Everyday Living in Belgium’s Castles

Castle with square towers
Château de Jannée, Belgium

Belgium’s everyday castles aren’t the kind you see in Disney World. Those castles are the stuff of fairy tales. In Belgium—as in much of northern Europe—”castles” are often large but homey buildings with tidy square towers, plump furnishings, and folksy nobility who welcome guests with cheery warmth.

Join me for a tour of three of the country’s friendliest castle homes, and meet the hospitable owners who live there—and rent out rooms to cover their expenses.

Full story… Belgium’s Castles Offer Homey Comforts >


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Visit Hay Castle, Schmooze With the King

Hay Castle, Wales

Next time you visit Wales, be sure to drop in on Richard Booth, the self-proclaimed King of Hay-on-Wye. His title is well-earned.  Thanks to the eccentric British bibliophile, this sleepy Welsh village has become a world-famous literary center and the site of the famous Hay Festival held every spring in Wales and various times of the year in a dozen other countries, from Nigeria to Bangladesh.

The transformation of Hay-on-Wye began with the town fortress.

Booth purchased the castle in the early 1960s and opened a used bookstore in the old firehouse nearby. “I could buy the whole town for six quid back then,” Booth told me when I popped in for a visit.

Despite its romantic appeal, Hay Castle had problems. It was, Booth said, “a wreck of a place” with a crumbling thirteenth century tower, a ruined roof, and a derelict Jacobean mansion.

Eigen foto

Hay-on-Wye became an improbable tourist destination when copy-cat entrepreneurs arrived, transforming the remote corner of Wales into a book lover’s hot heaven, wall-to-wall with shops. Meanwhile, Richard Booth earned his own notoriety by proposing that the town secede from the country. Donning a crown, he declared himself king—and named his horse prime minister.

Are you thinking that the bookseller is daft? Not a chance.  Richard Booth’s theatrical proclamations are all about dogged planning and shrewd niche marketing.

“We try not to sell new books,” Booth said. He scorns Johnny-come-lately booksellers who deal in pop novelists like Jackie Collins. “We want you to come to buy something you cannot get anywhere else.”

The Castle in Hay-on-Wye

Ornithology, pornography, outrageous political treatises, manuals for obsolete electrical devices, spiritualist esoterica, Hollywood memorabilia… They all find their way to the book village on the shore of the River Wye. But  never mind the breathy exclamations of tour guides.  Hay-on-Why isn’t just about books. The kingdom of Richard Booth is the wide and wacky world of secondhandom. “Anyone who would buy a new book is crazy!” he said.

English: Books in Hay on Wye Outside the castl...

In 1978, a fire gutted Booth’s living quarters in the Jacobean mansion, and the old Norman tower looks about to topple. To finance restorations and save the Castle, Booth plays the role of king and treats visitors with royal privileges… for a price.

Richard George William Pitt Booth, the "K... You can help Richard Booth restore Hay  Castle.

For less than a hundred pounds, you can purchase a royal title for yourself or a loved one. Become a baron, duke, earl, knight, or countess! Buy your royal title >

Or, you can buy books, mugs, a Hay passport, or an Order of Chivalry. Browse Richard Booth’s shop >

Architects are invited to submit bids for a £4 million project to create a new arts and education’ inside the fortress. Deadline is in just a few days. Record your interest now >

[PHOTOS: Hay Castle, shops in Hay-on-Wye, and “King” Richard Booth. Wikipedia]
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See History Mirrored at Versailles

Versailles Hall of Mirrors

A trip to Paris is not complete without a day at the Palace of Versailles, just 20 minutes from the City via the RER C local train line.

The lavish Hall of Mirrors shown here defined the French Baroque style with large curved forms, twisted columns, and trompe l’oeil paintings. But, perhaps even more fascinating than its architecture is the complicated history that took place within the gilded walls.

The Power of Place – Architecture, War, and Memory – Americans at Versailles Palace

Photo: La Grande Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors), Chateau de Versailles. Image by Myrabella (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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