Category Archives for "Europe"

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Europe.

The Connaught Hotel – London, England

The Standard Bearer and Embodiment of England

There are many top-drawer hotels in London, but the Connaught never strays far from first place. With a clientele and staff that are equally loyal, the Connaught exudes a refined club like atmosphere that embodies English luxury and Edwardian elegance. Considered a dignified bastion of white-glove hospitality since it opened deep in the heart of Mayfair, renovations and alterations are always undertaken with extreme discretion.

Some things never change, and shouldn’t: here at the Connaught, it’s always 1897. Named after Queen Victoria’s third son, the Duke of Connaught, this low-profile landmark hotel is clearly favored by a list of longstanding guests who choose to ignore the trends of fashion and avoid media glare. The service by its expert, dedicated staff is surprisingly low-key; the hotel’s refined old-world charm is never effusive. With just ninety-two luxuriously appointed rooms and suites, the Connaught is a “baby grand” hotel in size and is home to the much-acclaimed Grill Room.

Transformed in early 2003 by the deft hands of Chef Angela Hartnett, a protégé of superstar Gordon Ramsey, and by Nina Campbell, London’s most sought- after decorator, The Grill and its sister venue, The Menu, are very much at the forefront of London’s vibrant dining scene. The original mahogany paneling remains, as do the house specialties, but the menu now leans toward the Mediterranean. If you’ve never stayed at Buckingham Palace, stay (or break your fast) here for the next best thing.

Chelsea Flower Show – London, England

The World’s Most Famous Flower Show

In a gardening-mad nation, the grand event of the season is this Olympics of gardening, a monumental four-day horticultural orgy. One enormous pageant of flowers is displayed with painstaking drama and imaginative precision by 700 juried exhibitors. The cream of British and international horticulturalists, they fill the 11 acres of the Christopher Wren-designed Royal Hospital grounds, 3.5 acres under state-of-the-art twin “marquee” tents. It is a quintessentially British celebration of gardening but with a natural appeal (and great people-watching opportunities) that easily reaches beyond obsessive gardeners to the steadfast non gardening public that doesn’t know a dandelion from a magnolia.

Existing in some form since 1827, it is a premier event organized by the Royal Horticultural Society and sets the global standard (the society also organizes the largest annual flower show in the world at Hampton Court, as well as the RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park in Cheshire). Tickets to Chelsea are restricted to 160,000 over the four-day period, with the first two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) reserved for RHS members only.

Though many believe people-watching is best on public days (Thursday and Friday), the true gardener will want to see the exhibitions at their perky best before they wilt from the adoring gaze and scrutiny of so many fans. If you miss the Chelsea Flower Show, don’t miss London’s Royal Botanic Gardens (a.k.a. Kew Gardens), the world’s most famous gardens. They will take your breath away.

The Lake District – Lancashire and Cumbria, England

Glorious Walking and Delicious Repasts

William Wordsworth described England’s Lake District as “the loveliest spot that man has ever known.” The English understandably treat this far northwestern area with reverence. It is one of the country’s most scenic areas, at once pastoral and wild, graced with some fifteen principal lakes, dozens of lesser ones, and clusters of grazing sheep everywhere in between. The largest of the eleven protected national parks in England and Wales, the Lake District consists of some 880 square miles with a great variety of natural beauty. Most of it is privately owned; the rest belongs to the National Trust. Naturalists return time and again to explore its 1,800 miles of footpaths. Immortalized on canvas and in literature, it is the birthplace and definitive landscape of English Romanticism. Poet laureate Wordsworth (1770-1850) lived at Dove Cottage in Grasmere with his sister (who felt Grasmere “calls home the heart to quietness”) and is buried in the graveyard of the village church there.

Wordsworth was just as taken with nearby Ullswater, describing it as “perhaps . . . the happiest combination of beauty and grandeur, which any of the lakes affords”; it was on Ullswater’s shores that he beheld his famous “host of golden daffodils.” In summer a restored Victorian steamer plies the 9-mile length of the lake, the second largest in the district—the best way to enjoy the lakescape that inspired the giants of Romanticism. When summer crowds reach their peak and the world is too much for you, retreat to England’s first Relais and Chateaux country house, Sharrow Bay, on the relatively secluded southern shore of Ullswater. Legendary for its exceptional views of the lake, the half-mile of waterfront it commands, its sumptuous teas, and a renowned six-course dinner (desserts are a grand tradition here), 19th-century Sharrow Bay Country House Hotel is also known for its heartfelt hospitality.

The Lakeland’s other well-known luxury hotel-cum-restaurant is Miller Howe (in local dialect howe means “hill of’). Formerly owned and run by celebrity chef John Tovey, this small Edwardian-style hotel boasts a magical setting, with views over Windermere to the Langdale Pikes, that vies for attention with the hotel’s much-celebrated five-course menu. The experimental British cuisine now under the eye of Tovey’s successor protegee, Susan Elliott, is served in a flamboyant and theatrical manner beginning with dimmed lights and an expectant hush. The service is friendly and the air is that of a comfortable house party. Kudos are also plentiful for the prodi-gious wine list and lavish desserts.

A trek up to Orrest Head (the only way to walk off Miller Howe’s sinfully abundant Lakeland Platter breakfast) offers one of the best panoramic views in the region. A high point of the unforgettable photo op is Sea Fell Pike: at 3,210 feet, the tallest peak in England.

Sissinghurst Castle – Sissinghurst, Kent, England

Eden on London’s Doorstep

“The Garden of England,” fertile Kent lives up to its affectionate nickname—in May its apple orchards in blossom are an unforgettable sight. Its most renowned garden and one of the most beloved (and in a nation besotted with gardens, the competition is tough) is Sissinghurst, created by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, her diplomat husband. Sackville-West— Bloomsbury writer, journalist, and famed eccentric—added inspired gardener to her list of talents when she created these spectacular gardens in the 1930s around the great Elizabethan manor where she and Nicolson lived. (At the same time, she became the contributing gardening columnist for the Observer.)

She designed a series of gardens within gardens, each one devoted to a particular theme revolving around a family of plants or a single color. Most famous, and imitated around the world to this day, is her White Garden, which reaches its zenith in June. June and July are glorious in the Rose Garden, whose old Bourbon, centifolia, and moss roses are world-renowned.

The Herb Garden is full of both the familiar and the exotic throughout the summer, while the Cottage Garden filled with thousands of bulbs is at its best in the fall. Despite day visitors who take advantage of Sissinghurst’s relative proximity to London, the gardens are still an oasis of serenity and beauty.

Leeds Castle – Maidstone, Kent, England

A Magnificent Pile of Medieval Origin

Like a lady of the lake, Leeds appears as if a mirage, its buff-colored stone and crenellated towers reflected in the waters that surround it. Once described by Lord Conway as the loveliest castle in the world, it is historically noteworthy as well as visually striking, a trip through the ages beginning with its earliest construction in the 12th century (replacing a 9th-eentury wooden structure) until its recent bequest to a private foundation in 1975. It gained much favor as a royal residence, not unlike that of Balmoral today, beginning as early as 1278 when it was given to Edward I by a wealthy courtier seeking favor. It eventually passed along to Henry VIII, who loved spending time here, and who invested much effort and money in expanding and redecorating it to resemble more a royal palace and less a military fortress. For many years it was a dower castle: six queens called it their favorite residence.

The distinctive lake-like moat that encircles it is unlike any other water-defense setting in Britain.

Some of the 500-acre parkland is given over to gardens and includes an aviary opened in 1988 that is one of the best in the country. Then there is the unlikely Dog Collar Museum (dogs once played an important role in guarding the grounds): it sounds like an oddity, but winds up being a highlight for most visitors. Spanning a period of 400 years, some of the collars are veritable works of art.

Canterbury Cathedral – Canterbury, Kent, England

The Mother Church of the Anglican World

The present Canterbury Cathedral, greatly rebuilt in 1174 after fires destroyed earlier structures, was once England’s—and northern Europe’s—most sacred pilgrimage site. In 1170 one of the most important incidents in British history took place here: Archbishop Thomas Becket was cruelly murdered in the northwest transept of the cathedral by four knights of Henry II. He would be canonized three years later, encouraging a repentant Henry II to establish the cathedral as the center of English Christianity. The cathedral is famous for its outstanding 12th-and 13th-century stained-glass windows.

Much of Canterbury was destroyed during a 1942 WW II air raid, but the local people had removed the windows for safekeeping (the replacement windows were destroyed, but the cathedral itself remained unscathed). The original windows can once again be seen in place. The most important are considered to be those in the Great West Window, Bible Windows, and Miracle Windows. Located on the route from London to the port of Dover, Canterbury was already an important town in ancient Roman times.

It gained further favor when, in A.D. 597, St. Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to convert the heathen Anglo-Saxons to Christianity; it would soon become the seat of the Primate of the Church of England, with St. Augustine its first archbishop. The great English poet Geoffrey Chaucer (1335—1400) wrote Canterbury Tales about a group of pilgrims who traveled from London to St. Thomas Becket’s shrine in 1387, further immortalizing the town and cathedral.

Osborne House – Isle of Wight, England

A Retreat Where Royals Relaxed

Charles Dickens was drawn to the sandy beaches and dramatic cliffs of this island off the southern coast of England. Today’s most visited site is Osborne House, the cherished home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, where they lived some of their happiest hours. Constructed at Victoria’s own expense as a seaside retreat in 1845, it was here that the family managed to leave behind royal responsibilities, enjoying long walks and informal family dinners prepared by the couple’s nine children. Grief-stricken at the early death of her consort, Albert, in 1865, Victoria requested that everything remain exactly as it had been in his final days. Today their spirit imbues every corner of the place, offering a unique insight to royal family life, from the cozy clutter of treasured family mementos to the bedroom where the queen died on January 22, 1901.

The island is a favorite summer destination of the British, one that attracted Alfred, Lord Tennyson, among other notables. The coastal Tennyson Down provided the poet and those who follow in his footsteps with outstanding views of the Needles, three offshore rock pinnacles battered by the waves of the English Channel. The Down is part of the 65-mile Coastal Path that encircles the diamond-shaped island. Don’t skip the interior’s highlight: the 11th-century Carisbrooke Castle. The best-preserved Norman castle in the kingdom provides spectacular views for those who climb to the top of the keep. A less enthusiastic visitor, Charles I, was held hostage here by Oliver Cromwell in 1647 pending execution: His attempt to escape was foiled when he got stuck between the window bars.

Winchester Cathedral – Winchester, Hampshire, England

A Medieval Wonder That Still Surprises

Work first began on Winchester Cathedral in 1089 to create what would become the longest medieval cathedral in existence (526 feet): famous for its soaring twelve-bay nave, it is one of England’s greatest, as lovely from without as within. It is proof of the former market town’s prominence in the Middle Ages when, as capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, Winchester was a major religious and commercial center. The cathedral was built of Quarr stone from the nearby Isle of Wight on the ruins of a Saxon church. Literary buffs make a pilgrimage here to visit the tomb of Jane Austen (1775—1817), combining the excursion with a visit to Chawton Cottage, her pleasant country home 15 miles west of town, where many of her greatest works were penned.

Much of the mood and spirit of the age immortalized in her six major novels, including Sense and Sensibility and Emma, is still within reach in Hampshire’s hilly interior. This bucolic area was a lode mined for literary inspiration by a later titan, Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), who hailed from neighboring Dorset (known by its historical name Wessex in his work), one of England’s smallest and most culturally rich shires.

London – Top Ten Sights 2015

“The man who tires of London tires of life.
For there is in London all that life can afford.”
— Samuel Johnson

A city of contrasts, London is simultaneously the cradle of pomp, pageantry, and history and the birthplace of all things groundbreaking and cutting edge. Once the immutable capital of fish-and-chips, it’s now a cheerful chameleon, brilliantly reinventing itself when no one is looking, then preening nonchalantly when the global spotlight turns its way.

British Museum—Unless you have a week to visit the 2.5 miles of galleries, head for Elgin marbles (which once decorated the Parthenon in Athens), the Rosetta Stone, the Magna Carta, and the Egyptian mummies.

Buckingham Palace—Official residence of the queen. When she’s away in August and September, parts of the 600-room landmark (the state apartments, the throne room, and the Picture Gallery) are open to the public. The Changing of the Guard is done on alternate days at 11:30 A.M.

Hampton Court—Five hundred landscaped acres of gardens and a famous maze of tall hedges (the key is to turn left upon entering). For 200 years a royal palace: Henry VIII and five of his six wives lived here. Owes much of its present look to Sir Christopher Wren.

Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens—Hyde Park is London’s largest park, and was once the favorite deer-hunting ground of Henry VIII. Well-manicured Kensington Gardens blends with Hyde, bordering Kensington Palace.

National Gallery—One of the world’s best art collections, with works by every major European school from the 13th to the early 20th century.

St. Paul’s Cathedral—The 17th-century masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren (who is buried in the crypt) is located in the Wall Street-like area called The City. Encircling the great dome (which offers a wonderful 360-degree view of London) is the Whispering Gallery—be careful what you say.

Tate Gallery—The largest repository of British art, divided into two separate museums. The Tate Britain houses the classics, while the Tate Modem (connected by a footbridge across the Thames) houses art from 1900 to the present.

Tower of London—Built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, the Tower contains the Crown Jewels (including the 530-carat Star of Africa diamond and Queen Victoria’s crown, studded with some 3,000 jewels, mostly diamonds), the macabre Execution Row (where Anne Boleyn, among others, met her fate), and many other exhibitions.

Victoria and Albert Museum—The largest decorative arts museum in the world, with works from all periods and all corners of the world. Includes the largest collection of Italian sculpture outside Italy, and the best museum gift shop.

Westminster Abbey—This English Gothic cathedral has been the site of almost every7 British coronation since 1066. The Henry VII Chapel, built in 1503, is one of the most beautiful in Europe. The Poets Comer has monuments to and tombs of Chaucer, Thomas Hardy, Tennyson, Browning, and others.

Other Must Do’s

A night at the theater In the West End (Trafalgar Square; listings at, fifty-plus theaters promise some of the best and most varied theatergoing in the world.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (Southwark; www., open since 1997, is a faithful re-creation of the original 1599 Elizabethan theater, complete with thatched roof and productions staged as they were during the Bard’s lifetime (but not all in period costume).

Royal Shakespeare Company, Britain’s national theater company, performs throughout the year at various theaters in London.

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships is the tennis world’s most prestigious tournament. Most tickets disappear by December for the mid-to late-June event.

Kew Gardens—London’s vast 300-acre indoor/outdoor Royal Botanical Gardens boast 50,000 species of plants, including the world’s largest orchid collection.

National Portrait Gallery—An offshoot of the National Gallery next door, the Portrait Gallery is dedicated to collecting “the likenesses of famous British men and women,” from Hans Holbein the Younger’s Henry VIII portraits to Andy Warhol’s silkscreen of Mick Jagger.

Regent’s Park—The most classically beautiful of London’s parks, with hundreds of deck chairs that invite sunbathing.

Chewton Glen – New Milton, Hampshire, England

Exquisite Country Digs and Dining in an Idyllic Setting

England’s loveliest country getaway, Chewton Glen sits serenely surrounded by immaculate gardens and barbered lawns, on the fringe of the historic New Forest, a 100-square-mile wooded preserve first put aside by William the Conqueror as his private hunting grounds in 1079. Volumes have been written about Chewton Glen, a neo-Georgian country manor hotel distinguished by an air of well-being: through forty years of ownership under the watchful eyes of Martin and Brigitte Skan, it has maintained the highest standards of service and quality. Nothing ruffles the polished feathers of the extremely congenial staff at this grand, green-shuttered, ivy-clad home where croquet on the front lawn is one of myriad amenities, including indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, and a 9-hole golf course

Guests needn’t ever leave the 130 acres of private grounds, though the hotel’s location itself is ideal for visits to Stonehenge, Salisbury, and Winchester, each no more than an hour’s drive away. Or stick close to home and be pampered at the hotel’s recently added full-service spa, then dine at the acclaimed Marryat Room—guests rarely miss the memorable meals here prepared by acclaimed chef Pierre Chevillard. In between there are hours spent lingering by the pool, in one of the many peaceful sitting rooms or cozy nooks, or listening to the cocktail hour’s pianist play a Noel Coward tune. Chewton Glen’s relative proximity to London means a handsome and cultured weekend clientele, while its bucolic location and gorgeous surroundings make you feel as if the capital didn’t quite exist at all. Wherever you come from, try not to come alone: this place is far too special not to share.