All posts by mirandasnotebook

UK Travel | Widbrook Grange, Bradford-on-Avon

Please note: my Mum and I were guests of Widbrook Grange, and our stay was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Whenever I leave London for a short break, I’m reminded yet again of how many beautiful destinations there are at an easy distance from the capital. I was delighted to be asked to visit Wiltshire last week, to review Widbrook Grange, a boutique hotel in the heart of the countryside.

Widbrook Grange is closest to Bradford-on-Avon train station, only a few short stops from Bath (and also on the direct train line from London), so my Mum and I decided to spend some time exploring Bath in the morning before making our way to the hotel. We spent such a fun time browsing in the bookshops, revisiting some favourite Bath sights and having lunch at The Ivy, before hopping on the train to Bradford-on-Avon.

Bradford-on-Avon

Bradford-on-Avon is a remarkably pretty town in Wiltshire, with golden coloured Cotswold stone houses, a canal and a river running through the town, historic buildings and an inviting variety of pubs, tea rooms and hotels.

Widbrook Grange is a 30 minute walk from Bradford-on-Avon train station, so we decided to wait until a taxi became available and have an amble around the town centre first. It had been raining on and off all day, but we were lucky it was dry as we made our way along the town’s attractive streets.

I was pleased to spot the The Bridge Tea Rooms, which have achieved instagram fame, and I’d seen its pretty facade many times on my instagram feed. Apparently the building was originally a blacksmith’s cottage and dates from 1502. The staff serve slabs of Victoria sponge and other tea time treats dressed in Victorian costume, which I would have loved to have seen, but we didn’t have time to go inside on this visit – I’ll just have to go back another time!

Widbrook Grange

After our short exploration of the town, our taxi arrived and whisked us off to our hotel. Widbrook Grange is a small luxury hotel  in a beautiful part of the Wiltshire countryside, surrounded by eleven acres of land. The hotel was once a farm, dating from the 1830s, and the elegant Georgian building has been beautifully restored in keeping with its heritage.

Entering the hotel feels rather like stepping into the hallway of a family country home. A bucket of wellies for guests to use sits by the door, and the atmosphere is instantly cosy and inviting, with flagstone flooring throughout, open hearths in the lounge area just off the hall (crackling with a fire in the evenings) and large leather sofas. There’s even a fitness and swimming pool area in one of the outhouses, should you fancy a dip during your stay.

I appreciated the quirky decor features, such as old sacks of grain and a vintage farm truck parked by the hotel entrance, that were a great nod to the hotel’s farmhouse past. A miniature dovecote in the garden was also a lovely touch, and it was a beautiful sight to watch the doves fluttering through the sky as twilight settled on the late autumn day.

The Artist’s Room

After a warm welcome by Reception, we were shown up to our bedroom on the first floor: The Artist’s Room, where the hotel’s signature attention to detail in interior design and love for comfort was also apparent. A vintage paintbox held a selection of biscuits, hot chocolate, tea and coffee, and an easel held a large flat-screen TV directly in front of the bed.

I was especially taken with the huge bathtub that took centre stage in the room, which was perfect for a relaxing soak after supper. The hotel even provided some books to read in the bath, including a bound leather volume of Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham, showing, I think, excellent taste!

After relaxing in our room over cups of tea for a little while, we decided to go down for our pre-dinner G&Ts.

G&Ts and Supper

Widbrook Grange has an extremely impressive gin bar, with around 150 different types of gin to sample. I went with the ‘when in Rome’ philosophy and ordered a classic Bath gin, which is a botanical gin with bitter orange, kaffir lime leaf and English coriander. My Mum went for the gin of the month, which was an Earl Grey gin  by a London gin company.

Both gins were aromatic and delicious and made the perfect pre-dinner aperitif. For those who like nothing better than a good G&T, Widbrook Grange offers personalised gin tasting sessions which sound like a lot of fun.

We were lucky in having the snug bar space almost to ourselves and settled into a couple of comfy leather-backed chairs. If the bar space gets too crowded, then the next door snug room is the perfect place to relax with a  magazine in one hand and a drink in the other.

After our drinks, we made our through to the restaurant, where we had a table reserved. We’d only had a light lunch in Bath, so we were hungry by the time supper rolled around, and the menu made our mouths water even more, as it was hard to choose between the many appetising dishes.

A platter of bread, herb butters and olive oil and vinegar appeared at the table for us to nibble as we made up our minds what to order. In the end, I settled on the Fish Variation to start: a platter of pickled mackerel, cured salmon and smoked haddock mousse with pickled cucumber and olive oil biscuits.

Mum went for the Rabbit and Local Ham Ballotine with carrot and tomato chutney, pickled asparagus and honey caviar.

Both starters were delicious; mine tasted very rich (especially the haddock mousse), but fortunately the portions were delicate so the dish wasn’t too overwhelming for the start of a meal.

Next, I ordered Fillet of Beef with fondant potato, asparagus, red cabbage hash, roasted fennel and cacao jus. Mum chose Pan Roasted Wiltshire Pork Tenderloin with crispy almond pig cheek, leek and sweet potato gratin, served in wild mushroom beer sauce.

Both dishes were exceptionally good and showed a flair of culinary imagination that places Widbrook Grange’s menu above the typical country hotel fare. The service throughout our meal was also very friendly and attentive.

Although we were feeling pretty stuffed after polishing off our mains, we did just save some room for dessert, and we  both went for the Sticky Toffee Pudding with vanilla ice-cream and toffee sauce.

It had been years since I’d had a sticky toffee pudding, but it was a great choice for an autumn evening, and the one served at Widbrook Grange was just right: not too heavy, but still a decadent dessert.

 

Breakfast and a Canal Walk

The next morning started out raining, but soon the sunshine broke through the clouds, so we decided to have a walk along the canal near the hotel after breakfast.

We headed back downstairs again for the restaurant, which was was looking particularly bright and airy in the morning sun.

The breakfast at Widbrook Grange is very generous, so you may want to plan to linger over your morning meal!  A huge sideboard is set up with all the cold treats: yoghurt, various toppings, croissants, fresh and dried fruits etc, and then a hot menu is also provided.

I liked the way you could make up your own version of a ‘full English’ from the menu, by picking your favourite ingredients from a wide selection. I went for scrambled eggs, sausage, mushrooms and black pudding. Widbrook Grange aims to source all its ingredients from local suppliers, and our menu listed the farmers and butchers that provided the eggs, meat and vegetables for our breakfast, which I thought was a nice touch.

Our meal was seriously tasty and set us up well for another day spent exploring. We set off for a walk around the gardens, before exiting along the countryside lane that wound its way past the hotel’s Boat House (which housed another, more informal restaurant) and along to the canal.

It was a beautiful autumn morning, and we returned from our ramble just in time to check out and call for a taxi so we could catch our train back to Bath.

I’m looking forward to sharing some of my Bath adventures later on the blog, especially about discovering the city’s many glorious bookshops, so do check back to the blog again soon.

~

Widbrook Grange, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire

Room rates at Widbrook Grange are from £105 per night, based on two sharing, on a bed and breakfast basis. For further information and for reservations, please visit www.widbrookgrange.co.uk,  or call 01225 864750.

Widbrook Grange also has a current winter special offer: three nights for the price of two. Book any room for 3 nights and only pay for 2. The cheapest room night  is free, and breakfast is included. This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other, and it is valid Nov 15 2018 – March 1 2019 (excludes 22/12/18 – 2/1/1914/2/19).

Tea & Tattle | Skye O’Neill (@georgianlondon) Shares Her Instagram Tips

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m joined by the instagrammer and blogger, Skye O’Neill, otherwise known as @georgianlondon on instagram. Skye’s love for London started when she moved to the city several years ago from Australia. Her fantastic eye for London’s architecture and her knowledge of its lesser known areas makes Skye’s instagram account one of my very favourites to follow.

In today’s conversation, Skye tells me about how she joined instagram only two years ago, after a fluke feature through the VSCO photography app, and how she’s gone on to build an audience of over 130k followers since then. Skye also shares some of her favourite London areas to photograph, as well as how she juggles her family life and career in publishing alongside her photography.

This is an excellent listen for anyone who loves London and who is interested in growing their own instagram following through urban photography.

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

Travel | A Day at Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy, France

Travel | A Day at Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy, France

Please note: my Mum and I were guests of Abbaye de la Bussière, and our stay was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own. 

I woke up bright and early on my first morning at the Abbaye de la Bussière, and it was a joy to watch the dawn sky slowly turning from lavender to pale pink to blue over the beautiful gardens of the hotel.

Despite our incredible meal the night before, we all trotted down for breakfast, sniffing appreciatively at the scents of coffee and freshly baked pastries mingling in the air.

Breakfast at the Abbaye de la Bussiere

Breakfast was held in a small dining room, which had a cosy feel with copper pans gleaming from the walls and exposed timber beams. We ordered our hot drinks (the coffee came in beautiful silver pots) and nibbled at the freshly baked pastries that arrived in a little basket for our table. I’m getting hungry thinking of those pastries again – the mini pain au chocolat was my favourite – absolute heaven!

Travel | A Day at Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy, France

The food was laid out buffet style in a beautiful hallway just off the dining room. There was an incredible selection of hot food (traditional English breakfast fare – sausages, bacon, eggs, mushrooms etc, as well as boiled eggs and pancakes) and a tempting display of cold delights too, including the typical cold cuts, fresh fruit and cheese for a continental breakfast.

I went for some featherlight pancakes, plum yoghurt and a glass of grapefruit juice.

It was all delicious, and we felt exceedingly lucky to be starting a Monday morning in such a luxurious manner!

A Walk and Bike Ride

After our breakfast, we decided to explore the grounds of the hotel a little more thoroughly than we had the previous afternoon. The Abbaye provides bicycles for guests to use, and I had a little pedal around their gardens. My Dad was more adventurous and cycled along one of the suggested routes, which follows a canal path through the countryside. He said it was a lovely ride, especially on such a perfect blue-sky day.

Mum and I went for a walk around the lake, through the gardens, and alongside a crumbling old wall that twisted its way along a hillside that rose above the Abbaye. We’d brought our books with us and spent a peaceful time quietly reading in the autumnal sunshine.

Travel | A Day at Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy, France

After our pleasant morning walk, it was time for Mum and I to head back to the Abbaye to meet Julie, who works for the hotel and who had very kindly offered to take us for a drive in her adorable vintage car. We waved goodbye to my Dad, who had settled down on a chair by the lake with a book, and made our way to Reception to meet Julie.

A Drive Through the Vineyards

Nicknamed la Grenouille  (‘the Frog’), Julie’s Citroen 2cv is available to rent from the hotel, and a drive through the vineyards in such a gorgeous car makes for a memorable outing. Fellow drivers and pedestrians smiled and waved at us as we chugged along the roads, and I felt like I’d travelled back in time by a few decades!

I was utterly awed by the beautiful views of Burgundy’s famous vineyards which Julie drove us through on our way to Beaune. She very kindly stopped the car several times so I could get the perfect Insta shot. I was awed by the spectacular scenery and felt blessed to be seeing Burgundy for the first time in such glorious autumnal weather. The colours of the vineyards, with their changing leaves, were astonishing. I wish I could paint them, but being useless at art,  I make do with photographs.

Travel | A Day at Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy, France

Julie moved from Britain to France several years ago, and it was marvellous to get all her insider tips to the area. She organises wine tours in the region, and I hope I get to go on one someday when I travel back to Burgundy. Julie suggested we drive through her home village, Pernand-Vergelesses, which is generally considered to be one of the prettiest (and most unspoilt) villages in the Cote d’Or. I can see why! The above photo is from a viewpoint above the vineyards, looking down on Pernand-Vergelesses. Picture postcard perfect!

A Tour of Beaune

Julie also took us to Beaune, which is about a 30 minute drive from the Abbaye and is a must visit if you’re ever in the area. Beaune is a town literally, as well as figuratively, built on wine. Old wine cellars lie beneath many of the buildings, wine shops flank the streets, and a famous wine auction is held every November at the Hospices de Beaune.

I loved the town’s beautiful golden stone buildings, pale shutters and tranquil atmosphere.

Travel | A Day at Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy, France

We didn’t have too long to spend in Beaune, but Julie pointed out the main sights and suggested a place for us to go to lunch the next day, when we were returning with my Dad on the way back to Geneva. I’ll blog about that return trip soon!

Supper in the Bistro Restaurant

Travel | A Day at Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy, France

After our drive, we met my Dad for pre-dinner drinks on the hotel terrace and told him all about our adventures. For supper that evening, my Dad treated us to a meal in the Abbaye’s Bistro des Moines restaurant. The Bistro is more casual than the hotel’s 1311 restaurant, but it still has a fabulous menu, and the setting is also beautiful, with warm red accents and a polished wood floor.

We all went for the 3 course set menu, and I chose duck foie gras, followed by trout with chard and seasonal vegetables and a melting chocolate fondant for dessert. I love fish, so even though I’d had trout the night before, I couldn’t resist ordering it again! My Mum went for a traditional boeuf bourguignon and my Dad ordered grilled ham, served in a cream sauce with mushrooms, pasta shells and vegetables.

We sipped some lovely Burgundian white wine, and our waiter brought round a little platter of nibbles (charcuterie and slices of brioche) as we waited for the first course to arrive.

The food was excellent, as always, and the hotel surprised me again with another treat for my birthday, which was a very gracious gesture. Our after dinner drinks were also accompanied by a dish of gingerbread and blackcurrant jam cakes. A perfect end to a fabulous day!

~

Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy, France

Room rates at Abbaye de la Bussière are from 225 Euros (approximately £200) per room, per night. For further information and for reservations, please visit www.abbayedelabussiere.fr/en. You can also email info@abbayedelabussiere.fr, or call +33 3 80 49 02 29

Rental of La Grenouille (Julie’s car) may be arranged for those with a valid driving license. Simply contact the hotel  prior to arrival.

~

For my other posts about Burgundy, see here.

Tea & Tattle | Ann Mah Discusses The Lost Vintage

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m joined by the journalist and author, Ann Mah, to discuss Ann’s bestselling book, The Lost Vintage. Having grown up in America, Ann developed a love for France from a young age, and she now splits her time between Washington DC and Paris. Her memoir, Mastering the Art of French Eating, describes the year Ann spent travelling through France and sampling different regional dishes of the country.

Ann Mah

I read Ann’s latest novel, The Lost Vintage, before my trip to Burgundy earlier in October. It was the perfect book for the occasion, as it’s set in Burgundy and tells the story of Kate, a wine expert who is studying for the Master of Wine exam. Kate travels from California to Burgundy to stay with her French relatives who own a vineyard, so she can brush up on her knowledge of Burgundian wines.

The vineyards that inspired The Lost Vintage

Whilst there, Kate discovers a hidden room within the family’s cellar, full of priceless bottles of wine that were hidden from the Nazis during WW2. But Kate also uncovers some disturbing information about her family – could one of her ancestors have collaborated with the Nazis? The Lost Vintage is a gripping book full of beautiful descriptions of the Burgundian countryside, as well as fascinating information about French food, wine and history.

The Town Hall in Meursault, where much of Ann’s novel is set.

In today’s discussion, Ann tells about the inspiration behind the book and why she become so fascinated by France’s history during WW2. It’s a brilliant discussion that’s sure to please any Francophone.

The Lost Vintage Giveaway!

I’m so delighted to say that Ann Mah is very kindly giving away some copies of The Lost Vintage to four lucky Tea & Tattle listeners (two in the USA and two in the UK). To enter to win, simply:

1/ Follow Ann Mah on instagram: @annmahnet.

2/ Follow me on my books-only instagram account: @mirandasbookcase.

3/ Like the above photo of The Lost Vintage on my instagram feed and add a comment, tagging a friend who you think would enjoy the book too.

4/ Make sure your instagram profile is public so the entry requirements can be checked.

The giveaway is for USA and UK residents only, and the winner will be announced on 6th November. Good luck!

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy

Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy

Please note: my Mum and I were guests of  Abbaye de la Bussière, and our meal and wine were complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own. 

We’d arrived at the Abbaye de la Bussière in Burgundy earlier that afternoon (see my post about it here), and, after a brief exploration, we all went upstairs to change into clothes for our evening meal in the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, 1131.

The Abbaye isn’t in the least pretentious, so no more than smart-casual attire is needed in the restaurant, but I always like an excuse to dress up a little. I slipped into a favourite green velvet dress with a Matthew Williamson shawl, dabbed some Coco by Chanel pefume on my wrists, and made my way down the beautiful main staircase to the equally stunning restaurant.

Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy

Burgundy is renowned not only for its wine, but also for its incredible food. Burgundian food is not overly ‘fussy,’ but instead elevates good, simple ingredients to outstanding meals. Classic French dishes such as boeuf bourguignon and escargots de Bourgogne originated in this part of France. The beef of Burgundy is legendary, and of course Dijon is internationally famed for its mustard. Lightly spiced gingerbread and crème de cassis (a sweet blackcurrant liqueur) are also well known delicacies of the region.

The famous food and travel writer, Waverley Root, wrote, ‘The most refined professional Burgundian cooking never gets far from the soil in which it is rooted.’ In this sentence, Root speaks to Burgundy’s heritage of hearty, rustic dishes and the importance of the Burgundian terroir.

Guillaume Royer, head chef at the Abbaye de la Bussière, has a clear love for the traditional cuisine of the region and the rich bounty that springs from Burgundian soil. Royer produces highly seasonal menus starring local ingredients (and when I say local I mean it – the trout we ate came from the lake in the grounds of the Abbaye!). He is exceptionally skilled at turning basic produce into the most sublime meals; in his hands, a cabbage (generally one of the duller vegetables) was transformed into one of the most amazing dishes I’ve had in my life.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me take you through our meal at the 1131….

Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy

Situated in the heart of the Abbaye, the restaurant is exceptionally beautiful. Cloistered walls swoop up around you and arch over head. Intricate chandeliers dangle from the ceiling, and candlelight flickers around the room. The attention to detail is exceptional: the coral roses adorning each table matched the orange flame of the waiters’ ties. I marvelled at the beauty of some the crystal vases on the tables, which Clive told me were Baccarat, and that he was gradually collecting one for every table.

Mum, Dad and I were all having the Signature du Chef menu, with each course paired with a glass of wine suggested by the sommelier. To start off, we were given flutes of sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne, accompanied by gougères, which are airy cheese puffs (somewhat reminiscent of the best Yorkshire puddings, only with cheese – yum!) that are traditionally served alongside a glass of bubbly in Burgundy. We gave a toast (it had been my birthday the weekend before, so we were celebrating it again all together) and felt very much in a celebratory mood.

Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, BurgundyTravel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy

Gougères are absolutely wonderful, and I can’t wait to make them at home. I found a recipe for them in my Cook’s Atelier cookbook, so I’ll definitely be giving it a go soon. The  Crémant de Bourgogne was delicious too and the perfect aperitif. This sparkling wine is a great alternative to champagne, with its own distinctive but very pleasant taste. 

In what felt like no time at all, more delights appeared at our table with two rounds of amuse bouche. First, a little platter each of dainty and delectable nibbles arrived, which were then followed up by snails cooked in a delicious savoury broth.

Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy

I’ve only ever had snails in their shells before, and although I’ve enjoyed them thus in all their buttery, garlicky goodness, done this way, in broth, was far and away the best tasting snails I have ever had in my life.

Our first course arrived: braised cabbage with Morvan bacon, local truffle and Comté cheese, paired with a fabulous white wine from the Côte-d’Or (Guy Maugey Auxois Thorey-sous-Charny, Domaine De la Ruee De la Calo).

Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy

I think we all rolled our eyes heavenwards when we tasted this dish, which was packed with flavour. Morvan is apparently a hog-breeding center of France , and so the ham and sausage from this area are particularly prized. The bacon was certainly delicious, and I’ve honestly never tasted cabbage so good!

Next was the fish course, and plates of fillet of trout arrived under silver domes, which our waiters whipped off in perfect synchronisation. The sommelier arrived and filled our glasses with another Burgundian white wine (Chassagne-Montrachet, Premier Cru Abbaye de Morgeot, 2013), which was my favourite wine of the night. I loved its buttery notes, which paired perfectly with our trout.

Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, BurgundyTravel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy

The trout was simmered with coconut, mushrooms, spring onions and walnut oil, and its delicate taste was extraordinary. The  freshness of the fish, caught right from the lake outside, couldn’t be beat!

An example of Burgundy’s famous beef was our next course, but this was certainly no run of the mill boeuf bourguignon. Instead, having all agreed we’d just enjoyed the best snails, cabbage and trout of our lives, we now said that surely this was the best beef we’d ever eaten too.

Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy

Cooked to melting perfection in a red wine and onion sauce, the taste was sublimely rich, and our glasses of Pommard (Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley, 2014), a classic Burgundian red wine, stood up well against the hearty flavours.

You know you’re in France when a trolley laden with eye-popping cheeses rolls around pre-dessert! My Mum, Dad and I all adore cheese, so despite our already substantial meal, we all eyed the cart with a good deal of excitement.

Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy

I went for a few slivers of local cheeses, which were all wonderful, but the standouts for me were a soft, creamy cheese coated in red mustard seeds and an exceptionally good Comté. Alongside the cheese, we sipped on glasses of  a Fixin Premier Cru wine (Domaine Bart Les Hervelets, 2013), a smooth and subtle red.

As always, I somehow managed to find room for dessert. After a palette cleanser of sorbet and nut brittle, we had ‘fleurs de Cao,’ which was a dark chocolate meringue shell encapsulating a delicious chocolate mousse. Paired with a sweet red wine (Grand Cru Président Henry Vidal – the only wine from outside Burgundy we were served during the meal) that went perfectly with the slight bitterness of dark chocolate, this was a delicious ending to our unforgettable meal.

Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy

Or almost ending, as when we ordered coffee and camomile tea (me!), a plate of the daintiest cakes I’d ever seen appeared. They were incredible, bite-sized bursts of flavour of lemon, gingerbread and chocolate. And then, to top it all off, a little birthday surprise for me appeared from the kitchen.

Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy Travel | Supper at 1311 Restaurant, Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy

The almond brittle finally defeated me, and I couldn’t manage more than a tiny piece, but my Dad managed to polish it off and pronounced it delicious. It was such a kind and thoughtful gesture from the hotel, and I certainly felt that, so far, 32 was looking pretty great!

~

Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy, France

1131 Restaurant

For further information and for reservations, please visit www.abbayedelabussiere.fr/en. You can also email info@abbayedelabussiere.fr, or call +33 3 80 49 02 29

Tea and Tattle | 10 Books to Read in the Autumn

Tea and Tattle | 10 Books to Read in the Autumn

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

This Friday, instead of the usual Tea Reads, I’m bringing you a special Tea & Tattle episode, where I’m catching up on the latest news, chatting about some of my recent Jump for Joys and cultural recommendations, and also sharing a list of books that I think are perfect to read in the autumn.

I hope you have a relaxing weekend ahead of you, and that listening to this Tea & Tattle helps to make it just that bit cosier!

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

Travel | Arrival at Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy, France

My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor.

Please note: my Mum and I were guests of Abbaye de la Bussière, and our stay was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Road Trip from Geneva to Burgundy

I’d been looking forward to my press trip to the Abbaye de la Bussière in Burgundy, France for weeks. The hotel is known internationally for its excellence and beauty, and I’d pored over every stunning room on its website, trying to piece together the layout. I was so excited when October finally rolled around and I was packing my suitcase, ready to catch the Gatwick express to the airport the next day. As well as the trip to Burgundy, Mum and I were visiting my Dad in Geneva, just before his move back to New York after a few years working in Switzerland. I’d asked my Dad if he wanted to join me at the Abbaye de la Bussière whilst I was there with Mum for my press trip, as a last hoorah for him in Europe. I was so happy when he said yes, so the trip turned into a little family reunion as well (luckily for me, although my parents are divorced, they get along very well).

My Dad rented a car to drive us all to Burgundy, so Sunday morning found us weaving round the hairpin bends of the Jura mountains, which rise up like a great wall, forming a natural border between France and Switzerland. It was a glorious October morning, and Dad had taken the scenic route, so we got to enjoy the spectacular scenery as we climbed higher and higher up the mountains. The Jura, though no match for the soaring majesty of the Alps, are very pretty and thickly wooded, and in the autumn the leaves transform into rich shades of rusts, ambers and greens. An occasional break in the trees shows a quiet green field, or a small village with its picturesque chalets built into the mountainside.

As a family, we share a collective weakness for French pop-music, so we drove to the soundtrack of Louane crooning Midi sur Novembre and other French hits as the road opened out before us. The drive to Burgundy from Geneva takes about 3 hours, so we were able to enjoy a leisurely pace and decided to stop for croissants and coffee along the way (surely the ideal way to eat on a road trip?). Soon, though, we hit the highway, and then in what felt like no time at all we were taking the exit for Dijon and gliding through the gently rolling hills of Burgundy. The drive from Dijon to the Abbaye is about half an hour, and my excitement reached boiling point as we swept through the large, impressive gates of the Abbaye and up the drive, passing a beautiful small lake as we went and finally rounding a bend in the drive to see the main building standing graciously before us.

Abbaye de la Bussière, A History

My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor.

Abbaye de la Bussière is run by three generations of the Cummings family. Tanith and Clive Cummings, their children and Clive’s parents live in houses on the estate, and the family as a whole care deeply for their hotel and this very special pocket of France.

The fact that three generations of the family live within the grounds of the Abbey and are clearly so devoted to the place is what gives this hotel such an incredible atmosphere. Although the surroundings are so luxurious, it also feels like you’re visiting a family home. We often met Clive walking his beautiful dog, Newcy (the Abbaye is dog-friendly, which is lovely), and the family cat, Domino, was generally to be found curled up on his favourite chair in the sun.

My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor.

Burgundy is known for its beautiful abbeys, relics of monastic life in the Middle Ages, which was dominated by two great orders: the Benedictines and the Cistercians. Although not much of the original monastic buildings remain at Abbaye de la Bussière, it is known that Cistercian monks first came to the site in 1131. The Abbaye was a place of prayer and work, with the monks maintaining the lakes, working the land and making wine (the original wine press the monks used in the 13th Century may still be seen at the Abbaye).

My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor.My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor.

By the 19th Century, monks no longer lived at the Abbaye, and it was purchased as a personal home, with many of the rooms changed or demolished. In the first half of the 20th Century, the Abbaye was donated as an act of charity to the local Bishopric and was made into a place of spiritual retreat.

My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor.

Finally, in 2005 the Abbaye was purchased by the Cummings family, and it has been their labour of love ever since, as they’ve meticulously renovated and restored the beautiful land and buildings splendidly, breathing fresh life into the Abbaye and marking a new, exciting era in its incredible history.

The House and Grounds

My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor.

When we arrived at the Abbaye, we were personally greeted by Clive, who gave us a little tour of the Abbaye’s main building, pointing out the beautiful communal sitting rooms and telling us some of the history of the place, as well as his plans for the future (apparently, more rooms will be opening, which is fantastic!).

The Abbaye truly took my breath away – I’ve never stayed anywhere so beautiful! It’s been sensitively adapted to hotel life, so that the gorgeous architecture truly shines, but the rooms are also sumptuously decorated and luxuriously comfortable. I adored the hotel’s three main sitting rooms: the ladies’ room, the gentlemen’s room and the upstairs bar/lounge.

My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor. My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor. My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor. My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor. My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor. My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor.

Notable features of the hotel’s decor were the beautiful sculptures that were strikingly placed around the gardens, corridors and rooms. These sculptures were made by Paul Day, who is local to the area and is a well-known sculptor.

Day’s work includes the famous ‘The Meeting’ sculpture at King’s Cross St Pancras station, and there’s a smaller replica of this statue on display at the Abbaye. Day’s ‘The Kiss’ stands in the garden near to the ancient dovecote. Apparently, this was the statue Day had originally designed for the London train station, but it had been considered a little too provocative!

My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor. My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor. My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor.

Even though I was at the Abbaye for three days and did my best to explore as much as possible, I felt I was only scratching the surface of its depths. There are wonderful nooks and crannies everywhere. Each day, I discovered a perfect new reading spot, or a staircase to climb, that twisted up to a walkway on the roof, where I could step out and admire the view of the patio fountain sparkling in the sunlight.

The gardens, too, provided acres to explore, and we all enjoyed walks around the lake and down to the kitchen gardens and beehives. The Cummings have big plans for the gardens; having restored the beauty of the lake, Clive’s dad is now overseeing the building of a Monet-esque bridge to the lake’s tiny island, and Clive is constructing a large greenhouse in the kitchen gardens.

Apparently, the Cummings also hope to build proper tree houses that guests can stay in, which sounds absolutely incredible!

Our Rooms

After a tour of the building, Clive showed us to our rooms, which were next door to each other in the main part of the Abbaye. Mum and I were given a junior suite by the hotel (the Loizerolle), and Dad had booked himself a superior room (the Valmagne).

Both rooms were gorgeous! Mum and I couldn’t get over the size of our suite, which had a sofa that converted into a pull out bed for Mum, as well as an enormous King sized bed, a chaise lounge, a big desk, wardrobes and tv. Although the room was so large, it still had a cosy feel with its exposed roof timbers and glowing purple and yellow velvet cushions.

My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor.

I think the bathroom was the size of my flat’s living room, and I had a wonderful time making use of the jacuzzi tub! I loved the huge shower as well, and the embossed dressing gowns that were hung ready to use, as well as our slippers and deliciously scented Bvlgari toiletries.

One of my favourite things about our room was the view from our window, which looked out towards a beautiful turret, as well as the pretty dovecote and gardens. I loved waking up to watch the sun rise and the sky turn pink over this glorious view each morning.

My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor. My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor.

My Dad was delighted with his room too, which was spacious and exceedingly comfortable. I snapped a few pictures before he got settled in:

Another lovely touch was the bottle of homemade peach liqueur that was left in each room, as well as a freshly made loaf cake.

Both were absolutely delicious, although the liqueur was a little strong for me, but my Dad didn’t mind helping me out with my share! It was so nice to be able to help ourselves to a slice of cake in the afternoons when we started to get a little peckish.

Lunch on the Terrace

My stay at Abbaye de la Bussière, a spectacularly gorgeous luxury hotel in Burgundy, France. The Abbaye boasts Michelin-starred food and beautiful decor.

After unpacking and enjoying settling into our rooms, we realised it was most definitely lunch time, so we made our way to the terrace to enjoy a picnic-style luncheon of cold cuts, salads, cheese and bread, with a half-bottle of local Burgundian wine (Santenay) to enjoy. What a spectacular start to the holiday!

In my next blog post, I’ll be sharing the fantastic supper we enjoyed in the Abbaye’s Michelin starred restaurant on the first night of our arrival, and more posts about my stay at the Abbaye and exploring Beaune and the surrounding countryside will be appearing on the blog soon too, so do make sure to check back for more this week!

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Abbaye de la Bussière, Burgundy, France

Room rates at Abbaye de la Bussière are from 225 Euros (approximately £200) per room, per night. For further information and for reservations, please visit www.abbayedelabussiere.fr/en. You can also email info@abbayedelabussiere.fr, or call +33 3 80 49 02 29

Tea & Tattle: Charlotte Jacklin of Betty Magazine

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m joined by the blogger and podcaster, Charlotte Jacklin. I first came across Charlotte’s work when she was editing Betty Magazine, which was one of my favourite editorials to read. Charlotte created Betty with her business partner, Charlotte Melling, but after having her baby daughter, June, in 2017, Charlotte made the decision to go her own route and relaunch Betty Magazine as an online blog.

As well as writing her fabulous blog, Charlotte co-hosts the podcast, The Fringe of It, which topped iTunes charts when it was first released. The podcast features informal chats between Charlotte and her friend Liv Purvis, as well as inspiring interviews with other creatives.

I also love Charlotte’s instagram account, which features fantastic style inspiration, as well as updates on her everyday life and insights into building a creative business. I know many people appreciate Charlotte for her transparency and honesty online, as well as her friendly, down-to-earth personality. If you ever need a bit of cheering up, then watching a few of Charlotte’s instagram stories will invariably do the trick!

In today’s discussion, Charlotte tells me about her love for fashion and how she’s developed her own sense of style over the years, as well as how giving birth to June has made Charlotte braver in pursuing her business and life goals. We also chat about being open and developing an authentic voice through blogging and instagram, as well as what has surprised Charlotte most about podcasting. This is a great episode for anyone who is seeking to be a little braver in their own life and who would love to learn more about navigating a successful creative career.

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

London Culture | The Wider Earth, Natural History Museum

Please note: I was given tickets to ‘The Wider Earth‘ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

If you’ve got children and are hoping for some fun (and even educational) entertainment over half-term next week, then I’ve got the perfect theatre suggestion for you! I was lucky enough to be given tickets to see The Wider Earth, a play about Charles Darwin’s famous voyage on the HMS Beagle, which is now showing (highly appropriately!) at the Natural History Museum.

The museum has installed a custom-built theatre to host this production, which features a cast of seven, as well as incredible puppetry by the Dead Puppet Society. A basic stage setup was brilliantly amplified by the use of watercolour-style projections that made stunning backdrops to the drama.

Bradley Foster, Marcello Cruz and Matt Tait in The Wider Earth. Photo by Mark Douet.

The Wider Earth is written and directed by David Morton, and he shows Charles Darwin as a 22 year-old student in Cambridge, who is delighted when he’s given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to continue his passion for nature and science by taking the post as resident naturalist on the HMS Beagle on its voyage to far-flung corners of the globe.

I felt this play was clearly written with an educational view in mind, so the script is serviceable, but not overly ambitious. Morton, however, does a good job at showing how Darwin’s experiences on the voyage and the deductions he made from his observations of the lands and animals he encountered, led him to write the world-changing On the Origin of Species. Bradley Foster, who plays Charles Darwin, is engaging and perfectly combines an attitude of youthful zeal with a very serious desire to seek out truths.

It’s the visual experience of this production that truly makes it stand out. I was extremely impressed by the painterly projections that were used to add further detail and mood to the various settings. The puppets were beautiful, too, and brilliantly operated by the actors. It was lovely to hear the gasps of appreciation from the young audience when the particularly striking large puppets were used.

Bradley Foster as Charles Darwin in The Wider Earth. Photograph: Maisie Marshall/Rex/Shutterstock

Although much of the action of this play takes place on board ship, I also greatly enjoyed the details about Darwin’s home life, particularly his engagement to Emma Wedgwood. I’d had no idea that Emma Darwin had originally been Emma Wedgwood, part of the famous Wedgwood family, and in fact as soon as I got home, I ordered a biography of her in order to discover a bit more about her life. David Morton did a great job in fleshing out Emma’s character in a short space of time, and his emphasis on her passion for abolishing slavery and involvement in the abolitionist movement definitely peaked my interest. I’m looking forward to reading her biography when I get the chance, and it seemed fitting that I should leave the play on a quest for more information, even if about one of its more peripheral subjects.

The Wider Earth makes for a brilliant afternoon or night out for all the family. I would say it’s most appropriate for those age 10+, as though those younger would love the puppets, the dialogue would be difficult to follow. I definitely had my teacher cap on whilst I was watching it, and I think it would also make an excellent outing for schools for Year 6 and up.

Tickets for The Wider Earth may be purchased here. The play is showing at the Natural History Museum until 30th December, and both matinee and evening performances are available.

UK Travel | The Artist Residence, Cornwall

Please note: my stay at the Artist Residence and meal at Fraser’s Fish & Chips were complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Last Saturday, Mum and I checked into The Artist Residence hotel on Chapel Street in Penzance. We’d both previously stayed at the Artist Residence branch in Oxfordshire, and I’d had breakfast at their London hotel, so I was excited to spend a night in their Cornwall base.

I always admire the fun, slightly quirky decor that’s a hallmark of the Artist Residence hotels, and the Penzance location is no exception. We were booked into a comfy luxe room, which boasted a comfy double bed and one of the most spectacular bathtubs I’ve seen!

I had the most blissful bath on Sunday, when I started my birthday morning luxuriating in a long, relaxing soak. It was a perfect way to start the day! The bath was wonderfully deep, and I was overjoyed that bubble bath was provided. I’ve noticed that too often hotels don’t provide bubble bath, even if they have spectacular tubs! Bramley products were stocked throughout the hotel, and I really liked their combination of floral and herbal scents.

As well as the bath, there was also a spacious shower, discreetly hidden by a wooden sliding door. I loved the way the decor had a seaside-feel, with the use of reclaimed wood and a blue and white colour scheme. There were also plenty of treats stocked in the mini basket ‘larder,’ as well as complimentary tea, coffee, bottled water and biscuits provided.

After checking into our room on the Saturday night, Mum and I decided to wander down to the bar to take advantage of the nightly happy hour, when 2-4-1 cocktails are offered. The bar and lounge area is very cosy, with a mix of sofas, benches and velvet chairs. We found some comfy chairs by the window and sipped on our drinks – a Bellini for Mum and a strawberry Aperol Spritz for me.

After finishing our cocktails, we made our way to Fraser’s Fish and Chips restaurant, where we had a table booked. Fraser’s is an adorable spot  with spectacular views, as it’s located on Penzance’s promenade. I loved its retro decor and bright, cheerful colour scheme that was perfect for a seaside location. My stomach reminded me I was hungry as the delicious aroma of fish and chips wafted through the air, and I eyed the appetising looking plates in front of fellow diners.

I have a real weakness for scampi, and I’d been told they were very good at Fraser’s, so I ordered a scampi and chips and Mum went for a more traditional haddock and chips. I also horrify my family (and most other people I know!) by loving mushy peas, so I ordered a side portion. We washed everything down with two pots of regular tea – I don’t think fish & chips would be the same without a good brew!

Our meal was fantastic; both Mum and I agreed it was the best scampi/fish and chips we’d had for a long time. My scampi was deliciously crisp on the outside, but not in the least rubbery within, and I tried some of Mum’s haddock, which tasted beautifully fresh and had a light, thin batter that wasn’t too greasy – perfect! Fraser’s pride themselves on their ethically sourced and caught fish, and it’s clear that a great deal of attention goes into making their fish & chips as delicious as possible, whilst supporting sustainable fishing practices.

There’s nothing like classic fish & chips when you’re right by the sea, and it was a great choice for a cool autumnal evening. The service was excellent – friendly and very attentive, which always adds so much to the experience of a good meal. I’ll definitely be returning to Fraser’s when I’m next in Penzance and in the mood for fish and chips!

~

The Artist Residence, Cornwall

Room rates at the Artist Residence in Penzance  are from £85 per night.  To book a room, please visit here, or call 020 3019 8610

Fraser’s Fish & Chips, Cornwall

Take away or dine in. To view the menu and/or book a table, visit here or call 01736 339581