Saturday, May 4, 2019

Annual Tulip Festival in West Sussex, UK

My jaw literally dropped open, and I exclaimed “Wow” as the train rolled past the Arundel Castle in the English countryside.

Guess I didn’t do enough research about this nearly 1,000-year-old castle, located in West Sussex, about 90 minutes away from London by public transport. I simply had a day off and had Googled where I could find a tulip festival as I recalled hearing about one on TV recently. (The castle overlooks the River Arun and was built at the end of the 11th century by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel.)

Well, the first week in May (this month) might be about the last chance you have to see the annual tulip festival in bloom at Arundel Castle. I visited the extensive gardens earlier this week and was disappointed to see that the large field of tulips were already depleted. Bookmark your calendar for mid-April 2020 so you can see the more than 60,000 tulip bulbs burst into bloom. Of course, when the tulips bloom is always up to Mother Nature.
Never the less, I thoroughly enjoyed walking around the grounds of the castle and the gorgeous gardens. At one point, I think I was the youngest person in the gardens. Ha ha. That’s what happens when you have a day off in the middle of the week.

Tulips of all the rainbow colors adorn massive flower pots as well as immaculately designed gardens spaces. If you love flowers and gardens like I do, you could easily spend a few hours in the gardens alone.

Get ready for a ton of tulip photos!

Castle History and the Keep
While there are several ticket options, I purchased a silver level one for £16.50, which included access to the castle keep as well as the gardens. I also received a £3.00 voucher for the café where I bought a slice of Victoria sponge cake and a coffee after all the walking I did outside in the gardens.

The keep, located within a courtyard and surrounded by a stone wall, was the heart of the medieval castle. The tower keep, with its extra thick walls and protected entrance, generally was the safest place to be during warfare. The tall tower offered its protectors a 360-degree view of potential enemies. Today, the keep offers spectacular views of the English countryside and of Arundel Castle itself.
One of the oldest parts of the castle is the gatehouse, which dates to 1070. Under his will, King Henry I (1068-1135) settled the Castle and lands in dower on his second wife, Adeliza of Louvain. Three years after his death, she married William d'Albini II, who built the stone shell keep on the motte. In 1155, King Henry II confirmed William d'Albini II as Earl of Arundel, with the Honour and Castle of Arundel.

I was also interested to learn that the castle is pretty well preserved because the same family – The Duke and Duchess of Norfolk – have owned it for several generations. Part of the castle is open to the public, and part of it is where the family actually lives. I can only imagine the upkeep of this impressive castle.

In 2002, Edward Fitzalan-Howard became the18th Duke of Norfolk when his father died. Arundel Castle has been the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors for over 850 years – descending directly from 1138 to the present day, carried by female heiresses from the d'Albinis to the Fitzalans in the 13th century and then from the Fitzalans to the Howards in the 16th century.  
Looking at the private section of Arundel Castle where the Duke of Norfolk lives with his family.
If you want to peek inside some of the castle’s extravagant rooms, check out this post by British bloggers Hand Luggage Only.
On the way back to the train station, I had a nice view of Arundel Castle along the river.
If you missed the tulips, don’t fret as they are followed by a flurry of purple and white as thousands of allium bloom for the Allium Extravaganza this month. 

Wouldn’t you like to visit an English castle with gardens like these?

Monday, April 29, 2019

Imagine ever changing seas of steely grey to turquoise blue, dramatic clifftops and gorgeous greenery along the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

You can see all this and more when you choose to hike what is considered one of the most spectacular hiking trails in the world – the aptly named Sentiero degli Dei or “Path of the Gods.” The Path of the Gods is named after a mythological legend, which overlooks the path where Ulysses in Homer’s The Odyssey encountered the singing sirens that were on the island of Li Galli.
During the long Easter holiday weekend, we visited our cousin who is studying in Sorrento, Italy. He arranged our hiking tour of the Path of the Gods through a fantastic tour group called Sorrento Hiking. Now, normally, hubby and I aren’t big fans of organized tours, but our cousin’s mother had done the hike twice this spring so we trusted her opinion.

We were not disappointed. In fact, at the end of the day, I was literally blown away by how organized and knowledgeable our guide, Nino, a native of the Sorrento area, was. But I shouldn’t be surprised as Nino started Sorrento Hiking with a group of friends who enjoy hiking and showing people the lesser known and wild Sorrento peninsula. When someone has such passion for the Italian countryside as Nino, it shows.

Our hike began at the trailhead in the small village of Bomerano, a fraction of Agerola. The Sentiero degli Dei follows several routes and alternatives, but the most famous is the trail that leads from Bomerano to Nocelle (high above Positano). Nino picked us up in Sorrento and drove to Bomerano in about an hour, but by public transport, if you take the Sorrento-Amalfi line bus, you must transfer in Amalfi to the Amalfi-Agerola line, which takes about two hours. Since we only had a couple days in the Sorrento area, hiring a private guide made the most sense.

Definitely wear proper hiking or walking attire.
The hiking poles were a huge help in some steep areas too.
Though the grey skies threatened to rain at any minute, we set out on the rocky trail, which hugs the steep cliffside overlooking dozens of terraced farms and vineyards. The views over the Almafi coastline are amazing!

Abandoned Houses
As we hiked along the Path of the Gods, we saw many crumbling stone buildings which are the remains of old farm houses. Farmers along the Lattari Mountains used to produce grapes, lemons, olive trees and other local produce as well as raising goats. The area also was known for its production of silk from silkworms for hundreds of years until the unification of Italy in 1821. Nino explained that after World War II, some people just abandoned their homes high up in the hills for an easier life in town or for other reasons as you can imagine.

Can you imagine the hardships people must have endured to live up here?

The circular stones on the left are the remains of an old limestone furnace.
Farmers used to make a "cement" in these furnaces to build the walls of their homes and fences.
Antonio’s Goat Farm and Lunch
But the hillsides are still alive today. One of the highlights of our hike was stopping at Antonio’s goat farm for a snack of goat cheese and homemade Italian salamis. Well that “snack” turned into an impressive spread of Italian Easter bread, charred bread dripping with local olive oil, fresh goat cheese (similar to a ricotta) and even homemade wine. Everything was so delicious, and the flavors even amplified knowing that everything was homemade.
Antonio, a 30-year-old farmer, raises his 30 or so goats along the steep cliffs here high above the Almafi Coast. He milks his goats twice a day and makes cheese that he sells in the local villages. But like most farmers, he found it hard to make a living with this trade. He was about to give up until Nino and his business partners said, “hey, we’ll bring the people to you.”

Now, as part of the guided hikes with Sorrento Hiking, groups stop at Antonio’s farm to have a delicious snack and see the traditional way of life. There’s no electricity here, but that adds to its charm. I could just imagine setting up a tent here and spending a night on Antonio’s farm – an idea that I heartily recommended to Nino.

If you stop by, kindly leave a couple of euros to help cover Antonio's hard work and hospitality.
That view!

The small black specs in the rear of this photo are Antonio's goats.
They were either trying to hide from all the hikers or the incoming rain.
Of course, we had to take a selfie with the goats!
Wildflowers and Herbs
When you’re hiking with a native Italian, he is bound to explain the local flora and fauna. Nino served us up an edible buffet as we hiked along – several different varieties of thyme, rosemary, wild fennel and the most peppery arugula (wild rocket) that we’ve ever tasted. As a chef and someone who loves the outdoors, I loved learning about the local landscape. You wouldn’t get this same experience if you did this hike on your own.
The Path of the Gods trail ends in the village of Nocelle where from there you must hike down approximately 1,500 steps to reach the center of Positano. A little ways before we reached Nocelle, we made a loop and started walking a trail slightly higher above the way we came so we could return to our starting point at Bomerano.

In Bomerano, we took refuge from the rain at the small café of Il Caffé degli Dei where we had an espresso and homemade lemon granita. What a sweet way to end our spectacular hike along the Path of the Gods!


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