As summer this year extends to the very heart of autumn, AILLEURS has decided to share some of its favourite tips and addresses with you: be ready for an immediate boarding ELSEWHERE with our suggestions and ideas of colourful, gourmet, refreshingly different getaways! Indian summer at its best and most enjoyable, to warm up even the frostiest November evening with warm memories…
When breaking away becomes an art of living : the Belgian Art of Fugue, or how to relax in Brussels…
First destination: Belgium. Where romance and timeless charm subtly mingle under the vast, incredibly light sky of the nearby North Sea. Beautiful Brussels… Its breathtaking Grand-Place and Art Nouveau facades, picturesque alleyways and charming, hidden courtyards and arcades, where you can re-supply at leisure with loads of yummy, irresistible chocolate pralines and other sweet cramiques and craquelins. Its incredible museums, innovative art galleries, antique shops and bookstores, theatres and amazing designers… City of Art and History with a unique mix of folie douce, sweet creative madness and cultural originality, high-fledged gastronomy, mixing nostalgia with modernity in a unique, trademark atmosphere that makes for exceptional week-ends and gateways. Brussels is an inexhaustible source of wonders and discoveries, off the beaten paths and yet always attune with the changes of the world and the teachings of the past: baroque, surprising, fun- and life-loving, joyful, tremendously endearing. A “Grande Dame”, a true blue Lady with the endeavouring charm of a mischievous girl: utterly irresistible. So very Belgian.
One of our favourite addresses in town is the charming L’Art de la Fugue. Exquisitely furnished, mixing taste and refinement to create the perfect place-to-be for Brussels lovers and guests. An original and confidential B&B, full of vintage furniture and a sharp selection of beautiful antiques: a delightful home-away-from-home, providing the perfect setting to chill out while picking up creative inspiration and decoration ideas. Or rare and exotic items to bring back. Three rooms, or rather private apartments, staged in a tasteful theatrical decor to take you away along the unbeaten paths of fancied travels and discoveries: AILLEURS, elsewhere… Farinelli, a baroque Venetian dream dressed in red and gold, where you can imagine travelling on the Grand Canal in fantasy gilded gondola under the extravagant drapes of a carved wooden bed. Ghandi is the fantasy India of Kipling’s “Plain Tales from the Hills” and jewels-bedecked Maharajas… While Indochine evokes a colonial bungalow in South-East Asia, complete with a delightful collection of white-marble Buddhas and exotic wood panelling, period furniture and rare silks…
To pick up useful suggestions on original circuits and tours as well as insider tips on the latest shows and exhibitions: www.brusselslife.be
To be completed by the comprehensive “what-to-see-in-Brussels-in-48-hours” guide published by the Flanders Tourism Information site
Villarlong : an Occitan castle surrounded by vineyards…
Let’s turn south-west for our second very private destination: the perfect location for an escapade for two or a family getaway. At the very heart of a gorgeous landscape of vineyards, spiked with cypress trees and framed by the gentle outline of hills encased in vast orchards. Located a few miles away from the famed mediaeval city of Carcassonne, in a gorgeous scenery bathed in golden light even in this late season. An intimate setting as well as a rare and precious address, to keep in trust as a treasured secret: the ideal destination to get away from the hassles and stress of modern daily life by enjoying a few days of serene hedonism as a privileged guest of the superb suites of Château de Villarlong. Whether you choose to enjoy the comfort of one of the luxury apartments (with private terrace and chimney), or to select the independent house or mas, with its private swimming pool, you will enjoy a perfect stay in the tasteful surroundings and calm of a charming family home full of joyful memories mixed with the state-of-the-art service of a castle-cum-hotel dedicated to the sole pleasure and exclusive pampering of its guests. A stunning infinity pool bordered by dry stone walls , on a large open terrace overlooking a scenery made of lavender fields and olive trees, a tennis court, a gorgeous courtyard allowing late, leisurely evenings even late into November, completed by an excellent restaurant opening on stunning gardens and fragrant herb plots: the charms and luxuries of this precious address are bound to offer you an enjoyable stay as well as enduring memories. Another ELSEWHERE where you will certainly wish to come back…as well as an AILLEURS signature address to share exclusively with some privileged few!
Château de Villarlong - 11600 Villarzel-Cabardes - France - www.chateauvillarlong.com
Close-by “must see” and recommended escapades :
Carcassonne, of course… with its stunning mediaeval walls and towers, its history and unique charm, to experience at leisure by strolling around off-the-track alleyways and hidden backyards. Despite the countless souvenir shops and the rather overwhelming flows of fellow tourists… the enchantment remains untouched as soon as you get past the main trackways and choose to visit outside peak hours. Just let the stones whisper to your ear and imagination: they will tell you the sad yet beautiful story of the Viscounts of Trancavel and share the memories of the last Cathar believers. Do not hesitate to enter the famed Hôtel de la Cité (built in 1909 on the foundations of the bishop’s palace) and sip a glass of Cabardès. Although unfortunately taken over recently by an international luxury hotel group, the walls retain a subtle yet very vivid part of its old soul, if you take heed and stay open to the sheer romanticism of the place. You might choose to listen to “Carcassonne”, the eponymous album registered there by singer and musician Stephan Eicherin 1993. Or decide to, literally, travel back in time and settle for a while at the musical heart of Occitania’s 13th century aristocratic courts by listening to Jordi Savall’s rendition of the “fin’amor” songs of the troubadours.
Palafitte: the first and only lacustrian luxury hotel…
Heading north-north-east for inspiration, let’s discover the unique, one and only luxury hotel built on stilts: Palafitte. An architectural structure of baffling modernity yet reminiscent of - and inspired by - the Paleolithic architectural remains excavated by archeologists in several lakeside locations around western Europe. Including, precisely the Lake of Neuchâtel, in Switzerland. Built back in 2002 as part of the Swiss national exhibition Expo.02 – and originally not meant to survive past the exhibition – this unique hotel was devised as a visionary “work of art” by talented, world-famous architect Kurt Hofmann, in cooperation with the students of Lausanne renown Swiss Hospitality School (École Hôtelière de Lausanne). Drawing inspiration on the oldest remains found in Switzerland, on that very same lake side, Palaffite has been built on stilts, with the objective of offering its guests , wherever they might stand, a stunning and grandiose all-round view on the lake and the surrounding landscape. Unusual and superb, Palafitte is an architectural masterpiece, designed to always live in close association with the seasons by following the rhythm and breathing of the water. A poetic yet ultra-contemporary symbiosis built of light, wood, water and glass: the guarantee of being able to relax, immersed in a total change of scenery - with a breathtaking landscape at your entire disposal.
All the rooms are set and devised in harmony with the innovative style of the buildings. With, as far as I am concerned, an added “extra “for the pavilions directly facing the lake and the mountains: they look and feel like an “out-of-time” cosy bubble, hovering over the water. A heaven of charm and quiet nestled at the very heart of Nature. Bathing in total visual immersion with the blue-grey light suffused by the watery sky – or cloudy water, as sky and lake constantly mix in a limitless horizon – is an absolute must!
A ladder allows you to slide directly into the lake for a refreshing swim… in summer. I would strongly discourage you to try the experience at this time of the year, except if you are a die-hard adept of icy cold baths. But the view, with its misty atmosphere, advantageously replaces the pleasure of freezing in the water, especially if you decide to enjoy it snugly cuddling in a soft, warm blanket while sipping a glass of Oeil-de-Perdrix rosé wine on your very own private terrace. I should know: I have done it…
Do not hesitate to directly contact Hotel Palafitte to take advantage of the packages available, especially in autumn and winter (with great offers at lower prices than during the peak of the season), for an exclusive, personalised and à-la-carte stay. The area really deserves a special mention, even in November-December: the light shines in softer hues and, but this is my personal opinion, is a lot more beautiful, even magical, than in the bright shinning sunny summer days. The summits of Alps, in the background of the unique, natural theatre set, are already highlighted with white and the lake displays a camaieu of greys… there prevails a facinating yet almost melancholic beauty, a song of forgotten legends and magic, infused with the long-lost memories of the intriguing ruins discovered here. A mysterious token left by one of the most brilliant and refined cultures of Western-Europe Celtic ages.
Dining options are on the level of excellence expected from a five-star hotel, lakeside charm included: be it La Table, the gourmet restaurant, the Bar, or The Terrasse, the external panoramic deck, you will enjoy a great stay in a beautiful place, complete with a superb view, perfect service and unique experience. An autumn getaway to be highly recommended!
Hôtel Palafitte - Route des Gouttes d’or 2 - 2000 Neuchâtel - Switzerland - www.palafitte.ch
What to do, taste and see in the area… our very own addresses and suggestions:
A fascinating archaeological museum-and-park: Laténium : www.latenium.ch
In the Tracks of the Celts…. And, until January 2019, of the Bear (yes, the animal… feared, revered, imitated, for more than 40’000 years) as well, in a remarkable exhibition.
The bustling old-town district of Neuchâtel, with its gorgeous patrician houses, built in the golden-hued stone typical of the Hauterive region, its paved, history-packed lanes… but also the picturesque shores of the “Three Lakes Region” and the magnificent woody landscapes of the Jurassic Arc area: more on www.neuchâteltourisme.ch.
Another address to be recommended, from our very private list of nice restaurants and places: Jean-Yves Dravet’s Maison du Prussien. A former 18th century craft brewery-cum-public house tastefully turned into a renown gourmet’s table and charming hotel, located within a very agreeable park and opening on a stunning view of picturesque gorges and cascades. Surprising and enchanting in the same time… Conveniently located on the river side, close to Neuchâtel railway station and within a few minutes’ walk from the medieval village of Valangin.
From one lake to another: a romantic and gourmet escape on Lake Constance
Let’s stay in Switzerland, but at the far east side of the country, the so-called (and aptly named…) Eastern Switzerland. A lesser known region and yet, worth discovering. Partly located on the very romantic shores lake Constance (also called Bodensee). It’s AILLEURS’s privilege and pleasure to choose to take you on a tour in one of the most delightful area in the Rhine region - and my personal favourite childhood’s location. Especially in autumn: when the morning lake fog winds up in long, iridescent veils on the reeds and marshes stretching along the old, mythical blend of sand and water that marks the border with Baden-Württemberg. When the forests dress up into the most extraordinary, warm, vibrant hues of gold and red, and ochre, and copper and chestnut browns…creating an ephemeral and sumptuously baroque show, as if to apologize for the winter and frosty days to come. Welcome in Thurgau region! Picture-perfect landscapes propped up against a background of snow-capped mountains, old romantic half-timbered houses with delicate oriel windows straight from our childhood’s favourite Christmas carols. Churches with their typical onion-shaped domes, inspired by their counterparts in Bavaria and in Tyrol, surrounded by so many lush apple orchards, overloaded with fruit as early as September. Time seems to have stopped in all the little, sleepy villages scattered down the banks of the Rhine. Perfectly befitting the image of Germany’s romantic era lingering down the river, with the memories of Goethe, Kleist and Schiller. One cannot help being surprised, therefore, when suddenly coming across locals dressed in screaming coloured tracksuits and driving modern cars instead of horse-drawn vehicles and carriages, carrying peasant girls wearing lace bonnets and farmers with richly embroidered waistcoats. Everywhere you look at, you’ll see blooming gardens overflowering with asters and marigolds, and the bright orange patches made by overgrown pumpkins looking like joyful round lanterns strewn across still lush green foliage and branches. A riot of multi-coloured drapes enshrining, like a naive stage décor, lovely old farmhouses and barns, huddling for cover under their large roofs. Wealthy inns, dashingly glowing with their splendid gilded signs and their traditional mullioned windows, advertise appetizing home-delicacies: lake fish “im Bierteig” and locally brewed beer, or light and fruity Burgunder, served in colourful glasses, so typical from the Rhine region. Konditorei are, literally, staggering under irresistible displays of round and zopf breads, pies and cakes, pastries covered with cream and marzipan, chocolates carefully displayed in so many tempting, plump lines behind their old-fashioned window-cases, reminiscent of precious gems in a jeweller shop… Opposite, on the other side of the street, the butcher’s shop exposes dozens of various sausages, bacon and traditional meat pies… all of which earned their maker their loads of medals and quality certifications, neatly handwritten in beautiful copperplate and proudly displayed in frames behind the counter. Just above an improbable sculpture in schmaltz (the lard used in so many local recipes), representing a joyful pig merrily dancing in a kind of ballerina-pose, standing on one hoof, daintily poised on a pile of roasts, hams and other meat delicacies…
A step or two further, once passed a line of stalls heaped high with potatoes, carrots, a wide selection of different cabbages and turnips, piles of walnuts, hazelnuts and other chestnuts, apples and pears, quinces and various cucurbits, all artistically arranged in coloured kinds of vegetal cairns, you will find a superb farmstead, in front of which a careful hand has delicately written on a wooden board the quantities and prices of the vegetables and fruit displayed for sale. With the additional information that interested gourmets and potential buyers are invited to make their selection and kindly leave the amount due for their purchase in the homemade treasure chest left for that specific purpose. Next to it, you’ll see an old wooden cart displaying jars of late sunflowers, bunches of early dahlias, Chinese lanterns, purple or white heather, as well as enormous bouquets of colourful chrysanthemums… all for sale as well, for the pleasure of the visitors and passers-by.
On the waterfront, where the Rhine leaves Lake Constance to leisurely flow up north towards its final rush in the North Sea, stands Gottlieben. The lovely mediaeval village stands so close to the water, on the very edge of the river, that almost every spring brings back a local version of the Venetian Aqua Alta, when the Rhine, swollen with rain and melting snow, spreads out for weeks on its cobbled streets. To the greatest delight of the resident ducks and swans… For the reminder of the year, on dry ground, Gottlieben looks like a charming and kitschy décor straight out of a Viennese operetta… also famous for its delightful trademark confectionary, the Gottlieber Hüppen: a kind of delicate rolled wafer shaped as a cigar and filled with flavoured cream. A specialty to be tasted at leisure with your coffee in all local restaurants. The white and blue wharf, overloaded with potted geraniums, next to the customs office, serves as the village’s boarding site for romantic cruises on the Rhine. But above all, Gottlieben is the place of the unique, the marvellous Drachenburg. Literally: The Fortress of the Dragon… An absolute must, you can trust me! Far from the eerie caves you might imagine, the only dragon here is the gorgeous wrought iron signboard overlooking the entrance of this ancient inn, a lovely half-timbered manor displaying a romantic collection of over-adorned turrets, dark wooden panels and stairs, painted murals and mullioned window-panes. The cuisine is excellent, traditional in the good hearty style favoured here, and always seasonal. A local white fish called fera, of course, as well as pike from the lake. But also, my personal favourite, the delightful Eglifilet or perch fillets, fried in a local, germanised version of the tampura, in a light, crispy premium draft beer batter (and not à la meunière, fried in butter, the way it is served on the shores of Lake Geneva).
The dish also figures on the menu of the nearby restaurant Waaghaus (same owner and philosophy…): the galloping gourmets of the region flock here all year round, with good reasons…. Booking is therefore highly recommended. During season, game specialties, served with sweet-sour red cabbage and spätzli (local flour dumplings, steamed or poached in broth) will provide you with unforgettable tasty souvenirs. Especially if accompanied by one or the other of the locally produced white or red wines, or even one of the tasty craft beers brewed in some of the villages around. To round out the meal with style, we recommend that you settle comfortably in one or the other of the cosy vintage drawing rooms, under the rather blank gaze of a collection of long-forgotten but certainly noteworthy individuals, frozen in time and under the varnish of their painted and framed portraits. Do not forget to try one of the remarkable schnapps or fruit brandies distilled in the region: their fruity notes are so delicate that one tends to forget their extremely high alcoholic concentration… In any case, the Drachenburg offers its guest the comfort of simple, cosy (even if slightly out fashioned, but this is certainly an added charm in my view) and extremely romantic rooms (with special mention to the room with a canopy bed) opening on the river side or giving on the picturesque central square: don’t hesitate to book a week-end in that timeless and exceedingly charming hôtel de charme. An auberge is certainly not a grand luxury hotel and doesn’t want to be one: instead, and this is why it remains one of my preferred address in the area, it offers a delightful, unspoilt, comfortable place with a timeless and seriously endearing charm. Definitely THE most enchanting and magical place to book for a couple getaway if you decide to explore Thurgau and Lake Constance region!
Hôtel Drachenburg & Waaghaus - Am Schlosspark 7 et 10 - 8274 Gottlieben - Switzerland - www.drachenburg.ch
The island of Mainau remains a local must and a highlight in any tour of Lake Constance – although the whole area also offers many beautiful hiking path and destination for interesting excursions, including romantic footpaths winding through reed beds and lake shores, exceptional baroque churches and monasteries, as well as lovely villages nestled amongst orchards and blooming gardens. Absolute charm and unparalleled romanticism, all year round.
Constance was badly damage during WWII… and hastily rebuilt afterwards, using too much soulless concrete in the kind of totally impersonal and uninspired style typical of the “architecture” so prevalent during the 50s to 70s decades of the last century. Luckily, it has kept enough mediaeval houses and pre-17th century churches, abbeys and convents to bear witness to its former days of glory and ensure that dreamers, historians and wanderers alike enjoy the area. When Constance was one of the leading cities of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire. Do not let the grey anonymity of its unattractive outskirts deter you from discovering its very real and very subtle charm!
Arenenberg : memories of Queen Hortense and Napoleon Museum
Gottlieben will provide an ideal basis for exciting discoveries and superb day-trips in the Bodensee/Lake Constance area. Most particularly, just a few kilometres away, the delightful little Arenenberg Palace. Perched on the ridge of a picturesque, wines-planted high land above the lakeshore, with an open view on a magnificent landscape straight out of an early 19thcentury German romantic novel: below and slightly to the right, Lake Constance, with its eponymous namesake, dotted with spires and bell towers. Across the mirror of the lake and the gentle hills encasing it, the blueish, vanishing line of the Swabian Albs to the north-east and the chiselled, often snowy outline of the Alps to the south. A beautiful outlook to the northern bound escape of a young Rhine, good-naturedly encased in changing riverbanks, sheltered by reeds and alders. Tiny fishermen villages downhill. Spacious farmhouses surrounded by sprawling orchards and rich grazing land. To the west, the gentle, curvy hills of the Thurgau countryside…
Arenenberg has been the last home and refuge of Queen Hortense, ephemeral reigning queen of Holland, sent in exile in Switzerland in the aftermath of the fall of the French 1stEmpire. For her mother was Josephine de Beauharnais, thus making her Emperor Naopleon 1st’s daughter-in-law as well as the very unhappy wife of Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. And the mother of Emperor Napoleon 3rd. Who spent his childhood in Arenenberg (which accounts for his slight German accent, a remnant of his early life in Thurgau he would keep ever after…). Arenenberg is also the place where the former Queen Hortense passed away in 1837: her room has remained intact, as a touching remembrance as well as an exceptional snapshot of a world now lost forever.
If truth be told, the place has more to do with a lovely, genteel mansion built in late 18thcentury classical style…but the belonging of its inhabitants to princely or even imperial dynasties fully justify a more noble designation, even for a building utterly devoid of any turret, no matter how symbolic. So: a palace it was and remains… delightful and charming, remarkably well preserved. Today, home to an exceptional Napoleon Museum as well as a remarkable testimony of the setting and way-of-living of an exiled royal family at the beginning of the 19thcentury. Outside, across the front lawn, a tiny chapel built in pure 2nd Empire neo-Gothic style can be rented for intimist wedding celebration. Along with the beautiful heritage gardens.
The museum is an absolute “must see” – complete with a lovely boutique overflowing with tasteful and aptly chosen souvenirs, gifts and books. With the possibility to enjoy a luncheon, organise a dinner or simply enjoy a glass of local wine or sweet apple cider in the Bistro Louis Napoleon. Or to quietly stroll around and wander down the alleys of the park, sloping gently down towards the lakeshore. Time seems to stand still: just let yourself be taken away down memory lane in this history-steeped place… who knows? You might come across a memory of Queen Hortense, just around the corner of an alley? I was told that her ghost can sometimes be seen like a shrouded presence floating in the mist… a touching and fragile testimony of a time long past.
Another recreational and discovery outing well worth discovering, some 20 km away from Arenenberg on picturesque byways winding through meadows, vineyards and woodlands towards Frauenfeld:
Ittingen Charterhouse: a former Carthusian monastery, with more than 850 years of history. Nowadays one of the most important cultural centres of the region, an art and history museum together with a youth hostel and a Relais du Silence hotel, a place of exchange and a seminar venue as well as a place of retreat… A whole world of discoveries, exhibitions, but also genuine gourmet pleasures, with a tasty selection of organic products and a restaurant. AILLEURS just loved wandering along and almost getting lost in a maze evocative of the labyrinth described in The Name of the Rose. Enjoying the golden light of a particularly sunny late fall on the antique stone benches, surrounded by old-fashioned blooms and the Carthusian monks’ Garden of Simples, redolent with the tang of medicinal herbs and plants. Watching out for the carps in the deep fish pond. Or just admiring the enormous old turning waterwheel in the former mill. While sipping fresh sweet cider produced by the monastery’s farmstead.
If you have some more time to spend in that beautiful region, do not hesitate to extend your discovery trail by driving downhill towards the valley and the Thur river, in the direction of the Kyburg Castle: an impressive former Habsburg fortress, at the heart of a forest which was certainly used for hunting bears and wild boars by generations of fine ladies and noble lords! Its walls, its collection of armours, even its renovation in pure 19thcentury “mediaeval” style (the “torture chamber” is a must! Not too realistic but very, very impressive… I let you the dubious but delightful frightening pleasure to discover the replica of a horrifying Iron Maiden of Nuremberg. Your teenagers will absolutely relish the gory details…believe me! I have a niece and a nephew and both of them visited the place with me…): you will feel like you just went through some Gate of Time and are now the lord of lady of the castle… enjoying for a few hours incredible mediaeval adventures in Technicolor.
Last but not least : don’t miss out the many museums of Winterthur: they are all exceptional testimonies to the wealth and the discerning eyes of generations of passionate collectors, displayed in the 19thand early 20thcentury by influential families of powerful entrepreneurs in what was then the industrial heart of Switzerland.
The Oskar Reinhart Collection : home to some of the finest and rarest masterworks of French 19thcentury painting as well as outstanding examples of earlier art, the collection is certainly one of the best of its kind. World famous… and rightly so.
The Winterthur Fine Arts Museum is certainly not to be left out: it harbours one of the finest and most impressive collection of modern art in Switzerland, including Monet, Kandinsky, Picasso, Van Gogh, Klee… and regularly houses remarkable temporary exhibitions highlighting the work of contemporary artists.
The Hahnloser Collection is devoted to an exceptional gathering of masterwoks by Van Gogh, Bonnard, Vallotton, Matisse, Marquet, Rouault and Manguin, spreading out in full splendour within the walls in pure Biedermeier style of the Villa Flora : www.villaflora.ch
I wish you a gorgeously sunny Autumn, full with superb travel features and enjoyable discoveries, assembled wherever you wish, to suit your desires and mood… with unique gateways, exclusively devised for you by AILLEURS!