Travelling Around Central Spain – Part 1V Salamanca & Segovia

Salamanca in northwest Spain is famous for its ornate sandstone architecture, its university, the religious buildings and the beautiful expanse of the Plaza Mayor. I love the river there too and the old bridge.

Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

This was our second day in Salamanca and what a great place to celebrate my husband’s birthday. We knew we’d be heading to the wonderful Plaza Mayor square for lunch but before that we were looking forward to visiting the famous Art Nouveau & Art Deco Museum. We’d struck it lucky as on a Thursday, which it was, admission is free. I would have loved to have taken lots of pictures in there but it wasn’t allowed. The small bronze and marble scuptures are superb as are the many glass pieces intricately worked also the furniture and textiles. There’s a large collection of porcelain dolls, many of which were earily lifelike, not to my taste but superbly well made. This is one of the best collections of Art Deco and Art Nouveau muesums we’ve visited, so many pieces I would love to have in our little cottage!

Café de Lis in the museum.

Glad to say there was no restriction on taking pictures of the pieces in the cafe which needless to say were copies.

I don’t care if she’s not original, I’d still take her home.
The birthday Boy. The stained glass is modern but superb.

I also bought a few postcards in the shop but resisted the temptation to buy anything else. Copies or not of pieces in the museum, …they were all very expensive! Afterwards we walked into the city and headed for the beautiful square of Plaza Mayor surely one of the most beautiful squares in Spain?

On the lhs, an example of inscriptions seen on the walls in the city. On the rhs a prime example of the stunning, ornate, sandstone architecture.

Walking along the streets of this fine city is an absolute joy. I love the architecture and the colours of the buildings. Quite a few have inscriptions on the walls which are called vitores. Centuries ago they were written in bulls blood and I suppose due to the moderate climate in this area, the writing is still clear to see. There can’t be many better places to have lunch on your birthday than sitting at at one of the cafes in Plaza Mayor watching the world go by and enjoying a glass or two of wine.

An aperitif before our meal to celebrate my man’s birthday.

It wasn’t easy to drag ourselves away from the square but we had more sightseeing to do. First of all we headed for the University, All group tours include a stop at the entrance which is a wonderfully carved facade with a hidden frog in a small square. Everyone is of course chlallenged to find it. I waited a while to get a clear shot of the entrance but it didn’t happen, however the picture on the left gives a good idea of the intricate carvings. Thankfully the courtyard was very quiet. We didn’t go into the University which is the oldest in Europe as we were in need of a siesta.

The Plaza at the entrance to the Universidad Pontifica and the Courtyard at the University.

If the streets of Salamanca during the day are full of things to do and see, it’s a joy at night to wander along and admire the Gothic and Baroque architecture of some of the landmark buildings. By the evening too, the tour buses have left.

The Cathedral.
Two of the Romamesque style towers of the Cathedral.
Plaza Mayor – panoramic style.

It was our final evening in Salamanca so we couldn’t resist having one last look at Plaza Mayor.

We left Hospedium Hotel Casino which had been a perfect place to stay with its stunning views of the River Tormes. Next stop and the final one of this holiday, Segovia.

One of the many old bridges spanning the River Tormes, Salamanca.

Segovia is a World Heritage City in central Spain and like Toledo, the oldest part was built around and atop of a hillside with narrow streets which wind upwards towards the magnificent cathedral. It’s one of the highest cities in Spain. Finding our hotel wasn’t easy especially navigating through the medieval quarter but after asking a couple of locals we arrived outside Hotel Don Felipe. A quick dash in to get the directions for the hotel garage which was built inside the rock. Not easy to park in there but the lift took us straight into the hotel. Three flights of stairs later and we had a stunning view of the Alcazar from our balacony.

The Alcazar dating back to the 12th century and part of the city wall.

With only a short time to look around the city we started at the famous aqueduct. It’s one of the best-preserved Roman aqueducts in the world and measures 800 metres. It really is impressive and even more so when you climb up the Postigo steps at the side to look along it. No mortar was used in its construction with each block placed on top of the other. These Romans knew what they were doing. The grooves you can see at the side of the higher blocks were made by dragging and raising the blocks into position.

The Aquaduct in the centre of Segovia.

Leaving that area we walked through part of the Jewish quarter with very narrow streets and tall buildings. Some of the courtyards in this area are apparently well worth visiting but we didn’t have time. We decided to visit the Cathedral instead of the main Synagogue.

The Cathedral of Segovia
Incredibly tall pillars and stunning fan vaulted ceiling in the main nave with a superb cloister dating back to the 16th century.

This Gothic Cathedral dominates the town and was built between 1525 and 1577. The height of the pillars is immense and the cloisters are superb. Included in the ticket price of £6.17 is acess to the Bell Tower which gives you a 360 degree view over the city.

Part of the city with the backdrop of the snow-capped mountains.

One last visit we managed to squeeze in that afternoon was to The Alcazar Fortress. We found the interior quite disappointing unless you’re keen on armoury but the narrow climb up to the tower was worth it – great views.

The entrance to The Alcazar.

Apparently the Disney Corporation used the castle as the design for the film ‘Cinderella’. It does have a fairytale look about it.

It shows just how close the castle is to the edge of the city. Lots of fields.

After our visit we went back to our hotel for a well-earned rest. We’d booked a restaurant Asador David Guijarro for our last meal of the holiday which meant a walk through the city streets. What we hadn’t expected was coming across a procession marking the start of Semana Santa (Holy Week). It seemed like all the townspeople were involved. It certainly lasted quite a while so we were a litle delayed getting to the restaurant.

Quite a procession with an array of costumes, bands and religious groups.

Walking back through the quiet streets of Segovia was great. We’d had a good meal and now we were looking forward to going home. We’d had a great time touring central Spain. It’s difficult to say which city and village we’d enjoyed the most but probably Salamanca was our favourite city I hope all these Blogs have inspired you to go and visit, so much to see and do.

The quiet streets of night time Segovia.
A fairytale castle and a great view from our hotel balcony.

Christmas at Chatsworth.

Visiting Chatsworth at Christmas was something we’d wanted to do for a long time. This year we made it and we’re so glad we did. The house was an absolute delight and although I didn’t photograph every room, I hope these pictures show how beautifully decorated it was.

We decided to stay nearby for a couple days and found a good pub with a B&B nearby. The Chequers Inn at Froggatt Edge was a great choice. Reasonably priced rooms and excellent food with several choices of real ales. Breakfast was included and so we went for the ‘full English’ which set us up for the day. It’s well placed for Chatsworth, Haddon Hall and Eyam Hall, also Buxton and Bakewell and is right in the heart of the Peak District National Park fabulous for walking, climbing and sightseeing. On the way there we’d stopped off to look around the market town of Bakewell and although we didn’t have one of the famous puddings we did go to a tea shop which served huge portions of cake. We needed to have a browse around the town to walk it off.

The Chequers pub and the river Wye nearby.

After a substantial breakfast we decided to explore the area. We hadn’t got very far from The Chequers, half a mile down the road in fact, when we stopped by a bridge to take a few pictures and walk down to the weir. The reflections were stunning and right at the top of the ridge we could make out people walking along. Hardy souls! Unfortunately due to the trees at the side of the river and private land I couldn’t get a clear shot of the weir.

Monsal Edge

Our next stop en route to Chatsworth was to Monsal Head. You can probably tell that it was bitterly cold, far too chilly to stop for long! On the left of the picture you can just see part of the Monsal Dale Headstone Viaduct.

The famous Sheep Wash Bridge.

One more stop before we got to Chatsworth, this time at Ashford in the Water. The bridge is spectacular and apparently is the most photographed bridge in Britain. The river Wye runs underneath and sheep were washed in the clear waters before chemical dips were introduced. We didn’t have time to look inside the church which has relics dating back to the 1200s as our visit to the house was booked for 1.30 and time was getting on. There are lots of picturesque cottages here and so this little village is very popular with tourists. We were the only ones around that morning braving the icy weather!

When it comes to stately homes, Chatsworth has to be one of the greatest. It has the most fabulous drive which takes you through the estate and then runs parallel to the house so you get a clear view of it.

Our first stop was to find the loos which are in the old stable block. There’s an interesting water feature in the centre of the courtyard and for Christmas only, there was a Christmas tree erected over it. (The last picture in the Blog shows it all lit up). There’s also a very large gift shop (of course), a cafe and the Chatsworth restaurant. We just had time to grab a hot drink before going to the House.

Let the tour begin!

Rather than write lots about the House which you can check out on the website, I’ve added captions to the pictures. The only other thing to mention is that Chatsworth is home to the Devonshire family and has been passed down 16 generations. Buy a ticket before your visit as it’s timed entry and allow plenty of time to wander round to enjoy it.

Christmas decorations hanging on the windows along the hallway and a view of the courtyard.
The Chapel decorated with two large Christmas trees. The statue in the alcove is by Damien Hirst.
The mystical forest of the far north.
The main hallway.
The Magnificent Painted Hall.
Paper-crafted snowflakes hanging from the ceiling of one of the passage-ways. Main picture is the library and top right is a sculpted wooden decoration complete with a Christmas tree. This was hanging over the main staircase – a wonderful feature.
Top picture of presents and house on top of a very grand piano was in another library adjacent to the decorated dining room. Loved the Victorian theme to this room which felt very Chrismassy. There are two people in the bottom r.h. picture sat at a tall table drinking fizz. Intriguing!
It’s just getting dusk and as you can see from the picture of the fountain, the sun is setting behind the hills.

And then we reached the end of our visit to the house. It was about an hour before it was due to get dark so we wandered around the garden and then bought a mulled wine from the kiosk outside and a sausage roll before wandering round the other gift shop. A useful look round as my man bought me a handbag in there which I absolutely love.

Just caught the golden sun on the house.
Here we go on the Festive illuminated walk. Love the colours in the sky.
The Fountain just after sunset.
This was so effective. The colours changed as you walked along.
Another beautifully lit path.
The Cascade illuminated.
The trees were lit by the coloured lights along The Cascade.

As we left the Illuminated Walk we walked up to the Stable Block to take a picture of the tree lit up over the water feature.

Such a clever and effective idea.

If this Blog on our visit to Chatsworth has inspired you to go, you need to get your skates on. Christmas at Chatsworth runs until 8 January 2023. Of course there’s always another year.

Travelling around Central Spain Part III -Salamanca

Salamanca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and quite rightly so, it’s a beautiful city. We parked (for free) the other side of the River Tormes and walked across one of the main bridges into the heart of the city. And what a view! Ahead were the magnificent Cathedrals. There are two of them, joined together, but more about that later. Looking to our left we could see the Salamanca Roman Bridge with its twenty-six arches of which fifteen date from Roman times. All this and we hadn’t got into the city yet!

The Roman Bridge of Salamanca crossing the River Tormes and the city’s two cathedrals … Catedral Vieja de Santa Maria and Catedral Nueva.

Following the main route into Salamanca is one of the most interesting introductions to a city you could have. We skirted past the entrance to the famous Art Deco museum which was on our list to visit the next day. I took a picture of two of the imposing doors to the Old Cathedral as we passed plus one of Francisco de Salinas, who was a music theorist and organist. Hope he liked pigeons as they obviously like to perch on his statue.

Wonderfully carved doors guarding the entrance to the North and South transepts of the new Cathedral and a statue of Fransisco de Salinas musician and humanist.

We peeked into a few shops along the pedestrianised streets of Tor and Zamora. I couldn’t resist photographing this one with all the hams and sausages hanging up. These are a speciality of the region.

Quite a selection of cured hams and sausages.

We didn’t linger long walking through the main shopping area although we did stop to admire the tall buildings which line either side of the street. It was getting on for lunchtime and we were aiming for the magnificent Plaza Mayor, one of the grandest and most imposing squares in all of Europe. The square has been an important meeting place for the citizens and students of Salamanca for centuries. This is where you go to enjoy a coffee, a wine, meet a friend or take a stroll around the square passing all of its 88 arches.

Plaza Mayor

So many cafes to choose from, it had to be one in the sunniets corner. We sat and had a glass of wine, watched the people go by, had another glass of wine and then a bite to eat – just perfect. Having re-charged our batteries it was time to head off to visit Salamanca’s Cathedrals

I don’t know if this is unique but there can’t be many cities who can boast two Cathedrals joined together. One dates back to the 12th & 13th centuries whilst the ‘new’ one was started in the 16th century. The old cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria de la Sede is built in the Romanesque style and as well as many beautiful features it’s best known for the magnificent altarpiece of the main chapel dating from the 1440’s. We are kicking ourselves now for not actually going into either cathedral as we decided to do the rooftop tour linking the two and looking down onto the buildings. As you walk up there is a window you can peer through to see the old Cathedral but that’s as near as we got. I did get a picture with my 75-300 lens of the wonderful altarpiece at the end of the Main Chapel.

View of the Main Chapel and altarpiece in the Old Cathedral.

Carrying on, the views from the top of the old Cathedral are well worth the climb including being almost level with one of the many pairs of nesting storks you see at the top of buildings in Salamanca.

That’s what you call a bird’s nest!

A word of warning! If you are going up to the bell tower, avoid being in there late morning if you can. These are serious bells, many sets of them. We were there when they rang out the half-hour and take it from me …they are deafening.

One of the four sets of bells in the tower of the new Cathedral.

Once you come out at the top you walk along between the two cathedrals which is quite something along with the great views of the city not to mention the architecture of both buildings. The construction of the New Cathedral began in 1513 which is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin and again I’m sorry we didn’t go inside.

The walkway between the Old Cathedral and the New Cathedral.

At the end of the walkway we followed a passageway into the New Cathedral which gives you a bird’s-eye view of one of the three naves and some of the beautiful stained glass windows of which there are apparently almost a hundred. This is a huge Cathedral with eighteen chapels all elaborately decorated, a high and low choir and a huge Sacristy comprising several rooms.

One of the three naves in the New Cathedral.

Once outside we walked back to our hotel Casino Del Tormes which is right by the Tormes river and a short walk from the centre of the city. We were impressed with the hotel as it was very reasonably priced, the breakfast was excellent with lots of choice, it’s in a quiet area of the city near the iconic Roman Bridge and our room had a lovely view of the river.

That evening we headed backto the Plaza Mayor before finding somewhere for dinner. At nightime the city takes on a different persona. All the magnificent architecture lit up and the place alive, not just with tourists but local people drawn as they have been for centuries to the square.

Stunning by day …and night.
Baroque architecture, amazing detail.

I could have taken lots of pictures as the buildings looked wonderful all lit up. The one below is an attempt to show the expanse of Salamanca’s famous Plaza Mayor.

Plaza Mayor (panoramic shot taken on my mobile phone).

Walking back to the hotel after an OK meal but nothing special we had to smile at the sign outside what looked like a pretty ordinary small convenience store. Clearly they catered for all needs!

Get your snacks and other ‘delights’ here …

The next day we visited the Art Deco Museum. A good day to choose as on a Thursday it’s free admission. I took lots of pictures, so as I think this Blog is long enough, I’ll write a second one on the museum. I hope there’s enough in this one to show how impressed we were with the city of Salamanca.

Travelling in central Spain Part II

There are lots of things we love about Spain and getting ‘free food’ when you order a drink is one of them. We’d left Toledo going round by the scenic route just to have one more glimpse of the old city before heading off towards Oropesa.

We were taking our time and decided to leave the main road and head for a village to see if the castle there was open – it wasn’t. The ‘town’ itself, and this is the only way I can describe it, is very utalitarian in its layout. Row upon row of small, identical houses in a regimented grid. The factory was nearby and so this town was obviously purpose-built but seemed to lack any soul. As we only walked to the castle we might have got the wrong impression of the place but it wasn’t somewhere we wanted to linger.

A splendid castle on the edge of the town. (Perhaps its only feature)?

Back on the main road again and by this time we felt we needed a drink. We didn’t have to wait too long as we arrived at Talavera de la Reina. It’s a large city famous for ceramics. As we were driving round the ring road we spotted a cafe in the park. It was like an ‘Imbis’-style cafe you get in Germany. We only ordered two beers but along with that came a free tapas. It was so tasty, you really feel you’re getting lunch for nothing. It certainly set us up for the last part of our journey to Oropesa.

Free Food with a beer.

In Spain there are state owned luxury hotels that are usually located in historic buildings, Parador de Oropesa is no exception. This part of the 15th century castle was fully restored in 1930 and converted into the first Parador. It is a beautiful place to stay and is full of paintings and artefacts and lush furnishings. Price-wise it’s not as expensive as you would think. There are actually two castles on the site; the Parador being the 15th century Palace of the Alvarez de Toledo family and the other, looking more like a castle is a partially preserved Arab fortress built around the same time.

Parador do Oropesa
Parador de Oropesa (one of the castles).

I’m sure there are some great views from the parapet across to the mighty Sierra de Gredos but it was overcast and drizzling when we got up the next day and the visibilty was poor. Having said that we were given a warm welcome at the castle and were able to wander around on our own – we were the only visitors and paid a modest €1.50 each, the concession price which was great value. Every year in April the town celebrates “Medieval Days” with everyone, including riders on horseback taking to the streets to converge on the castle where much festivities take place and much alcohol consumed (by all accounts).

14th century castle at Oropesa
Castello de Oropesa

With the weather improving slightly we decided to stop at the medieval city of Plasencia. There is so much evidence of the importance of this area in those times. The old quarter includes ancestral homes owned by the noblemen and many signifiant religious buildings. Placensia has significant historical remains with ramparts enclosing most of the centre of the city. We were lucky that day as the weekly market was in full swing. All the produce was displayed beautifully on the stalls including one which was selling nothing but young vegetable plants to take home and plant in your own garden. Certainly takes the stress out of trying to grow your own from seed!

The only thing was, because there were so many stalls and shoppers it was hard to appreciate the main square which is lined with lots of splendid buildings including The City Hall. Placensia is well worth a visit. I wish now we’d gone into the Old and New Cathedrals but we did wander through several of the medieval streets with some interesting architecture. A good place for shops too.

Plasencia
Plasencia Market & part of its medieval walls.

And now it was time to head for the hills. Next stop, the little village of Candelario where we were staying the night. It’s a very historic place, steeped in history and is described as one of the most beautiful villages in Spain. We were definitely going to include this one in our itinerary. Because we were there before the summer tourist season got into full swing it was very quiet. Come the summer tourist season people flock here to marvel at the traditional architecture, learn more of it’s cultural history and enjoy the beautiful setting. In the winter its a thriving resort being near to a ski station. Candelario nestles between high mountains and driving the winding road up to it we were grateful to our hotel for giving us such precise directions. There’s a car park at the top of the village and it wasn’t far to trundle our cases down the uneven street to our hotel, Posada de Candelario. More about this sweet little hotel in a moment.

On the right is our hotel, Posada de Candelario.

Originally the villagers made their living mainly from cattle. They slaughtered the animals in the streets by the many fountains dotted here and there and the blood was washed away down the narrow watercourses which run alongside the ‘main’ streets. That way the village stayed clean and the fast flowing water was always crystal clear.

Some of the interesing things we spotted on our walk round Candelario. The poster is advertising one of the many festivals which take place in this region.

The picture below (top rh) shows half a door in front of the entrance to some of the houses. Most of the villagers would have had one outside their house which protected it from the snow but also prevented animals from going in or out of the house. Days gone by animals used to live on the bottom floor in order to provide warmth to the house, also it was a way to keep the house ventilated during the season of slaughtering (it lasted during all the cold months, from November to February). Pigs were kept too from which sausages were made and sold throughout Spain.

Top left – one of the many medieval fountains. Bottom right – a view from the car park of the snow-capped Sierra de Béjar mountain range. The three central pictures show the cosy sitting room at Posada de Candelario, our bedroom and one of the hotel cats on Reception duty.

Our hotel couldn’t have been more different from the one in Oropesa. Posada de Candelario is located in an old Casa Chacinera built in the XIXth centrury. The building is full of character as you can imagine with oak beams, wooden stairs to the first floor and beyond. We were given a very warm welcome by Enrique and it wasn’t long before we felt very much at home. A spacious bedroom with a lovely, cosy bed was perfect.

The drinks and snacks in the sitting room are on a help-yourself-basis; simply write down what you’ve had and it’s added to your bill. The cats come and join you to have a warm by the fire in the sitting room and the breakfast was excellent with lots of home-made jams, warm croissants and as many cups of tea and coffee as you like. One of the reasons for mentioning food is that we weren’t able to find a restaurant in the village that evening that was open. We found the only pub in the village that was open. The food was limited as was the landlord’s conversation but we had some local ham and cheese and a beer which was something. The savoury snacks back at the hotel were very welcome too. In the tourist season the hotel serves evening meals and by all accounts, reading the reviews, the food is excellent.

We enjoyed our short stay at this cozy hotel in Oropesa and would have liked to have lingered longer but our next stop was the famous city of Salamanca. This UNESCO World Heritage city is one of Spain’s most beautiful and we were so excited to get there. More about that in the third part of this Blog on our tour of Central Spain.

Travelling around central Spain Part 1

San Servando Castle in Toledo.

Toledo is an ancient city set on a hill above the plains of Castilla-La Mancha in central Spain. It’s the capital of the region and is a favourite tourist destination known for the mix of medieval Arab, Jewish and Christian monuments within its walled city. A wonderful maze of narrow streets which takes on a magical feel when night falls.

Bell tower of the Santa Isabel church adjacent to our hotel.

Driving to our hotel was interesting as the streets got narrower and narrower. The receptionist had emphasised that our hire car must be a small one otherwise we wouldn’t get through …how right she was! Nevertheless we arrived without scraping any paintwork at Hotel Santa Isabel which was a perfect spot to stay being right in the heart of the walled city. The picture above was taken from the roof terrace and is the church of Saint Isabel. I love the golden evening light on the campanile. Of all the places we stayed during our week in Spain this hotel gave us the best breakfast and the room and service was very good too. We highly recommend this hotel.

Main picture is the view from our balcony and the two pictures of the cathedral were taken from the terrace of the hotel.

On our first evening we wandered towards the Jewish quarter and had a tasty meal washed down with a carafe of reasonably priced vino in a very modest ‘locals’ restaurant .

Day two in the city and unusually for us we decided to go on the tourist train to see more of Toledo. It saved us from getting the car out from the very tricky hotel car park and it was an easy and inexpensive way to see the sights. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and as well as passing some of the landmarks in the old town the train takes you along the river Tagus with views of several interesting bridges and then goes up to the Mirador del Valle.

Some of the views taken during our trip on the tourist train.

From the Mirador del Valle you look down on the Tagus river which encircles Toledo. From the viewpoint where the bus stops for about fifteen minutes to give people a chance to take pictures you can see Toledo’s landmarks …the Cathedral, the Jesuit Church and the Alcazar. This is a just an amazing panorama. I can imagine that if you’re up there at sunset it looks even more breathtaking. We were impressed with the trip on the train; it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. We sat at the back which in our opinion were the best seats.

Once back in the city, we had a wander round the area just below the Alcazar as I wanted to take this view which is the last one in the set above. I love the the three roads snaking across and the castle in the background. I thought we might visit the castle but apparently it’s a youth hostel and as for the old fortress of Alcazar, well we gave that a miss as its a military museum now. It is an imposing building with its high walls and black pinnacles (?) on each of the four corners. Having decided we wouldn’t do the museum we settled for a couple of beers sat in the sun at a cafe opposite the Alcazar.

Medieval gothic architecture and (some of) the painted walls and domed ceilings.

After a bite to eat we headed to one of Toldeo’s main attractions, Catedral Primada or to give it its full name, Santa Inglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo. Do check out the opening times before you go. There is an admission charge but its well worth it. This medieval gothic religious edifice is majestic. There are several chapels to visit, also the Treasury and the Capitulary room and anteroom and you can climb the tower that’s 44 metres high to get great views of the city. Leave plenty of time for your visit.

Main picture is of part of the cloisters, the side pictures are of the main chapel.

I know it’s a personal observation but for me the most impressive part of the Cathedral is the Main Chapel with its enormous altarpiece which was started in the early sixteenth century and has been worked on by many craftsmen since. The gilding, the colours, the statues and the height is an incredible backdrop to the main altar.

Narrow streets of cobbled stones.

On our way back to the hotel we spotted a restaurant just round the corner that also did tapas. Stupidly we didn’t think we needed to book as it was a Sunday evening but when we went back later we found out it was a popular place and was fully booked. We should have gone earlier as in Spain people tend not to go out to eat until at least 9 o’clock. However we’d enjoyed exploring the back streets and although the main streets were fairly quiet the shops were open. Not sure anyone was interested in buying a Toldeo sword for which the town is famous but the shop selling marzipan was still busy. Along with these rather gruesome-looking swords, Toledo is famous for its handmade marzipan.

Fortunately we’d been told about a tapas bar, El Trebol on the other side of the city which had a good write-up so we weren’t surprised when we arrived that we had to queue to get in. The wait wasn’t too long and it was worth it. We were first of all directed to the bar so no problem there. We were served a drink very quickly and given two small plates of delicious ‘taster’ tapas as an appetizer. Before long we were taken to our table, chose four meat dishes from the menu and had the tastiest tapas of the whole holiday.

Sites of Toledo including one of the bridges spanning the river Tagus.
Puenta de alcantata one of Toledo’s landmark bridges with El Alcazar in the background.

Before we left Toledo we decided to re-trace the route of the tourist train and drive alongside the river. Two days in the city isn’t long enough to do justice to this former Spanish capital. We had wandered around the Jewish quarter but didn’t visit the synagogue. We hadn’t been inside the Mezquita Cristo de la Luz, a square-shaped mosque in the ancient medina and we hadn’t been to the Monastery of San Juan and any other monasteries for that matter. However we felt we had walked around most of the old town and done all we could in a short space of time. We never intend on our holidays to race around and when we’ve left things to do and see, well we can always go back.

Now it was time to move on and head across country to Oropesa. More about this Spanish town and others in the next part of this Blog.

Visiting Killerton, near Exeter.

After spending a few days in Cornwall, travelling back home, we arranged to meet friends who live in Exeter. One of them is a volunteer guide for the National Trust at Killerton an 18th-century house in Broadclyst just outside Exeter. The house and extensive grounds are open to the public and there’s plenty to see and do including a coffee shop in the converted stables so we decided to meet our friends there for lunch.

The house was owned by the Acland family up to 1944 and is open daily between 11am-4pm. Here is a link which will tell you more about The Family. The mansion is Georgian and once inside the decor and furnishings takes you back to the 1920’s and 30’s. As soon as we stepped through the front door into the entrance hall we were warmly welcomed by one of the volunteers who gave us a brief history of the house and also told us about the fashion collection held at Killerton. More about that later.

The Music Room.

The Music Room was our first stop and was most definitely 1920’s/30’s style. I loved the palm tree which dominated the room. Maybe there was also an Aspidistra plant but I didn’t spot one.

The Acland family photographs.

Whenever we visit stately homes I always look out for little details especially family photographs. These caught my eye as not only are the poses so typical of the time, the reflections in the table are great – it was obviously very highly polished!

The Library (Top right) & The Dining Room. Elaborate candle holder in the Drawing Room.

A library was an absolute must for all these well-to-do families and the Acland family was no exception. Th only difference at Killerton is that a good many of the books were ‘modern’, from the 20th century.

Family portraits displayed along the passageway.

Leaving the dining room we crossed a corridor which originally took the family out onto the side terrace. These days the visit continues through to the very splendid staircase to the first floor and The Fashion Collection.

Impressive staircase leading to the 1st floor and the exhibition of historic and contemporary fashion.
Evening dresses.

The fashion collection, which was started by Paulise de Bush in the mid-20th century, found a home with the National Trust at Killerton in 1978 and now consists of over 20,000 pieces. In 2022 the theme of the exhibition is ‘the healthy country life’ focussing on when people dressed for sporting activities often having their sportswear designed by tailors and specialist outfitters. Loved the knitted bikini dating from the 1920’s …not very practical! As well as the sportswear there was also dresses and ball gowns on display which took my eye. I was particularly interested in the two black dresses from the Art Deco period, so elegant. The two dresses in the picture below were very intricate and at the time would have cost a great deal of money to be designed and made with such attention to detail.

These elaborate costumes were made decades ago and worn in a play produced by a local Amateur Dramatic Group.

Going back downstairs, the last room we went into was the games room. Most of these large family homes had a full-size billiard table, presumably to keep ‘the men folk’ happy where they could dicuss the state of the nation whilst enjoying a glass of port or two between frames.

Coming to the end of our visit to the house we thanked the volunteer who was still welcoming visitors and we headed along the drive towards the chapel. The grounds at Killerton are extensive with miles of paths, landscape gardens and acres of parklands and woods but that day there was quite literally a storm brewing. It wasn’t the weather for wandering around outside in fact one of the grounds people told us they would probably close the gardens to visitors for safety reasons.

Not wanting to miss the chance to visit the Grade I listed chapel in the grounds we decided to head there before lunch.

The Acland Family Chapel.

If I’m being honest, the exterior of the chapel is quite austere. If didn’t help that there was tarpaulins and a hoarding around the building for health and safety reasons as the roof is in need of repair. An appeal has been launched so hopefully the target will be reached and work can begin.

The layout of the interior of the church is unusual in that the pews face each other rather than the altar. It was Sir Thomas Acland’s wish that family, staff, tenants and children should see each other. It was expected that anyone connected with the estate would attend Sunday service. Sir Charles Dyke Acland took this even further in that if someone did not attend a groom would be sent round to the house to ask for an explanation. It’s one way to ensure the church was always full unlike these days …

With the wind getting ever stronger we paused just long enough for me to take a couple of pictures of the carpet of cyclamen encircling a couple of trees and a shot of the very early flowering magnolia by the entrance to the chapel grounds. With that we walked back to the Stables coffee block to meet our friends for lunch. We had a lovely catch-up over a delicous bowl of home-made soup before heading back to the car and home.

The grounds of the estate have something to offer visitors throughout the year.

We will definitely go back to Killerton to explore the gardens and I think we’ll time our visit for the autumn to enjoy all the colours of the wonderful trees there. We will however try to pick a day when there isn’t a gale-force wind blowing!

A visit to Great Chalfield Manor – an historic English country house.

Great Chalfield Manor

Looking rather austere in this picture, I’m sure if the sun was shining on this fine medieval manor it would look rather less ‘grey’. It was built around 1465 by a wealthy business man, Thomas Tropenell who owned several large estates. Different owners over time changed the manor but the most significant transformation was by Major Robert Fuller in 1905 who brought it back to its former glory. There are several fine oriel windows and the soldiers, griffons and monkeys adorning the rooftops are easy to spot.

The manor was gifted to the National Trust in 1943 on the understanding they would care for Great Chalfield Manor and Garden and the family would remain as tenants. Today Major Fuller’s grandson and family live in the manor and manage the property.

The notice board in the courtyard showed that the next timed entry into the manor would be happening shortly. We duly waited around the entrance with the rest of the visitors for the main door to open. Looking at the front of the building we wondered how many rooms we would see but unfortunately the only part of the house which was open were The North and South Drawing Rooms. To ensure we didn’t feel too disappointed our National Trust guide spoke at great length about the rooms with much enthusiasm and a lot of detail! Looking at the National Trust’s website, it’s certainly worth going back when the rest of the house is open which it will be from 3rd April. With the relaxation of the Covid rules I would imagine more rooms will be accessible now but as this house is lived in there are several rooms which are private.

We weren’t too disappointed about not seeing much of the house as the gardens which are described on the National Trust website as having …”beautiful lawns and yew topiary; an orchard where the grass stays long, waterfalls of pink roses climbing the walls and a spring-fed pond which is surrounded by magnificent trees”. There is inspiration to be found here and rather than writing a lot on this very romantic garden designed in the ‘Arts & Crafts style (apparently), most of this Blog features my pictures.

So here goes with the pictures of the grounds and gardens when we visited in September 2021.

Love the little window almost hidden with the jasmine. The pretty little barn with the hydrangea bushes was just behind the main house to the left as you walk in through the main entrance and the row of medieval cottages forms part of the courtyard.
The stables behind the house which are still in use as you can see.
This pretty secluded little courtyard is just behind the Main House. I loved this area and it does feel very romantic.
Yew Trees and topiary are very much a feature of this garden.

If like me you watched ‘Poldark’ on BBC1 you might be interested to know that a few scenes were filmed here in the garden. Caroline Ennis, the doctor’s wife leaves her husband for a while to stay with her uncle. The doctor comes to visit her and like all good love stories, they are reconciled. In the two top pictures here, Dr & Mrs Ennis walked along the path through both yew arches discussing as they walk about their feelings for each other, pausing through the first archway before going through the second.

Soft, shades of pinks and lilac perfectly reflect the delightful buildings in the garden.

Having wandered around the garden near the house we then went into the 13th century church of All Saints which is adjacent to the manor house. I’m not sure why I didn’t take any pictures of the interior because it’s a lovely old church and very interesting with a centuries’ old organ and medieval side panels and an ornate transept and wooden roof timbers.

All Saints Church, Great Chalfield.

After coming out of the church we wandered down towards the lake passing by this sweet little building.

Not sure if this is a folly or was built for a particular purpose ..perhaps a summer house?
Love the reflection of the little house.

The website is quite right in that the views of the house and grounds from the other side of the lake are superb.

The stunning view of the house from the spring-fed fishpond.
These last two pictures were taken whilst walking back to the car park.

You can probably guess that I absolutely loved this garden and as Bradford-on-Avon isn’t too far from where I live in Gloucestershire, I’m sure we’ll be back. I hope these pictures have inspired you to visit too.

A Taste of The New Forest 2.

It was a good choice to stay in Boldre. We liked the area as it was easy to get to places like Lymington, Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst. It’s a quiet village and as mentioned in my previous Blog, the pub, The Red Lion round the corner from our Airbnb served tasty pub grub and an excellent pint.

Unusually the parish church is not in the village itself but about a mile away. The church of St John the Baptist has a squat tower dating from the fourteenth century and as well as its imposing position on a hillock, the first thing you notice is the churchyard with tombstones standing to attention in straight rows and to the right of the church door, a stunning engraved glass window.

The churchyard at St John the Baptist.

As there was a service going on when we walked to the church the first time we decided to wander up the lane a few days later to see inside. Inside the church is a memorial to the servicemen who died on HMS Hood in a battle with the German battleship Bismark, 1418 people were on board with just three surviving. The officer in overall command was Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland who used to worship at the church and a memorial to those lost was erected by his widow. A service of commemoration is held every year.

Memorial to the 1,415 seamen who perished on HMS Hood.

As well as the memorial the interior of the church is well worth a mention especailly the modern stained glass window above the altar and the engraved glass window by the door depicting ‘The Tree of Life’.

The interior of the church.

After visiting the church we drove over to Lyndhurst to have a look around. I’d expected to see New Forest Ponies as we drove along but didn’t know there were donkeys roaming around too. In fact they are everywhere. The nice thing is that they totally ignore people and of course you shouldn’t touch them or feed them. We didn’t see anyone doing that but some people do get very close to them when taking pictures which makes me cross. You can tell when the donkeys are worried for their little ones as they stand over them to protect them.

We liked Lyndhurst as there were several interesting local shops in the High Street. We also visited the Gothic parish church which is very large and imposing. The William Morris windows are beautiful. Afterwards we drove to Brockenhurst which is the largest village in The New Forest but to be honest we weren’t that impressed … both of us thought as we were walking round that there must be more to the place but if there was, we didn’t find it. What was amusing though was the way the traffic ground to a halt at the top of the high street whilst about six cows ambled slowly along. A few locals came out of their houses to watch so maybe it wasn’t a regular ocurence. Not sure why I didn’t take a picture, it’s not like me to miss something like that.


You don’t need to get close to get a cute picture.

After walking around Brockenhurst and not being too impressed we headed to the coast to get some sea air before going back to our Airbnb. We took pot luck having never been along this coastline before and stopped at Barton-on-Sea. The cliffs are very impressive but it’s not a good idea to get too close to the edge as they are very crumbly as you can see from the picture. My man told me off for walking close to the edge, camera in hand, and of course he was right to do so.

Barton-on-Sea and a view of ‘The Needles’

That evening to celebrate our wedding anniversary we had booked a table at Lanes of Lymington. It had an excellent write-up and from reading their web site it sounded the perfect place to go for our meal. I have ‘lifted’ here part of the intro on their Home Page …Formerly a Church and School, the building is tucked away down a quiet cul de sac, just off the High Street and once ‘discovered’, offers romantic and exceptional, yet affordable, dining to suit all tastes. The split levels, small intimate alcoves, balconies and open plan ground floor are stylish and what you’d expect from a fashionable top London eatery. The restaurant did not disappoint. We had an excellent meal, not ridiculouly expensive. We felt we’d made a good choice for our anniversary meal.

Palace House Beaulieu (above) and (below) one of the many historic houses in the village.

For our last full day in The New Forest we decided to drive over to Exbury Gardens stopping on the way at Beaulieu, which is famous for its National Motor Museum.

I wasn’t particualrly interested in the Motor Museum so after walking around the village and checking out a couple of the gift shops we headed onto Exbury Gardens. We hadn’t gone very far before we had to slow down for several ponies and donkeys who were owning the road. It was another chance to take yet more pictures of these free-roaming animals. It’s rare to go more than a few miles before coming across the four-legged New Forest residents.

Donkeys & Horses are free to roam.

And finally we arrived at Exbury Gardens which had been recommended to us. The 200-acre garden was a 100 years in the making with the estate bought by Lionel de Rothschild in 1919. It has an excellent selection of contemporary and formal gardens, landscaped woodland and is located by the Beaulieu river. We enjoyed wandering around and as it was mid-week there were just a few visitors about. It was great to see the narrow-gauge steam railway in operation which runs around part of the gardens.

Top Pond
Exbury House (top left), stone bridge and Top Pond
River Walk.
Exbury steam railway
Marie-Louise Beer, wife of the founder of Exbury Gardens, Lionel de Rothschild.

If you are in the New Forest, Exbury Gardens is well worth a visit. Closed in the winter it re-opens in mid-March.

One of the many walks in the New Forest – a mix of woodland and open heathland.

And now it was our last morning and time to leave. There’s so much to do in this area and although we felt we’d packed a lot in each day we knew there were many more walks and trails we hadn’t explored. As we drove away from our Airbnb in Boldre we stopped before leaving the National Park to do just one more short walk. The sun coming through the trees lighting up the forest floor was magical and just as we thought we were on our own, out trotted a pony. He stopped in his tracks and was as surprised to see us as we were to see him. We stopped and waited and with one last haughty stare, from the pony, that is, he went on his way.

These ponies are free to roam and are owned by local families using their commoning rights.

We had enjoyed our five days in The New Forest and will definitely go back.There are events happening throughout the year and if the two Blogs on our stay in this area have whetted your appetite, here are two useful websites to help you plan your visit.

newforestnpa.gov.uk/events forestryengland.uk/new-forest

A taste of the New Forest

2021 was the year when many of us were unable to go abroad on holiday. It was disappointing but living in the UK gives you lots of choices of places to visit and discover ‘new’ parts of the country.

Earlier in the year we’d spent a week up in Cumbria and had thoroughly enjoyed exploring that area, we hadn’t expected great weather but overall it wasn’t too bad. Then September arrived and we decided to book another Airbnb, this time in the New Forest. We had a good excuse to go away, not that we needed one but it’s our wedding anniversary in the middle of September so we decided to take a mini-break and thought the area around Lymington looked interesting.

Once again my man had done some research and had found an Airbnb which suited us in a village very near to Lymington called Boldre. The owners were great, very friendly and helpful and we really liked the place especially having a garden at the side all to ourselves.

The Barn at Boldre with ample parking and our own private garden.

Boldre is in the south of the New Forest National Park. It’s a small village but it boasts a very good pub, and it’s a good starting point for walking. We found the Red Lion served a good pint and although we didn’t have an evening meal there, we enjoyed lunch sat in their very large garden.

For our first evening we drove into Lymington and had a wander around the old harbour area before an excellent meal at the Koh Thai Tapas in the High Street.

Lymington at night towards the Old Town Quay. Lovely Georgian houses.

Next morning we decided to do a little exploring, walking first of all to Boldre Church which is a mile away from the vilage. Sweet little church with a squat tower dating back to the 13th century. We couldn’t go in as on this Sunday morning there was a service going on. Nothing surprising about that but what did surprise us is that the church was packed, so unlike our village church at home.

Boldre Church with its very regimented graveyard and an
intricate engraved glass window.
Engraved glass window.

After having a wander around the churchyard we carried on our walk through Roydon Woods Nature Reserve and onto a pretty ford and footbridge across Lymington stream. We then headed uphill, followed the road for a while then through a couple of fields crossing two stiles and a footbridge before arriving back to Boldre. A very pretty walk.

Roydon Woods Nature reserve with a a ford and footbridge over the Lymington river.
Heading back to Boldre. Love the reflection of the tree branches in the stream.

We headed back into Lymington and treated ourselves to a drink at The Ship Inn before buying a crab sandwich for lunch. We sat on the harbour wall, a popular place to eat lunch. The fresh crab was delicious! An added bonus was that the sun was starting to come out.

An ideal place for lunch.

With the weather having perked up we decided to drive towards Beaulieu and then to Lepe Country Park, situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was lovely to see the sea and walk along the coastal path a little way. The sunshine had brought everyone out so it was quite busy with everyone deciding they wanted an ice cream,. Looking at the queue we decided instead to walk up onto the cliffs where there are fine views across to the Isle of Wight. If we weren’t limited with the car parking we’d have walked further along the cliffs.

Lepe – an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Remains of the breakwater.

A little along the coast from Lepe is the well-known village of Buckler’s Hard. Situated on the banks of the Beaulieu river, this unspoilt haven attracts many tourists not only to its Maritime Museum but because the area is totally unspoilt. Having driven down the lane a few miles towards Buckler’s Hard we reached the sign showing the parking charges. If we’d had the whole afternoon we might have paid the £5 for three hours but as we only wanted to have a quick walk round we decided to turn round and head back to Boldre.

On the way back we stopped at Hatchett Pond where there was a cow cooling off in the water and parked nearby, an ice cream van. Definitely a winner! We sat with our huge ice creams watching the world go by, enjoying the sunshine as much as the cow was enjoying his paddle and all this without having to pay for parking.

Cooling off in Hatchet Pond.

If you have read any of my holiday Blogs you will know that I try not make them too long, so I’m pausing this one here. I have lots more pictures and more rambings about our few days in the New Forest so I hope you’ll join me for the second half. Lots of cute pictures of donkeys and horses, beautiful gardens and an historic house.

Christmas at Tyntesfield

The Georgian House was remodelled in Gothic style from 1863 by William Gibbs.

This was only our second visit to Tyntesfield which is surprising as it’s not far from where we live. The estate itself has interesting gardens, a sculpture trail, a walled vegetable garden, an Orangery, vast woodlands and two play areas for children and lots more to see and do. As soon as you turn onto the estate it is impressive as the drive is treelined and at Christmas time these beautifully trimmed trees are decorated with red bows. It looks so pretty. Today this well-preserved house and surrounding gardens sits in 540 acres.

The house has been owned by The National Trust since 2002 and together with generous donations and a huge grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund this Gothic-style house and estate was saved for the nation.

It was owned by the Gibbs family from 1843 until the death of Lord Wraxall in 2002. The family made their fortune trading in guano. (a highly effective manure from the droppings of birds, bats and seals and comes mainly from islands off the coast of Peru, Africa and California). I guess you could say …where there’s muck there’s money! For more about the Gibbs family and how they amassed their fortune, here is the link.

When we’d parked our car we decided to walk down to the Orangery. The sun made an appearance only for a short while but enough to take a picture of the house from the path.

The House rather obscured by trees and bushes but great colours.

It wasn’t possible to get into the Orangery at this time but the window displays depicting a Victorian Christmas were really interesting, so much work had gone into them.

Victorian window displays at The Orangery.

The area around The Orangery leading onto the greenhouses and the walled kitchen garden looked Christmassy too. I was persuaded to pose underneath the prettily decorated arbour.

Formal gardens and glasshouses by The Orangery.
‘Merry Christmas from Tyntesfield’.

Posing over thank goodness it was time to have a wander round the Walled Garden. Even though it was December there were so many varieties of vegetables and not a slug or snail in sight! What a banquet for rabbits!

Beautifully neat rows of winter veg.

After admiring all the vegetables growing in the garden not to mention the very neat rows, we wandered back up to the house.

The house was bought by William Gibbs in 1843. He was a religious man: a ‘High-Church’ Anglican. He associated with Augustus Pugin who like Gibbs believed that the Gothic style of architecture was an expression of Christian ideals. Together they commissioned the architect John Norton to build this extravagant house with its pinnacles, towers, oriel windows and arches. When the house was completed in 1873 a flamboyant chapel was built based again on Gothic architecture mirroring that of Saint Chapelle in Paris. It certainly didn’t reflect the style of this area. Sadly the chapel wasn’t completed until just after William died.

The imposing Gothic-style chapel adjoining the House.

Christmas at Tyntesfield is a great time to visit as the house is beautifully decorated with Christmas trees and handmade decorations. The volunteers take you back to Victorian times as they dress as members of the Gibbs family or as a maid, a footman, and other family servants. It’s great fun as the volunteers really do take on their part and are happy to answer any questions about the running of the house as it would have been at the turn of the 20th century.

A festive feel to the House.
The Christmas decorations have been made over the years by the volunteers.

One of the reasons why the house is in such good condition is that for much of the time the window blinds were drawn so that light wouldn’t fade the paintings or the fine carpets etc. Latterly the last member of the Gibbs family lived in a small part of the house so that most rooms were covered in dust sheets to protect everything. Despite the excellent condition of the interior and the historic collections there is currently a team of conservationists at Tyntesfield carefully restoring the curtains from the Organ Room. According to the Trust’s website the house contains over 60,000 objects.

Whenever we visit a stately home or historic monument owned perhaps by the National Trust or English Heritage there is always something which catches our eye. Usually it’s a painting and often both of us like the same one, although not always. At Tyntesfield we have a favourite …and it is a painting. As soon as you arrive at the top of the stairs, you notice it. On this visit we were able to ask a volunteer a little more about this beautiful woman and the child in the picture alongside.

The Hon. Victoria Florence de Burgh Long and her daughter Doreen.

The Hon. Victoria Florence de Burgh Long is quite a name! She married George Gibbs who became the 1st Baron of Wraxall in 1878. Victoria was a philanthropist and during the First World War spearheaded the Bristol Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society. She was awarded the OBE in 1918 for her charitable work. Her first child was still-born but her daughter, Doreen born in 1913 pictured alongside her here, lived to the grand old age of 94! Sadly Victoria contracted influenza and died at Tyntesfield in 1920. George subsequently married Ursula Lawley. The couple had two sons George and Eustace. Here’s the Wikipedia link which gives lots more information on the Gibbs family and the house.

The tour of the house ends at the Chapel which is just superb. Beautiful stained glass windows, ornate stonework, bejewelled crosses on the walls and a stunning altarpiece. A lovely way to round off the visit.

The Chapel at Tyntesfield. Licensed for family services but never consecrated.

I hope this Blog shows how much there is to see at Tyntesfield. Our next visit will be in the summer when we can explore the grounds a little more. The house isn’t open every day at the moment so it’s worth checking the website before you visit as it would be a shame not to be able to see inside this fascinating Gothic pile.