A cabinet of curiosity for the people

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Joseph Denais museum: the cabinet of curiosity that survived the passage of time

Beaufort-en-Vallée, Sept. 2016 — Beaufort’s Joseph Denais museum, in western France’s Anjou, is a survivor. Built in 1905, it has the proud resplendence of a turn-of-the century post-industrial-revolution institution whose ambition was to enlighten the local community.

These days, with its collection of stuffed animals, Egyptian sarcophagi, Japanese porcelain and impressionist paintings, it has the charming incongruity of a life-size cabinet of curiosity that has miraculously made it into the 21st century.

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Fit for a king: skiing the Hochkönig area

View from a ridge: hot air balloons floating over Dienten
View from a ridge: hot air balloons floating over Dienten

Maria Alm, Feb. 2015 – The western face of the Hochkönig is a steep expanse of snow and rock. “The refuge is up there on the right,” says the waiter pointing to the ridge of the peak that gives its name to the ski area south of Salzburg. We frown and squint through the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling window but all we can see is a vertiginous cliff face.

With a slightly disappointed smile, he goes on to explain that the refuge can only be accessed in the summer months, either hiking from the back or climbing up from this side. He is clad in prim traditional costume but his hands look like they have spent more time clambering in rocks than handling espresso cups. The toughest ascent, he says, takes ten hours; he’s only done the easier three-hour one. We’re impressed, of course, but right now, our mind is turning to the coffee and waffles he’s just brought.
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Innsbruck: a walk down the hillside

Theresien Kirche: the balcony on the clock tower
Theresien Kirche: the balcony on the clock tower

The tiny balcony protruding on the west side of the Theresien Kirche, in Innsbruck’s Hungerburg suburb, is one of the few external ornaments on the austere 1930s church. Its shadow, already long at nearly 4pm, gives fleeting depth to the plain off-white wall.

Inside, the afternoon sun glides over the simple benches and lights up the post-war frescoes painted by Austrian artist Max Weiler in 1945.

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White and gold: autumn days and first snowfalls in Val d’Isère

Above the Piste L in the Laisinant
Above the Piste L in the Laisinant

Val d’Isère, Oct. 2015 — We’ve been walking up the trail above the L piste towards the Ouillette lake, just up from the Laisinant, for nearly two hours. On a summer’s day, this takes no longer than an hour. But the snow that fell for nearly 24 hours yesterday is making our progress much slower on this Autumn afternoon.

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Pretty as a picture: Chaumont’s garden festival 2015

Nuances: dramatic museum setting for live still-life
Nuances: dramatic museum setting for live still-life

June 2015 — It’s early June at Chaumont-sur-Loire’s annual garden festival, and one of the 26 gardens created around this year’s theme, ‘A Collector’s Garden’, is already getting more attention than others.

From afar, Nuances, a garden created by two Belgian landscape-architects, looks like a large hyper-realist photograph in a modern museum: bright flowers and lush green leaves set in a pure white frame on a pure white wall. A few cardoon leaves flow out towards the viewer, like an 18thcentury Dutch painting within a painting. The blues of the lupins, campanulas and delphiniums are so intense they look like an over-saturated print.

That day, everybody wants their picture taken in front of this live still-life. A few weeks later, as the holiday season begins, Nuances has become the face of Chaumont in all the magazines and TV programmes covering the festival.

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Mellerud to Stockholm: watching out for elk

Mellerud: the little house in the Swedish prairie
Mellerud: the little house in the Swedish prairie

“Seriously, you should be careful,” says L, who had a near-miss with an elk on her way back home at dusk a few months ago. Her partner M warns us bluntly: “Elks are more dangerous than other animals. They’re tall, so if you hit them their legs go under the car while the body goes straight into your windscreen; that’s two tonnes of animal landing right on you.”

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