Saturday, July 14, 2018

Summer of 2018 - France and Italy.

Chateau D' Avaray.

I was happy to be back in the Loire Valley of France .This was my second visit to the chateau where my friends Pieter and Susan live.  We were planning to drive through Switzerland to Italy . The final destination would be the Grand Hotel Isle de Borromees at Lake Maggiore.

Elsa de Jager.

Their friend Elsa der Jager was joining us for the trip. Her husband was the famous South African sculptor Danie de Jager  and she was the matchmaker that introduced Pieter and Susan to each other.
Before we left we had a few days to relax at the chateau.I have researched the Ducal Beziade family for a while so it it always fun to come back and discover more information.The spring flowers were out and the gardens looked beautiful.

Chateau d"Avaray - Loire et Cher .

We also visited Blois were we had lunch. I love the town with its Royal Chateau where Queen Catherine de Medici ruled. We also saw a man leading his donkey down the chateau's steps. 
The ladies bought shoes in a thousand year old shop.



After a few days we left by car for Italy. We drove and took it very easy with many stops. Pieter is a very careful and calm  driver so it was very relaxing- looking out for old chateaus on the hills and in the valleys next to the road. The car was very comfortable but it was packed to the hilt. On the highways in France they have many rest stops with rather good restaurants. Truckers use it to rest and  eat. Many tourists on the way to Italy or the south of France use this highway as well.

By afternoon we reached the French Alps that still had snow on them.  Passing Geneva we entered the 11.6 kilometers Mont Blanc tunnel that brought us to Italy.

Aosta -Italy 

Our first stop was the mountain town of Aosta with its Arch for Augustus -a triumphal arch built in 35 BC in honor of Augustus .One can still see the walls of this old Roman town as well as its Roman Theater.It is surrounded by the Italian Alps and the hotel was on a hill, that gave us a wonderful view of the mountains and city below.

The Italian Alpine town  of Aosta.


We went for dinner in the old town center. On the photo above , parts of the Roman wall can be seen.One is always struck how old this part of the world is . To see buildings that were there before Christ was born ,is amazing.
The next morning  after a very sumptuous breakfast of home made coffee and breads , home made cheeses and sliced meats we were on our way.


Lake Maggiore - Italy.

We reached Lake Maggiore in Italy in the afternoon and it was a beautiful sight.

Susan and Elsa on the balcony of the hotel suite overlooking Lake Maggiore.

It is the second largest lake in Italy and the largest  in southern Switzerland . The lake and its shoreline are divided between the Italian regions of Piedmont and Lombardy and the Swiss canton of Ticino. Located halfway between Lake Orta  and Lake Lugano , Lake Maggiore extends for about 65 kilometers (40 miles) between Locarno and Arona.
  The famous Borromeo family ruled over this region for many years . On two of these lake islands are their homes. On the island to the right is the old castle of the Duke Borromeo .The island on the left is called  Isola Bella. Until 1632 the island was a tiny fishing village - until Carlo 111 Borromeo began the construction of a palazzo dedicated to his wife Isabelle D'Adda from which the island takes it name The Duke entrusted the work to the Milanese architect Angelo Crivelli who was also responsible for planning the gardens.The Borromeo family is very prominent up to this day and one of their ancestors -the Archbishop of Milan-Charles Borromeo was canonized on 1 November 1610 by  Pope Paul V. The present Duke's daughter Beatrice Borromeo is married to Grace Kelly's grandson Pierre Casiraghi -son of her daughter - Caroline Princess of Hanover.

The Grand Hotel Isle d' Borromeo .

We booked into the Grand Hotel Isle d' Borromees into suites looking over the lake.It is beautiful hotel built in 1863 and hosted the rich and famous since those day. When the Simplon Railway made it to Stresa in 1906 the Orient Express's wealthy clientele stayed at the hotel. It became the playground of the aristocracy of Europe. Kings like Leopold II  of Belgium and Charles of Luxembourg and Oscar II of Sweden came to stay .From America the Rockefeller's, the Carnegie's the Morgan and even the Vanderbilt's came to relax .Later Princess Margaret of England and film stars like Clark Gable frequented the Grand Hotel D' Borromees.
The most famous novel that speaks about the hotel is Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway's novel "A Farewell to Arms" published in 1929. It is partly set in Stresa. Hemingway stayed at the hotel for a week  n 1918  recovering from a war wound .He returned in 1927 ,1948 and again in 1950's. The most luxurious suite in the hotel is named after him.

The Hemingway Suite.

The town of Stresa is down the road and can reached by the promenade along  the lake.The first night we walked there and has dinner in one of the many lovely restaurants- and enjoyed some delicious Italian ice cream for dessert.


The promenade from the hotel to Stresa.

  The promenade and beach .


Isola Bella.

Pieter reserved a water taxi through the hotel that picked us up from the hotel to take us over to
Isola Bella. It was a glorious Saturday morning with many tourist around and lots of  boats on the lake Every now and then a helicopter landed on the hotels landing strip, dropping of guests coming from the Milan Airport.

The Borromeo Palazzo on Isola Bella.

Isola  Bella.

The  gardens of Isola Bella with its wonderful statues and famous white peacocks. 

Elsa, Pieter and Susan on Isola Bella.

The trip to the island was really interesting  and it was a great experience to visit the palace with all its antique furniture and  paintings . Learning about the Borromeo family who married into some of the most famous Italian aristocratic families like the De Medici's and the Visconti's.
After the long walk in the hot sun, we settled down under big trees to have -what else- some Italian ice cream.  
When we were ready Pieter called that taxi that arrived in time to take us back .Looking at tourists on long lines waiting for the boats to ferry them back to the shore - I was very thankful that we had a private water taxi.

That night we dined in the hotel's dining room enjoying great food.


Susan Sterne.

The main reason we came to Lake Maggiore was that Pieter en Susan decided to get married after seven years together.  Elsa was guest of honor as she introduced them to each other .Susan and I met in 1972 and she has been a customer -and dear friend  since 1976 when I opened my first design studio in Johannesburg .

Henry and Susan in  FAIR LADY magazine  1977.

On Sunday evening at 6:00 pm we went down to a beautiful red and gold salon ,where the hotel manager arranged a sit down dinner for the four of us after a priest performed a simple ceremony. 


Susan's gown was inspired by the white peacocks of Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore.

Pieter and Susan Sterne-Louw.


Lake Annecy - France.

After a late start because of the magical events of the night before -we packed and left Lake Maggiore on our way back to the chateau in France 
.Our next stop was the French Lake Annecy.It is known as "Europe's cleanest lake" because of strict environmental regulations introduced in the 1960s. It is a popular tourist destination known for its swimming and water sports.  After a leisurely drive we got there late afternoon. It is a beautiful spot with the water in the lake as clear as glass.Spotless and pristine .People were swimming and sunning themselves in the most relaxing way.

We stayed at the La Palace de Menthon  a beautiful  hotel overlooking the lake.It was built in 1906 on the site of sulfur springs that was well know and used in Roman times. 

It was a lovely spot for the last day of our special trip. The next morning we drove back to the Chateau D'Avaray that welcomed us with open arms. It is still one of my favorite spots in the world!

Chateau D'Avaray.


We wanted to visit the house that Leonardo da Vinci lived in when he was brought from Italy to live in France by King Francois 1 .

The Chateau de Clos Lucé is a large chateau in the city of Amboise . It was the residence of Leonardo da Vince between 1516-1519 where he died.
  In 1516, Leonardo left his studio in the Belvedere of the Vatican Palace in Rome to join the court of Francois I as “primier peinctre et ingenieur et architecte du Roy” or “The King’s First Painter, Engineer and Architect.” Leonardo moved to the town of Amboise where he was hosted by the King in a grand house, called Château du Clos Lucé, where the view from his bedroom included the King’s castle, Château d’Amboise.  He also notably brought a few paintings, including the Mona Lisa (La Gioconda in Italian,  and St. John the Baptist.


Chateau d'Amboise .

Chateau d'Amboise

Window of da Vinci's room from where he could see the King's Castle.

 The courtyard below.

 Painting by Ingres . King Francoise 1 at Leonardo da Vinci's deathbed.

Pieter and Elsa ready for lunch after our last day trip .

Soon it was time to get back to New York.  I left a day early as the railway strike was on and  to catch my flight I had to get to Paris on time. It was a great time spent with wonderful and dear friends.
Wishing Pieter and Susan all the happiness in the world. I was so honored that I could join them on this happy occasion .It was a summer of a life time!