Photo Essay:  The Gardens of Chateau de Chaumont

Photo Essay: The Gardens of Chateau de Chaumont

The Chateau de Chaumont sur Loire doesn’t immediately impress you with its grandeur.  Instead you are struck by the country garden charm of the place.  Right behind the entrance office, there is a giant rabbit topiary.  Garden paths meander past contemporary art and view points onto  fields with wonderful views of the Loire Valley.  Almost as an afterthought, the Chateau de Chaumont appears on the side, a fairytale vision of silver-tipped turrets on top of alabaster walls.  Chateau de Chaumont was where Diane de Poitiers was banished after her lover died.  His vengeful wife, Catherine de Medici, wrestled Chateau du Chenonceau at long last from her rival and gave her Chateau de Chaumont as a consolation prize.  Nowadays the gardens of Chateau de Chaumont and the internationally-renowned Chaumont Garden Festival are the main draws for its visitors.

visiting Chateau de Chaumont and its gardens in the Loire Valley in France

The Chateau’s position, once defensive, now gives it amazing views.

The History of the Chateau

There has been a chateau on the site since 1000 A.D because it was a good lookout point over the border territories of two powerful noblemen. The chateau was part of the influential d’Amboise family holdings for hundreds of years until Catherine de Medici bought it in 1550.  The current Chateau de Chaumont architecture is a mix of the defensive style of architecture of medieval times and ornamental features dating from the Renaissance period.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The Chateau de Chaumont set like a jewel amongst the lawns.

When Catherine de Medici owned the chateau, she had elaborate parties at the chateau and hosted famous people, like the astrologer, Nostradamus and Cosimo Ruggieri.  If the legend is to be believed, Ruggieri showed Catherine the death of her three sons in a mirror at Chaumont.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The Catherine de Medici room has tapestries dating from the 15th century.

Eventually though Catherine forced her love rival Diane de Poitiers to exchange it for the grander Chateau de Chenonceau.  Diane de Poitiers only lived at Chaumont a short time even though.  As pretty as Chaumont is, it’s no Chenonceau.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

Beautiful stained glass windows.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

Catherine de Medici left behind her initials on the stonework.

In the 18th century, Chaumont was the beloved chateau of a French merchant who rose up the ranks, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray.  Le Ray was instrumental in providing French support for the American Revolution.  He housed Benjamin Franklin at one of his Parisian homes when Franklin was sent to Paris to drum up support for the American cause. Le Ray not only got the French King to cough up money but also provided money and equipment from his own funds. For example, he sent a gift of a warship to John Paul Jones who is credited with being a founder of the U.S. Navy.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The small chateau with extensive gardens is great for kids to visit.

Le Ray’s son moved to the United States and married an American.  The Chateau survived the French Revolution because it was seized by the French Revolutionary government from the absentee landlord.  Post-French Revolution, one of the sides got demolished so that you could get a better view of the Loire Valley.  Oh, the irony.

The chateau has an amazing panoramic terrace overlooking the Loire valley.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

A chateau with a view.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The Chapel had a modern art exhibit.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

My eagle-eyed kids spotted a Furby in the installation. Can you find it?

The Gardens of Chateau de Chaumont

The chateau is set in 52 acres of parkland which were created by famed 19th century French garden designer, Henri Duchene.  Until the time of Duchene, there was actually a little village of approximately 100 houses located right near the chateau.  The Chateau’s owners, the Prince and Princess de Broglie, had all the buildings demolished and then had the village relocated closer to the Loire.  Presumably, they had learned nothing from the French Revolution.

Unlike in the movie Poltergeist, even the village church’s cemetery was moved.  Duchene, then, created an English style manor-house parkland that affording fabulous views over the Loire Valley and was more befitting a prestigious residence. Taking four years and costing 560,000 francs at the time, the project was a massive endeavour.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The view of the Chateau from the gardens.

One of his Duchene’s innovative designs was the Rustic Bridge which spans a ravine between ornamental gardens.  The bridge is actually made of cement and then covered with iron and wood.  This creative idea brought the French concept of trompe l’oeil to a garden environment.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The fake rustic bridge really does look like the real thing.

In 1877, the Princess de Broglie instructed an architect, Paul-Ernest Sanson, to build her some stables.  These stables were considered the most luxurious in all of Europe at the time.  The de Broglie horses were seriously pampered and even had Hermes saddles.

Sadly for the de Broglies, the good times ended.  The Princess de Broglie blew through her fortune and the French government had to take over Chaumont in 1938.  Even impoverished, the Princess lived among the Ritz and the George V hotels in Paris and her own private Parisian apartment.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The great salon recreates the Belle Epoque style of the Princess de Broglie.

The Chaumont Garden Festival

Chateau du Chaumont is known for its international contemporary garden festival which started in 1992.  Running annually from June to October, it has approximately 30 gardens spread throughout the grounds of the chateau.  This year is the festival’s 25th anniversary.

The gardens are designed by artists and landscape designers from all around the world.  Over the years, the people who’ve worked on the 700+ gardens that have appeared in the festival is a who’s who of art and garden design.  They are internationally renowned big names like Shigeru Ban (Japanese architect), Peter Walker (American landscape designer who was part of the design team for the National 9/11 Memorial) and Ernesto Neto (Brasilian artist).

According to the festivals rules, the gardens are in bloom in 6 months with the best of the display supposed to occur in the autumn.  Approximately 400,000 people visit the garden festival every year.

The exhibits are kid-friendly.  It’s like a contemporary open-air art museum.  My kids really liked the garden of the mists which is a permanent exhibition. During July and August evenings, the gardens are lit up at night.

Every year the garden theme changes.  In 2016, the gardens’ themes are about the issues facing the world today – climate change, rising sea levels and the link between people and their environment.  The festival was overseen in 2016 by Maryanne Pinault, the wife of French retail billionaire, Francois Pinault.  The Pinaults know a thing or two about modern art because they have an extensive renowned collection of contemporary art which is housed in its own Venetian palazzo.

I thought the International Garden Festival was fantastic and will dedicate a separate post to them. Not only were they attractive, but they raised a lot of issues about our environment.

Photo Gallery: Gardens of the Chateau de Chaumont

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

Fields of flowers in the sunshine

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

More fields of flowers.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

So pretty. Sorry I had to throw in more flower photos.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

Lush flowers interspersed with lawns.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

My daughter thought someone had gone a little artsy/craftsy to the ends of these flowers.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

The gardens are very lush and immaculately maintained. Seating areas throughout enable you to rest and enjoy them.

The gardens of chateau de chaumont

One very noisy frog in the gardens. I can see why the French like to eat them.

Visiting the Chateau de Chaumont

The Chateau de Chaumont is open seasonally. You can easily spend a day here. There are several restaurants on site, too, which are only available to chateau visitors.  We liked the garden restaurant which serves sandwiches and salads in an alfresco setting with a pretty view.


Photo Essay: The Charming Town of Castelbuono in Sicily

Photo Essay: The Charming Town of Castelbuono in Sicily

When we first entered Castelbuono in the mountains above Cefalu, we thought it was the sleepiest town we had ever seen.  Not a person was on the street.  Most of the stores were closed.  Soon we realised, we had arrived in town for siesta.  Slowly around 4pm, the stores started opening and people started congregating on the streets again.  This photo essay looks at life in the town of Castelbuono in Sicily which doesn’t seem to have changed much over the centuries.

A photo essay of Castelbuono a typical small town in Sicily

The Castle

We had come to Castelbuono to see its castle which is supposed to be one of the best preserved castles in Sicily.  Unfortunately it was closed.  The next day was a public holiday in Italy and the castle decided to close at 1pm the day before the public holiday. Why not?  They hadn’t bothered to tell anyone though or even announce it on their website.  We weren’t the only one surprised by the sudden closure. I felt sorry for the tour guides who were leading groups who were stuck standing gaping at the large castle.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily

The imposing Castle that no one got to see the inside of.

The town itself grew up around the imposing castle which was built by a local prominent aristocratic family.  They made Castelbuono the centre of their landholdings.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily

The town is nestled in the mountains.

The Church of Matrice Vecchia

The church of Matrice Vecchio is pretty special because of its crypt. The crypt is covered in beautifully preserved frescoes from the 11th century.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily

The 15th century church is built on the ruins of a pagan temple.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily

An elderly priest is lead into the Matrice Vecchia.

The Sicilian town of Castelbuono

One of the beautiful frescoes in the crypt.

Shopping & Culture

Castelbuono in Sicily is known for the production of manna which is a tree resin that is used as a sweetener.

The Sicilian town of Castelbuono

A bonsai version of the Manna tree.

The owner of Putia told us that it is the same manna that was mentioned in the Bible as the food eaten by the Israelites as they wandered through the desert with Moses.  She wasn’t quite sure how the manna trees grew in the desert so make of that what you will.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily

Putia is an art gallery whose owner told us she has the only gallery for miles around.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily

One of the many ceramic stores in town.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily

The restaurants are small and make use of whatever outside space they can.

The town is also known for its panettone from Fiasconaro which is sweetened with manna.  The store started off making gelato made with snow from Mt. Etna.  The family then branched into other pastries of which the panettone has received international renown. They believe in using local products and making panettone the old-fashioned way (such as, for example, leaving it to rise for 36 hours!).  Of course, we tried both the panettone and the gelato and they were as excellent as their reputation.

The Sicilian town of Castelbuono

Panettone wrapped and ready to go.

Although this sweet little town is located in the middle of nowhere Sicily, it has its fair share of festivals to attract tourists (such as the Feast of St. Anne the local patron Saint in July, an Indie rock festival in August, a mushroom festival in October and another food festival in December).

Life on the Streets

With nothing to do for 4 hours until our dinner reservations at Palazzaccio, we hung out in the town square and engaged in some people watching over a glass of wine (or two).

The Sicilian town of Castelbuono

The town square in front of the Matrice Vecchia

My husband got the kids some playing cards and they were happily amused.

The Sicilian town of Castelbuono

Little Miss Cardshark

One of our favourite scenes was played out in front of the Pope Piux X Catholic Men’s Club.  The man on the left refused to engage with the other members who gathered in front of the club.  As the afternoon wore on, there were so many members in front of the club he had to go sit on the inside and look out the window just to be alone.  We had visions of him refusing to go home to his harridan wife but not wanting to hang out with the other men either.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily

The anti-social man at the Men’s Club.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily

We saw this lady talking to her neighbour across the street from their terraces.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily

A fountain in the centre of town.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily

Two men shooting the breeze on a bench in town.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily

One of the many religious shrines that you find in random corners in Sicilian towns.

Dinner at Palazzaccio

We had a wonderful dinner at Palazzaccio, a family-run restaurant, located on a pedestrianised street near the Matrice Vecchio.  Not only were our reservations for 7:30 pm but we arrived on time.  The restaurant had to turn on the lights when we entered! We were on our own until about 9pm when the regular customers showed up for dinner!  We had a variety of dishes and there were children’s meals on offer.

food from palazzoveccio in Castelbuono in Sicily

Clockwise from top: a selection of starters, pasta, horse meat with cheese and pork loin

A photo essay of Castelbuono a typical small town in Sicily

Getting To Castelbuono

Castelbuono is easy to reach by car from Cefalu in northern Sicily. It is at the end of a series of winding roads from the coastal motorway which can present a problem if you are prone to motion sickness.  From our villa outside of Cefalu it took approximately 45 minutes to reach Castelbuono.

We were told about Castelbuono by Angelo, the local representative of Massimo Villas, where we stayed.  In addition to the castle and the church, he told us about the panettone, the manna and the restaurant.  I’m not sure we would have found this charming town if we hadn’t had his local knowledge!

This post is linked up with Photo Friday and Travel Photo Thursday.


Pierced Wonderings
Visiting The Temple of Horus in Edfu on an Egyptian Ferrari

Visiting The Temple of Horus in Edfu on an Egyptian Ferrari

As the ship glided into the docking area, the warmth of the early morning sun promised another a beautiful day. After a hearty breakfast on board the Oberoi Philae Nile cruiser, we were setting out on a visit to the Temple of Horus in Edfu nearby.  Edfu is a small city of about 60,000 people located near Aswan on the Nile river valley.  A morning tour to the Temple of Horus meant we could return to the shelter of the ship before the sunshine turned fierce in the afternoon.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

From the top deck, I could see a couple of men were sitting in a cafe by the side of the road near a cluster of caleches in which the drivers were busy playing on their mobile phones.  As the ship pulled up beside the Nile bank, the caleche drivers sprang to life gathering in a (somewhat) orderly queue by the gate of the dock.  The process was hardly soundless because nothing in Egypt is done quietly.  The drivers were yelling, the passing cars were honking and even the bystanders had something to say.  It looked like a taxi rank. And, indeed it was.


Temple of Horus at Edfu

The Egyptian Ferrari Experience

I was delighted to find that we would be taking one of the caleches to visit the temple of Horus at Edfu.  Nicknamed Egyptian Ferraris, caleches are limited to two passengers. My friend Emily and I found ourselves with one of the younger drivers, Abdullah, and his horse, Ceasar. Abdullah was chatty and let us take turns sitting beside him up on the driver’s perch.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

Abdullah with his chariot of fire.

A frustrated F-1 driver, Abdullah negotiated the traffic clogged streets of Edfu expertly and quickly. Holding on tightly, we found the experience exhilarating. Nothing like the colourful chaos of Egyptian street life and traffic to clear away any morning sleepiness the double expresso had missed.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

I’d hold on tight if there was anything to hold onto.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

These guys are transporting cows in the back of a truck.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

This horse cart is going down the wrong way on this street. NB this was a two way street but presumably the driver wanted to get to somewhere on this side of the street.

For a gallery of more street photography from Edfu, check out my Steller story.

The Temple of Horus in Edfu

Located only a few kilometres away from the Nile, the Temple of Horace in Edfu is not only the third biggest in Egypt but also the best preserved.  The sands of time (literally) covered large parts of the temple so that only a small section at the top was left visible above ground.  People used the above ground parts for shelter which is why the roof is covered in the soot of thousands of years of open fires.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

You could see how high the rest of the city is in this photo. They dug thousands of years of sand away to get to the floor of the temple.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

The carvings are well preserved because they were sheltered underground.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

An outer courtyard where the Temple priests could perform ceremonies.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

The ceiling and the top of the pillars are caked with soot and grime.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

The holy relics were placed in this container when they were moved for ceremonies.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

The temple is linear and rises at it goes towards the holy of holies in the back. The commoners in the front can’t see into the holy of holies section but the High Priest and the pharaoh can see down.

A Tourism Industry in Flux

Tourism in Egypt is down 75% from the previous year. Having been to Egypt last April, I noticed for myself the difference. Everyone relying on the tourist industry in Egypt is suffering from the vendors selling tourist trinkets to the hotels and restaurants.  For locals in small towns such as Edfu, any visitor is an opportunity to make a sale.  They don’t know when the next set of tourists will show up.

In the outskirts of the temple, we soon found ourselves surrounded by hawkers who were mostly called Mohammed. Our group negotiated our way through Mohammeds 1 through 4 to find the temple itself near empty.

As we were entering a gaggle of school kids on a field trip were leaving.  Some of them shouted cheery hellos and then scampered away giggling.  Others were too busy comparing their lunch boxes and trading their contents.  The youngest of the children were dressed as princes with paper crowns and kohl-rimmed eyes.  They asked if they could take photos with us.  I can’t imagine why I would possibly be interesting for a photo but was happy to oblige.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

Kids on a school trip to the Temple of Horus at Edfu

After the school children left, we had the gigantic Temple of Horus complex to ourselves.  The decline in tourism has been a disaster for the economy, but it is a boon for tourists.  Obviously, for the budget-conscious there are great deals to be had. Even better, in my opinion, though is a chance to enjoy Egypt’s treasures in tranquility.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

A temple guard posing in front of the pillars. The bottom of the pillars are decorated with a symbolic carving of papyrus reeds.

It was an amazing experience to enjoy the grandiose carvings unmarred by the voices of a busloads tourists and their selfie sticks.  I imagined the solitude was similar to how the early visitors would have found the monuments prior to the onset of mass tourism.  You can stand around and examine details without someone in your way.

I know one of the major concerns with Egypt is safety. The Egyptian government seems to be on high alert in terms of security.  We saw security teams everywhere.  In addition, we were told about the out of sight security measures in place.  For example, the city of Luxor has a security command centre with dozens of camera screens capturing life on the streets and the monuments.

Egypt has been a popular destination for visitors in the past and, no doubt, will be so again.  I was delighted to have this window of opportunity to experience Egypt without hordes of tourists.

I travelled to Egypt as a guest of Cyplon Holidays. Four day cruises of the Nile River on the Oberoi Philae include visits to the temples with an Egyptologist and full board.  Flights to Luxor and returning from Aswan can be booked via EgyptAir.  For more information on Egypt, visit the Egyptian Tourism Authority’s website.


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Everyday Drama on South Beach in Miami

Everyday Drama on South Beach in Miami

We heard the Lamborghini’s roar before we saw the car itself.  Not that the black and gold car was hard to spot even in the sea of expensive cars awash along the sidewalks of South Beach in Miami.  Everybody’s head turned and the cell phones came whipping out of pockets.  Even the vanity license plate was obnoxious – screaming look-at-me by spelling out the word “winning”.  The owner was just one of the many people out to see and be seen on a sunday afternoon on South Beach in Miami.

South Beach Lamborghini

So much money for such an ugly car

I wondered who could own such a distinctive car.  A quick search on Google, showed that the last time this license plate showed up in an article it belonged to a New York divorce lawyer who owned a Lamborghini.  The article makes him sound like a real class act (similar to Charlie Sheen who is famous for his “winning” twitter hashtag).  It must be a truth universally acknowledged that a man who uses the term ‘winning’ without irony must be an ass.

South Beach, the lower bit of Miami Beach has its fare share of brash behaviour masquerading as sophisticated, tanned and toned flesh being flaunted and cash of dubious origins being flashed.  Yet, it also has its quiet charm of Art Deco architecture and everyday people enjoying a weekend in the sunshine.

A gallery of photos of South Beach florida

We spent a sunday on South Beach before our flight from Miami to London.  After a nice lunch, we hung out on the beach while the children played.  When my son got bored, I joined him for a walk along Ocean Drive to spot expensive cars.

Miami beach florida

How cool is this retro life guard stand?

Our game was not as exciting as walking around Chelsea in London on a sunday afternoon. We found a lot of Chevrolet Camaros and Ford Mustangs.  You just knew the owners of these cars would be friends with The Flamingo Kid.  Surprisingly, there were also a lot of Chrysler PT Cruisers.  Clearly, this crowd liked its American cars.

Miami Beach car

If you can’t go flashy and trashy, then go old-school.

My favourite part though was the kaleidoscope of colours around me.  The pretty faded pastel colours of the buildings and signs was enchanting. South Beach is also great for people-watching.

It was a whole world that was a photographer’s delight – vendors selling assorted stuff, people out walking their dogs, the beach volleyball games being taken very seriously by their players, the sunbathers on the beach itself and the many people having a leisurely lunch in the outdoor cafes.

Miami Beach

Confident in hot pink on a rental city bicycle. You go girl!

Here are my photos of a sunday afternoon on South Beach.

miami beach restaurant

Why yes that is a red Ford Mustang in the background.

South Beach volleyball

Beach volleyball is taken seriously here.

Sunday Afternoon in Miami Beach

An art deco beauty

Miami Beach art deco

I remember Barbizon as a shady modelling school in New York when I was growing up.

Miami beach art deco

Lime green and pink against the dark green of the palm and the blue of the sky.

Miami Beach dogs

A wall isn’t going to get in the way of our saying hello.

Miami Beach cocktail

Mojitos, the drink to have.

Miami beach florida

If you aren’t having a cocktail, go healthy with a fresh coconut.

Miami Beach florida

What a lifestyle! Cycling to the beach in your flip-flops to play some volleyball.

I had all my Miami stereotypes confirmed in one Sunday afternoon on South Beach.  Our Cuban restaurant even had some Miami Sound Machine music playing as we sipped mojitos in the warm sunshine.

We keep saying we will spend more time in Miami one of these days. Usually we are passing through Miami on the way to or from somewhere.  From the little I saw of Miami, it’s a city worth exploring in more depth.

This post is linked up with Travel Photo Thursday.

A Day in Key West Florida in Photos

A Day in Key West Florida in Photos

I’m on Periscope showing people a beautiful sunny afternoon in Key West when I hear my kids yelling “chickens!”  In the middle of scoping, I turn around with phone in hand.  Lo and behold, there are indeed chickens walking randomly around.  Some person on my feed wants to know if they are really chickens or maybe just squirrels. Hello?? I may be a city girl but I can definitely tell the difference between chickens and squirrels.

I thought I’d share our day in Key West Florida in photos so you can get a feel for the Southernmost City in the continental USA. It’s an unusual mix of honky-tonk, cultured, biker, gay, family-friendly, foodie and artsy.  You can probably find any tribe in which you feel comfortable in Key West.  Simply, I loved it.

Key West sunset

We saw chickens randomly walking throughout Key West.  This one was trying to sneak into Kermit’s Key Lime Pie restaurant for a slice.

Key West in Photos

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get a piece of Key Lime pie.

What is the best idea ever for families and restaurants?  Pools in the middle of the restaurant. Parents get to hang out while the children play.  I assume someone is watching those kids.

Key West in Photos

It’s a pool party!

You will be reminded constantly that Cuba is only 90 miles away by sea.

Key West in Photos

Key West in Photos

The red heel ready to drop on New Years Eve to ring in 2016.  We have, regretfully, decided not to attend because it’ll be too raucous a party for our children.

Key West in Photos

Key West tried to secede from the USA in 1982 when the US government set up a road block on the Florida Keys to try and stop drug smuggling.  The tourism industry got hit badly and Key West fought back by seceding (very) briefly.  They gave up on secession and the US government lifted the road block.  So, technically they succeeded in seceding and hence the motto.  Never mind the spelling. It’s Florida, after all.

key west florida photos

Key West has its own flag featuring (what else?) a conch

For some people, the original Margaritaville made famous by Jimmy Buffett is a place of pilgrimage.  It even has its own tourist souvenir store next door to the cafe.  You may remember I tried to find my own lost shaker of salt in Paris.

key west florida in photos

Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville
Searching for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame
But I know it’s nobody’s fault
Read more: Jimmy Buffett – Margaritaville Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The Sunset Celebration on the harbour is the best place to people watch.  The street vendors and artists provide hours of amusement long after the sun has set.

Key West in Photos

You can’t leave this city without trying some form of conch.

This guy is trying the business school approach to converting for Christianity.

Key West in Photos

Putting his online MBA to good use.

The Disney Cruise ships dock in the harbour. I bet they get the best sunset in Key West Florida photos.

Key West in Photos

And, some miscellaneous photos.  This city is diverse and so are my photos.

Key West in Photos

She sells seashells by the seashore.

Key West in Photos


Key West in Photos

Colourful buoys honour the fishing tradition

What do you think of my Key West Florida photos?  Is Key West somewhere you could see yourself going?