Holiday Gift Guide, Part 5: Historic Holiday Rentals

Posted in marketplace (goods & services), on site by Editor on December 9, 2011

Back in September of 2009, I included a posting on the UK’s Landmark Trust, which rents some remarkable historic properties. Now at the end of another semester, as I’m facing piles of papers to grade (how could I possibly have gotten so far behind in just the past week?), daydreaming about quiet retreats is pretty tempting. Even grading those final exams in these wonderful locales wouldn’t seem quite so bad. What a lovely present indeed! The descriptions come from the Trust’s website (with the italics as my own additions) -CH

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Clytha Castle — Near Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales (1790s)

Roasted chestnuts, anyone? Maybe just the place after a visit to the newly restored Strawberry Hill. 

This most affecting folly, which we lease from the National Trust, stands on the summit of a small hill, at the edge of a grove of old chestnuts. It was designed by a little-known architect and garden designer, John Davenport, perhaps with help from his client. Besides being an eye-catcher, the castle was used for grand picnics and as a retreat; the square tower contains fine rooms on both floors. When we arrived it had been empty for twenty-five years and before that had housed a gamekeeper. After more than thirty years as a Landmark, we carried out a major refurbishment in 2007 and reorganised the accommodation, making the circular room in the south turret a kitchen-dining room looking out into the clearing in the woods. . .

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The Egyptian House — Chapel Street, Penzance, Cornwall (1830s)

Yes, I know, it’s a nineteenth-century house, but just the place for serious reflection on the Empire Style and Egyptomania. It was presumably inspired by the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London (1812), which housed William Bullock’s collection, including items brought back by Captain Cook.

This unusual house is a rare and noble survivor of a style that enjoyed a vogue after Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt in 1798. It dates from about 1835 and the front elevation is similar to that of the former Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, designed by P. F. Robinson. Robinson or Foulston of Plymouth are the most likely candidates for its design, though there is no evidence to support the claim of either.

It was built for John Lanvin as a museum and geological repository. When we acquired it in 1968, its colossal façade, with lotus-bud capitals and enrichments of Coade stone, concealed two small granite houses above shops, solid and with a pleasant rear elevation, but very decrepit inside. During our work to the front, we reconstructed them as three compact apartments, the highest of which has a view through a small window of Mounts Bay and St Michael’s Mount over the chimney pots of the town.

Why was there a geological shop here? Although picked over by Victorians (doubtless including Mr Lanvin) the beaches at Penzance still hold every kind of pebble, from quartz to chalcedony. You will find yourself at the bustling heart of Penzance, a handsome town accessible by train as well as road, where the pulse of the late nineteenth-century colony of artists known as the Newlyn School still beats strongly. Beyond it lies that hard old peninsular in which, at places like Chysauster and the Botallack mine, can be found moving evidence of human labour over an immense span of time.

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The Chateau — Gate Burton, Lincolnshire (ca. 1750)

Built as a weekend retreat from the city of Lincoln, it would seem ideally suited for getting away from it all.

This is the earliest recorded building by John Platt of Rotherham, designed in 1747 when he was 19 and almost his only work outside Yorkshire, where he practised and prospered for the next 50 years.

It stands on a grassy knoll above a big bend of the River Trent, on the edge of Gate Burton park. Built as a Gainsborough lawyer’s weekend retreat, and later used for picnics and other mild kinds of excursion, it had since been altered and then neglected. Its present owner gave us a long lease of it.

We have restored the Château to its original elaborate and slightly French appearance, an ornament in the landscape, which shows up well from the road some distance away. John Platt must have been a talented young man, because it is difficult to realise until one is inside just how small the scale of the building is; apart from the principal room upstairs, which has a high coved ceiling, there is little space in which to swing a cat. But there are fine views across the park and up a shining reach of the River Trent, along which big slow barges, piling the water in front of them, press on towards an enormous power station, whose cooling towers steam majestically in the distance.

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Le Moulin de la Tuilerie — Gif-sur-Yvette, Essonne (near Paris)

An eighteenth-century converted mill house that came to be home for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, it’s perfect for anyone enamored of the story. I imagine we’re all going to hear lots more about the couple in the coming weeks with the wide release of Madonna’s new film, W.E.

The three buildings on the lovely site known as Le Moulin de Tuilerie in the town of Gif-sur-Yvette are our first French Landmarks. This was the former country weekend residence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Edward VIII abdicated from the British throne in 1936 to marry the woman he loved, a twice divorced American, Wallis Simpson.  In exile after the war, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor settled in Paris and Le Moulin de la Tuilerie was the only house they ever owned.

The Windsors were leading lights of international café society, and entertained the glitterati of the 1950s and 60s here, including Maria Callas, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton, and Cecil Beaton. Edward especially was captivated by the site and commissioned English garden designer, Russell Page, to design the gardens, which he tended himself and whose layout remains today. The buildings are set around a courtyard behind huge oak gates, and the grounds open miraculously to views of the valley beyond. Each Landmark has a private terrace, and all who stay can wander the extensive grounds, parterre merging into ancient rocky woodland full of birdsong, where the Windsors buried their beloved pugs.

Le Moulin de la Tuilerie is on the edge of the town of Gif-sur-Yvette, approximately 35km south-west of Paris – a perfect staging post for journeying on to the rest of France. Just as for Edward and Wallis, still today this is a place for contrasts: a wonderful setting to play host, or enjoy deep tranquillity; an easy day trip by direct train to the bustle and culture of central Paris or the delights of Versailles, and yet a place where the city finally yields to deep countryside.

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