Our dear friends just got married in a fairy tale background: the Lake Como. The Northern Italian lake, only about 30min drive from Milan, is a peaceful escape from the busy city. The vintage charm of the surrounding towns is certainly a perfect background for a traditional wedding…. Continue Reading
Ok I’m about to write what is possibly the girliest, most shallow article ever written in those columns…doesn’t matter I take responsibility for it. This summer has been quite packed in long and short flights Continue Reading
Less than 2h away from London, this itinerary is the promise of a romantic countryside weekend, in SO-British fashion; Prince Charles’ secluded lifestyle, glorious British architecture and scenic bike rides, on your doorstep. “Visit England ” is an advertisement you’re likely to have encountered if you commute in London; a serious push has recently been given to tourism in England and I can only emphasise their message after a picturesque weekend on the road navigating between Alice in Wonderland’s manor house, tea with Mr Darcy and Hermione’s magic tricks in New College cloister – I’ll break the suspense, I have not succeeded in changing my friends into a ferret – yet.
The May Day bank holiday weekend provided us with the perfect occasion, 3 / 4 days is ideal for a relaxing weekend away from the city. Be ready to step into a tale, you may find yourself taking notes or sketching houses!
It’s not one to plan on a shoestring though, England remains expensive and the cosy feeling of those places calls for boutique hotels and nice B&B. I would recommend renting a convertible car, packing fluffy jumpers and fine lingerie and heading out for a romantic escape.
If Bath has that strangely familiar feeling to it, it must be due to the amount of costume movies filmed there! Actually it’s quite fun to follow the tourism office’s movie map around town.
The city was built by the Romans around three natural hot mineral springs, that were the basis for the infamous therms. Bath’s status as a World Heritage Site was bestowed in recognition of its magnificent Georgian architecture.
The spa is a new built but the rooftop swimming pool nicely overlooks the old town and its green surrounding. The water springs out at 44 degrees and is then cooled down to 33, for comfort. We happily bubbled in for a good part of the afternoon until twilight. They accept no booking on Saturdays and I was told the queue can get a bit long (although we only waited for 15min), also last thing, take your flip flops.
I was longing for the high Tea in Jane Austen’s tea room but how disappointed was I when I got declined access for I had not booked…grrr. Next time.
We followed the Lonely Planet recommendation and went for dinner to The Circus and were not disappointed – book in advance, it’s busy.
Whether you want to walk, cycle or ride across this string of charming villages, it’s an ideal countryside postcard-perfect day amongst lambs, strolling from one charming pub to the next inviting inn.
Downton Abbey fans can hop by Bampton, I hear the Manor is even available for visit on certain days of the year but that should be planned well in advance.
Or followers of the Royals can move towards Tetbury, pay respect to Charles & Camilla‘s cottage in Highgrove.
My favourite village of all was probably Upper and Lower Slaughter with its mellow-stone manor houses from another time, undulating woods, formal gardens and parkland overlooking lake and sheep-grazed fields by a peaceful and unspoilt village, away from main roads…fab.
Sone gem hotels can be found along the way such as the Lord of the Manor with its Michelin-star restaurant…to celebrate an occasion or just stop for a beer.
for bicycle-riders, the Guardian published this useful little map, inspired by the escape route book: ” My favourite bike ride – the Cotswolds”
By now you must be sick of me saying “it’s such a fantastic place”, reminding me of films, books and oozing of royalty and history figures but really..but look at that. Churchill wasn’t born there for no reason.
Our visit was short and the enchanting gardens are huge! The good news is that day passes are convertible into annual passes for free so I’ll probably be back on sunny weekends this summer.
I don’t think I need to introduce Oxford. It actually seem I was the only Londoner left to visit the student-packed city. With over 22 thousands students from over a hundred different countries, split over 38 colleges….a quarter of its population are students!
We stayed at the Four Pillars and although I have nothing bad to say about it at all, but there’s such a large choice of nice and quirky accommodations in Oxford … way too enticing:
the refurbished cells of the Malmaison prison, ok the gardens are beautiful but personally I didn’t quite get the attraction though.
during the holidays, one can rent a dorm room and pretend they’re Harry Potter for the night (careful some can actually get expensive!)
Ok I won’t go on and on about fantastic secluded college courtyards, but if it was to do again, I’d go for the Mad Hatter high tea in Christ Church College, sitting in the Great Hall next to the dedicated stained glass window must be just unbelievable…and yum. (only available on certain Tuesdays….)
Films & books
The Duchess – or Keira Knighley in the role of the 18th Century socialite, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, partly filmed in Bath and the surroundings. Sadly still modern.
Northanger Abbey – Jane Austin’s first book. I got my hand on a nice and free audiobook version but really I was after a version read by local actors, that would screams Oxfordshire, let me know!! (like this version of Alice in Wonderland for example)
I used a the new version of google map to plan my trip that I then amended once back; click on the thumbnail below to use it.
and now tell me, is it just me who feels like the Countess of Dowager is going to come out of one of those little churches anytime?
when we decided to book a trip to Morocco for New Year holidays, my first thought was “great, I’m getting an argan oil refill!” Last time I went there it was to Rabat for my Continue Reading
For me, Lanzarote was the most beautiful place on earth … … then I made it a point to show Lanzarote to the world . César Manrique I discovered Lanzarote last year and fell in love Continue Reading
How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?
Charles de Gaulle
France’s landscape is truly diverse. Not all glamorous but it sometimes feels nice as well to just immerse oneself into the deep countryside, enjoy hiking volcanoes, canoeing in stunning rivers and …. eating a lot of cheese!
On stressful days like this, I dream of being able to take a coffee break on Famara beach, Canarias.
It’s the end of the world. Don’t go to party, not point. We were alone, watching the sun rise and falling asleep right after the sun had set (and the bottle of local vino), exhausted and ocean-washed. Alone to the point when we wondered : where are the locals gone!?
We asked the (many) Brits we found, why they had decided to live in Canarias: the answer was invariably, “because it’s sunny, and we benefit from steady surf conditions all year round”. It would be a good enough reason; but the volcano-island in the Atlantic ocean, has much more to offer; great wine, cheese, sun, and above all : peace.
Go get your surf board, it’s one of the best spot in the world
The first things that surprised us was that the island is small, but you’ll definitely need a car, no public transport there. Also, that the weather is ever changing. The land is swept by the wind, for the greatest pleasure of surfers, but making the shining sun turn into a bone soaking shower in 3min.
Famara is an amazing beach for surfing beginners, it’s a safe and high quality beaches, with consistent swell. We went in October and could use a short wetsuit
check the weather, tides and other info here
but for more experienced surfers (or for those who, like us, will enjoy watching some serious action live), go to La Santa. It’s 10min driving from Famara, and the most famous surf spot of the island.
Do’s and Don’ts
go rent a car cauz you’ll need it. They’re lovely people, and you’ll get an audio guide
do take your car and cross the island from one side to another, stopping in bodegas to test the wine.
please don’t think it’s a good idea to go for an ice-cream in Puerto del Carmen. It’s not, you’ll be disappointed.
Once back at home, watch Pedro Almodovar’s Abrasos Rotos (broken embraces). In Spanish please.
Pedro Almodovar seldom gets it wrong
Like the King’s wife, Salma of Morocco, my friend is from Fes. Unlike her, she is a full time executive worker in Paris and married a French guy from the Caribbean The common point to all Moroccan weddings isn’t the rum-punch; it’s that the bride is always a princess. Like in little girls dreams, she’s pampered, fed delicious delights, being introduced to the party on a sedan chair….
Moroccan weddings are a major institution, and 3 days of festivities could feel quite intense; however, life goes by at a different pace there, and the seamlessly organised step by step process is also very patronising, securing. First because they’ve invented the wedding planner concept with their tradition keepers (the neggafates), so no schedule slip and no worries – at least for the guests.
I flew there 2 days prior to the wedding and we steamed and scrubbed in the hammam at the sound of women’s songs and chants…marvellous way to relax and gather amongst girls. Unsure if it’s the pampering or the carb and sugar load but the whole pre-wedding experience feels pretty childish, in a good way. more info on Morrocan weddings.
And the actual wedding ceremony is a spectacular ballet of – extremely sweet – food, from the pastilla to the Cornes-de-Gazelles and other honey & almond-heavy deliciousnesses.
And if you thought European weddings were colourful and Kaftans were a austere dress ? mmm not quite there; guest are rivalling with not so traditional kaftan of all colours, shapes, fabrics, folding it up the knee and dancing till late.
The diversity and refinement of kaftans is fascinating from a fashionista point of view as it gives a canvas that can be declined in to so many versions! I went to the wedding wearing a long gown but instantly wished I had rented one! I had never realised it could be so sophisticated and also figure flattering with the large belt that can be adjusted. To get a better idea, check last year’s fashion shows, and my favourites.
Do’s and Dont’s in Rabat
- do stay in a Riad in the medinah, avoid the Hilton (Sofitel) unless you’re on a business trip. I stayed in Ali’s Riad Zyo, an oasis of hospitality. I could eat his home-made beghrir everyday for breakfast…yum
- do bargain argan oil, rose water and orange blossom water: each time I open the bottle, my bedroom travels back to the souk
don’t go for just a weekend when travelling from London – with no direct flight to Rabat you will have to fly to Casa and take a train. That’s not true anymore: Ryanair has open a direct London – Rabat, knock yourself out, they’re at £25 at the moment!! It’s cheap and rather easy, people are friendly enough they will show you the way in French or broken English.
Readers Corner – what do I take in the plane?
for those who can read in French: Partir – Tahar Ben Jelloun
Morocco is an enticing country, with lovely, welcoming people and Rabat combines the wealth, the Mediterranean sea-side and diet. When tourist guides all focus on Marrakesh and Essaouira, I felt pretty privileged to have been invited to Rabat and shared delicious home made Couscous al-fresco.
From there, where next?
surfing in Imessouane, Dakla or Sidi ifni which I have been recommended recently. And given how welcoming people are, how good the food and how consistent the weather is, it’s on the “get back” list. Or maybe who knows, one day I put my guts together and sign up for the Marathon des Sables