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Highlight: Alnwick Castle and Gardens

Alnwick Castle is in Northumberland in the north of England, and it currently serves as the seat of the 12th Duke of Northumberland. It was founded in the 11th century and has served as the seat of Northumberland nobility for hundreds of years. It’s actually still inhabited today. However, a main reason people visit is because it’s the location where the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed. That was the real draw for me and my family to take a trip from Edinburgh and see it.

Alnwick Castle

You can buy a ticket to the castle, the gardens, or a combined ticket. Keep in mind that each deserves a good hour or two. At the castle, the main attraction is the State Rooms, which are very gorgeous. They remind me very much of the Newport Mansions in Rhode Island, very lavish in decorating. What stands out the most is that people still live there, so you’re not seeing State Rooms of the past, but State Rooms that are used in modern day. Also you can see some photographs of the current Duke’s family, a TV, some modern furniture, etc., which is quite a unique feature.

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

The exterior of the castle is incredibly gorgeous, and there’s some other things to do around the castle besides visit the inside. The castle has daily themed tours at different times of day, such as a movie tour. They also have an “Artisans Courtyard,” which is primarily designed for children. However they do have some crafts that are acceptable for adults. They also have a ride called the “Dragon Quest” (or something to that effect). In the courtyard alone, there’s a lot for younger guests to do, including the crafts and dress-up. It’s a nice idea.

Alnwick Castle

The castle also has “broomstick lessons,” mimicking the broomstick lessons that were filmed there for the first Harry Potter movie. What I did, and thought was quite fun, was archery. You get about 5-8 shots (depending on which mentor you get) and the mentors teach you how to shoot a bow and arrow. Though the line takes a while to get through, it’s because each person is given adequate time to learn how to properly stand and shoot. I found that to be cool. (Also, I hit the bullseye!)

Archery at Alnwick Castle Archery at Alnwick Castle

Next door is the garden, which is actually very large. It’s not a part of the original castle as it was first used as a garden in 1750. The garden you see today was sponsored by Jane Percy, Duchess of Northumberland in 1997, so it’s very new. They have a lot of different areas of plants to see, so it’s not your typical castle garden. The prominent feature of the garden is the cascading fountain. However, I found their rose garden to be absolutely stunning (I went in July and the roses were in bloom). It was so gorgeous. The gardens are also known for their Poison Garden, which I’ve seen coined as the “most dangerous garden in Britain.” You can only get in with a tour guide and everything there is poisonous to some degree; a lot of it is deadly. You can learn a lot about poisons and even see a real Mandrake root!

Alnwick Gardens

Alnwick Gardens

If you have the time, I definitely recommend adding the gardens onto your visit as well. It’s a bit pricey but if you think it’s worth it, then it definitely will be.

Alnwick Gardens

Alnwick is a town so there’s a bit to do there, like shop and eat. However it’s not huge. What I found most attractive about the area is the landscape. There’s lots of farmland and it’s absolutely gorgeous to drive through. I’ve loved driving through northern England every time I have.

Alnwick Castle

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you should visit Alnwick Castle. It’s not only a great HP landmark but it’s a fun place to spend a few hours and it’s absolutely beautiful.

Have you ever been to Alnwick Castle? What did you think?

Posted on Saturday, November 9, 2019 in Destinations
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Highlight: The Breakers & Marble House

Don’t you wish you could live an extravagant lifestyle with an endless supply of money? I do. I have a huge wishlist of material items and among them would be my beautiful dream home, completely at my design and taste. That’s why, for me, it was super exciting to go to Newport, Rhode Island and explore some of their mansions. It’s so invigorating to see what others built with their endless supply of money.

The history behind it is fascinating as well. Love them or hate them, the American gilded age birthed some of the wealthiest families without pedigree – an American pride. However it also birthed the uneven distribution of wealth. If you’re fascinated by the gilded age and the turn of the century, the Newport Mansions are physical souvenirs of such a time. Beautiful, expensive souvenirs.

Pro tip: Your tickets never expire so you can always bring them back to gain access to more mansions at a discount.

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers is the summer home of the famous New York elite family, the Vanderbilts. Cornelius Vanderbilt II had the home built in 1893 by architect Richard Morris Hunt, completed in 1895. According to the Newport mansion website,

Hunt directed an international team of craftsmen and artisans to create a 70 room Italian Renaissance- style palazzo inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin. Allard and Sons of Paris assisted Hunt with furnishings and fixtures, Austro-American sculptor Karl Bitter designed relief sculpture, and Boston architect Ogden Codman decorated the family quarters.

There is absolutely no doubt or ambiguity in the above as the villa is fantastically, lavishly decorated that it rivals homes like Versailles. The amount of detail implemented into such a large home is absolutely jaw-dropping, and the amount of work that went into designing the home alone is astounding, nevermind the amount of work that went into actually building it.

The Breakers

The sheer size alone is amazing, and I remember when I first visited in 2006, it was a foggy day. The fog covered the top of the building so as to make the home appear to rise into the clouds – it was absolutely amazing! Returning after 12 years, I was expecting it to appear less huge, but no. It’s huge. The inside is just as grand in scale and even more detailed in all its finishes and furnishings. The view of the water is absolutely amazing and one can easily imagine living there, taking in the smell of the sea and running onto the back lawn. However I could not imagine how they dealt with such heat and humidity.

So without further adieu, here are some photos of the Breakers home:

The Breakers
The Breakers
The Breakers
The Breakers

It’s also pretty cool that this is the ancestral home of Anderson Cooper.

Marble House

Marble House

Completed in 1892 for Alva and William Kissam Vanderbilt, Marble House was also built by Richard Morris Hunt and is described as a tribute to western art. The facade clearly calls Greek influences and the interior has the opulence of French and Italian palaces. It too was completed as a summer home and cost over $300 million to complete in today’s money.

Marble House has a more politically interesting history. William Vanderbilt gave his wife the home for her 39th birthday, but she later divorced him. Yup, they got divorced in that day and age. The property was then hers. What a settlement. She then built the Chinese Tea House – a tribute to eastern art – and hosted rallies for women’s suffrage at the home. I don’t know too much about Alva and her other political opinions but her role in women’s suffrage was outstanding. You can even buy memorabilia from her original suffrage design at the home.

Marble House

I personally fell in love with this home because it has a more relaxed style than the Breakers (even though that still means it’s extremely ornate). I loved the gardens with the hydrangea. I loved the damask. I loved the gothic room. The tea house and sea view also make the house seem more established and cosy, like someone had actually lived there. The Breakers is obviously more popular because it’s more grand, but I personally felt like Marble House was more up my alley.

Here are some photos from the Marble House:

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House Marble House
Marble House Marble House
Marble House

Marble House

We plan to return to Newport to see even more of the mansions in time, and I can’t wait to have them all described and ranked. When that happens, links to the new blog posts will come below. Until then!

Posted on Friday, August 31, 2018 in Destinations
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