Whenever I used to travel anywhere, be it near or far, I would always look for grand houses or palaces to visit because I just loved the luxury and the decadent history – it felt like such a great escape from reality. And yet, for some strange reason, I’ve never visited any of these amazing houses in the (almost) five years I’ve spent living in London even though the city is full of them!
There’s the obvious ones such as Buckingham and Kensington Palaces, but some lesser known gems can be found just a short train ride away, too. One of them, Eltham Palace, is located in South East London and it really is a gem. The palace is only a 15 minute walk from either Eltham or Mottingham rail stations, but, getting off the train at either, you would never know what awaits when you get to your destination.
Eltham Palace was an important royal palace from the 14th to the 16th century, but after that it was left to its ruin for centuries. Finally, in the 1900s, it was leased by millionaire Stephen Courtauld and his wife Virginia, who refurbished it in 1933.
It’s easy to see the influence of the 1930s in the palace’s Art Deco interior (there’s a gorgeous circular lounge with a beautiful glazed dome when you first walk in which is just beautiful!). Every room is gorgeous, but unlike some other older or slightly grander palaces, they actually feel really home-y too and like someone could have actually once lived in them (which, of course, they did).
One thing I really loved about the palace was that there was a big element of interaction, as, for example, in Virginia’s room you can actually try on some of her (well, replicas of them) dresses, coats and hats. I, of course, tried on a few things, which was so much fun and made me feel like a million bucks for a few glorious minutes!
There’s other little interactive things like the above around the rest of the palace too, for example a little animal stamp treasure hunt for littler visitors.
My favourite tidbit I learnt from my visit was that the Courtaulds had a lemur named Mah-Jongg AS A PET. If you look around closely during your tour, you’ll be able to see little nods to this, such as the long and narrow bamboo ladder in the hallway leading up to his old living quarters. Learning about the lemur made me want to be friends with the Courtaulds even more – why isn’t there a TV show about their glamorous lives already? I’d watch it!
The photos above are from the palace’s beautiful cafe and restaurant which I would very much recommend visiting. Adjacent to the cafe there’s also a lovely gift shop which I wanted to empty (I love gift shops!) but resisted the urge…
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