Category Archives: UK

Postcard English countryside, Bath, Oxford and the Costwolds villages

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 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.

Bath

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. 

Bath Film-The Duchess-RoyalCrescent
Keira Knightley is Georgianna Cavendish, in the Duchess

 

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. 

bath spa rooftop
The Spa rooftop pool, naturally warm

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.

Cotswolds Villages

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.downtown abbey bampton village

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

Blenheim Palace

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.

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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.

Oxford

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!)

but probably the gem boutique hotel is the Old parsonage, I realised how cute it was when dining at the Gee’s, their bar & restaurant

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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.

map

 

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?

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A Weekend in London, UK [wintertime]

 

London's sometimes a little bit hidden, go and look out for it
London’s sometimes a little bit hidden, go and look out for it. Photo taken by the Metropolitan Police on a foggy day.

hurrah we passed Valentines’s time and its lot of heart-shape Krispy creme and 50-stomething bearded men holding balloons (dear please please no), but fact is, London is rather romantic, ALL YEAR ROUND!! a couple of ideas for a long weekend

this article is a follow up on the summer version of this post

# 1 : Brunch, Afternoon High-Tea and GastroPub dinner – indulge with comfort food

When the weather goes chilly a cosy warm up is de rigueur, my favourite afternoon tea award goes to the Sketch : a very stylish, Michelin-star place, with a large collection of flavoured teas and lovely finger food….what else do you need?

Alternative options: recover from any hangover after a long and boozy night out with The breakfast club brunch, that now counts 5 locations, the Smith of Smithfield (and their Spitalfield sister that will reopen in March) , or the Hawksmoor full English breakfast where you can easily feed a young elephant .

There’s quite a few fabulous chimney warmed cosy gastro-pubs in London where you can watch the snowfall (or the rain poor but it sounds less glam), Time Out is always there to help.

Afternoon tea at the Sketch

#2: Culture, Music and other things to do
For guaranteed brownie points with a girl, you could check out what’s on at the Royal Albert hall or the  the Royal Opera; with a little bit of organisation and advance-booking you could bag a  top quality performance at relatively affordable prices. Tip: for best value, pick any of the amphitheatre seats, they all have quality views.

Alternative options: Jazz night & dinner at Rooney Scotts in Soho, ballet at the English National Opera, modern dance at the Sadler’s Well in Angel

Ice-skating in a  magical location is slightly cliché but still, a rather cool date, you’ll fall, laugh, and warm up with a hot-chocolate after-wile. From November to January, pre-book at the styli Sommerset house (central) , the classic Tower of London (East) or the west-based Natural History Museum, and avoid the crowds of the Winter Wonderland fair. 

London is simply beautiful by itself and in the winter, when sunset comes early you could take advantage of a dry day if any, to go walking around. From Sloane square to South Bank for example, watching the sunset on Embankment bridge.

#3 : No romantic weekend without some cuddling

My favourite cinema in the whole world goes to the Aubin, THE Shoreditch based maxi-hipster cuddly place. Faaaaaaaa-bulous Sundays.

Alternative options:  The Electric cinema  – get the front row double beds. Or for a different kind of cinema experience, pretty unique to London, you could check what’s on at the Future Cinema, even though I think they’re recently become way too steep.

 #4: Do things together will bring you closer

Fine, Sauna and Spa are a little bit cheesy as a romantic time for two, but yet it’s a marvellous. Always check out what’s on offers before you book. I recently tried those 2 and it was fantastic. at the Chelsea Club, ask for a  Japanese bath.  The St Pancras hotel spa has luxurious”journeys to …”, I don’t know if I came out of there “firm, purified, enlivened, from the nape of the neck to the tips of my toes” but  definitely came out of there with  numb  legs.

Why not learn something new? like how to make a cocktail, a.k.a. a socially acceptable way to have cocktails on a Saturday mid-afternoon. I have no problem with that. The London Cocktail club have a good beginner overview course, but that lacks a little bit of hand-on practise. Someone’s whispering to my ear that Harvey Nicholls’ bar actually has great master-classes.

#5: the WOW factor

London Royal Observatory

how could would it be to go Start gazing at the Royal Observatory, on the  meridian zero? get on their mailing list or keep checking the website for new event

For other good views of the city you can try the National Portrait gallery Restaurant with a view after, you could plan it following an exhibition, after the Thursdays / Fridays late opening.

and the 2nd part of the evening? I would favour a speakeasy type of place over a club. You two can chat over a delicious Manhattan (sorry! meant London dry gin!). The Savoy’s Beaufort Bar has basically invented London cocktails, with their signature over-the-top impeccable service; however my favourite remains the Calloh Callay at the heart of Shoreditch for their unbeatable friendly atmosphere (booking essential Thursday-Saturday).

Fresh winter run along regents canal with a friend!!!

Kite Surfing in Camber Sands, England

Can’t get bored of London but knowing that I can spend a weekend on a white sand beach less than 2h away from it is also rather appealing!

if kite surfing was invented by the  French (apparently in the 80’s and on water skis!!)…Camber Sands is definitely a beautiful English south coast kite surfing spot, a short ride from home.

What’s the weather like? check the winds and weather conditions here. Anything below 10/15 knots won’t be enough.

I don’t have my equipment / I’m a beginner, what do I do? several options to hire and take classes but those guys are the only one with a base on the beach. Personally, I found the best value in the private tuition shared in 2 people.

How do I get there? from London, it’s either a 1.30h train and cab ride; or more social, rent a car with a few friends for about £20/person.

I don’t care about kiteboarding, is it worth the trip? yes if you’re bored of Brighton and want to wrest with a sea gull for a fish & chips at  the cute (but not  exceptionally affable) Mermaid Inn or closer to the beach we also found very fresh fish at the beach bistro

have fun, enjoy !!!

Romantic Escape to …London, UK [summertime]

London can be quite romantic. Those of us who have the privilege to live here sometimes forget…. a foreign friend of mine recently asked me for help organizing a romantic weekend for two…a few ideas below

My top 5 things to do on a summery weekend in London with your special someone:

Did you know,  the original Pimm's was invented by Mr James Pimm in 1840 on Poultry Street (next to Bank)....speaking of which, the Coq D'argent on 1 Poultry Street has a very nice outdoor rooftop, but I wouldonly recommend it during the week, the city tends to be quite dead during the weekends
Did you know, the original Pimm’s was invented by Mr James Pimm in 1840 on Poultry Street (next to Bank)….speaking of which, the Coq D’argent on 1 Poultry Street has a very nice outdoor rooftop, but I would only recommend it during the week, the city tends to be quite dead during the weekends

# 1: Brunch, Pimm’s o’clock and al-fresco dinners – beware, British food included!

On a sunny Sunday afternoon for a jug of Pimm’s, The Dicken’s inn on St Katherine’s docks is my favourite place. It’s got a nice terrace and you could include a stopover in your stroll along the marina and the Thames hand in hand…West side of London, the Ship Inn is also a good alternative place to sip along the river, but less easy to reach by common transport.

Columbia Road Flower Market

Feeling trendier? Put on your hipster shirt and over-sized shades, go have a lunch at the boundary rooftop. Don’t be afraid, there is a little bit of queuing on sunny days to do but it’s worth it. On Sundays only, the nearby Flower Market is open until about 4pm; then carry on to Brick Lane (ladies -if you have something for vintage items, this is paradise land) you could keep on partying until late.

Afternoon tea awesomeness

Another sunny afternoon “so British” option is to throw a little garden party and high tea at the castle, as you do… The Orangerie of Kensington Palace opens in the summer for a flurry of scones and clotted cream in the park. Princess Diana enjoyed it, you will too!

#2: Culture, Music and other things to do

Summer days bring plenty of music festivals, sport and cultural event with them : Wimbledon in July, British Summer Music Festival, LoveBox, Shoreditch Festivals, BBC Proms…I would recommend checking the Time Out website for the list of current event, it’s the easiest to navigate through.

The Somerset house is a spectacular 18th century building on the Thames bank, it host 51 fountains in the summer, outdoor cinema session, a gorgeous art gallery with a large impressionism private collection (The Courtauld Gallerie)

Another nice outdoor cinema session would be the rooftop at the Queen of Hoxton

Shakespeare’s Globe theatre , stand up tickets are cheap and even the seated one are not quite comfortable but you will get a top quality performance in the exact replica of the original theatre which is frankly unique. You can bring your own nibbles or finish with diner at the Swan next door with a stunning view on the Millenium bridge and St Paul’s (ask for a window table)

#3: markets and parks

London has more green space than any other capital, let’s enjoy it!

The Kew Gardens are the Royal Botanic Gardens; no, England is not only the home of perfectly mown green lawn!

tip from a reader (thanks!): go to the Kew garden by ferry boat,starting from Westminster peer, it takes about 1h -ish, depending on the tide. A must on a sunny day

Camden Beach @the Round House
Camden Beach @the Round House

Explore the summer roundhouse beach in Camden. It’s the closest thing to a city beach. You could also hop on a train and go kite surfing in Camber Sands or strolling on the Brigton peer but that’s off topic.

#4: do stuff together will bring you closer…they say

Go doing things together, go running and enjoy London – proven that it’ll make your couple last longer. Why not try?

The Regents Canal, from the Olympic Park to Little Venice, via Regents Park and Camden (interrupted in Angel)

Go jogging: any park is good, try and finish with the run by Parliament hill or Primrose (easier) for a nice view, cross Waterloo bridge; or my absolute favourite, finish your run with a coffee at the Towpath or at the Pavilion café.

For non runners, you could also take Barclays bikes or get on a boat on the canal and finish with a walk in Camden.

Swimming outdoor in lidos: London fields lido has the advantage of being in a park where barbecues are authorised and next to the lovely Broadway market. Tooting bec is a second lovely option but a bit further.

More ideas? why don’t you discover London’s monuments or night life through a lens and participate in a photo walking course? there are plenty on sales on Groupon or Time Out generally. For sports fan, London is a great place to enjoy cricket, rugby and football matches

#5: the WOW factor

We had a discussion with friends about good first date places for Londoners, and those places definitely don’t make it to our top-first-date list; but if you’re a tourist, are planning to propose, or for a splash it out factor, you could book a capsule in the London Eye (This advice shouldn’t apply to Londoners in any circumstance, please), or a table at the vertigo, or sushi samba if you’ve been planning your trip for a good 3 month in advance (or you could just show up at the bar without booking, just avoid Friday / Saturday night crowds).

For other good views of the city you could check out the recently open Oblix at the Shard, I haven’t tasted it yet but was told the food is decent.

Finally? Go party! put those sky-high heels and mini skirt to use and head out to the Kensington Roof Garden; don’t be surprised, clubs in London close at 3am but I would recommend going a bit earlier that what you may be used to (aim for 1030pm / 11pm). Enjoy.

royal wedding sick bag
what souvenir do I bring back to granny? The baby of British royal couple the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge could result in a huge 243 million pounds spending spree on souvenirs and branded baby products… be careful you could get sick of it

something to (re-)read before leaving? Harry Potter, yes it’s modern pop culture, and it really puts me in the mood for exploring the “secret” London (I’m still looking for Diagon alley, I’ll let you know when I get there)

a film to watch before leaving? yes, in the context of that post, it has to be Notting Hill, but no, that doesn’t give you a free pass to make silly pictures at my tube stop in the evening (just joking…or maybe not)

in your headphones? it’s a romantic post so I’m going to say Adele, but also The Beatles and Ed Sheeran (cauz he’s got cute freckles). Britain’s pop music is the best, not to be confused with Britain’s cuisine.

all of the above on a map:

More resources: with those 3, you should have it covered

http://www.tiredoflondontiredoflife.com/

http://www.greatlittleplace.com/

http://www.timeout.com/london

London marathon

 

Secret Santa brought me “The London Marathon. The history of the greatest race on earth

I don’t know if it is, but it’s definitely the most exciting race I have ever participated to. Why? Because it’s just as much about discovering London, about meeting people and experiencing London in a different way.
The London marathon is totally legend, over 35 thousand people participating in the race means that one of your friend / neighbours / colleague participates…and will need support! TimeOut regularly publishes a list of pubs and the London Pride is….an official supporter. Yes a real sporting event the London way with fancy dress, charity work and a big knees up, the way we like it.

 

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So I’m signed up for the Paris Marathon and the Rock’n’Roll Maraton de Madrid but I have to say I’m worried….will it come even close to the London experience?

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