Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Snapshots from a Tour of Homes and Gardens around the World

If you follow my Instagram feed -- LINK, you'll know that I've been living out of a carry-on suitcase for a while, travelling around the world to look at gardens, houses, and cities for several new books. I'm now home for a few weeks, and I have to say, after endless airports, being home has never made me so happy!  For those who aren't on Instagram, here are some of the places and spaces I've been privileged to have visited. Many of them are open to the public (some every day; others only on a few days each month or year), and so if they pique your interest do bookmark their links. That's the best thing about social media: discovering all these fantastic destinations. I'm back on the road in late July, so feel free to follow on Instagram. Wishing you a wonderful week, wherever you may be. 

Confession: In between all the books and work, I've been trying to design a line of luggage. (A long-held dream after I lost a favourite Armani jacket to a toiletry spill.) Part of the R&D has been in Milan, where elegant bags are a way of life. These pix are from a research trip to Como, squeezed in between photo shoots in Milan, although the highlight of the day was not the textiles but a fleeting visit to the famous Villa del Balbianello. I wanted to do a formal shoot of this garden for a future book on Italy, but the rain was relentless, so it turned into a tourist visit -- which is often the best way to see a place. In fact, rain makes you put down the camera and really see the landscape with your eyes.  Unlike most of the other villas on Lake Como, Balbianello is set on a promontory, so its garden has been created from curving paths and magnificent views, rather than long, formal, Italian-style allées. The best way to reach is by ferry to the pretty village of Lenno, then a walk along the waterfront and through the villa's private parkland (rear gate open Tues/Sat/Sun only). Alternatively, the water taxi, although pricey, offers magnificent views of the villa from the lake.  It's one of the most famous villas in the world and remains one of my all-time favourite gardens. Even in the rain.

WHERE TO STAY:, a romantic hotel at Laglio, right on Lake Como. Or its neighboring estate -- just as beautiful.

WHAT TO READ: The just-published Gardens of the Italian Lakes (May 2016).

I've always wanted to visit Portofino after seeing the film 'Enchanted April'. So we squeezed a weekend here for a romantic escape and this was the view (middle pic) that we opened our window to at 6AM, as the sun rose over the Italian Riviera.  Even though a posh wedding had pulled into town (the father of the bride had paid for an airline to transport all the guests), the gentle port was still idyllic, especially on Sunday when the 200 wedding guests all wore white for the after-party in the village square! Leaving the partygoers, we hiked along the coast to the glorious monastery garden at Cervara Abbey (bottom right), which is open once a month, and then later walked the trails and terraces behind the castle to peek into the villagers' veggie gardens. I don't know which was more beautiful: the abbey's parterre, or the tiny potagers planted up the mountain? If you've avoided Portofino so far, do see it. The romance clearly worked because it's now my favourite place in the world.

WHERE TO STAY: The Hotel Piccolo is reasonably priced, and has its own cove for swimming. Try to time your visit for when Cervara Abbey is open ( ); the garden (bottom right) is rated one of the best in Italy.

A night's stopover in Paris was just enough to race around and see the latest places. My favourite was Tory Burch's new and much-talked-about flagship boutique on the Rue Saint-Honoré. It's designed with a coolly sophisticated colour palette that cleverly references Paris' famous architecture and sky. (Even the pale blues seem to match Paris' famous doors.) Its designer Daniel Romualdez (who lives in Bill Blass' former home -- LINK) is adept at creating spaces that feel luxurious while still being understated, and his work has made this beautiful boutique a must-see for design fans, whether you buy anything TB or not.  412 Rue Saint Honoré, Paris.

WHERE TO STAY: The stylish new Hotel Providence, 90 Rue René Boulanger, Or the classically beautifully Hotel Castille, next to Chanel at 33-37 Rue

If you ever get the chance to see the South of France in late April, grab it, for there is nothing like Provence in spring. The light, the flowers, the fragrances, the flavours... I always feel fortunate when I come here, and the four days I spent in late April was no exception. I shot two remarkable gardens for forthcoming books: Le Louve in Bonnieux , and Pavilion de Galon in Curcuron.  The former garden was designed by Hermès' former head of design Nicole de Vésian, and is a spectacular green and white garden designed to look like a tapestry. It's still private but it's open to the public, although you need to book a tour through the website — (And if your French is rusty, like mine, just use Google Translate to convert your email before you send it; it's courteous  to write in French and their reply will be quicker.) La Pavilion de Galon, which is nearby, is a former hunting lodge that's now an exquisite country garden done entirely in purples and blues created by noted French photographer Guy Hervais and his beautiful wife Bibi. You need to stay there to see it, but it's worth it; wandering the enormous iris garden at first light is an experience I'll never forget. The garden is best in either mid-spring, when it's blanketed in irises and wisteria, or in summer, when all the salvias are out. The landscape in this part of Provence is truly extraordinary; gentle roads meandering through villages and around mountains, with views that make you want to stop the car at every turn. No wonder Peter Mayle has returned here to live.

WHERE TO STAY: Pavilion de Galon

For two brief few weeks in May and June each year, London erupts in flowers. Streets are garlanded with embroidered trims of pale pink and purple wisteria, front gardens explode with roses, and of course the huge Chelsea Flower Show pulls into town; like a giant scented circus. Some of the best places to see gardens, particularly the wisteria, are the little streets and mews lanes around Launceston Place, although Notting Hill and Chelsea are good wisteria-hunting grounds too.  

I have to admit I love wandering the streets of Chelsea, Pimlico and Kensington in May, where the flower-filled boutique windows are often just as good as anything you'd find at Chelsea.  Of course, the famous flower show is still a great insight into the newest horticultural trends, but it's increasingly impossible to see (or shoot) the gardens with the crowds, and the ticket prices have skyrocketed to the point of ridiculous. A better option is to grab a map of all the entrants in either the Chelsea in Bloom or Belgravia in Bloom festivals (usually available from any store with flowers out front), and do your own free walking tour. Many streets, particularly those in Pimlico, are a veritable festival of petals. Furthermore, some boutiques offer fantastic classes.  This year, David Linley put on a willow weaving workshop (above), to match the giant willow displays that were in front of his store. You can see easily why these various fringe festivals (there are several others in London at this time beside the Bloom ones) are overtaking the Chelsea Flower Show in the popularity stakes.

WHERE TO STAY: My favourite London hotels are still The Pelham (Kit Kemp's interior design without the Firmdale price), The Ampersand, and Blakes (opt for the Designer Double rooms),  which are all in South Kensington and thus close to the museums, parks, and bookstores and fabric shops of King's Road. However, the newly renovated Flemings in Mayfair (above, with green banquettes), is a pretty and ideally located bolthole for those who want to be closer to the West End.

If you go to the Cotswolds a lot, you may think you've seen it all. But this trip I discovered several places I never knew existed. One was Chastleton House. Scene of the BBC series Wolf Hall, it's a perfectly preserved Jacobean mansion filled with extraordinary period rooms, many featuring superb tapestries and furniture. But the most fascinating thing about Chastleton is its families. Each generation became poorer and poorer until the last owner lived in just one room. But the lack of modern updates meant that poverty actually preserved the house. (There's a wonderful article here.) Some critics feel that it's a bit too 'lost in time', and that perhaps a bit of furniture polish and some flowers wouldn't go astray. But I saw only beauty and dignity and grace: a house that has lived a thousand lives and is still looking fine for her age. Just look at this tapestry, which covered a whole wall of the bedroom. Even the long walk to the house, through a pretty field, was part of the charm. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

WHERE TO STAY: The Wild Rabbit, a chic hideaway with a famous restaurant. Or The Wheatsheaf, an upmarket pub with luxurious rooms  at affordable prices. Temple Guiting is another swish place; a grand manor with a superb garden, but rates are high. (You have been warned.)

If you saw last year's film Far From The Madding Crowd, and loved the Dorset landscape in which it was filmed, then put this place on your To See List. Mapperton House (above) was the setting for Bathsheba's farm although the best part, the garden, wasn't featured in the film (I would have included it!), probably because Bathsheba's farm was meant to be run down and this amazing garden may have cast doubt on that. Set in a deep valley behind the manor house, it's a formal garden of topiaries and terraces that extends from a stunning conservatory (above) to a series of grand swimming pools (bottom left). I only had an hour here and wished I could have spent longer. It's magnificent. Completely and utterly magnificent. Don't miss the secret corners, including the two-story summer house.

WHERE TO STAY: We stayed in a tiny pub in a tinier fishing village called West Bay (where Broadchurch is filmed), but if we returned we'd try and stay at Lyme Regis, specifically Belmont House, which is one of the prettiest places in the south. LINK

Manhattan is always magic in spring, and on this visit I made sure that I made time to see the New York Botanic Garden, which my friend Lee had said was a 'must see'. Inside the gardens, the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden was not only peaking, it was the best rose season they'd ever had. But the famous conservatory was enthralling too, especially the 'Impressionist' garden  that had been recreated as part of the American Impressionism exhibition. A fundraising ball was held the afternoon I was there, and this was just one of the arrangements. If you're heading to New York, jump on a train at Grand Central and head here, before the roses fade. It's a spectacular part of Manhattan than many tourists (myself included) miss.

WHERE TO STAY: I usually love The Roger or The Nomad, but this time I stayed in a new and very cute boutique hotel called The Gregory, near Bryant Park. Themed around books and fashion, it's  incredibly cheap, and has lovely staff and a superb restaurant next door that's reminiscent of a historic old New York bistro -- high ceilings, huge fireplace, timber panelling, crips white tablecloths.  The suites at the front are best. A truly gorgeous little Manhattan hideaway.

A quick flight from JFK takes you to Nantucket, a dazzling island off Cape Cod that's becoming renowned for great design. This has long been one of my favourite places in the world. This gentleman above is Gary McBournie, a gorgeous designer I've known for years who has a weekender on Nantucket with his lovely partner Bill. (You may have seen their house in the May issue of House Beautiful). There is a lot of new construction going on all over the island, but the influx of money means there's also a lot of beautiful new boutiques and hotels and bistros. Here are some of my favourite new places from the weekend:

WHERE TO STAY: 74 Main, a sophisticated boutique hotel with glamorous rooms Or The Roberts Collection, a recently renovated hotel with several buildings -- I stayed in The Gatehouse -- The former has better service and better rooms, but is more difficult to book because it's so popular. The latter is cute but perhaps be patient with the 'casual' attitudes. 

WHERE TO EAT: I loved Met on Main (two photos on right) for the beautiful wallpapers and banquettes, but the cutely named 'Cru', a yacht-club-style hangout at the very end of the wharf, had a great vibe, gorgeous staff uniform, and of course that inimitable view that only Nantucket can do.

Then it was back to New York, flying low over the Hamptons, and a final few days of R&R in New York before heading back to Australia. 

More gardens and homes are scheduled for July and August, so do join Instagram if you'd like to follow. And -- as always -- email me for any travel tips -- or just to say hello.

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