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Books and Blooms trip to England, Wales, Scotland, Italy, and France - April and May 2019

The trip was seven weeks and planned around art, gardens, and books.

Saturday - arrived at London Heathrow, tube to Euston station (thank you, Emma!), train to the lovely small city of Chester, England, stayed at Hallmark the Queen Hotel as it was near the train station. It was fine and I could walk to the city center but if I go to Chester again, I will stay in the city center.

Sunday and Monday - taxi from Chester to Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, England. For a book lover, this was a wonderful experience. Stayed two nights at the Library. Meals are available. I had Sunday lunch and Monday tea at the Library. On Monday I had a pub lunch in Hawarden.

Tuesday - Travel day. Taxi to Chester, then train from Chester to Inverness, Scotland. Stayed at the Strathness House Hotel with view of the River Ness. Did the River Ness Walk in the evening.

Wednesday - Scenic train ride from Inverness to Kyle of Localsh, then bus to Portree on Isle of Skye. Stayed at the Rosedale Hotel in a harbor view room. Loved this hotel and the breakfast was superb (made fresh by the owner’s mother).

Thursday - Did a minibus tour of Skye with Real Scottish Journeys and the tour allowed some time for short hikes. Took a taxi back to Kyle of Lochalsh as the tour finished after the last bus left for Kyle. Stayed at the Lochalsh Hotel in a seaview room. The hotel has seen better days but was adequate.

Friday - Took the train from Kyle to Attadale and walked across the road to the lovely Attadale Gardens. Then took the train to the village of Plockton and had a nice dinner in the Plockton Inn.

Saturday - Took a taxi to scenic Eilean Donan in Dornie (the buses in this part of Scotland aren’t too reliable).

Sunday - Travel day. Took the afternoon train from Kyle to Edinburgh. Stayed at the Bonham Hotel in Edinburgh.

Monday - Visited the National Gallery in Edinburgh, a very nice smaller museum. Had lunch at the Undercroft Cafe at St Andrews and St George’s Church, and visited Queen Street Gardens. Joined the Rick Steves 10 day Scotland tour in the late afternoon.

Tuesday - City tour of Edinburgh with a local guide. Lunch at Howie’s on Victoria Street. Visited the Georgian House on Charlotte Square in the New Town. Found Scotland Street and other locations from Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series.

Wednesday - Bus to Kenmore. On the way, stopped at Culross, picturesque town where Outlander has filmed. Lunch and afternoon at St Andrews including a visit to the Topping and Company bookstore where I was offered tea after making my purchase. Stayed two nights at the Kenmore Hotel in Kenmore.

Thursday - Visited the very interesting Crannog Centre, did a nature walk at the Hermitage, and had a tour of Dewar’s Distillery in Aberfeldy. Enjoyed an entertaining evening of bagpipe music.

Friday - Bus to Inverness. On the way, stopped at a sheep farm where we had a sheep herding demonstration by the resident sheep dogs and held adorable puppies and lambs. Visited historic Culloden. Stayed at the excellent very nice Glenmoriston Townhouse Hotel in Inverness. Dinner at the hotel.

Saturday - Cruised Loch Ness and visited the Urquhart Castle ruin. Tea and visit to the lovely Cawdor Castle and Gardens Visited the fantastic Leakey’s second hand bookshop located in a 17th century church. Dinner at Mustard Seed and music at Gellions Pub.

Sunday - Bus to Oban. Lunch and hike at the Nevis Range on the way. Local music and dinner at the Oban Inn. Stayed two nights in a seaview room at the Glenburnie House in Oban. Really loved the friendliness, decor, and location of this hotel.

Monday - Enjoyed Oban. Walked to Dunollie, a ruined castle with great views. Dinner at Ee Orsk.

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Tuesday - Bus to Edinburgh. Stop at Loch Lomond, visited Stirling Castle and Bannockburn. Final tour dinner at Harvey Nichols Forth Floor. Stayed two nights at the Bonham Hotel.

Wednesday - Visited Holyroodhouse Palace and Queen’s Gallery in Edinburgh and had lunch and tea at the cafe.

Thursday - Travel day. Flew Easy Jet from Edinburgh to Milan Malpensa airport. Stayed four nights at the Hotel Duca di York (great location, a short walk to the Duomo).

Friday - Viatour walking tour of Milan which included the Duomo, the Sforza Castle, and Leonardo’s The Last Supper. Visited an Ingres exhibit at the Palazzo Reale.

Saturday - Visited the colorfully decorated San Maurizio church and the Brera Art Gallery. Dinner at Trattoria Milanese.

Sunday - Visited the fabulous Pinoteca Ambrosiana, wonderful collection, the Raphael cartoon of The School of Athens, beautiful building. Lunch at Peck’s luxury food store. Sunday afternoon people watching in the Parc Sempione.

Monday - Train from Milano Centrale to Varenna on Lake Como. Stayed five nights at the wonderful Hotel Olivedo in a lakeview room. I especially liked the Lake Como segment of my trip.

Tuesday - Ferry to the town of Bellagio on Lake Como. Superb lakeside lunch at the Hotel Florence.

Wednesday - Ferry to the Villa Carlotta on Lake Como which has extensive, colorful gardens.

Thursday - Scenic train from Varenna to Tirano, then to St Moritz, Switzerland. We had tickets for the Bernina Express train in Tirano but our connecting train was late so we took the next regular train which turned out to be better as the Bernina Express trains have large windows that don’t open. The regular trains have windows that open which was better for taking photos. We had lunch in St Moritz, then took the train back.

Friday - Ferry to the town of Lenno, then a longish walk to the splendid Villa del Balbianello where I took an interesting tour of the house. Lovely gardens. Dinner at the Hotel Royal Victoria.

Saturday - Train from Varenna to Cremona through Milan, then a taxi to the Antica Corte Pallavicina Relais agriturismo.

Sunday - Train from Cremona to Bologna. Stayed at the Art Hotel Orologio for five nights. Great location a block off the main square.

Monday - Walking tour of Bologna through the Tourist office.

Tuesday - Uphill hike to San Luca through arcaded streets. Nice views. Visited Santo Stefano church and the Pinoteca Nazionale. Dinner at Vicola Columbina.

Wednesday - Bookbinding exhibition at the Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio. Hike to the orthopedic hospital for the view from the first floor. Dinner at Battibecco.

Thursday - Visited the Museo Civico Medievalle. Five nights was probably too many nights in Bologna but I intended to do a day trip to Parma and/or Florence but somehow didn’t get motivated to get on another train. Bologna is a nice college town but doesn’t have any wow sights.

Friday - Train from Bologna to Milan to Lyon, France. Stayed at the Hotel Charlemagne for eight nights.

Saturday - Visited the Textile and Decorative Arts Museum. Joined the Historic Roses Group tour of Lyon gardens, a British group dedicated to old garden roses.

Sunday - Visited the gardens at Domaine de la Croix-Laval at Charbonnieres and a private garden.

Monday - Visited the rose gardens at the Parc de la Tete d’Or in Lyon. Dinner at Brasserie Georges.

Tuesday - Visited a private garden and the medieval perched village of Grignan known for its old roses and connection to Madame Sevigny.

Wednesday - Visited La Bonne Maison in Lyon, spectacular garden of Odile Masquelier, founder of Roses Anciennes en France. Walking tour of historical Lyon.

Thursday - Visited two private gardens. Lunch at the wonderful La Clef de Voute in Oingt. Tour over.

Friday - Day trip to Geneva where we walked along the lake and had lunch.

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Saturday - Train to Paris. Visited the Parc Bagatelle rose garden in the Bois de Boulogne and the Luxembourg Gardens. Lunch at Le Prince Racine. Stayed at the Hotel Michelet Odeon for two nights in a room overlooking the Odeon Theater..

Sunday - Visit to the Boulevard Raspail organic outdoor market, the Tuileries Gardens, and the Musee de l’Orangerie to see Monet’s water lily paintings. Excellent lunch at the historic Le Procope restaurant, where I chose Sole Meurniere, the dish that changed Julia Childs' life. Eiffel Tower at night.

Monday - Train to Giverny from Gare St Lazare. Giverny was very crowded as usual but colorful and worthwhile. Lunch at the Hotel Baudy. Train to Paris and then train to Lyon. Stayed at the Hotel Charlemagne in Lyon.

Tuesday - Rented a car and drove to Vaison la Romaine and stayed one night at Le Hotellerie de Beffroi in the medieval town. Dinner at the hotel. It was my third visit to this hotel and I love it every time.

Wednesday - Drove to Abbey Saint Andre in Villeneuve les Avignon and visited the garden. Picnic lunch of bread, cheese, and pastries. Drove to Aix en Provence. Stayed at the Hotel de France for two nights, a block off the Cours Mirabeau. Crepes for dinner.

Thursday - Relaxed day in Aix visiting the food and flower markets. Outdoor lunch.

Friday - Train to Nice. Outdoor lunch at Le Grand Balcon. Stayed two nights at the Hotel Cronstadt which is old fashioned but well located a block from the Boulevard des Anglais.

Saturday - Lovely day at the fabulous Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, gardens with a view. Nice lunch at the Villa cafe. Enjoyed the Cecile McLoren Salvant concert at the Nice Opera House.

Sunday - Flew home.

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1952 posts

Awesome trip report, Grier! I love the details and it seems as if you fit a lot of activity into these days. Also, I can tell a lot of pre-planning went into figuring out all the various transportation modes. I know the tour part was taken care of but it was still a big job putting the rest of your trip together so cohesively! Nicely done and It sounds like you had a terrific time. Your "theme" covered two of my favorite things...flower gardens and bookstores! Thank you for taking the time to post this!

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275 posts

Wow... just wow. What a fabulous trip and thank you for all the details. Stunning!

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1150 posts

Fabulous trip report. I am bookmarking this for future reference. I so enjoyed 'going along' with you on your trip via your lovely photos you shared with me, especially of the flowers and bookshops.

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8397 posts

Grier! Wow, what a splendid trip! I have to tell you the transit from Edinburgh to Milan caught me off guard, hahaha! I was not expecting that!

You did a wonderful job of stitching together your tours plus free time. I am not a gardener but that Rose tour sounds so interesting!

Thanks for taking the time to post!

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1150 posts

Good morning, on your 1st full day group walk around Edinburgh did you go through the castle together when you reached the top of the Miracle Mile or was everyone given a ticket to do later? Just curious as some folks have reported this.

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806 posts

What a wonderful trip – and what a wonderful trip report! If I can figure out how to bookmark it, I will do so as well. How long did your Rose group tour last, and how did you find out about it?

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1277 posts

Thank you for your nice comments. It was a marvelous trip.

As for detail, I made a journal before I left with two pages per day which showed where I was each day, the hotel, the transportation, and a list of things to do. Each day I tried to add comments about what I actually did, where I ate, etc. I couldn't have made the trip without it.

Laurie Beth, we didn't visit Edinburgh Castle as a group but I believe we were given Historic Scotland's Explorer Pass which includes the castle. I wish I'd had much more time in Edinburgh (and Scotland) and hope to return. There is a secondhand bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland, off the normal tourist route, that I'd love to visit someday. The owner, Shaun Bythell wrote a book called The Diary of a Bookseller which is likely attracting booklovers to the shop and to the area.

Kathleen, my sister attended an international rose convention a few years ago and the Historic Roses Group, based in England, had a booth there and she joined on a whim and gets their newsletters. The group has two tours a year, one in the UK and one international venue. When I visited my sister at Christmas, she showed me the dates for the Lyon tour which happened to start the day after I was to fly home from Italy. I'd always wanted to go on a garden tour and the dates were just too perfect and I could easily take a train from Bologna to Lyon, so I changed my flight home and we signed up for the tour. I believe we were the first Americans to take an HRG tour. The tour was seven days and we added a week to see other gardens in France. Unfortunately, one can't predict ahead of time when peak bloom will be and the late spring in France meant that we didn't see most gardens at peak bloom. (We also had planned to visit a large rose garden outside Paris called Roseraie de L'Haÿ but as there weren't many roses blooming in the Parc Bagatelle in Paris, we changed our plans for the day we planned to visit Hay). There was a mistral wind while we were in Lyon, a cold, northwest wind that lasted for a few days. The Parc du Tete d'Or closed early while we were there due to the high wind. It was a good tour with nice people and I'm glad I went.

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681 posts

Thank you for your trip report. We were in Scotland the same time as you. We did it by driving so I am impressed with your transportation throughout the Isle of Skye especially. That took a lot of planning. Scotland was absolutely beautiful. Glad you had a great time.