As we had some travel plans cancelled in August, Mr E and I have really been enjoying exploring our lovely local area. The Chilterns are stuffed full of historic stately homes and manor houses: from Waddesdon Manor, designed in the style of a romantic French Renaissance chateau, to Sir Francis Dashwood’s extravagant, Italianate West Wycombe Park, we have a huge diversity of beautiful buildings to visit. One that might have escaped your radar is Latimer House, now the De Vere Latimer Estate, a stunning mansion house estate that has recently undergone a huge (£7m) refurbishment that has transformed the original mansion house, including a beautifully renovated library, a coffee shop, a brand new restaurant: 1838 Restaurant and Bar, and the new Huntley Bar as well as additional luxury bedrooms and an elegant new reception.
There aren’t many prettier towns than Marlow, right next to the River Thames in Buckinghamshire. We spent a sunny morning wandering the shops (Sweaty Betty, Fat Face, a massive Jigsaw, Whistles, Mint Velvet, and loads of stylish independent boutiques and shops) down to the river, and then – all set to walk along the river’s edge for a while – the sky suddenly got really dark and fat blobs of rain started splashing on us. Ah well, instead we headed to West Street, to try the bottomless brunch at The Botanist, a pretty, quirky bar and restaurant on West Street. The front window completely rolls back, so when the sun finally came out again, it was a lovely spot to sit, sip a cocktail and watch the world go by while waiting for our table.
Are we allowed to say ‘staycation’? Well, whatever we’re currently calling it, I had a bit of travel cancelled recently and was getting majorly itchy feet, so I suggested to Mr E that we take a little weekend trip to London. And what a lovely weekend it turned out to be. We stayed at the very lovely Dorsett Shepherds Bush, which is the perfect hotel for a city break: it’s literally a five minute walk from the tube station (and Westfield Shopping Centre), and we spent the whole weekend exploring and hopping on and off the tube.
As the kids get older, the idea of lazing on a beach with an iced drink and a good thriller novel to hand (my idea of heaven) becomes a bit less realistic. I know some teenagers are happy to loll around on holiday, but we like to break it up and have at least a couple of days expanding our comfort zone. I thought it would be a good idea to suggest a few activities to get the heart-rate up and excitement pounding, so here are a few of my top activities for adrenaline junkies. These are also great if you’re not actually heading away anywhere, but want a few tips for great days out to break up the holidays.
So did you know that Sunday was International Picnic Day? Luckily the weather was absolutely gorgeous so it was easy to get outside and do some alfresco snacking. Of course planning the perfect picnic really shouldn’t include limp sandwiches and sweaty salads – I think the key to an impressive picnic is to mix a few things you’ve made yourself with a selection of ready made bits and bobs, blurring the edges so nobody quite knows which is which. I’ve been trying out a few items from Tesco’s brand new Mediterranean-inspired Deli range, and they fit the bill perfectly: you can eat many of the items hot or cold, and there are loads of tasty little bits and pieces perfect for eating with your fingers.
Last night, we spent the most magical evening in London. I always love going to London at this time of the year to look at all the lights (my Dad used to drive us to London and drive down Oxford Street when we were little – it was one of the highlights of Christmas!) and we were especially lucky to be treated to a gorgeous sail down the Thames with MBNA Thames Clippers, London’s fabulous riverboat service, alighting at the London Eye to catch the festive production of Peter Pan at the National Theatre. It’s such a lovely, lovely way to travel too.
Last week I headed up to London in the sunshine to do a little messing about in boats. I always feel that I don’t really go to London enough – from our local train station it takes a little over half an hour to get into Euston, and unlike some of my unluckier friends, our service provider, London Midland, is really excellent: on time, clean and efficient. In a happy coincidence, it was also Afternoon Tea Week (I know, who knew that was a thing?) and I made my way to London Bridge pier to hop on board and enjoy a rather delicious afternoon tea with MBNA Thames Clippers.
If you’re heading off on a winter holiday (lucky you!), it can often be difficult to track down everything you need. Bizarrely, swimwear only seems to be in the shops around May and then if you don’t grab the nice stuff it’s all gone again by summer, so if you’re going in November you’ve got no chance! Happily, the interwebs are here to soothe your woes, and if you hunt around you can get a bargain too!
I LOVE a trip to London. There’s something about a visit to the capital that feels so special, so when I was invited to the Autumn/Winter Asda wine preview to sample some of their festive fizz, I decided to make a little mini trip out of it with an overnight stay at the gorgeous Capital Hotel, right in the heart of Knightsbridge.
Glastonbury has ushered in festival season good and proper. I watched all the BBC coverage with mixed feelings. My boys love it, but I’m still not sure I’m a festival person. Still, there are still a good three months of quality festival action all over the country to make us change our minds, so book tickets to the one you fancy as soon as possible – I’m seriously considering Blogstock actually. I think it’s probably quite easy to do a festival badly, you know, assume it’s going to be sunny every day or you just bring bottles of wine and find out at the door (as my boys did) that no glass is allowed on site. So here are my top festival tips for making the most out of the experience.
This week, Mr E and I took a little road trip down to Kent. We were off to Dover for a date with the gorgeous, re-imagined Disney Magic, and looking for a place to stay in Kent the night before. A friend recommended the Heath Estate winery and its pub, The Goudhurst Inn, and frankly we didn’t take much convincing.
As you might have read, back in April, Mr E and I were lucky enough to visit Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Raymond Blanc’s deliciously decadent hotel in Oxfordshire. I’ve also visited before and been lucky enough to be shown around the gorgeous gardens, too. If you watched Kew on a Plate you’ll know that Raymond Blanc is really keen on gardening and cooking with his own produce. It obviously runs in the family, because his son, Olivier, along with Charlotte Salt, has created a lovely little character, Henri le Worm to show children where food actually comes from and encourage them to learn more about nature and the important role it plays in our food.
As you know, every year I try and remind myself that life should be about snapshots, and not about stuff. When we’re old and grey, we won’t look back on our lives and remember that nice sofa we bought in the sales in 2015 (ahem), we’ll remember time spent with family and friends, visiting incredible places and enjoying new experiences.
Our girl’s foodie weekend away in London
So I forgot to tell you about the weekend before last! My buddy Erica and I decided we’d plan a girly weekend away. A foodie weekend in London suited everyone, so Erica came down from Scotland with her gorgeous daughter Erin and we headed off on the train to London.
Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to Raymond Blanc’s beautiful Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire. I’ve wanted to visit for ages, so I was beside myself with excitement. As I drove up, I dithered outside the front gate in my car, not really knowing what to do, and instantly, a friendly gentleman in an immaculate suit rushed out to help, escorting me to the reception and driving my car off to park it for me. First impressions? Pretty darned good.
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