should also be given top consideration. Hers were different from our own and the trips to busy places were not her thing. She just loves it here choosing among several alternatives at her disposal – swimming at the pool, playing at the playground, cycling on her trike or assembling her lego blocks and puzzles.

It was again a very misty morning and I’ve been meaning since a few days ago to take some pictures of this phenomenon. It was always misty in the morning due to the temperature drop during the night and it was amazing to observe how the mist eventually disappeared as the fierce Tuscan sun made its way.

What a lovely sight to see when the hills were all covered in mist, even Pelagaccio was hardly visible from the pool which was but a few yards away. I found myself taking pictures not just of the landscape around me but of the flowers which after the routine morning watering looked like they had just been kissed by the rain.

After breakfast, it was time for a dip in the pool. I joined for a short while but did not linger because my left foot which has blister from previous day’s hike over the hills (I did not wear proper shoes in that hike) was irritated by the lightly salted pool water. I don’t know why but the pool water here was a bit salty. Francesca as usual, had a grand time especially when opa and oma later came and joined in on the fun.

I volunteered to instead prepare lunch, inspired by the meal I had in Florence the day before. We still had left over bread from which I could make the bruschetta. From the grocery this morning, I got some parsley and tomatoes. Wow, lunch turned out to be a great success!

To make the bruschetta, I sliced the bread to about half an inch thickness and sprinkled that with extra virgin olive oil and added a small amount of finely chopped garlic. In essence, bruschetta is garlic bread. I fried/roasted the bread in a flat-bellied Teflon pan till it was brown and crispy. For the toppings, I chopped some tomatoes, added some finely chopped garlic and parsley, extra virgin olive oil and seasoned that with salt and pepper. With some chilled white wine to down the bruschetta al pomodori with, we all had a great fill and then it was time for the afternoon siesta.

At about 5pm, hubby and Francesca were again back at the pool for that before dinner swim to create some appetite especially for the little girl who has all the time for playing but no time for food. She reminded me of my own childhood where when the opportunity to play arises, eating and other considerations would surely take a back seat. Oh well, we had to make the most of this opportunity which is not an every day thing. Having a pool at our disposal, a playground and to top it all, the time to unwind and forget the rigors of daily life are rare pleasures for which we should spare time to savor.

Dinner that night was hubby’s turf – pasta. He made used of penne and prepared a very yummy red sauce made from sautéing garlic, onions, tinned peeled tomatoes and some leftover salami. He got some dried mushrooms from the grocery this morning but did not use that because it required 20 minutes soaking in cold water for which he had no time. There was also no basil leaves from that small shop so he made use of parsley which was just as nice. On the side was the mozzarella cheese with fresh tomatoes sprinkled with olive oil, salt and pepper and topped with more chopped parsley. I made some more garlic bread from the leftovers. A bottle of chilled white wine proved to be an excellent companion to our splendid dinner under the trees.

Visibility of just a few meters — the mist shrouds the hills farther

Misty morning

The sun peering through the mist

Misty morning … hills in the distance not visible

View of the Tuscan countryside once the mist was gone

pink blooms

Pale yellow Tuscan rose

Pink Tuscan rose

Pink oleander

Courgette bloom

Orange daisy

Pale yellow Tuscan rose

Unripe grapes

Rosebud

Drops

A spider in its web

A yellow butterfly perched on lavender blooms

A white butterfly

White butterfly in transit

Busy bee

Busy bee

Father and daughter at the pool

Little girl and oma

Little girl and oma

Pool fun with the grandparents

Hubby on the inflatable dolphin

The dolphin flipped over ;-)

The little girl has more expertise on handling the dolphin than her father

Francesca with opa and oma

Bruschetta made from leftover bread

Hubby’s version of salade caprese

Penne with tomato sauce and salami

Pizza party at Diacceroni

Simple pizza with courgette toppings

City trip to Florence under the scorching heat was exhausting. It was great to escape and be back to the laid back countryside atmosphere at Pelagaccio and Diacceroni. We arrived at Pelagaccio after 4pm, just in time to freshen up for the 5pm pizza party at Diacceroni.

The pleasant surprise we had in staying here are the 3x per week free meals for all the guests with different themes. Saturday is for all sorts of Italian dishes – pasta, pizza, bread, tempura of aubergine, courgette and courgette blooms, bruschettas with toppings of tomatoes with olive oil and finely chopped parsley or anchovies with finely chopped garlic and mashed aubergine. As usual, we only have to pay for the drinks – beer for the guys and white wine for the ladies. Their white wine chilled to perfection is amazingly good that my mom-in-law and I always forget it has alcohol content. Cost about €6, I was early on our stay already contemplating if I would bring a couple of bottles back home. A great drink, I can taste the fruity and flowery elements in it.

The pizza party was a great experience. Everyone was there. The tables were all assembled in one long line between the olive trees forming like one continuous banquet table. We were seated at the end of the line which was perfect because we were also closest to the playground and therefore had an excellent oversight of Francesca. The little girl was in her element being among other children and at the playground. One thing that she loved about the playground here at Diacceroni was the “spring kussen” as it is called in Dutch or literally “jumping pillow” but which the Scots call “jumping castle”. She could jump to her heart’s content.

The pizzas were prepared in a special pizza hut on the grounds of Diacceroni. The hut has a wood-fired oven and the pizza was fed into it and the cooking process just took a few minutes. It was amazing how they prepare the pizza and was completely different from the way pizza has been conceptualized outside Italy. The “mamas” made the dough and just flattened them to the right thickness and then place them in rectangular trays. Toppings varied from just plain extra virgin olive oil then salt and pepper to thin slices of courgette, aubergine or red onions which were later drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper. Other toppings were that of tomato sauce and capers with some bits of mozzarella cheese. Oh, I can tell you that the pizzas were the best even with just the plain dough which was airy and crispy.

One of the Italian “mamas” gave the children pieces of the pizza dough to fashion their own creations and later bake them as well in the oven. Great idea! Some kids created heart-shaped pizzas engraved with their initials. We had a great time from this pizza experience. Not being a big pizza fan, I had my initial misgivings that a pizza party can be fun. I was utterly and completely wrong!

Time flies when we are having so much fun. Soon it was time to head back to Pelagaccio as Francesca needed to go to bed. Oh well, we were in a huge dilemma to stay a bit longer because at 8.30pm, the semi-final World Cup game between Holland and Uruguay will be shown. There was no TV or internet connection at Pelagaccio.

The voice of reason prevailed so we headed back to Pelagaccio for Francesca. Opa and Oma were happy to bring her to bed (she has been sleeping with them since the start of our holiday and won’t sleep with us) so hubby and I returned to Diacceroni for the football match – on foot and with a flashlight, a must as there was no moonlight to lighten up our path nor light posts. Oh, so rural that I kept on being reminded of those early years of my childhood when there was no electricity yet and the night light came only from moonlight or those Molotov cocktails that people used then when there was a need to travel at night on foot or with the carabao-pulled carts.

To reach Diacceroni from Pelagaccio on foot was to traverse two hills and was actually a pleasant experience because we had such a splendid view of our own place silhouetted in the sunset complemented by the chirping of the crickets and the humming of the birds as they prepare to call it a day in their nests or favorite branches in the trees.

We arrived at 8.45pm, just in time for Holland’s first goal and those already there watching the games were cheering for Holland and jumping off their seats. The TV and the channel receiver were set up in the garden so it was a novel experience to watch football under the stars. I could not helped but get consumed by the raging orange fever just like everyone there of other nationalities who rooted for Holland too. At the first half of the match, it was time for more drinks. Hubby had another glass of beer while I settled for water having had half a bottle of wine already earlier.

Holland’s win over Uruguay was a great culmination to a wonderful day. Everyone had happy expression on their faces. Time to head back to Pelagaccio. Night has fallen and only the stars were there to guide us on our way back.

Pippo, the sweet dog which befriended Francesca and everyone at our place decided to come with us on our way back. He also patiently stayed with me the other day when I took a short walk to take sunset pictures of Pelagaccio. Very loyal and sweet dog on whom I’ve fallen in love too, just as Francesca and everyone have.

Walking back under the stars reminded me of one short story in my Philippine literature class, that of Manuel Arguilla’s “How my brother Leon brought home a wife”. It has been a long time since hubby and I had taken a walk together under the stars reminiscent of those days when we’ve just met each other on the beaches of El Nido in Palawan. Too romantic!

Life in the west as we call it has been about haste and expediency. It was nice to go back to the basics once in a while, to be away from the conveniences of modern life like the TV and internet, to do away with the car and instead take a hike through the hills. Without all these distractions, it was amazing to appreciate nature and life in all its simplicity – from the stars to the fireflies, to the music created by crickets, frogs and birds, the only sound that can be heard in the stillness of the night.

The hut with the wood-fired oven for baking the pizza

Francesca making her personalized pizza

Freshly-baked pizza taken out of the oven

Pizza with tomato sauce and capers

Pizzas

Trays of pizza waiting for their turn in the wood-fired oven

The pizza party guests

The little ones having fun at the “spring kussen”

The little ones at the mini-swing

The little one with oma

The little one lording it over at the slide

Hibiscus at Diacceroni

Pomegranate blooms which the kids love to pluck from the tree

A very young pomegranate fruit

Sunset at Pelagaccio

Pelagaccio as viewed from the next hill

We hiked through these hills at sunset and back late in the night

Sunset and Pelagaccio in the distance

Sunset

Tuscan sunset

Stopping for a bit of rest through our hike over the hills

Stopping for a bit of rest through our hike over the hills

Tuscan sunset at Pelagaccio

Tuscan sunset

The nice thing about staying in an agriturismo was that it was possible to escape the madness of crowded places like the earlier part of the day we spent in Volterra and retreat to the tranquil of Pelagaccio. There was the pool for a dip to tame the scorching heat and then the simple beauty of the countryside to take us back to another place and time.

The little girl was just so happy to be back to Pelagaccio playing with Pippo (the sweet dog belonging to the agriturismo) and then with 2 other kids at the playground. Who won’t have fun in such a place, a playground with so much space?

Tuscan sunset never fails to amaze. That crimson ball in the horizon which would eventually disappear through the Tuscan hills and leaves behind a sky of various shades from purple, red, pink, and gold, eventually giving way to darkness and a night sky of millions of stars.

Before dinner, I just found myself taking a short walk on the dirt road leading to and from Pelagaccio and took more pictures. I wanted to take pictures of Pelagaccio from a distance and at sunset with the fading light giving it a different charm and glow. It was amazing to also take pictures of the village of Fabbricca close to nightfall as the many pictures I took of this village was at the height of the day. There was a different kind of wonder and amazement to see the silhouette of Tuscan hills in the fading light, to hear the birds and crickets even under pain of being bitten by some nasty flies.

On this little excursion, Pippo proved his loyalty by providing me excellent company which was very reassuring in such a very unfamiliar terrain.

Tuscan sunset

Tuscan vineyard at sunset

Tuscan sunset

Pelagaccio from the distance

Agriturismo Pelagaccio from the distance

Tuscan hills in late afternoon

Small vineyard close to the entrance of Pelagaccio

Vineyard and the village of Fabbricca up the hill

Agriturismo Pelagaccio at sunset

Francesca

Father and daughter

Children’s playground

Kids playing with Pippo

Sweet Pippo

Francesca and Pippo

The little girl and her favorite dog

Fun at the swing

Fun at the table football

Fun at the slide

Fun at the slide

Luscious fruits ripening under the the Tuscan sun

Unripe grapes

Yellow blooms

Red blooms

Tuscan roses

Little girl at sunset

Little girl and Pippo

Relaxing under the Tuscan sun and skies

Tuscan countryside early in the morning

While sitting under the tree and enjoying the cool breeze blowing off the 40°C heat, I can’t help but wonder why we’ve never gone to Tuscany before. Our next door neighbor in Holland has been going to Tuscany year after year, staying in the same place over the last 10 years and I used to wonder why they never go elsewhere when there are simply hundreds if not thousands of amazing destination in Europe.

The place is simply stunning and now I can understand why there has always been so much buzz about Tuscany and life under the Tuscan sun, why the place has been gloriously immortalized and romanticized in many books and movies (the recent and pretty popular one being “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes and its movie version starred Diane Lane).

At 360° around me and under clear blue skies, my vista consisted of rolling hills lined with cypress trees, blooms of various kind (geraniums, oleanders, roses, lavender, jasmines, etc.), which charm butterflies of incredible colors, bees and other flies, quaint old villages on which time seemed to have stood still, vineyards, olive groves and wheat fields gone gold.

We’re pretty far from the highway, the only sound that can be heard of are the birds and crickets, occasional cars in the dirt road and the churning of the combined harvesters harvesting the wheat.

Is this life under the Tuscan sun? Pretty laid back and the only thing we can do is sit down and relax, dip in the pool to cool down the Tuscan heat and let time pass by over glasses of chilled prosecco with those delish Italian cheeses on the side.

The place we are staying is an apartment in Agriturismo Pelagaccio. It is a typical Tuscan farmhouse with a small annex building divided into a total of 8 apartments on a 200-hectare property. There is enough privacy just as there is enough company, a perfect balance. (I remember staying on a Centre Parcs holiday home in Germany which I found to be extremely busy and on an isolated holiday home in Normandy which at Francesca’s age now, she would have found too lonesome as she loves the company of other kids).

The place is just ideal with a playground that meets Francesca’s approval and the perfectly situated swimming pool that I’ve ever seen – on top of a hill with a 360° panorama of the Tuscan landscape.

Everyone except me had already tried the pool this morning. I just had fun taking snapshots of everyone and everything – from Francesca, Siefko, Opa and Oma to the Tuscan landscape and those amazing butterflies which cast their spell on me and my cam.

After swimming, Siefko and I headed to Volterra for the groceries (Italian supermarkets are open on Sunday from 8-13 hrs) plus we needed to gas up because our car was running short on petrol. Good that in another village before Volterra (La Sperza) there was a petrol station where we can gas up but it was self-service and the machine would only accept small Euro bills and not bank or credit cards.

We reached the Coop supermarket in Volterra just in the nick of time. It was kind of weird to shop in another country given the language barrier. Doing the self-service thing on those veggies (weighing but the names are in Italian and most times there are no pictures on the weighing scale for the stuff) is like solving a riddle.

Dinner was such a very anticipated affair as the idea of barbeque became a foregone conclusion – grilled pork Pinoy style (in short, “inihaw na baboy” which were thick slices of pork belly marinated in garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper and a bit of soy sauce), grilled aubergine and paprika which I seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, fresh salad of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber with the simple dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper — served with steamed rice, beer for the guys and ice-cold white wine for the ladies. That was at almost 10pm as we forgot the passing of time under the Tuscan skies.

Tuscan countryside — view from the pool

View of Pelagaccio from the pool

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

The medieval village of Fabbricca as viewed from the pool — we go there each morning for bread and other supplies

Cypress trees

Tuscan countryside

The path leading to the swimming pool

Location-wise, no pool can be far better than this…on top of a hill with an unobstructed view of the Tuscan countryside

Perfect place to cool down the 40-degree Celsius heat

Fun in the pool for everyone

Father and daughter

Oma joined in the fun

Opa, Papa and the little girl

Enjoying the cool waters

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

The family

Finally I joined in the pool party

Tuscan roses

Tuscan rose

Fiery red roses

Yellow blooms

Pink oleanders

Tuscan roses

Butterfly

Butterfly

White butterfly among the lavenders

Butterfly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Unripe grapes

Tuscan horses

Pelagaccio

The barbeque man

Grilled pork belly

Tuscany

Tuscan countryside

Time to think of warm sunny days especially as the dismal Dutch spring this year is already making not just me but a lot of people edgy. Spring is already mid-way but the nice days we had so far can be counted on my fingers with the single best one being last 30 April when we celebrated Queen’s Day.

On this blog and the few more to come, I will take you to Tuscany, to those warm days that me and my family enjoyed under the Tuscan sun charmed by its amazing countryside and picturesque medieval towns and cities.

It was almost two years ago (early July 2010) when went to Tuscany for a two-week holiday. We stayed at an agriturismo (these are actually farmhouses converted into apartments). Staying in these farmhouses is the best way to experience Tuscany because we really had a good feel of the Tuscan/Italian way of life.

We made the trip from Holland to Italy in two days because my husband did all the driving (1,400 kms) and Francesca being still very young then needed more frequent stops for diaper change, feeding and drinks. My parents-in-law also joined us on this holiday which was also great — we had so much fun on the road. We spent the night in Lucerne, Switzerland staying in a Hilton Express Hotel not so far from the highway.

Weather was unbelievably warm so I really enjoyed the drive through and short stay in Switzerland. Hubby and I holidayed in Switzerland in the past and really loved it there except for the unpredictable weather which can simply dampen the country’s charm. To see this picturesque country under blue skies and with the alps glimmering in the distance was just amazing.

We finally arrived in Tuscany at around 5pm, with some confusion at finding our agriturismo because we realized then that even with the recently upgraded navigation system information, it was hard to find the place because the dirt road leading to it was not on the map (holiday makers staying at agriturismos in Italy can always be recognized through their dusty cars compared to those staying in hotels). There were 3 agriturismo locations that belong to the chain that we booked and the reception/registration was at Diacceroni (we were booked at Pelagaccio). We had to wait for about an hour to get our registration sorted out, the caretaker of Pelagaccio took some time to come over and lead us to our apartment.

I was happy to take some pictures while waiting. The vista around me was amazing — Tuscan hills carpeted with wheat turned gold and ready to be harvested, vineyards, olive groves, distant hilltop villages from Medieval times, cypress trees lining up dirt roads leading to Tuscan hamlets.

Francesca found an instant playmate in an English boy whom she was able to convince that stone-throwing was a fun game.

We were told that there was a free Italian party that night at 7pm for all the guests. We only have to pay for the drinks. What a great surprise! We followed the caretaker to Pelagaccio and the drive took about 15 minutes. We took out our stuffs from the car and headed back again to Diacceroni. There was a very festive atmosphere and guests of various nationalities (Europeans as I was the only exotic-looking creature there) were engaged in friendly getting-to-know chitchat.

Food was great consisting of Italian dishes which were surprisingly vegetarian — pasta in tomato sauce, breads, bruschettas with toppings of fresh tomatoes, anchovies with mushroom and garlic, omelets with vegetables, and tempuras of aubergine, courgette and courgette blooms.

Tables were scattered at Diacceroni grounds planted with olive trees, hibiscus, pomegranates, lavenders, oleanders, cypress, figs, etc.

The kids had a great time running around and playing at the playground. Francesca’s fave was the “spring kussen” or the jumping castle as the Scots’ acquaintance of ours call them.

Diaccerroni agriturismo

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside – view from Diacceroni

Tuscan countryside

artichoke

Pink oleanders

Peach colored oleanders

Red oleanders

White gardenias

Pink Tuscan rose

Pink hibiscus

Pomegranate bloom

Francesca and a new friend

Stone-throwing game

Adventurous girl looking out at the pigs down the hill

A black bird in the olive tree

Dinner under the Tuscan sky

Tuscan food

Courgette (zuccini) omelet

thinly sliced bread topped with fresh tomatoes mashed with olive oil, salt and pepper

Potato omelet

thinly sliced bread topped with anchovies, olives, basil leaves

Courgette tempura

Eggplant omelet

freshly made pasta with tomato sauce and basil leaves

thinly sliced bread with olive oil, salt and pepper

Tuscan sunset

Royal weekend at Palais Het Loo (Het Loo Palace)

The upside of living in Amersfoort which is pretty centrally located in the country is its close proximity to many places worth exploring especially on weekends and throughout the year. Two royal palaces are within easy reach on top of the many castles, parks, zoos and forests as well.

Palais Het Loo

The main fountain


One place that we love visiting especially on a warm and lovely day is Palais Het Loo (Het Loo Palace) in Apeldoorn as it is just a good half hour’s drive from home. We’ve been inside the palace twice so we’re pretty happy to just explore its lovely 17th century garden which is really stunning especially in spring and summer. Patterned after Versailles, this garden and the fountains are just perfect for a family’s outing and even a little picnic.

Almost 2 springtime ago, we were at Palais Het Loo on a warm and sunny Sunday. I couldn’t have asked for a better day as the weather was just perfect and it was amazing to see spring literally exploding all over the place from the fruit trees bursting with flowers, to bees buzzing here and there, to trees finally waking up and getting their green cloak after the winter slumber and to spring flowers just blooming in profusion.

Our little girl had a great time as she found the garden and the huge trees just so much to her liking for playing hide and seek. Later, she found a play buddy in a boy who was about her age.














"Royal" cappuccino



One of the many fountains


Forget me not


Amazed by the fountain...



Playing hide-and-seek behind the big trees...



Colors of spring







Horse-drawn carriage



The royal stable

A peek at glitzy St. Tropez

Who says dreams don’t come true? Growing up, places like St. Tropez, French Riviera, Provence and the South of France came to my consciousness from reading too much Mills & Boon novels. The impressions from those romantic novels never really left me and although I knew then that I’ll never travel to these places in my lifetime, the dream remained alive in my heart.


It’s kind of funny and weird to finally be in places that used to be figments in my imagination. The M&B novels had of course, over-romanticized these places for the reality was far from what I had conceived about in my mind. St. Tropez was over-rated to my assessment. Yes, everyone wants to be seen there but all because of its reputation as the playground of the rich and famous, the jetsetters, fashion models, Hollywood stars and millionaires. The harbor itself was oozing with those uber expensive futuristic-looking yachts that did not blend in with the centuries-old buildings in the backdrop and its streets were choked with expensive sports cars which actually cannot drive any faster than a few kilometers an hour.

Well, it’s one place that we should see at least once in our lifetime if we have the chance…all for the sake of experience. In summer last year, we camped in Roquebrune sur Argens which is part of the municipality of Ste. Maxime. Ste. Maxime is a municipality in the department (province) Var on the French Riviera and is very close to St. Tropez. The road to St. Tropez is a known nightmare especially in summer months and the 16 km drive can take 1-2 hours so we parked our car at Avenue General Leclerc near the port and took the shuttle ferry from St. Maxime to St. Tropez which was a pleasant experience especially on a warm and lovely summer day. The boat trip all but took 15 minutes.

My first impression of St. Tropez was not that all wonderful. It was busy and the shops and cafes especially those along the harbor were real tourist traps.

Am I just too old fashioned that I found distasteful the glitter, glamour and decadence of today’s modern times that did not match with the town’s architecture? One thing though was that St. Tropez was a place to indulge in people-watching especially of those socialites and wannabes who were regulars for botox or facelifts. Trendy shops were all over like Hermes, Prada, etc. and that was expected if the likes of Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Georgio Armani, Elton John, etc. were the regular visitors to the place.

St. Tropez was not really to our liking as we’ve been to far better places where culture and history were still intact. Anyway, we went around and found the fish market more fun to explore. That was an unbelievably amazing but uber expensive fish market with seafoods flown from all over the world to cater to the discriminating palate of St. Tropez visitors.

We got a warning from other Dutch campers we met at the camping site to avoid restaurants close to the harbour for they were real tourist traps. With that in mind, we found a small nice restaurant that was a block away from the usual tourist route. The day’s menu or “plat du jour” was grilled calamares served with rice so we ordered that and half a bottle of wine. The calamares was wonderful! The funny part was that in our whole stay in the South if France, our cheapest lunch was in St. Tropez, the swankiest of places.

We did a bit more of sightseeing after lunch, saw the VIP bar that caters to the rich and famous, and found a merry go round which thrilled our little girl to no end.

After lunch, St. Tropez just became busier and with the mercury rising further, we decided to head back to our camping site. The overpriced shops were really not that fun to explore. Even simple candies from the candy shop were priced 4x more.

We were relieved to finally leave St. Tropez. The place was really nothing special. I prefer the picturesque harbour of Honfleur in Normandy or the Medieval mountaintop village of Bormes les Mimosas. Well, some may disagree with me but this is a personal opinion.


























The charming village of Bormes les Mimosas

It’s another snowless winter day here in Holland so allow me to indulge in my memories of warm and sunny summer days. Let me take you to this lovely village that we stumbled upon on our holiday in the South of France in summer last year.

The medieval village of Bormes les Mimosas


It was my quest for open markets that led us to Bormes les Mimosas. Lonely Planet mentioned that there was an open market there on a Monday but that turned out to be incorrect. On hindsight, that was for the best as the open market would have distracted us from exploring this lovely Medieval village on the mountaintop with a commanding view of the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean. The village is so named after the mimosas that abound in the area. We were there at off- season for mimosas (they bloom profusely in spring and its vanilla-like scent fills the air) but the village was exploding in bloom from bougainvilleas to oleanders, hibiscus, irises and many more. The air was also filled by the lovely scent emanating from the many eucalyptus trees.

We enjoyed exploring the narrow streets, from time to time stepping into the many quaint little shops selling typical Provence items from herbs to soaps, olive oils, wines, hand-woven bags, hand-crafted kitchen utensils, potteries, etc.

This is one place that I’d love to visit again in the future. I prefer this more than the glitzy and ritzy St. Tropez as it is more real and the old world charm is still very much well-preserved. We enjoyed a very nice lunch in a restaurant with an amazing view of the village below. When in France, the food will always be wonderful so we ordered the simple “plat du jour” or the day’s menu.

Maybe Bormes les Mimosas is an open secret for the French. I didn’t know till I was back in Holland that the official presidential summer residence of the French president is at Fort Breganson in Bormes les Mimosas. A few days after we left, I saw these articles on Hello Magazine:

Bumping along nicely: Carla Bruni on holiday






























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.

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