Travel articles you can use.
Top

Northern Ireland: Beguiling Belle Isle Castle

September 29, 2011 by · Comments Off on Northern Ireland: Beguiling Belle Isle Castle 

Inviting Belle Isle

A Castle Hotel Review

Cross over a bridge from the mainland of Country Fermanagh and enter a 470-acre, lakefront estate with rolling hills, dense woodlands and lowland fields.  Belle Isle, so aptly named, sits on the northern tip of Upper Lough Erne in Northern Ireland. The Duke of Abercorn’s family property includes a busy working estate with a fully functioning farm, manor house, self-catering cottages and cookery school.

The idyllic stone castle, inhabited since the 12 century, presides over a serene glade. English, Irish and Russian paintings are scattered throughout the manse. The main floor and eight upstairs bedrooms have been meticulous refurnished and updated through the use of antiques, reproductions and dramatic bold colors that deftly accentuate the old-world charm and heritage. The luxurious accommodations include complimentary Wi-Fi, and all guests have access to the walking trails, walled gardens, tennis court, coquet lawn and game shooting. There’s also a children’s play area, numerous lakeside fishing spots and golf at eleven nearby courses.

A stroll about the tranquil setting puts one instantly at ease, and tempts one to extend their stay. Even though an aristocratic aura permeates the air, Belle Isle doesn’t demand fancy dress nor do liveried servants await. Rather, guests receive the warmest of welcomes and diligent attention to every need and desire.

 

An overflowing English garden colorfully accents the main entrance.  Beyond, the grassy fields lead to a reed-edged lake. Stone statues, with a patina of age, gracefully adorn the terrace, adding a touch of class. Near the forest edge, a swing beckons to release your inner child. No wonder the enchanted setting is frequently chosen by brides for civil ceremonies and receptions.

A Cookery School (read my food blog post here) was added in 2003 using an existing building reconfigured with the latest stainless steel and enamel appliances. Ample uncluttered workspace and bountiful natural light make a cheerful classroom for up to fourteen students. Classes range from one day, weekend to a four-week diploma course, each culminating in a sit-down meal. Some students choose to stay in the self-catering cottages- think girlfriend getaway. Liz Moore, the passionate director, leads the school with her extensive culinary skills and promotes the use of local ingredients, some grown on the premises.

 

I had the opportunity to spend a night in the castle’s Lotus Room. A grand four poster bed dominated the oversized room while Jacobean wallpaper accented in mossy brown and grenadine granted a stately feel. The presence of a fireplace completed the heavenly retreat. An ingenious renovation of the en-suite bath featured smart white fixtures against vibrant poppy red walls.

My group assembled in the Grand Hall, a banqueting haven including a table set with a noble array of cutlery and crystal. A salad of baby spinach with crispy bacon, toasted pinenuts, and creamy Roquefort dressing started the meal. The entree featured a gorgeous lamb chop with red currant jelly and rosemary jus surrounded by roasted carrots, perfectly crunchy sugar snap peas and velvety mashed potatoes. Chocolate roulade with fresh raspberries and brandy cream concluded the occasion.

 

Following the scrumptious meal, I needed a late night promenade, choosing to meander down the long lane. When I turned back toward the castle my mind began envisioning knights on horseback, carriages and queens. I reentered the entrance chamber, a world apart from my everyday life. I then escaped to indulge the tranquility of my elegant bedroom, feeling myself, like a princess.

 

If You Go

Lodgings at Belle Isle in the cottages, Coach House and courtyard apartments are on a weekend or full week basis. Belle Isle Castle is reserved for groups of up to 8-16 people. Belle Isle is about a 20 minute drive from Enniskillen, 2 hours from Belfast and three hours from Dublin.

Belle Isle Estate Ltd.
Lisbellaw, Enniskillen, County Fermangh
Northern Ireland,
Telephone: +44 (0)28 6638 7231
Website: www.belle-isle.com

France ~ Chateau de Cheverny: Tally-Ho and Tintin

August 27, 2009 by · Comments Off on France ~ Chateau de Cheverny: Tally-Ho and Tintin 

Chateau de Cheverny

Chateau de Cheverny in the Loire Valley, France

My bus trip continued to the Chateau of Cheverny, a Loire Valley location renown for fox-hunting. Cheverny was built in the 1620’s for Henri Hurault, the Comte de Cheverny and Governor of Blois. The architecture flaunts Louis XIII style with classical symmetry, five pavilions (divisions) and two roof-top domes. The 1640’s interior decoration presents some of the finest paneling, painted ceilings, and fireplaces of the era.

Diane de Poitiers, who owned Chateau de Chenonceau (which Laura and I had visited earlier that morning), also held deed to an earlier castle on this site. She sold the property back to the original family owners in 1565.

The current mansion underwent a major twelve-year renovation during the late 1770’s. The Hurault de Vibraye family, descents of the original builders, acquired the estate in 1825 and have kept it in the family ever since.

Tintin_and_Snowy

TinTin

Perhaps the facade, decorated with sculpted roman busts looks familiar? Cheverny inspired the mythical Chateau of Moulinsart in Herge’s famous Tintin stories. We noticed some darling children’s toys and Tintin memorabilia in the gift shop, but Laura did not recall the story. I recognized TinTin, but honestly have never read the books.

Cheverny

The ground of Chateau de Cheverny

After entering the main gate, visitors walk down a long, wide gravely path dividing a manicured lawn. They enter the house through the small main door, into the lobby boasting a grand limestone staircase with elegant carvings. The ceilings feature finely painted exposed beams which create a lively colorful mood. The walls are covered with wood paneling decorated with more flowers and mottos. The swanky drawing room dazzles with examples of French decorative arts and period furniture.

We toured the bedrooms including the King’s Chamber where Henri IV slept, the dining room, and armory. I was impressed but felt at ease with the gracious home-like atmosphere. Some members of the bus tour group visited the private apartments, which were used until 1985. They raved about the interior but time was short with so much to see.

Dining Room at Cheverny

Dining Room- Interior of Chateau de Cheverny

Laura and I chose to walk across the grounds to the kennels. We heard barking, then found at least seventy fox hounds of mixed English and French breeds. Our guide said feeding time is popular with tourists, especially children, who delight in watching the dogs gobble their dinner.

The Dogs of Cheverny

The Dog Kennels at Chateau de Cheverny

Sadly we missed seeing: the formal gardens, the organery (where the Mona Lisa was secretly kept during the Second World War), the woodland park offering boat rides on the lake and the trophy room- filled with over two hundred stag horns. Hunts are still held on the property.

But, our schedule demanded departure: tally-ho and away we go. Next stop-Chateau de Chambord .

Mimi’s Virtual Angels and Demons Blog Tour continues: Castle Sant’Angelo

May 20, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

castle-sant-angelo-magic-houriii-4-x-6.jpg

Castle Sant'Angelo on the banks of the Tiber

Day 6–Castle Sant’Angelo

Our virtual tour continues to follow the path of the Illuminati. We find Professor Langdon charging down narrow passageways in Castle Sant’Angelo, searching for Vittoria. The timeless structure and bridge leading to its doors have rested on the banks of the Tiber River since 139 AD.

The ancient cement exterior, a round shape surrounded by high walls, stands stark and imposing, hardly a castle in the traditional sense. Compared to an Italian villa or luxuriant St. Peter’s Basilica, Castle Sant’Angelo looks primitive and unfinished.

Originally constructed as Emperor Hadrian ‘s tomb, the mausoleum’s intended function changed almost as often as the popes. Over two millennia the site served as a fortress, prison, papal refuge and palace, military barracks, museum and …in Angels & Demons–the Church of Illumination and secret lair of the evil Hassassin.

archangel-michael-4-x-6.jpg

Statue of Archangel Michael atop Castle Sant'Angelo

When the plague struck Rome in 590 AD, Pope Gregory the Great is said to have seen an apparition of an angel, Michael, sheathing his sword above the castle. He believed this meant the end of the disease for his city. In remembrance, a statue of Archangel St. Michael was erected high up on the terrace and the name Hadrian’s Tomb was changed to “Castle of the Holy Angel- Castle Sant’Angelo.”

secret-passageway-from-vatican-4-x-6.jpg

The passetto or passageway connecting to the Vatican

In 1277 Pope Nicholas II ordered the building of massive circular walls and the famous 2,000 foot-long corridor connecting to the Vatican. The first floor includes a winding ramp about 400 feet long. Between the 10th and 14th centuries this defensive stronghold remained the only fortress in Rome. Powerful families fought to control it.

Many rooms within the fortress were turned into small cells for political prisoners, some more like torture chambers. The courtyards were used for executions by decapitation and the heads of the condemned then hung along the bridge.

The popes demanded ownership of the castle as one of the conditions for their return from Avignon. They left France for Rome and regained the strategic property, which they hold to this day.

During the Renaissance, Popes Nicolas V and Alexander VI modernized the defensive position with four iron bastions. A moat was added and the corridor or “passetto” was fortified. These timely improvements provided a refuge during the Sack of Rome in 1527.

Papal apartment in Castle Sant'Angelo

Papal apartment in Castle Sant'Angelo

Plush Papal apartments were built during the mid 1500’s, seen from afar as the brick rectangular addition on top. The lavish rooms were frescoed and furnished with priceless collections. A treasury room in the centre was created to store the Vatican’s wealth. Space was provided for enormous reserves of food, in the event of an attack. There were wineskins set in the walls, huge water tanks, granaries and even a mill.

first-light-at-castle-4-x-6.jpg

Castle Sant'Angelo at first light

A fifth bastion was added in 1560, but is now a garden. During the 17th century Bernini’s workshop was commissioned to sculpt angels for the bridge, thus the crossing became known as the Bridge of Angels.

In 1752 a bronze statue of Archangel Michael, added to the summit, replaced a former one. His sword points downward toward the main entrance, which Dan Brown uses to mean the hidden Church of Illumination.

The castle’s exterior then remained unchanged until restraining walls were added along the Tiber and external arches were evened with the three central ones.

In 1870 when Rome became the capital of the new state of Italy, alterations were made for military barracks. Today the icon stands open to the public as the National Museum of Castle Sant’Angelo. Restoration and preservation of the historic structure is ongoing.

If you’re in Rome and want to fully appreciate the famous site, first stroll along the opposite side of the river. The best photo op is sunset, but I found sunrise very dramatic. And, best of all, the view of the bridge without tourists creates a mystical scene.

angel-5-x-4.jpg

Detail of the angel statue on the Bridge of Angels in Rome

Cross the Bridge of Angels admiring the detail and uniqueness of each statue. Then, enter the castle to tour and climb up five levels. You’ll find courtyards, cannonballs, corridors and cells. The panoramic view from the highest terrace is worth the price of admission.

And don’t forget to look up to see beloved Archangel Michael guarding the Eternal City, as well as leading the way to the next chapter in Angels & Demons…

landers-overlook-rome-4-x-6.jpg

Lander Family overlooks Rome from the open courtyard atop Castle Sant'Angelo

Bottom