Camping in Tuscany, August 2016

by Emma Bumpus on August 29, 2016

Summer brings a lush palette of sizzling sunflowers, Chianti burdened vineyards and fruitful leafy green mass of stunning landscape fit for the intrepid likes of Careertraveller and family.

Abandoning the car, we take a 90 minute hour train journey from Florence to Chiusi, which bursting with elegant sky scraper cypress trees and lashings of pure Mediterranean olive groves plunges us into the heart of Tuscany.

A sweet and gentle bus ride is a fleeting ascent to the hilltop village of Sarteano, a medieval hamlet of traditional stone houses peppered with winding alleyways that smack of history, good food and culture.

Destination Parco Delle Piscine is a gateway to nature where 3 thermo mineral water swimming pools reside in an evergreen park of entertainment brimming with sport and unlimited alfresco space.

Home is a tree-lined thoroughfare boasting pristine mobile homes with decorative praiseworthy verandas that stretch neatly across the patio, beaming with essential sun loungers, BBQ and outdoor dining area. Enveloped in a botanical haven of glossy laurel and eucalyptus we begin a unique camping experience that starts with an Italian stove cafetiere and 5-minute walk to the local bakery, where we develop a Tuscan palate!

A wander round the site is a harmonious display of fresh country living fit for swimmers, hikers, runners and leisurites. Uplifting shades of green are a wondrous display of flora and fauna amidst the fragrant lavender, sage and rosemary that thrive around the bar, a sociable hub of pizza, cornetti and all things pleasurable beneath the Tuscan sun! A babble of English, Dutch, German, Italian and American fills the air with intoxicating conversation from worldwide travellers and families in search of fun and adventure.

Soaring scented pine trees sway gracefully above the tennis, basketball and volleyball courts offering a generous shade for the energetic. As the midday sun peaks we take a seat below the grape clad pergola that overlooks the far-reaching lawn, an afternoon pleasure dome for children.

From football tournaments and water slides to picnics and sunbathing Parco Delle Piscine is a camping oasis full of inspiration, health and fun. Whilst the little ones explore the rubber tiled adventure playground the adults watch and workout from the nearby Vitagym, whose cardio machinery musters a healthy appetite and excuse to sample lunch at the camp’s Piscine Restaurant.

Panzanella salad brings regional cuisine and pure happiness to the table with chunks of bread and fresh tomatoes which endorses a glass of reserve Chianti on the balcony overlooking the shimmering turquoise Large Pool. Designed by Japanese architect and landscape designer Haruki Miyagima we absorb the waterfall and adjacent hydromassage spa amidst the rolling Tuscan hills that reflect his meditative philosophy “Green unites what man divides”.

Plot to plate brings a thirst for culture as we embark on the camp’s evening Sarteano and Surroundings guided tour, a picturesque trail that takes us through the town’s ancient streets and up to the 14th century castle along the Etruscan roads. From a mountainous free flowing spring water path that feeds into the campsite pools we pass rural farmhouses and antique churches offering panoramic views of the Val di Chiana and UNESCO Val D’Orcia plains, a stunning canvas of Renaissance Siena!

Back in town our amicable guide Eugenio rewards us with a customary Tuscan wine and food tasting session pit stop that celebrates the likes of Pecorino, Prosciutto and local Terre Di Siena red and white wine. Enthused and revitalised we swing by the local macellaio or ‘butcher’ for a flavourful Florentine-style steak famously known as Bistecca alla Fiorentina and prepare a rustic campsite BBQ beneath the Tuscan skies.

Mornings bring sunrise swims and unhurried bike rides that shower us with golden wheat fields and perfumed woodlands bursting with seasonal colour and provincial pride. Ready for a day of sightseeing we hop on a bus to nearby Montepulciano, which presents a breath-taking 40-minute long alpine backdrop famous for the filming of the vampire saga Twilight sequel ‘New Moon’.

A hilly ascent past pretty boutiques teeming with elegant merchandise reveals the Church of Saint Augustine, whose 15th century marble facade designed by Italian artist and sculptor Michelozzo exposes a beautiful wooden statue of the Virgin Mary and child.

Lunch at the refined Caffè Poliziano is an excuse to sample the restaurant’s Tuscan cuisine from the summer terrace laced with vibrantly coloured petunias and geraniums. A mixture of Vino Nobile reserve, Tuscan Platter and dazzling hazy blue mountain views are a sky-high cinematic experience that leaves our heads in the clouds!

Back in Sarteano events hot up for the evening’s eminent La Gisotra del Saracen or ‘Saracen Games’, an equestrian game where cavaliers on horseback compete for a ring hanging from the shield of a wooden statue. Crowds fill the streets ready for the afternoon’s ceremonial parade of medieval clad drummers, kings, queens and knights and swamp the air with traditional summer excitement. Five players with five colours representing teams storm the high street at great speed with lances and joust with proud ancient gusto.

Parco Delle Piscine takes authentic camping to the next level with family friendly cookery classes that feed the soul with pici all’aglione or pasta with spicy garlic tomato sauce, alongside ravioli with butter and sage. Maria our hostess is the real deal with her open-air gastronomic class demonstrations, which set beneath a canopy of love amidst the Tuscan hills starts with a wooden board full of eggs, flour, oil and water and ends with a pot of fresh pasta and good old-fashioned Italian sauce.

A final play in the Kid’s Pool and saunter round the park is a reminder of why holidaymakers and nature lovers return yearly to this sustainable tourism paradise, which gives new meaning to camping.

Further information:

Parco Delle Piscine
Sarteano & surrounding area excursions
Terre Di Siena

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Backyard Cinema, London August 2016

by Emma Bumpus on August 5, 2016

Careertraveller and family take to church in London’s ‘Marylebone’ where gospel choir, leisure infused deck chairs and Baz Luhrman’s extravagant movie ‘Romeo and Juliet’ make way for an electrifying balmy summer’s evening of unique entertainment.

In the heart of the capital we enter this awesome 19th century Grade 1 listed building whose 21st century Georgian renovation, £3.7 million to be precise, is a tribute to English architect Sir Robert Smirke. Giant concrete pillars with stone portico and tower are a dramatically romantic setting for a modern twist of William Shakespeare’s tragic drama born of the Renaissance.

Inside is a cultural feast of heavenly white lilies, ceremonial candles and daring neon lights that set the scene for the Film Director’s legendary urban remake of Romeo and Juliet. In the words of Shakespeare himself:

‘In fair Verona, where we lay our scene….
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life’

stands a giant slick movie screen placed artistically amidst an altar of elegant floating drapes, which full of lights and fabric flowers displays a funeral pyre of romantic drama revealing BAFTA award winning screenplay and chart topping soundtracks.

Before taking our pews we screen the bar downstairs in the basement for some good old-fashioned goodies that come in the form of traditional hand-popped Propercorn popcorn and pick and mix sweeties bursting inside vintage suitcases! Armed with a bottle of Fentimans botanically brewed Curiosity Cola in a playground of fluorescent candy coloured lighting and booming fashionable soulful tunes we embrace this quirky setting and prepare for intrepid action and drama.

Centre stage we sit beneath a harmonious church stained glass window that provides show-stopping contrast to the opening movie track ‘Crush’ by Garbage, whose famous obsessive love rock lyrics deliver a theatrical explosive prologue. Immediately thrown into the turbulent inner-city world of the Capulets and Montagues we begin a sensory experience of emotions that are intensified by Luhrman’s fast paced intense action scenes, fuelled with atmospheric sounds of the nineties and gangster gunfire.

Just when things couldn’t get any better enter Some Voices choir, whom dressed in characteristic blood red gowns take church to the movies in true celebratory style. Melodiously contemporary and crystal clear voices deliver a heady mix of raw emotion and grace to poignant scenes from the film that take cinema to another level. Elegance and soul mixed with an edgy mix of rock and tender tunes are a rhapsodic rollercoaster brimming with artistic talent and budding young entrepreneurism, literally born from watching movies in the back garden, hence Backyard Cinema.

Scenes from the Capulet Ball unravel this tragic love story of passion, misery and violence with lavish props and costumes that exacerbate family feuding. The flamboyantly cinematic Mercutio brings theatre to the aisles with glitzy costume razzamatazz and show stopping dancing that blasts rhythms to the tune of Kim Mazelle’s ‘Young Hearts Run Free’. Superb! From disco to pop, Verona comes to town with Des’ree’s honey sweet ‘Kissing You’ vocals, which sensationalised by the choir raises the roof with evocative love story tones that speak from the heart.

Shakespeare’s famous balcony scene is climax topper with Some Voices choir whose hauntingly crisp chorale version of ‘When Doves Cry’ by Prince slams the distinguished lyrics of love and pain, exposing Luhrman’s clever use of Christian symbolism as Romeo and Juliet play in a pool of love.

As the plot thickens and the candles burn we enjoy a compelling night at the movies, which swamped in Leonardo Di Caprio superstardom, beckons more. Mood enhancing, spiritually uplifting and hugely entertaining, Backyard Cinema are a refreshingly artistic alternative to an ordinary night at the flicks, brilliant!

Further information:

Backyard Cinema
Some Voices

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The Roof Gardens, London July 2016

by Emma Bumpus on July 21, 2016

Summer takes careertraveller to new heights at London’s eminent sky-high Roof Gardens that sparkle luxuriously with tranquillity, innovation and history.

Within this former swinging 60s Biba fashion store an elevator transports us to 7th floor heaven where we begin a stylishly cultural journey of exceptional hospitality and wanderlust inspiration in the Babylon Restaurant. First impressions boom with glistening fine dining tableware in a chic and contemporary glass walled interior brimming with ‘greenhouse’ light effects that cleverly bring the outside in.

Entry requires a fashionable meander past the bar in a trendy boudoir of a lounge boasting sleek leather pouffes, velvet clad sofa and ornamental alliums on a leaf engraved carpet that beckons alfresco dining. To the rescue is Oliver, Head Bar Tender who expertly makes alchemy in the form of signature cocktail ‘Red Edition’, a botanical melange of lemon verbena, borage and lemongrass which blended with legendary Sipsmith London Dry Gin, strawberry liquer and delicate lychee and lavender foam delivers an invigorating floral taste sensation.

Outside on the terrace awaits a green urban jungle of ‘knockout’ London skyline amidst the capital’s rooftops and cloud high trees that make this a stunning inner-city retreat. Sumptuous shades of sleek green cushions, throws and trendy bar stools are designed for all seasons with cinematic views of architectural gems; Royal Albert Hall, Houses of Parliament and Shard. A flavour of what’s to come!

From the verdant decks of this high-density artificial grass hideaway is lunch, a fine affair of the palate that arrives in garden infused shapes and colours brimming with intelligence, contemplation and finesse. Sensory melt in the mouth warm rosemary, and fennel infused bread spheres initiate an intimate dining event in preparation of extraordinary food with extraordinary hospitality.

Salvatore, our waiter, is a sommelier of the senses who appreciates gastronomy and fine dining practice which transcends expectation with crumbled Feta and Grapefruit Salad bursting with intense coloured desire. Served upon a super slick slate is a delicate sweet and salty allotment brimming with healthy seasonal produce on a bed of smooth avocado purée loaded with antioxidants. Racy red pomegranate seeds arrive sprinkled across a plot of fresh crumbled feta cheese, which decorated with palate cleansing mint leaves and succulent jewel like pieces of red grapefruit present a show of wholesome culinary art at it’s best.

Enchanted, excited and educated, our performance continues with the sound of gabbling pink flamingos that reside below in the English Woodland Garden, an evergreen oasis of serenity and exclusivity. A peek over the balcony is our cue to pop down to floor 6 but not before dessert Lemon Posset, the complete show stopper that explains why Babylon has been awarded a three star Food Made Good rating from The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) for its commitment to sustainability.

Ingredients are a creative mix of the Mediterranean with juniper meringues and poppy seed ice cream bringing plot to plate with velvety miniature seashells of cream bursting with zesty lemon quintessential English summer and origins steeped in Shakespeare’s Middle Ages. Luminously playful gin and tonic jellies bring contrast and pleasure to the experience, which enhanced by a breeze down to the Spanish Garden unify the concept of food, colour and plants wrapped up in history and heritage.

Exotic swinging palms, red-hot geraniums and a plantation of hot hued coloured flowers are a continental journey that takes us on holiday. Packed with fragrant bay topiaries, silver leaf olive trees and soaring cypress trees that give a subtropical feel, we take a walk around this beautiful designed garden whose dazzling wild flowers are a menu of ‘oranges and lemons’.

Encircling the garden is a Moorish replica of the famous Alhambra in Granada, whose soft pinkish beige fortress walls skilfully mimic the castle’s towers with well-situated Spanish Veranda. From this VIP Area we dip into the world of outdoor glamour where bespoke waitress service and colonial seating bring the original 1930s landscaped gardens into the 21st century.

A divert to the Tudor Garden reveals a historical leafy green backdrop fit for nothing less than spectacular events within 1.5 acres of gardens, justifiably acknowledged as a place of ‘Specific Historical Interest’ and given a Grade II listing by English Heritage.

Verdict, it is the careertraveller favourite Spanish Hideaway that smacks of unique travel with traces of Northern Africa and Southern Spain’s Andalusia. Inside, Arabesque interiors tell a story as we step into the world of Sir Richard Branson, whose award winning retreats put the L in Virgin Limited Edition. Inimitable!

Further information:

The Roof Gardens
Babylon Restaurant
Virgin Limited Edition

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Dover, Kent May 2016

by Emma Bumpus on June 9, 2016

May bank holiday weekend salutes summer when careertraveller and family take to the White Cliffs Country of Dover, Deal and Sandwich to sample Kent’s renowned Garden of England.

Blue skies, shimmering coastline and layers of history are unveiled as we ascend Dover Castle, a 12th century fortress whose medieval stature evokes power, strength and drama across the centuries.

Original Napoleonic Secret Wartime Tunnels carved out of cliff-top chalk are a poignant exposure of Operation Dynamo and Britain’s rescue of allied troops from Dunkirk in 1940. Special visual and sound effects take us on an expressive journey of military defence and courage through a labyrinth of passageways that reveal an Underground Hospital. A real tribute to serving the troops during the Second World War.

Amidst the WWII weekend event of German firepower display, bebop jazz singers and RAF Spitfire aerobatics we are transported back to the 1940s where wartime rations, explosive battle and vintage lipstick and curls entertain and educate the whole family. Amongst Caen Normandy stone and Kentish ragstone walls we retrace Henry II’s world from his elaborate Kings Chamber to imposing Great Tower, whose generous East and West views encapsulate panoramic views of pure English coast and countryside. Spectacular!

Coastal wanderlust takes us on a trail of Walmer Beach Kite flying to the picturesque seaside town of Deal whose ‘Tudor Rose’ Deal Castle, unspoilt beaches and 1000ft long pier radiate summer, maritime adventure and English heritage. Pretty seafront cafes overlook pristine shingle beaches peppered with traditional fishing boats are nautical eye candy and an excuse to explore an array of quaint teashops!

Back on the road we discover rural villages with chocolate box cottages bursting with kaleidoscopic country gardens and verdant crops blooming with fresh local produce, not forgetting home to orchards and hop gardens! As we drive into Worth, a quaint hamlet with it’s charming village pond and Norman church we find paradise in the form of the Blue Pigeons Hotel, whose slate grey coloured exterior radiates a boutique contemporary feel that does not disappoint.

Inside is a stylishly renovated vicarage dating back to the 19th century, which with beams, slate fireplace and original wooden floors is tastefully offset by antique chic shabby furnishings that convey light and space up to our heavenly Room 1. Airy and sumptuous we enter a suite of calm luxury with four-poster bed whose crisp white Egyptian cotton sheets lovingly contrast soothing pale green cushions designed to relax amidst the countryside breeze that gently sways the high ceilinged snow-white cotton drapes. Elegantly modern with luxurious fabrics, separate seating area and twist of mod cons including 50-inch flat screen TV, we indulge this harmonious bridal suite come family room, whose subtle treats come in the form of nautical tissues and distinctive Duck Island bathroom pleasures.

Dinner in the Brasserie is a must with authentic red brick walls, pendant lighting and informally elegant tables, which delicately ornamented with purple irises, the symbol of love, and gypsophila make this a fine-looking venue for celebrations, weddings and all things special. A menu of fine local produce arrives in the form of pan-fried salmon fillet, which on a fertile mass of crushed potatoes, peas and salsa verde sets the careertraveller sail to Dover’s legendary White Cliffs, the symbol of Kent’s channel port with busiest shipping lane in the world!

Strolling the dramatic National Trust cliff top walk is a prairie – like trail of panoramic wildlife that presents itself in the grassland form of Exmoor ponies and butterflies to sky high peregrine falcons and seabird kittiwakes who breed amidst the chalky rare limestone cliffs. Rolling green hilltops sprayed with sunshine yellow flowers from wild cabbage and buttercup looking horseshoe vetch is a paradise of flora that wildly contrasts Dover’s dramatic past of invasion from the Romans to return of the British troops from Dunkirk.

Looking down from the cliffs awaits a treasure chest of English heritage that spans from the bronze age and Saxons to WWI and WWII to present at Dover Museum, which founded in 1836 is one of Kent’s oldest museums.

In the heart of Dover town stands this clever little haven of archaeological and historical facts and relics that include the 19th century avant-garde and exotic Cabinets of Wonder African Lion Head to giant Polar Bear. Brought back by intrepid explorer Dr Reginald Koettlitz in the 1894-7 Jackson-Harmsworth Artic expedition we discover the Victorian period of the exotic, educational and curious to internationally acclaimed Bronze Age Boat, the world’s oldest known seagoing boat! Inside the Bronze Age Boat Gallery lays a prehistoric boat, which allegedly over 3000 years old was found by construction workers nearby in 1992.

Feeling hungry and inspired we venture down to the De Bradelei Wharf for some maritime shopping and discover Cullins Yard, a quirky shipyard turned restaurant for some good old fashioned fish ‘n’ chips, the type that comes with mushy peas and a good locally brewed ale next door! Whilst inside is a tardis of nautical artefacts, outside is a handsome marina of alfresco leisure boasting nearby harbour and impressive promenade between clean shingle beaches and WWII memorials

As the evening sunset captures the Disney cruise ship departing for European shores we return home, but not without a breeze through Sandwich whose stunning Secret Gardens and encompassing medieval buildings mark Dover an intoxicating neighbourhood of sensational coast and country gems.

A farewell drink on the never-ending lawn at the Blue Pigeons Hotel is an evergreen finale to one of many future trips to Kent.

Further information:
Dover Tourist Board (official)
The Blue Pigeons
English Heritage Dover Castle
National Trust White Cliffs of Dover

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Wrest Park, Bedfordshire April 2016

by Emma Bumpus on May 4, 2016

St George’s Day takes careertraveller and family to Bedfordshire where knights, gladiators and medieval storytelling bring history alive in verdant parkland teeming with architectural eye candy!

Greeted by jesters, minstrels and glittering armour fit for dragon slaying we are engulfed in the park’s celebrated St George’s Festival, a plethora of Saxons, Normans and chain mailed soldiers preparing for combat. Meandering round the tents of the travelling War of The Roses Federation, a medieval group of re-enactors is an authentic insight to the middle ages which in 92 stunning acres of 18th century gardens echoes 2016 Year of The English Garden.

Beneath the sky-scraping trees that sway towards the banks of the romantic French style Orangery, once home to orange trees bought from King Louis Philippe of France, we inhale tree-lined paths and sweeping lawns sprinkled with picturesque statues, all 40! Prudently situated in wide-open spaces offering far-reaching vistas of the Bowling Green House we are swamped in history and a melee of Georgian falconry, 1066 battle drama and medieval jousting in an arena of pure English heritage.

As we pass Lady Jemima’s horse riding through the park we are spellbound by this event that entertains the whole family amidst the gunpowder, troubadours and medieval clad members who fascinate us with their woodturning, weaving and fire range cooking.

Every corner of this leafy green paradise presents living history through the ages, which built for pleasure, style and beauty presents a treasure trove of art and architecture dating back to 1042-66 and the de Grey family. Outside the Grade-I-listed Wrest House we step into the world of Thomas Earl de Grey, whose love of French and Italian architecture lives on with stunning French Parterre and Italian Gardens. Curvaceous, symmetrical and vividly ornamental flower displays bring joy to the kids who enjoy darting along the zigzag paths outside this imposing chateau like mansion, that once served as a military hospital and convalescent home during the First World War.

Inside is a sumptuous labyrinth of decorative rooms detailing ornate furnishings and family portraits that encircle an elegant entrance hall with beautifully positioned doors leading the eye vertically down to the spectacular canal named Long Water. Perfectly aligned amongst an orderly mass of woodland stands the 17th century Pavilion, which built by architect Thomas Archer introduces baroque architecture with rotunda views at the top of this former hunting house.

As we climb the three-floored spiral staircase beneath an illusory painted ceiling enhanced by Louis Hauduroy in trompe l’oeil, we capture 6 bay window views of the garden that continues our trail of monuments and abundant landscape. Whilst the kids revel is finding a woodland Dog’s Cemetery whose headstones date back to 1830, the adults discover the ‘Capability’Brown Column that commemorates the landscape gardener’s transformation of the gardens in 1758-60.

Ready for some gladiator action we retreat to the main arena but not without noting the elegantly arched Chinese Bridge and Temple, that add yet another dimension to the parkland that exhibits loving traces of 21st century conservation and revitalisation.

Amidst the sword fighting cheers of the crowds who anticipate the battle of St George versus The Dragon finale, Wrest Park remains a cultural oasis, a fertile wonderland and a magnificent backdrop for all things special and best of all, a great day out for the family.

Further information:

Wrest Park
Events at Wrest Park

English Heritage

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Audley End House & Gardens, Essex March 2016

by Emma Bumpus on April 6, 2016

Spring takes careertraveller and family to Essex where a skyline of architectural silhouettes and quintessential English Garden bring history alive.

Driving in to this treasured estate is a rather noble affair as we pass the stately Lion Gate and Lodge, whose Coade stone Howard Lion statue commemorates the barony of Sir John Griffin Griffin. It is here we step into a natural style landscape of green-fingered gardens with fairy-tale sweeping lawns, auspicious flowerbeds and majestic trees that accentuate Audley End House, a Jacobean mansion house that defines English heritage.

On the foundations of a 12th century Benedictine monastery ‘Walden Abbey’ we experience an Eastertide palette of daffodil yellow, serpentine blue and evergreen parkland that celebrates the work of landscape gardener Lancelot Brown, nicknamed ‘Capability’. Amidst verdant acres of of wide open park and woodland we encounter an artistic show of seasonal spring gardens bursting with new growth, colour and variety, the type that marks 2016 the 300th anniversary of Capability Brown and Year of The English Garden.

Strategically placed specimen trees provide a trail of statuesque and harmonious composition that leads the eye pleasantly around picturesque contours of rural Essex countryside. Cloud Hedge, shaped in the form clouds, is a heavenly textural mass of 200-year-old box and yew, which goliath in size cleverly shields the estate’s domestic offices.

Symmetrically poised stands the celebrated Cedar of Lebanon, which planted by ‘Capability’ in 1760, provides a timeless elegance with its delicate spreading shape. Complementary neighbour Lime Walk is a romantic path evocative of late spring lime scented lime trees that sway towards the eye-catching Adam Bridge. Beautifully designed by architect Robert Adam, 18th century stone curves offer soft light, texture and renowned “Capability’ vista of vistas that glides across the shimmering river Cam with serpentine lake and signature rolling hills. Stunning!

With gardens that beckon picnic and play we refresh at the Cart Yard Café and whilst the little one rides on the wooden horse we discover the house has it’s own Victorian Stable Yard with horses and groom who emerge from the Kitchen Garden. Entertaining, educational and functional stands a beautiful walled organic garden, another dimension to Audley End with lovingly restored Bothy, vine house and orchard boasting over 120 varieties of unusual East Anglian apples and fruit.

Capability’s fashionable use of art to heighten nature lives on with the Palladian Bridge, which designed by Robert Adam sits in a tranquil glade of 50 shades of green or Elysian Garden, careertraveller favourite. Garden after garden is a step into England’s story where the likes of Thomas Lord Audley converted the monastery into a house, which over centuries has entertained nobility and provided training headquarters of the Polish section of the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War.

Inside is an abundance of history that unfolds in the shape of opulent furnishings, private painting collection and artefacts depicting 18th, 19th and 20th century living. Service Wing areas of the 1880s present a Scullery, Pastry Larder and huge Kitchen where traditionally dressed maids prepare seasonal dishes of the Victorian era. The Wet and Dry Laundry with wooden washboards and mangles provides a stark contrast to the grand reception rooms and Saloon which takes centre stage for it’s huge informal space, large sofas and original 17th century ceiling panels teeming with sea creatures!

Audley End House is a palace of infinite culture wrapped up in lovingly restored relics and sophisticated interiors that unravel the pastimes and chronicles of the Braybrooke family. Two sky scraping libraries filled with gilt binding books and a drawing room displaying Canaletto’s famous Venetian scene The Bucintoro at the Molo on Ascension Day are the icing on the cake as we wander through the ground floor Adam Rooms detailing lavish gilding and fine neoclassical ceiling. Restored to their 1770s appearance we embrace formal 18th century living and admire the symmetrical pillars in the Dining Parlour whose clever design reveals a room within a room and a scene set for ladies who parade pre dinner.

Our tour ends on the second floor in the recently restored Nursery, a suite of rooms brimming with inventive toys that once entertained the eight children of the 3rd Lord Braybrooke and wife Lady Jane Cornwallis. Corner to corner is a gala of play and recreation with wooden rocking horse and original Doll’s House, a regency inspired masterpiece created by the children of the house. Sublime!

Audley End House and Gardens are a magical day out most worthy of a weekend break in Essex, can’t wait to return!

Further information:

Audley End House & Gardens

English Heritage

Visit Essex

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5 Balconi Bed & Breakfast Catania, Sicily

by Emma Bumpus on March 7, 2016

The vivacious streets of Catania boasting labyrinth alleyways beautified with elegant palazzos and sunbeam honey trap balconies unlock an azure-sky gateway to pure Sicilian adventure for careertraveller and family.

A plethora of sweet smelling shops brimming with everyday merchandise, cafes and pizzerias are authentically interrupted with the hubbub of Italian vespas, leading us fashionably to our palatial city break oasis.

Centrally located and just a 10-minute taxi ride from the airport we arrive outside our 18th century palazzo, whose wrought iron balconies ooze charm, history and grand hospitality. From the courtyard we take an elevator to the second floor and enter an elegant space of warmth, colour and tradition with subtle artefacts that hint we are in the land of Sicily.

Greeted by flamboyantly modern Sicilian tiles that flow infinitely below a grandiose high ceiling (all 5 metres), we observe the wall mounted 3 legged ‘Trinacria’, whose central medusa symbolises Sicily and begin our Sicilian experience. Hosts Rob and Cristina are a bilingual duo of English and Sicilian origin who bring a cultural zest to our stay, adding extra value to our B and B sojourn. Genteel and experienced, they provide a quick tour of amenities that include an espresso machine, guest fridge and impressive library of tourist information, the type that makes sightseeing effortless.

Whilst the kids explore this colourful and distinguished haven speckled with native Sicilian arts and crafts, including photographs and hand crochet tablecloths, the adults indulge a caffeine infused break on the balcony that offers sublime snow capped views of Mount Etna. Amidst the rooftops of Sicily’s second largest city, we study Catania, which set between the Ionian Sea and highest volcano in Europe, ripples with wanderlust history and adventure.

Our light and airy guest rooms are cleverly designed boudoirs with invitingly fresh pastel coloured walls that lead the eye tastefully towards chandeliers that hang prettily above sumptuous crisp white linen clad beds. Notably firm mattresses, built for those who appreciate heavenly slumber, defines a light and airy space where Catania’s sun infused rays bounce from the Il Padrino poster to encompassing chic old and new furnishings. From armoire and Venetian style dressing table to sangue red sofa, everything is stylishly placed, including the sweeping golden drape that skilfully masks the interconnecting rooms.

Breakfast is a celebration of colour, compassion and culture brimming with garden-fresh produce from the local food market. Freshly squeezed orange juice is a visceral trip through Etna’s mildly climatic orange groves that blossoms around the beautifully cured, salami, mortadella and careertraveller favourite ‘mafalda’, sesame encrusted ‘pane’. Baked traditionally in a wood-burning oven with Sicilian semolina flour, this crisp and nutty flavoured bread is an artisanal gateway to ‘la cucina siciliana’ that promotes the taste of travel.

On a journey of aromas we sample the exuberant historical centre by foot in 5 minutes and meet our guide Anna of LemonTour who provides an enlightening walk around Catania’s monuments. Piazza Del Duomo is a baroque nucleus of architectural delights with encompassing cafes buzzing with street life around the legendary Elephant Fountain, Catania’s good luck symbol. From the UNESCO world heritage St Agata Cathedral we trace the roots of Via Etna, Catania’s main cobblestoned street, which poignantly made with lava stone once lay in ruins after the 17th century earthquake.

Etna’s gaze remains focussed as we take the stone lava staircase next to the Carrara marble Amenano Fountain, which built by Italian Sculptor Tito Angelini in 1867 leads us through the famous fish market La Pescheria. Amidst this holy fish temple we discover the vibrant gastronomy of Catania that sparkles with ice displayed swordfish and silver pilchards in narrow streets simpatico of travellers. Fragrant eateries and overhead balconies lined with multi-coloured laundry are a contrast to the neighbouring Ursino Castle and Benedictine Monastery that hang in the shadow of Etna.

An escorted Etna Off Road tour is unmissable with a 4 x 4 jeep that captures all this volcano has to offer. Kids in tow, we traverse real ‘bucket list tour’ terrain that depicts tales of emotion and eruption across the centuries. Our ascent reveals a conflicting mix of lava flow destruction and renewal in the form of lava covered houses to trees showing signs of new growth. It is at the Southern slope Silvestri Craters that we experience moon-like volcanic scenery. Sublime!

In summary, energetic, ancient and passionate Catania is an alluring city crammed with flavours that command more than one bite. Our final 5 Balconi Bed & Breakfast breakfast is a dolce feast of feather light cornetti (croissants) filled with cioccolata and almond cream, beckoning a return trip. Look out Sicily!

Further information:

Details of 5 Balconi Bed & Breakfast can be found by clicking on their website 5 Balconi Bed & Breakfast

Further information about Lemon Tour excursions of Catania and Etna can be found on the link Lemon Tour

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Christmas spirit twinkles with London magic as careertraveller and family step into West End theatreland and applaud Raymond Briggs’s classic winter wonderland story of childhood dreams and adventure.

A step inside the Peacock Theatre is a colourful journey of culture and contemporary art form, the type that lures half a million people to see a performance at Sadler’s Wells theatres each year.

Instinctively born from a belief that ‘great art should belong to everybody’ we time travel back to the 20th century when Lilian Baylis, the so-called grandmother of national theatre, fundraised to rebuild Sadler’s Wells for all.

Inside the auditorium, a chain of charismatic international dance begins with an ingenious snow globe stage bursting with playful props that carry us across storyline mountains, as far as the North Pole! Snow capped trees and giant Christmas baubles fill the air with seasonal glee ready for a magical twist of ballet, swing and tango, the fluffy kind that rocks from the rafters!!

Through the eyes of a child we grasp a winter’s night tale that starts with an elevated bed encircled by show stopping snow whose flakes beckon orchestral play and fun filled comedy. A clever opening scene of a boy waking up to snow and rolling a snowball left to right stage brings snowman magic alive to a jam-packed audience of ecstatic families.

Whilst the snowman grows his character evolves from picture book to performance as Sadler’s Wells present the Birmingham Repertory Theatre production. A dazzling chocolate box assortment of characters unravels 105 minutes of sophisticated symphonic skill and dance which takes us to the sky and back!

Superb glittery ice lighting effects with frosty shades of ultraviolet lavender and indigo blue narrate this enchanting tale with graceful dance story choreography that floats upon composer and director Howard Blake’s legendary musical score.

Festive clad carol singers bring warmth and cheer against this this chilly polar backdrop, leading us skilfully indoors through a series of Brigg’s creative illustrations that capture the essence of childlike dreams and fantasy. Wonderfully executed sketches of snowman goings-on reveal sprightly eye-catching costumes performing comical acts of endearing friendship and cheeky antics from the kitchen to bedroom.

Generations of children fill the playhouse with laughter and smiles as surprising pieces of fruit, namely pineapple and coconut, display cleverly adapted dance routines of childish exploration. Madcap dressing up and furtive household play brings tuneful highs and lows, exposing short burst scenes of engaging prop and musical comedy teeming with snowman sentiment.

Hot and cold is a wacky ride on dad’s motorbike to a chill in the freezer where the showpiece “Walking in the Air” takes music and art on a flight through the sky. Written in 1982 by Blake for the animated film based on Briggs 1978 book, we watch this charming aerial act celebrate it’s 18th consecutive season at the Peacock Theatre.

Across the seas, the Arctic is an explosion of colour and diversity presenting Snowmen from Scotland to China with gleaming authentic costumes. From reindeers and toy soldier to captivating ice princess, energy and talent present a hand clapping show that makes Jack Frost heroic. Mesmerised by the variety of dancers and moves we swoon at the Fred Astaire Snowman, whose groove leaves an everlasting rhythm.

As Father Christmas delivers sleigh treasure we applaud the arts at Sadler’s Wells and smile in the knowledge that The Snowman lives on. Brilliant!

Further information:

Details of The Snowman performance and tickets can be found by clicking on the website Peacock Theatre.

General Information about Sadler’s Wells theatres and performances can be found on their website Sadler’s Wells.

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Palace life peaks as Careertraveller and family time travel seven centuries in the footsteps of royalty, celebrating 500 years of drama, romance, art and architectural extravagance.

Base Court is a cobbled courtyard story of medieval luxury, the type that once accommodated and entertained diplomats and court members in chambers furnished with fine silverware, fireplace and ensuite ‘garderobe’ or private toilet.

As we gaze upon this original geometric stone and red brick building we enter the Tudor age world of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey whose striking gothic windows and chimney clusters introduce this bishop’s palace purpose built for King Henry VIII.

Amongst a labyrinth of stone archways adorned with Roman faces the children revel in the palace’s second gateway Clock Court, a spacious piazza of a playground full of regal treasure. Beneath the stately pillars of Sir Christopher Wren’s baroque walkway we capture the king’s complex Astronomical Clock whose gilded dials shimmer with opulence and science.

As the great bell tolls above we seize traces of this late medieval manor house that stands testament to two palaces from Tudor to baroque and complete our courtyard journey in the final Fountain Court, a stunning three storey quarter of cloisters and royal apartments. A promenade below the arches provides a heroic display of mythical and classical stone-carved heads of creatures and gods including Hercules, who spins us sweetly towards the rather mysterious Chocolate Rooms.

Indulgent thoughts of hot chocolate made by personal chocolate maker Thomas Tosier for King George 1 (1714-1727) and George 11 (1727-1760) bring us into the Georgian era. Original 18th century fixtures display beautifully restored handcrafted chocolate serving equipment, which including chocolate porcelain cups re-created with surviving excavated remnants, brings the palace alive after 300 years!

Insatiable thoughts of cocoa lead ingeniously to the King’s back stairs where we continue our sugar fuelled trail up the majestic King’s Staircase, a decorative wrought iron balustrade that sweeps us into ceremonious art, history and baroque architecture. Each marble step unravels theatre-like views of Italian painter Antonio Verrio’s story of Alexander The Great and Julius who compete for a place with the gods, banqueting on the ceiling above!

Lashings of power, wealth and politics take us on a lavish adventure through William III’s State Apartments where of 17th and 18th century armoury in the Guard Chamber displays circa 3000 pistols, bayonets and swords booms with military antiquity.

Imposing portraits, chandeliers and tapestries, made for King Henry VIII present themselves in the form of The King’s Presence Chamber, a refined reception room fit for meetings to Great Bedchamber, an opulent private space brimming with ornate wood carvings and lofty painted ceiling.

Palatial and breathtaking, East Front takes centre stage with a central fountain that sparkles amidst the encompassing River Thames. Detail, beauty and nature engulf this special garden of England, which abundant with seasonal colour, wildlife and harmony reveals 16 gardens. With a dash of Capability Brown’s Great Vine to Henry VIII’s former hunting ground Home Park, we get lost amongst stretches of boulevard lime trees and look for 300 fallow deer and feel rather blessed to be here.

Hampton Court Palace is a magnificent warren of entertainment bursting with delectable secrets and surprises including winter ice-skating rink, whose West Front appearance brings a festive glamour to the palace celebrating it’s 500 year anniversary. An atmospheric glide upon the ice is a grand affair of history and fun all wrapped up in celebratory pre Christmas cheer, the type that deserves an après skate spice infused glass of mulled wine in the Ice Bar and Café!

As day becomes night neon lights accentuate the palace’s towers and turrets that sparkle with historical optimism beneath the stars. As the music plays we skate into the 21st century amongst the penguins and feel proud to slide in the footsteps of Olympic Gold medallist ice skater Robins Cousins MBE. Hampton Court Palace has it all!

Further information:
Historic Royal Palaces-Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace Ice Rink

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Margate, Kent October 2015

by Emma Bumpus on November 6, 2015

Autumn brings a coastal family trail of old and new treasure that opens the gates to a great British seaside pleasure dome that does Kent proud.

Greeted by golden Margate Main Sands we enter a world of international beachcross racing, traditional amusement arcades and distinguishing south-facing Margate Harbour Arm . It is from this sparkling hub of vibrant eateries, galleries and bronze sculpture Mrs Booth that we become acquainted with artist JMW Turner from this picturesque anchorage.

Guided by the seashore Viking Coastal Trail we uncover sunny bays bursting with Blue Flag Awarded beaches that beckon the likes of ice cream, bucket ‘n’ spade sandcastles, sea bathing and family friendly seafront promenade bars and cafes.

Lower promenade views introduce dramatic chalky cliffs, shimmering English Channel and impressively infinite Kent coastline, which all 350 miles long, radiates watersports, beachcombing and all things “holiday”.

Cliftonville transports us back to bygone times where past meets present with remnants of Margate’s 1920’s Lido, which reminiscent of fashionable alfresco marine pool and underground warm seawater baths echoes scenes of popular 1950s beauty pageants with deckchair bingo!

Amidst the Viking adventure playground, holiday developments and emergent art galleries we take a genteel upper promenade stroll past the verdant Winter Gardens, a flashback to the Edwardian period where high-class entertainment helped label Margate ‘London’s playground’. Concert Hall to theatre this pavilion erupts with history, echoing performances by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in 1947 to The Beatles in 1963.

Walpole Bay, careertraveller favourite, smacks of unspoilt sandy beach and 1930s character with Grade II Listed open-air seawater bathing pool that continues to revive, rejuvenate and treat locals, day-trippers and holidaymakers galore.

Up above the cliffs in Fifth Avenue is the pièce de résistance Walpole Bay Hotel, an alluring titanic architectural jewel that oozes period charisma, romance and a love that vibrates outside in. From the resplendent garden infused veranda with old-fashioned wrought iron posts and Edwardian marble monochrome floor tiles through to Museum and Napery Art Gallery, nothing is too much for guests seeking pure vintage class and relaxation.

Top to bottom is an imaginative labyrinth of period artefacts and artwork that chronicles the hotel’s lifespan. 20th Century history unfolds with three floors of vintage relics that awaken the senses with original Maid’s Scullery, epoch costumes and lashings of Art Deco influence. Corridors of art reveal famous napkins that feature guest impressions and affectionate hotel memoirs, the type that charms them back year after year.

Each one weaves a thread of theatrical curiosity that soars to third floor heaven where luxury and glamour heighten in the form of Hair and Makeup Salon, home to avant-garde award-winning hairdresser, Jerome Hillion. Boldly ‘Parisian boudoir’ and stage-like is a parlour to please, which offering high-end one to one services suggests Walpole is a film in the making. Sublime!

Back inside the hotel’s original 1920s Otis trellis elevator is a golden age journey down to Reception, which revels in period paraphernalia. Careertraveller darlings are mahogany grandfather clock; chaise longue and endearing 1930s valise brimming with hotel archives.

Whilst beautifully preserved guest records laced with red ribbon take us back to 1914 when the hotel was first built, stellar hospitality comes in the form of hotelier and proprietor Jane Bishop whose entrepreneurial journey tributes tender teenage jaunts to Walpole Bay in the 1960s. Jane recalls how her lifelong nostalgia for the hotel, which closed in 1989, led her and her husband to buy and restore this iconic building in 1995 as part of a joint 25th silver anniversary wedding present/project. Remarkable!

Twenty years on, Walpole Bay Hotel shines as a 21st century beacon that epitomises pure inspiration and reflects a current renaissance of Margate’s classic seaside heritage that sparkles with vitality and redevelopment. Freshly upgraded bedrooms boasting contemporary makeovers still echo times of a bygone era with framed samples of original 1920s wallpaper and Cast Iron Tiled fireplaces, oozing elegance, style and extravagance.

Tastefully exuberant and educated we saunter round the Edwardian Restaurant in admiration of local artwork and pieces by artist Tracey Emin, which situated stylishly near the pianist heightens traditional Sunday lunch and vintage Walpole Cream Tea with full flavoursome home cooked love like no other.

Walpole leaves it’s mark with a final Magical Margate walk around the town’s historical centre that offers distinctive gems from Shell Grotto, a 4.6 million-shell enigma to seafront shelter Nayland Rock Promenade Shelter. As we perch upon this eminent Grade II Listed late- Victorian /Edwardian haven overlooking Margate Main Sands, we people watch in the eyes of author TS Eliot who used the 20th century literary hide as a coastal convalescent backdrop for his famous poem “The Waste Land”.

From the Victorian Police cells of Margate Museum to seafront Turner Contemporary, a prominent UK art gallery that celebrates artist JMW Turner’s love of this British coastal haven, it becomes clear that Margate is a creative art magnet. Dotted with independent shops, new businesses and Georgian, Regency and Victorian architecture in the shape of Love Lane we retrace the cobbled steps of the artist who spent his school years here.

Dreamland Pleasure Park, or ‘Hall By The Sea’ is a helter skelter slide of unadulterated retro fun bursting with pinball and space invaders to good old-fashioned fairground rides, including newly restored Grade II Listed Scenic Railway, Britain’s oldest surviving rollercoaster. Rebuilt and partly repaired with original timber that lovingly encircles the park is a testament to Margate’s community who supported it’s revival after 12 years of closure to the public.

Thanks to private and public investment from Thanet District Council, Heritage Lottery Fund and Department of Media and Sport’s Sea Change Fund, Margate’s seaside playground is re-energised and brimming with sea spray entertainment.

In a snapshot, Margate is one giant rollercoaster of culture, coast and cool rejuvenation that has lots to look forward to.

Further information:

Walpole Bay Hotel
Dreamland
Margate Museum
Shell Grotto
Turner Contemporary

Details of Margate can be found on the official tourist information website Visit Thanet.

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