Category Archives: Travel

Provence Diary | Where We Stayed

Provence Diary | Where We Stayed

In my penultimate Provence post, I thought it would be fun to share with you more about the gîte and village that we stayed in. Our trip was in celebration of my Grandmother’s 80th birthday, so there were 4 of us: me, my Mum, Dad and Grandmother. We’d taken the same trip, all together, 27 years ago, when I was still in a stroller, and it had long been a dream to recreate that first visit to Provence. With this in mind, we found an airbnb gîte in the same little village – Saint Pierre de Vassols, nestled in the shadow of Mont Ventoux  – that had been our base for that previous trip.

So many years on, it was impossible to find the original gîte we’d rented in the past, but we found one that had a lot of charm and looked a little similar: an old converted mill with a big garden, 4 bedrooms and a large living/dining room and kitchen. It was perfect! If you’re interested, you can see the full details of the house here – I would definitely recommend it should you fancy a similar trip to Provence. Our host was very nice and the gîte had a lovely atmosphere; I would certainly book it again!

Provence Diary | Where We Stayed The front of the house

Provence Diary | Where We Stayed (living room and fireplace – it was too hot for a fire during our stay!)

Provence Diary | Where We Stayed Dining area, with the back door leading down the steps to the garden, and the steps in the far corner leading up to one wing of bedrooms. 

Provence Diary | Where We StayedThe kitchen.

Provence Diary | Where We StayedMy Grandmother’s bedroom.

Provence Diary | Where We StayedThe other wing of bedrooms, which were located off from this long corridor. 

I was lucky enough to get the largest bedroom (although all the rooms were pretty big!), and in the evenings I loved sitting at my desk, working on editing photos or reading (there was no internet which was actually a pleasant break!).

Provence Diary | Where We StayedMy bed.

Provence Diary | Where We StayedI loved sitting at that desk! 

Provence Diary | Where We StayedThe view from my window.

In the early mornings, my favourite thing to do was to make tea and take it out into the garden, where we’d sit at the table under vines laden with ripening grapes and chat about the day ahead. There was generally a cool breeze in the early mornings and later evenings, when it was especially pleasant to sit outside.

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Although the village is tiny (more of a hamlet, really), there was still a good restaurant, where we enjoyed lunch one day, and sometimes in the evenings it was fun to take a stroll up to the church, admiring the views as we went.

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I miss those warm, golden evenings!

Staying in this part of Provence was really wonderful; there was so much to explore in our area, and the largest towns nearby are Carpentras and Avignon, which are both charming. It’s also worth noting that – although it’s definitely easiest to have a car – there was a great bus service from Saint Pierre de Vassols that went to Carpentras, as well as some other towns in the area. From Carpentras, it would be easy to get the train to Avignon and even further afield.

For my final Provence Diary post, I’ll fill you in on the trips we took to Carpentras and Nîmes, so check back for that soon.

Have you ever been to Provence? Whereabouts did you stay? What have been your experiences of family holidays? 

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Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

E X P L O R I N G    W I N E    C O U N T R Y

Being in the land of wine, we of course wanted to sample some of it! Our gîte was within a fairly short drive of Beaumes de Venise, Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and we explored each of these beautiful towns, stopping by the local wine caves as we went to taste and buy their wines. We were, in fact, in time for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine festival and had a lot of fun witnessing the medieval parade and sampling some truly spectacular wine.

One of my very favourite days, though, was when we visited both Beaumes de Venise and Gigondas. I was surprised by how pleasantly un-touristy both towns felt, and the stunning views across the vineyards from Gigondas in particular were absolutely breathtaking.

B E A U M E S    D E    V E N I S E

Our first stop of the day was Beaumes de Venise. I have a particular love for sweet wines (rather disappointingly, not many people seem to share this taste), so I was very excited to sample one of my favourite dessert wines in Beaumes de Venise itself.

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We bought  a bottle to take back to the gîte, and the considerate man serving us gave me a great tip for using Beaumes de Venise as a delicious aperitif: simply pour a finger or so into the bottom of a champagne glass and then top with prosecco. Delicious, easy and even the non-sweet wine drinkers amongst us loved it! I’ll definitely be making these simple cocktails at my next dinner party in London.

After our stint of wine-tasting, we wandered along the steep, narrow lanes of the town, trying to decide where would be a good spot for lunch.

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We ended up back in the main town square, opposite the pretty church at a restaurant that offered a charming outdoor terrace and an inviting menu. I went for a salad with foie gras and smoked duck, alongside our beverage of choice for the summer: rosé!

Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

The French really know how to make a salad spectacular.  Not for them indifferent lettuce and depressed tomatoes, with a few bits of chopped avocado and chicken thrown into the mix. Instead, you get a plate piled high with ingredients bursting with colour and flavour, arranged like a work of art. Delicious!

G I G O N D A S

After our lunch, we piled back into the car and continued our journey to Gigondas. Here, we tasted rosé and their famous red wine; again stocking up on bottles to bring back to the gîte and to my Dad’s flat in Geneva.

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Gigondas was one of the towns I loved the very best from our time in Provence. It was heavenly to make our way through the beautiful streets, climbing higher and higher until we reached the herb garden that grows at the very top, above the church. I felt like I was on top of the world, seeing the French landscape stretched out beneath me, with the scents of rosemary and lavender wafting in the air.

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Yes, I think it’s easy to see why Gigondas was my favourite (the wine’s not bad either…).

Have you done any wine-tasting in France? Where did you go?

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Adventures in Paris

Adventures in Paris with Honor 8

Arriving in Paris – my first thought is steak – party at the Hotel Molitor – I get a new smartphone – watching the sunrise over Paris

***

I’m taking a little break from my Provence posts for the moment to fill you in on another adventure in France I had a few days ago. I was thrilled to have been invited to Paris to attend the European launch of the latest Honor smartphone, and one morning last week saw me boarding the Eurostar at St Pancras International amidst a crowd of other bloggers, photographers and tech journalists.

I was lucky enough to sit next to Talitha, another London blogger, and between chatting to her and having a little nap, the journey passed like a dream!

Adventures in Paris with Honor 8

W H E R E    T O    E A T    B Y    T H E    E I F F E L    T O W E R 

The big event was taking place at the Hotel Molitor later in the evening, but there were a few hours to kill before then, and – unsurprisingly – my mind turned towards lunch. Our hotel was a stone’s throw away from the Eiffel Tower, which meant that Rue Saint-Dominique was a 10 minute walk away. If you ever find yourself hungry, near the Tour Eiffel and don’t want to go anywhere too touristy to eat, then I suggest turning your feet towards Rue Saint-Dominique. It’s a little treasure trove of restaurants, all owned by the same Chef – Christian Constant. Within a few feet of each other, clustered on the same road, are Le Violon d’Ingres, Cafe Constant and Les Cocottes. Le Violon d’Ingres is Constant’s most well-known restaurant, as it has a well-deserved Michelin star. I had a fantastic lunch there years ago and had planned to go back (they serve a very reasonable set menu), but sadly missed the lunch hour (which ends at 2pm). Instead, then, I settled on Cafe Constant, which happily serves food all afternoon and looked just the sort of charming Parisian bistro that I fancied.  After a quick brush up in the hotel, I set off with Milly – another lovely blogger I’d met on the journey – for our lunch and a stroll around Paris.

We both decided we fancied steak and were very happy with our choice! Mine was perfectly pink, melted in the mouth and was served next to some of the creamiest mashed potatoes I’ve ever had.

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After our lovely meal, we felt like new women and set off for a brisk stroll towards the river, braving the heat-wave temperature and blazing sun.

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Soon, though, we had to dash back to the hotel to change for the evening. We were put up at the Pullman Hotel, which had wonderfully comfy bedrooms. Mine had a lot of space, was quiet and had good air-conditioning, so I was relieved to know I’d be getting a good night’s rest!

Adventures in Paris with Honor 8

P A R T Y I N G    P O O L S I D E 

However, first, it was time to have fun! I met up with Milly and Talitha downstairs, and we all piled onto the shuttle bus that drove us to the Hotel Molitor. I was very excited to get to see the inside of this hotel. I mean, just look at it:

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The pool was exceedingly tantalising, although, as the alcohol was flowing freely and there were lots of guests, swimming wasn’t allowed! We managed to grab a table poolside, though, and perched up on stools, happily admiring our beautiful surroundings.

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One of the nicest things about attending blogger events is the lovely people you meet. As well as Talitha and Milly, I got to know Simantha and Geraldine at the party, and it was so fun hanging out with these ladies, who all have the most beautiful blogs and instagram accounts to match (do check them out!).

H O N O R    8     I S    L A U N C H E D    I N    E U R O P E

After a bit, we were ushered inside for the main event of the evening: the launch of the latest Honor smartphone, the Honor 8. Honor are known for making extremely high-quality smartphones at incredibly affordable prices, and the latest phone is no exception. We were all lucky enough to receive an Honor 8, and I’ve been using mine steadily since I got back to London, as it takes much better photos than my iphone! The Honor 8 phone has a dual lens camera and brilliant, easy-to-use settings that allow you to manually control the ISO, AF, WB etc settings if you want to go that extra step (it’s a great way to improve your understanding of photography without investing in a super expensive camera). You can check out my most recent instagram photos of Notting Hill to get an idea of the crystal clear images the phone takes.

Adventures in Paris with Honor 8

We were given an introduction to the design and technology of the new phone and were then treated to a performance by Louane of some of her latest hit songs (you can listen to one of my favourites here). I’d heard these songs played all over Provence and Geneva whilst I was on holiday and had already added Louane to my itunes list, so it was a real treat to see her perform live! And that wasn’t the only surprise of the night…Talitha gave me a pat on the shoulder and drew my attention to the fact that David Beckham was part of the audience too (his son is an Honor brand ambassador). Swoon!

After Louane’s performance, we headed out to our table by the pool again to nibble more canapes, drink champagne and admire the special light show that rippled across the water.

It was fairly late by the time we got back to our hotel, but the four of us agreed to meet at 6.30am in the hotel lobby so we could set out and snap some photos of the sunrise in Paris before breakfast. Bloggers don’t need sleep after all, right?!

S U N R I S E    I N    P A R I S

Our pre-dawn wakeup call was definitely worth it! The sky was just beginning to turn the softest shade of pink as we strolled towards the river, and the light gradually deepened to a dazzling golden that made the Eiffel Tower gleam bronze in the sun.

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It was a stunningly beautiful morning, and made me think I should start everyday with a walk; I was amazed by how refreshed I felt! Soon, though, it was time to head back for breakfast and to catch the return train to London. My trip to Paris was such a whirlwind of fun, and I’m already planning my next trip back!

Have you been to Paris recently? Do you have an tips for what to do if you’re in the Eiffel Tower area?

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Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard InterviewWith the author Elizabeth Bard, outside her artisan glacier Scaramouche 

One of my most memorable days in Provence was visiting the charming little town of Cereste, where I got to interview Elizabeth Bard, the New York Times bestselling author of Lunch in Paris and Picnic in Provence. I first discovered Elizabeth’s books last summer and have been a huge fan of hers ever since. Lunch in Paris describes Elizabeth’s journey as a New York girl falling in love with both Paris and a handsome Frenchman, and is a must-read for any lover of the City of Light and French food. In Picnic in Provence, she writes about her family’s move from Paris to Cereste, experiences of motherhood and setting up the artisan glacier, Scaramouche. Their award winning ice-cream now attracts visitors from all over France and the rest of the world, and Scaramouche has just opened a branch in Paris as well. The flavours and food of France have always been an important part of Elizabeth’s fascinating story: both her books are littered with fantastic recipes straight from the kitchen table, making them even more appealing to my food-loving soul.

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

You can imagine my delight when Elizabeth agreed to meet me for an interview in Cereste (scroll down if you’d like to skip straight to the interview – she’s fantastic!), and my Dad very kindly agreed to drive all of us to the town, where we booked a table for lunch before heading to Scaramouche for my interview and to sample their delicious ice-creams and sorbets.

Our drive to Cereste took us through the mountains, twisting along nerve-wrackingly narrow roads with incredible views. When we arrived in the town, we were pleased to see that we’d serendipitously timed our visit with Cereste’s annual summer fair, and we wandered through the market set up in the square, admiring the food stalls (there was even a little Scaramouche stand!) and handmade ceramics as we went.

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Cereste is a beautiful town; I loved its graceful old buildings, brightly painted shutters and inviting alleyways that are so typical of Provence. I could see why Elizabeth and Gwendal decided to stay!

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We’d booked a table at La Pastorale, a charming little restaurant with the most perfect balcony where we could sit out and admire the town.

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To start, I went for one of my very favourite dishes: steak tartare. It was delicious! The seasoning was just right, and the fried quail’s eggs on top added an agreeable touch.

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

Next up: quail stuffed with foie gras (I was not dieting on this trip!!). I loved this dish; even with its luxurious ingredients it didn’t taste too rich, and the purple potatoes added a great depth of flavour and were a real treat.

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We decided ice-cream at Scaramouche would be our dessert, and it was time for the interview so I hurried along as the rest of my family stayed on for coffee.

Isn’t Scaramouche completely charming? I’ve rarely seen such a pretty setting for ice-cream!

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

Elizabeth came over when she knew I was there, and it was such a treat to meet her in person. If you’ve read the books, then I can confirm that she is just as delightful in person as you can imagine from reading her stories. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

MN: What made you decide to write memoirs? Have you always kept a journal, and the memoirs became a natural extension from those?

EB: I’ve never kept a journal. I’m a terrible, terrible journal writer. I think I kept a journal for about 10 minutes when I was 13 and had a crush on someone; that was the extent of my journal writing! When I moved abroad, and when I came to France to be with Gwendal [Elizabeth’s husband], I knew that I wanted to write about the rollercoaster of international relationships and the discovery of international romance and international living and all the ups and downs of that. When I sat down to think about how I really discovered my adopted country, everything was done as the French would say autour de la table –  “around the table.” Every single real moment of discovery happened at a market, or at a restaurant or at a family meal, and so I started to structure the book around the recipes, and that’s how it came together.

MN: Was it the recipes that came first then, before the story?

EB: I think it was a mix! Writing about a memoir of adjusting to France without the food aspect soon becomes pretty dark. It would be a tale of administrative woes and language barriers and getting your driver’s licence! The recipes helped balance out the pleasure, and I’ve always used food to explore other cultures. Even though I’m trained as an art historian, I’ve always been that person who figures out where they’re going for lunch before heading to a museum! [Same here! – MN]. Food, then, has always been an important part of my discovery of a new culture, and I wanted to bring that to the book.

MN: How would you describe your own personal history in terms of food? Are there particular meals that sum up your childhood and your 20s, as well as your life now?

EB: From my childhood, the plat principal of my family gatherings was my Grandmother’s spaghetti sauce. My Grandfather was posted in Utica in upstate New York during WW2. Both my grandparents came from a Jewish neighbourhood in Brooklyn, and my Grandmother was a young married woman who didn’t really know how to cook. She hadn’t been taught by her mother, and so she learned how to cook standing in line at the butcher in Utica from these Italian ladies. They taught her a recipe for spaghetti bolognese that has two different kinds of meat in it, and there’s always pork! So my nice Jewish Grandmother’s recipe for spaghetti sauce always included these huge pork ribs, which I always thought shows you how life can lead you to strange places, and we all learn something along the way [you can find this fantastic recipe in Lunch in Paris – MN].

There was one restaurant that was emblematic of my arrival in Paris and falling in love with Gwendal and falling in love with the city, and that was the Bistro Sainte Marthe (I don’t think it’s run by the same people now though!). We used to go and get things like swordfish tartare and moelleux au chocolat; dishes that were so simple and used very few ingredients, but they were combined in ways that were fresh to me. I have real memories of those first meals as an important part of my early adulthood.

With moving to Provence and becoming a mother, food has become a lot about family cooking. The French eat a lot of soup, and I’ve become a big soup person! It’s a great way to introduce children to the taste of lots of different vegetables. When we first arrived here, our neighbour left a basket of vegetables on our front doorstep – we didn’t even have the boxes unpacked – and he said ‘you must make soup for the baby!’

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

MN: How did you set about writing about personal topics such as motherhood?

EB: I think writing about motherhood is a very fraught subject, because you feel very guilty and riddled with uncertainty just mentioning anything about it. Motherhood wasn’t as easy a transition for me as it is for some people; I think people live that transition very individually – for some people it’s easy and natural, and for me it was harder. I had to live through that transition, and I had to decide how to describe it. I wanted to have worked through it enough so that I could write it down in a clear and honest way. I find in writing memoirs, you have to come out the other side of whatever it is that you’re living through, in order to then be able to look back and decide how to structure the experience. And also, I know my son could read the book one day, and I feel responsible to him to express something in a true way and to have thought through how I wrote about it. It was by far the hardest and scariest part to write! I have had a very positive response for the honesty of it, though, so I’m pleased about it.

MN: Do you write from memory, or do you record significant happenings as they occur? How does your creative process work?

EB: I don’t have an excellent ear for dialogue – it’s my weakness as a writer – so if there’s a conversation that I hear and I think, ‘that’s such a culturally distinct conversation; I must write that down somewhere,’ then I will make a record of it right away. Generally though it’s about living through a certain period of your life and then going back and finding the narrative arc within that. Not every experience is worth setting down on paper, and although you’re telling a true story, you’re still telling a story: one that has a beginning, a middle and an end and that takes the reader on a journey.

When I’m writing a book, I try to write a little everyday. I usually write for 3 or 4 hours in the mornings (I’m better in the morning!), and then I either edit or recipe test in the afternoons. It’s a craft, though, like anything else: if I just sat in front of a blank page and waited for inspiration to strike, then I’d still be sitting here, many many years later, waiting for something to happen!

MN: Do you have any tips for people starting out with writing?

EB: As much as I admire people who have a whole fictional universe in their heads, I think most people start by writing about what they know and what they feel closest to and strongly about. Don’t be afraid to have an editor. I am somebody who comes from the world of journalism, and my writing has never gotten worse by having someone read it and edit it. Nobody writes in a vacuum. If things are getting difficult, then pick one person that you trust (too many opinions isn’t good either) who can give you feedback. When I’m really stuck, usually what I have to do is get rid of something – like a beautiful sentence that I love but just doesn’t belong there – and once I get rid of it that tends to unblock the process for me.

MN: What would be your top tips for people moving to a new country and adjusting to a different culture?

EB: When I first moved to France, my language skills weren’t great, and I saw that with such a level of frustration and such a level of anger because I couldn’t express myself, and I felt my personality was only half there. I felt half intelligent and half funny. I only realised afterwards that what that forced me to do was just shut up and listen a lot more to the culture around me and to the people around me. It can be exhausting and uncomfortable and even a little sad sometimes to be forced to listen and feel like you’re in the background all the time. In hindsight, though, I think it gave me valuable time to figure out what was going on around me and for other people to approach me slowly, rather than barging in like an American bull in the china stop. I also think that having a job or having hobbies – the French in particular love their hobbies! – that’s how you meet people, so it’s good to get involved in something.

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

MN: And what about your next book? Is it solely a cookbook, or will it continue your story of your life in Provence?

EB: It’s less of a narrative book, it’s going to be more tips and tricks on how to make your kitchen more French. It’s called Dinner Chez Moi: 50 French Secrets to Joyful Eating and Entertaining [That sounds absolutely marvellous; I can’t wait for it to come out next Spring! – MN]. There will be ingredients that I use in my French kitchen that North American audiences might not be as used to – things like lentils and almond flour and vanilla beans and others that people in France use all the time but were more of a discovery for me when I first came here. I’ve written about what I always have to hand in the fridge and ingredients I’ve discovered in Provence as well [you can preorder Elizabeth’s next book here – MN].

MN: Which cookbook writers do you especially admire?

EB: I love to read cookbooks, and the dirty little secret of writing French cookbooks is that after you’re done you don’t want to eat French food for 6 months! I’ve been testing creme brulee and yoghurt cake recipes, and don’t want to see another one for a while! At the moment, I’m obsessed with Ottolenghi, as everybody is. I was just in California and staying with a friend who is of Persian origin, and I love Persian food; eating at her mother’s table is one of the greatest memories of my life! I bought a Persian cookbook whilst I was there, as I love to cook that style of food in the summer [I recently got this great Persian cookbook – MN].

MN: Finally, who have been the most influential women in your life?

EB: My mother has been my biggest cheerleader and my biggest support throughout my life. She never told me anything was too crazy or too badly paid! She’s really given me the support that allowed me to take risks and to live a life that is full of leaps to not feel so scary.

***

After our fabulous chat, I joined my family outside at the one of the pretty little tables, and we set about the serious business of ordering ice-cream. Elizabeth was kind enough to bring out many samples for us to try, and we also ordered a selection of sorbets and ice-creams. They were all incredible!! I am very hoping that one day a Scaramouche branch opens in London because I really need a regular supply of that apricot sorbet and strawberries & cream ice-cream! As we were thoroughly enjoying our ices, we were introduced to Scaramouchette, a stray cat who Elizabeth told us turned up at the ice-cream cafe a few months ago and never left (clearly the clever thing knows where the best supply of cream is to be had!). 

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

Adorable! And Scaramouchette definitely agrees the ice-cream is lip-smackingly good:

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

If you’d like to keep up-to-date with Elizabeth (and why wouldn’t you?!), then you can follow her blog, facebook and twitter. And if you haven’t read her books yet, I suggest they become your next treat to yourself; they’re the perfect choice to extend that summer feeling a little longer as we head into autumn.

Have you read Elizabeth’s books? Are you tempted to give them a go if not? What did you enjoy most about the interview?

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Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

Market towns of Provence – the drive to Sault – hat buying at the market – I have the best goat cheese of my life – disaster strikes! – Sault at a glance

Having arrived in Provence (in Saint-Pierre-de-Vassols, to be exact) on Tuesday evening, I woke up bright and early on Wednesday morning, with the light streaming through my airy double windows, the thin white curtains rustling slightly in a refreshingly cool breeze. As I would do every morning, I hung over my tiny balcony, breathing in the air and delighting in the beautiful landscape, still hushed with sleep. I couldn’t wait to start exploring, and after tea in the garden we all piled into the car and headed to Sault (pronounced ‘so’ to rhyme with ‘go’), an old fortified village nestled high on a rocky promontory.

We’d decided that much of our discovery of Provence would revolve around visiting its many different market towns. With a little research, it’s possible to go to a different (and fabulous) market everyday (our most trusted resource was a little book called Markets of Provence by Marjorie R. Williams – fantastic!), and it’s a marvellous way to explore the countryside. Each market has a unique quality to it, reflecting its respective village or town, and the markets offer a wonderful glimpse into the customs and culture of Provence. Of course, the basketfuls of local produce and speciality foods that may be enjoyed back at the gîte every night are a major plus too!

The drive to Sault is almost as interesting as the destination. Steeply curving roads wind upwards, and peering out the window you can see Mount Ventoux rising high on the horizon, with a patchwork of gold and purple fields of wheat and lavender beneath. We couldn’t resist pulling over and jumping out the car to stand amongst the grapevines, snapping away with our cameras at the beautiful view.

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

Parking in Sault is most definitely not an easy task (it’s wise to get there as early as possible so as to nab a good place). After negotiating our way through the tiny streets with no luck, we managed to secure a spot along the main road that bends sharply into the town and then made our way on foot towards the town centre. Unlike my usual London pace, I found it impossible to walk briskly in Provence – there’s simply too much to take in and enjoy! I peered down every delightful side alley as we wound our way up through the streets, enjoying the pretty sand-coloured buildings with their brightly painted shutters and the sprightly hollyhocks clustered at doorways.

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The market at Sault has been going since 1515, and the Count of Sault decreed in 1546 that it should always be held on a Wednesday. Hundreds of years on, it is easy to see why the market is still so popular with locals and tourists alike. On turning into the crowd of market stalls jostling each other for space in the pretty town square, I was first distracted by the scent of lavender wafting across the air from a particularly eye-catching stand. Bunches of the drying herb were tied upside down from its awning, more were laid in baskets on the floor and lavender soaps, sachets and shampoos were arranged artistically across the tablecloths. I couldn’t resist a couple of bunches of lavender (which made our living room smell wonderful when we arranged them in a vase back at the gîte), as well as a lavender sachet to bring back with me to London. Sault is in the heart of lavender country (a lavender festival is held each year on August 15th), so I felt it very appropriate to pick up a few lavender-related goods at its market.

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

Other local specialities are also proudly represented: enormous blocks of nougat made with roasted nuts and lavender honey tower over another table, and the goat cheese stall of Perig Belloin offers an exceedingly tempting mix of fresh and aged goat cheeses. We couldn’t resist the bulging, purple-tinged garlic bulbs, ruby-red cherries, rounded aubergines and plump tomatoes to bring home, as well as a selection of tapenade, olives, bread, lavender honey and cheese. Squares of fruit pastes beckoned at us from another stand, and we bought a slice of quince paste to go with our Comte. It was absolutely incredible – the best I’ve ever tasted! Markets are truly a feast for the senses: every way I turned there were fresh sounds, sights and smells to delight.

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Diving into a narrow street where market stalls continued uphill, I was entranced by a collection of straw hats, trimmed in cream and dark brown. I’d left my hat back in London and was regretting it already, but after some umming and ahhing over which style and shape I wanted, I settled on a pretty hat with a wide brim and bow at the back. Perfect protection against the glaring sun!

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

Feeling in the need of refreshment after our shopping, we began to search for a nice spot for lunch. The cafes and restaurants immediately surrounding the market were incredibly busy and noisy, but we’d remembered a pleasant looking restaurant from our walk up from the car and thought we’d try our luck there. Le Petit Jardin is aptly named: the restaurant does indeed have a little (and very charming) garden at its side, which offers a perfect haven from the bustling market crowds.

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We were able to get a lovely table outside, and I’d noticed the plat du jour sounded particularly good: salade de chevre chaud au miel de lavande. Along with a bottle of (exceptionally good) rose, we ordered a starter to share between us, which featured another local specialty: petit-epautre. This ancient, spelt-like grain has been grown around Sault for centuries, and we couldn’t wait to try it. It was delicious served as a cold salad, mixed with a yoghurt-based dressing, finely chopped red pepper, plenty of fresh dill and sultanas. I later bought a box of petit-epautre at a local corner shop so I could have a go at recreating the dish back in London.

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

Next, my goat cheese salad arrived, and I couldn’t believe my eyes at the amount of cheese! A whole round of perfectly warmed, fresh goat cheese was served on a slice of toast, honey dribbled over the top. There was definitely a lot more cheese than salad, and I was in a fromage-lovers’ paradise! Apparently there is a fantastic goat farm in the hamlet Saint-Jean-de-Sault, owned by Perig and Cathy Belloin, hence the abundance of exceedingly good goat cheese in the area.

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

Even though feeling rather full after my cheese, I decided I could still enjoy a salted caramel fondant for dessert, and I’m so glad I did! Just look at that caramel oozing from the centre:

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

It was absolutely delicious, and I polished off every bite!

Feeling exceedingly satisfied after our meal, our happy state was alas rather short-lived. On returning to our car, we’d discovered the back window smashed in, and bags (containing passport, laptop and other valuables) taken. The same had happened to the car next to us; a horrified American couple turned up just after we’d called the police, exclaiming over the loss of their own passports and laptops. The rest of our afternoon was primarily spent in the police station, or on the phone dealing with the consequences of the theft. It was definitely a sad end to the day, but we determined not to let it spoil the rest of the holiday, and I tell the tale now to serve as a warning: never leave valuables in the car, no matter how public and safe somewhere seems!

Sault At A Glance

WHAT: ancient hillside town in the heart of lavender country.

MARKET: held on Wednesday mornings. Get there early to get a parking space!

BUY: lavender, nougat, goat cheese and the ancient grain petit-epautre are local specialities.

IN THE AREA: Aroma Plantes, a lavender farm and distillery open to the public. The Belloin goat farm in Saint-Jean-de-Sault.

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What to Read When Visiting Charleston and Monk’s House

What to read when visiting Charleston and Monk's House | A Reading List inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and artists of East Sussex via Miranda's Notebook

I like to visit Charleston and Monk’s House, the respective homes of Vanessa Bell and her sister, Virginia Woolf, as often as I can. This year, I was lucky enough to go earlier in the month, on a gloriously sunny spring day. Nestled in the beautiful landscape of the East Sussex Downs, both homes offer a wealth of beauty and inspiration. You can read my more detailed accounts of the houses here and here, but for this post I wanted to compile a reading list of books that I feel make the Bloomsbury Group and their beloved Sussex countryside come truly alive.

Even if you have little-to-no interest in ever visiting Charleston or Monk’s House yourself, I think there is a great deal to enjoy from these wonderful books, and if, like me, you try to visit as many times as possible, then this selection will certainly enrich your experience. I most love to see Charleston on a Sunday, when you can amble about the house at your own pace and don’t have to be accompanied by a guide. When going on an unguided tour, though, you do gain a lot more from the house when you’ve read a little about its history.

Here, then, is my suggested reading list for exploring East Sussex and its Bloomsbury and artistic connections.

+++ Reading Around Charleston +++

Charleston was the home of Vanessa and Clive Bell and was the country meeting place of the Bloomsbury Group. The house was decorated in such a unique style, predominately by Vanessa Bell and her lover, Duncan Grant, that the ‘Bloomsbury aesthetic’ still exerts a profound influence on interior design today. 

What to read when visiting Charleston and Monk's House | A Reading List inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and artists of East Sussex via Miranda's Notebook

// Charleston: A Bloomsbury House & Garden, Quentin Bell & Virginia Nicholson

This book, written by Vanessa Bell’s son and granddaughter, offers a comprehensive history of Charleston Farmhouse and its artistic inhabitants, as well as giving fascinating details on the artwork and domestic arrangements of the house. It’s also full of beautiful photographs – especially useful to aid one’s memory after a visit, as no photography is allowed inside. This book is a definite must to get the most from your Charleston visit.

What to read when visiting Charleston and Monk's House | A Reading List inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and artists of East Sussex via Miranda's Notebook

// The Bloomsbury Cookbook, Jans Ondaatje Rolls

Through this collection of 300 recipes, Rolls tells the story of the Bloomsbury Group with a refreshingly intimate lens. Breakfasts at Monk’s House and lunches at Charleston are vividly described, and the book is exquisitely illustrated with original artwork by Cressida Bell, as well as paintings and sketches by Dora Carrington, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant etc. There is also a wealth of reproductions of letters, recipes and photographs, as well as diverting snippets of gossip (like the time Virginia Woolf accidentally cooked her wedding ring into a suet pudding whilst on a cookery course). I haven’t made any of the recipes yet, but I’d rather like to try Angelica Garnett’s cherry pie!

What to read when visiting Charleston and Monk's House | A Reading List inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and artists of East Sussex via Miranda's Notebook

// Bloomsbury Needlepoint, Melinda Cross. Needlework abounds at both Monk’s House and Charleston: used in creating cushions, frames, and chair covers. Some of the Charleston designs have been reproduced and turned into needlepoint patterns in this beautiful book, so that the reader may recreate a Charleston cushion or rug, if they wish. Besides providing the patterns, Cross also gives fascinating glimpses into life at Charleston and thoughtful analysis of the needlework designs by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

+++ Reading Around Monk’s House +++

Monk’s House was bought by Leonard and Virginia Woolf in 1919, as a place where they came to rest, write and potter in the garden. Virginia wrote the majority of her most famous novels at Monk’s House, in her writing shed in the grounds. 

What to read when visiting Charleston and Monk's House | A Reading List inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and artists of East Sussex via Miranda's Notebook

// A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf

Read this (always thought-provoking) essay before visiting Virginia’s beautiful bedroom and her writing hut in the gardens at Monk’s House. The volume is so slim you can read it easily on the train journey from London to Lewes.

// Virginia Woolf’s Garden, Caroline Zoob.

Between the two – Charleston and Monk’s House – it is the Woolfs’ garden which is by far my favourite, and in this book Zoob gives a fascinating account of how Leonard and Virginia transformed the land around their home into a garden that became a great source of inspiration and joy for them both. The book is interspersed with quotes from Virginia capturing her pleasure in the land: ‘never has the garden been so lovely…dazzling one’s eyes with reds & pinks & purples & mauves.’

What to read when visiting Charleston and Monk's House | A Reading List inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and artists of East Sussex via Miranda's Notebook

// The Book of Songs, Arthur Waley

Arthur Waley was an outlying member of the Bloomsbury Group who became famed for his translations of Chinese and Japanese poetry. Waley’s translations are widely regarded as poems in their own right, and his verses are truly mesmerizing: full of beauty and sensuality. Settling down under the trees in Monk’s House orchard, with a volume of Waley’s poetry to hand (and perhaps some chocolate or biscuits from the little National Trust shop), will guarantee you a blissful afternoon (here’s an example of one of his poems – perfect to read under some blossom!).

// In The Orchard, Virginia Woolf

A short story by Woolf that describes a girl who wakes up in an apple orchard, much like the one at Monk’s House.

+++ Reading Around Women +++ 

A lot of my interest in the Bloomsbury Group is due to the incredible women that form its core. These women enjoyed artistic, intellectual and sexual freedoms that were extraordinary for their times, and although their self-expression also often came with a personal cost, women such as Virginia Woolf did help to pioneer a new way of life for their sex, forging a future where women could live equally amongst men. Fascinating to me as well, are the too often neglected female artists who lived in East Sussex, such as Peggy Angus and Tirzah Garwood. These women were the contemporaries of the famous (male) artists, Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Henry Moore etc, but are – quite wrongly – little remembered today. 

What to read when visiting Charleston and Monk's House | A Reading List inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and artists of East Sussex via Miranda's Notebook

//  Vanessa and Her Sister, Priya Parmar

I have mentioned how much I enjoyed this book many times before (you can read my review of the novel here and my interview with its author, Priya Parmar, here), and I think it’s a brilliant imagining of the dynamics between Vanessa and Virginia, as well as the other founding members of the Bloomsbury Group. It truly brings each and every character to life and is a delightful way to learn more of the sisters’ lives before they achieved both fame and notoriety.

// Deceived with Kindness, Angelica Garnett

Angelica Garnett was the daughter of Vanessa Bell and her lover, Duncan Grant, although for years she understood her father to be Clive Bell, Vanessa’s husband. Her memoir, Deceived with Kindness, examines the darker side of her peculiar family dynamics and her complicated relationship with her mother.

What to read when visiting Charleston and Monk's House | A Reading List inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and artists of East Sussex via Miranda's Notebook

// A House Full of Daughters, Juliet Nicolson

The ‘house’ central to this investigation of Nicolson’s family history is neither Charleston nor Monk’s House, but rather Knole in Kent, the cherished home for many years of Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf’s lover. Nicolson paints an enthralling account of another eccentric, but renowned family, and her writings on relations between daughters and mothers and a sense of belonging to a particular place are particularly apt in the Bloomsbury landscape as well. (Side note: the book’s gorgeous cover is designed by Cressida Bell, Vanessa Bell’s granddaughter).

// Peggy Angus: Designer, Teacher, Painter, James Russell

Peggy Angus was an exceptionally talented artist and attended the Royal College of Art alongside Eric Ravilious, who was one of her dear friends and often visited her at Furlongs, her cottage in the heart of the Sussex Downs. The house became a gathering place for artists, and was decorated by Peggy Angus and her friends, echoing the Bohemian lifestyle of nearby Charleston. This biography gives fascinating insights into Angus’ life and work and is another of my ‘must reads.’

// Long Live Great Bardfield, the autobiography of Tirzah Garwood

Happily, this book is due to be republished by Persephone Books in October (it’s currently out-of-print and incredibly expensive secondhand), and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy! Tirzah Garwood was the wife of Eric Ravilious, who learnt wood engraving from her husband and became an exceptionally talented printmaker in her own right.

+++ Reading Around The Landscape +++

This part of the UK has inspired artists and writers alike, and it’s easy to see why. Anyone who is a fan of Eric Ravilious’ work will recognise the distinctive chalky cliffs and rolling hills of the East Sussex landscape. 

What to read when visiting Charleston and Monk's House | A Reading List inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and artists of East Sussex via Miranda's Notebook

// Ravilious in Pictures, James Russell

Eric Ravilious is one of my favourite artists (remember the incredible exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery?), and this collection of his Sussex and South Downs paintings is a joy to peruse.

// Eric Ravilious: Memoir of an Artist, Helen Binyon

Helen Binyon knew Eric Ravilious well so this memoir offers an insightful and touchingly personal account of Ravilious’ tragically short life.

What to read when visiting Charleston and Monk's House | A Reading List inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and artists of East Sussex via Miranda's Notebook

// Romantic Moderns, Alexandra Harris

Alexandra Harris is a writer of astounding intellect (she is also one of the best public speakers I have heard in a long time), and in Romantic Moderns, she deftly explores English culture between the wars. Integral figures to her writing include Virginia Woolf and Eric Ravilious, and she writes significantly about their common landscape in Sussex. Harris also goes into some depth describing the murals Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell were commissioned to design for Berwick Church, only a short distance from Charleston. The murals can still be seen at the church today and are well worth a detour.

+++ Reading Around Lewes +++ 

Lewes, the nearest town with a train station near Charleston, is charming, full of history and not without its own literary connections. 

What to read when visiting Charleston and Monk's House | A Reading List inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and artists of East Sussex via Miranda's Notebook

// The Family From One End Street, Eve Garnett

This is a delightful children’s book (which I defy any adult not to enjoy too) about a working class family living in a town that is a loosely fictionalised Lewes (the home of the author).

// The Collector, John Fowles

A novel on my ‘to-be-read’ list, not least because I share the name of its female protagonist! Set in an isolated cottage near Lewes, Fowles tells the story of Miranda, who is kidnapped by a lonely young man who collects butterflies….

// The Young Visiters, Daisy Ashford

In 1871, Daisy Ashford wrote the comic masterpiece, The Young Visiters [sic], aged 9 years old at Southdown House in Lewes.

***

I do hope you find this list useful! Have you ever been to Charleston or Monk’s House, or do you plan on visiting? What books do you recommend reading for a holiday exploring Bloomsbury territory in East Sussex?

** If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in reading my Bloomsbury-related interviews with Cressida Bell, David Herbert and Priya Parmar, as well as my trips to Charleston, Monk’s House and Sissinghurst. **

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A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath

A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath | Miranda's Notebook Guide

I adore Bath. If I ever wanted to move out of London, I would probably pick Bath as the second place I’d most want to live in the UK. In fact, I’ve already had friends who have made the move from London to Bath, quitting their Magic Circle law firms to find a gentler pace of life in the charming, architecturally stunning city. I don’t blame them!

Although I’m generally a planner, sometimes there’s nothing more fun than spontaneously exploring a city and seeing where your whim takes you. I’ve visited Bath several times in the past and have seen the majority of its tourist attractions (Bath Abbey, the Fashion Museum, the Roman Baths, The Jane Austen Centre, the American Museum in Britain etc), so this time I decided to enjoy the city with no set plans other than a general idea of some shops and cafes I’d like to visit.

A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath | Miranda's Notebook GuideA Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath | Miranda's Notebook Guide

We arrived in Bath just in time to start thinking about lunch. I’d discovered The Foodie Bugle via instagram and thought it looked just the right spot and was conveniently located just around the corner from the Royal Crescent. We climbed our way up the streets of the city, admiring its beautiful buildings as we went and rejoicing in the incredible weather – it felt like summer!

A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath | Miranda's Notebook Guide A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath | Miranda's Notebook Guide

The Foodie Bugle proved a good choice: we enjoyed asparagus frittata and a delicious selection of fresh salads, followed by orange and almond cake for me and chocolate cake for the others. I felt like a kid in a candy shop as I browsed the carefully curated selection of home goods in the shop downstairs and the tempting arrays of jams, chutneys, chocolate, fresh produce and local delicacies upstairs.

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The Foodie Bugle is located on Margaret’s Buildings, a particularly charming street, which is home to many interesting shops and cafes. Next time, I’d like to try The Green Bird Cafe for lunch, and it’s well worth popping into Bath Old Books and Gallery Nine. After a thorough explore, we headed on to The Royal Crescent, which I can never resist for its stunning Georgian architecture that makes me feel as though I’m a Jane Austen heroine and the beautiful view of Royal Victoria Park.

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A tip worth knowing is that The Royal Crescent Hotel, which is located in the middle of the long row of terraced houses, has a gorgeous garden, which is perfect for afternoon tea or sipping a glass of wine on a lovely day (non-hotel guests are welcome). We decided a glass of white wine was just what we fancied so hot-footed it to a shady table in the tranquil garden.

A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath | Miranda's Notebook Guide A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath | Miranda's Notebook Guide

We felt blissfully on holiday as we sipped the cold, crisp wine and basked in the warmth of the day, chatting about where to go next. As I can never resist a bookshop, I suggested we make our way to Topping & Company Booksellers, which I’d read about and thought sounded excellent.

A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath | Miranda's Notebook GuideA Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath | Miranda's Notebook Guide A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath | Miranda's Notebook Guide

The bookshop was indeed excellent, overflowing with books and friendly staff, who offered free cups of coffee or tea as we browsed.  We could have stayed much longer, but another passion of mine was calling to me – stationery – and I wanted to check out Meticulous Ink, a little shop on nearby Walcot Street.

A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath | Miranda's Notebook Guide A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath | Miranda's Notebook Guide

Walcot Street is home to Bath’s artisan quarter and is a must visit if you fancy an amble amongst quirky independent shops and restaurants. If I hadn’t been so full, I couldn’t have resisted drinks and nibbles at The Fine Cheese Co (I still regret not buying some cheese to take back on the train!) and Sam’s Kitchen (a clear local favourite). Instead, we contented ourselves window shopping, although we did dive into Meticulous Ink (which is minute, but very sweet) and Avenida Home. The latter had a gorgeous selection of trays, coasters and other homeware featuring beautiful designs commissioned from artists. I recognised many of them as being stocked in places like Liberty, and was told by one of the owners that a lot of their business is done wholesale to London shops. If you’re ever in the area, I recommend popping in!

A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath | Miranda's Notebook Guide

After touring the shops, it was time to head to the station for our return train to London, but spending such a pleasant afternoon made me realise just how easy it is to plan days out from London, and I really should do it more often. I hope to return to Bath again very soon to see the Bloomsbury Rooms exhibition that David Herbert is co-curating (it opens June 11th) and to have some more spontaneous fun!

Have you been to Bath before? Where are your favourite places to go in the city?

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A Day in Rye

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

Last week, I had a marvellous time spending a day in Rye with my relatives visiting from the States and Canada. I wanted to show them a quintessentially English small town, full of character and charm, and I knew Rye would be the perfect spot. I’d never in fact been to Rye myself, but, being a huge fan of E.F. Benson’s Mapp & Lucia books, which are set in Rye (scroll down to my ‘what to read’ section for more details), I’d always wanted to go.

Rye is only a short train ride from London and is so worth the trip! I’ve rarely seen such a pretty place, and the sleepy, cobbled streets, ringing church bells and quaint cottages offer a pleasing contrast to bustling, noisy London. Here are some of my tips for what to do, eat, shop & read if you plan on visiting Rye yourself (I’d get booking those train tickets right away – we have a Bank Holiday coming up, after all!).

++ W H A T    T O    D O    I N    R Y E ++

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

1/ Climb to the top of St Mary’s Church for an incredible view of Rye and the surrounding countryside.

I braved my vertigo as I swung myself up ladders in the belfry (thinking rather nervously of Dorothy L. Sayer’s The Nine Tailors as I saw the impressive bells still and quiet beneath me), and it was definitely worth it. I did feel a little wobbly in the knees as I inched my way around the spire, but I soon forgot my qualms as I got to admire a truly stunning landscape.

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2/ Stroll down Mermaid Street, arguably the prettiest road in Rye (if not Britain).

This cobbled street looks like a picture postcard, with its vine-covered timbered and Georgian houses flanking either side. It’s an instagrammer’s paradise!

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

It’s worth popping into The Mermaid Inn for a drink, or simply to look around, as this pub is a Rye institution. First established in the 12th Century, The Mermaid Inn has a long and fascinating history, including being used by a notorious gang of smugglers in the 1700s.

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook GuideA Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

3/ Pay a visit to Lamb House, the former home of Henry James, E.F. Benson and Rumer Godden.

Lamb House is just around the corner from the top end of Mermaid Street and is a must visit for all literature lovers. Henry James moved into the house in 1897, where he wrote some of his most acclaimed novels and entertained many other notable figures of the time, including H.G. Wells, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Joseph Conrad, Ford Maddox Ford, Rudyard Kipling, and Edith Wharton.

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

After James’ death in 1916, E.F. Benson lived in Lamb House, and it provided inspiration for ‘Mallards’ – Miss Mapp’s (and then Lucia’s) house in Mapp & Lucia. From 1968-1973, the author Rumer Godden was a tenant of the house.

Although there is not a great deal to see inside the house (only 3 ground floor rooms are open to the public, and their content is fairly sparse), it is interesting to see some of Henry James’ letters and possessions on display. The real treat, though, is the garden, which is glorious. The National Trust make tea and cake available to enjoy on the large lawn, and it’s hard to imagine a more tranquil setting. I think the entrance fee is worth it for access to the garden alone!

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++ W H E R E   T O   S H O P   I N   R Y E ++

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

Rye was stuffed to the brim with interesting antique and second-hand book shops, but unfortunately a lot of the shops close at the beginning of the week and tend to have only Wednesday-Saturday opening hours. Even though I couldn’t get into all the shops I would have liked, I still managed to do some shopping, and I’ve included some places I’d like to visit next time on my list.

1/ Rye Pottery.

Rye Pottery is a family run business that has been going for hundreds of years. As followers of this blog will know, I adore attractive ceramics, and I loved Rye Pottery’s simple striped designs in a range of pastels. I picked up a green striped jug in their ‘seconds’ collection (on the second floor and well worth checking out!) and was delighted. The jug was only a second because of its slightly darker green tone than the rest of the collection, but I actually preferred its colour so was thrilled to get it for a bargain price!

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

2/ Lion Street Store

Sadly, this shop was closed (Tuesday is the one day they close – typical!), but on peering through the windows I saw a lovely looking collection of homeware, books and prints. I’ll definitely be back (and in the meantime, am lusting after everything on their website)!

3/ The Rye Bookshop

This little independent bookshop was charming, with welcoming, helpful staff. Being in Rye, of course we couldn’t resist picking up Mapp & Lucia and a Rumer Godden novel (thank you Grandma!).

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

4/ Merchant & Mills

A drapers specialising in minimalist sewing patterns and simple, good-quality fabrics. The warehouse-like, rather old-fashioned shop is well worth dropping by, especially if you’re a keen sewer!

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

++ W H E R E   T O   E A T    I N    R Y E ++

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

Although I think Hastings may be a more exciting spot for food, Rye is certainly full of charming cafes and there are some excellent sounding restaurants I’d like to try on a return visit.

1/ The Cobbles Tea Room

The food here was fairly run-of-the-mill (simple soups, sandwiches, quiche & cakes), but the setting was very charming! We sat around a big table, enjoying a light lunch and a rest as we admired the blue and white china on dressers in the cafe (which felt a little like someone’s private drawing room). Next time, though, I would choose somewhere else to eat and content myself with just a cup of tea.

2/ Simon the Pieman

The cakes displayed in this cafe’s window looked particularly good, although sadly I wasn’t hungry enough to try any. It’s clear I’ll just have to go back to Rye….

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

3/ Webbe’s Fish Cafe

We tried to go here for supper, but – story of our day – it was closed! There is a branch of Webbe’s in Hastings too, and I’d heard rave reviews of it from locals during my trip there, so I was keen to try out the restaurant, but…next time!

A few more cafes and restaurants on my list for next time(s) are: The ApothecaryEdith’s House; Landgate Bistro and The Ship Inn (the fish & chips are recommended!). 

++ W H A T   T O   R E A D   I N    R Y E ++

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

I always think it’s fun to read books appropriate to the place you’re visiting. Rye is famed for its literary connections, and if I ever make a more prolonged stay in the town, here are the books I’ll be bringing with me.

1/ Henry James

During his time at Lamb House, Henry James wrote three novels: The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl. In The Awkward Age, Lamb House appears as Mr Longdon’s home.

2/ E.F. Benson’s Mapp & Lucia series.

In the Mapp & Lucia books, Benson fictionalised Rye as the village of Tilling, and fans of his novels have flocked to Rye ever since. I’m definitely in the mood for a reread of Mapp & Lucia now, and if you’ve never read it then I highly suggest you do! The book (set in the 1930s) follows the hilarious escapades of Miss Elizabeth Mapp and Mrs Emmeline Lucas (‘Lucia’) as they battle for social prestige, constantly hoping to one up each other and prove their right to be crowned societal queen of Tilling.

3/ Rumer Godden.

 Rumer Godden’s children’s book A Kindle of Kittens is set in Rye and makes a sweet read for the young, and her novel In this House of Brede draws much inspiration from the town.

4/ Beatrix Potter

The cover of her children’s story The Tale of the Faithful Dove is clearly Mermaid Street. Beatrix Potter sometimes holidayed in Rye, and one of her illustrations for The Tale of the Faithful Dove, which shows the view from Lamb House looking towards St Mary’s Church, is currently on display at the house.

A few more: Malcom Saville’s Lone Pine books, some of which are set in Rye (The Gay Dolphin Adventure is a favourite) and Monica Edwards’ Romney Marsh books.

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook GuideA Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook GuideA Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

 Have you ever visited Rye? What are your top tips for what to do when you’re there?

++ Read my post about Hastings as another fun outing that’s very close to Rye ++

If you’d like to easily save this guide, here the handy pinnable image once more:

A Day in Rye: What to Eat, Shop, Do & Read | A Miranda's Notebook Guide

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Exploring Sissinghurst Castle Gardens

Sissinghurst Castle Gardens

On Sunday, Mum and I took advantage of the clocks going back and an extra hour to our day to drive to Sissinghurst Castle, former home (now National Trust owned) of Vita Sackville-West, famed for her connection to the Bloomsbury Group and love affair with Virginia Woolf.

I’d been wanting to visit Sissinghurst for ages. Having absolutely loved my visits to Charleston and Monk’s House, Vita Sackville-West’s home was next on my list. I’d heard wonderful things about the garden Vita designed in the 1930s, but it by far exceeded all my expectations. We were extremely lucky with the weather: the sun was shining brightly, and I’d never seen the Kent countryside look prettier, glowing in the golden-toned orange and red of autumn. The famous garden is divided by bricks walls or clipped hedges, rather like a series of ‘rooms,’ each with its own theme. We spent all afternoon walking along its paths and marvelling at the sheer beauty of the place. Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens

Climbing to the top of the Elizabethan tower that is such a prominent feature of the grounds is most certainly worthwhile. For one thing, half-way up you can stop and peer into the cosiest looking nook that you can imagine, filled with books and deep armchairs (note: if I ever happen to have a tower in my garden – hey, you never know – I am definitely creating a library / study space in it). Once you get to the top, these are the views laid out before you:

Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Sissinghurst Castle Gardens

Absolutely spectacular – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the countryside look prettier! After touring the gardens, you may feel peckish, so I feel it’s worth mentioning that the cafe at Sissinghurst is very nice, with a menu that features fruits and vegetables grown in the gardens. I very much enjoyed a warming bowl of pumpkin barley risotto, and Mum said her beef casserole was delicious.

Have you ever visited Sissinghurst Castle Gardens? What did you think of it?

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Exploring Hastings

Exploring HastingsOutfit Details for a Similar Look
top | cape | trousers | bagboots | hat | nail polish

On Friday, Mum and I got up bright and early and met my friend Arthur at Waterloo East to catch the train to Hastings for the day. None of us had ever been to Hastings before, and really weren’t sure what to expect. The only Hastings I could picture was its representation in Foyle’s War, and I sensed this would be pretty far from the reality. I was in for a very pleasant surprise!

I love train journeys: they always give such a sense of adventure, and the 1.5 hrs flew by as we chatted away happily and ate the Pumpkin Cupcakes I’d brought along. On arrival at Hastings, we gloried in the beautiful weather that greeted us and decided to head straight for the sea. From recommendations I’d received from friends, I knew we’d find a lot to enjoy along Rock-a-Nore road, which offers a pleasing mixture of culture (in the form of the Jerwood gallery), lovely seaside views and some of the best fish & chip shops in England. It only took about 20 minutes to walk from the station, and as soon as we got to Rock-a-Nore road, I whipped my camera out and started snapping away. Hastings really is a seaside town, and there’s no better place to appreciate it then this stretch of road, where fishing huts and boats, antique shops and fisheries all jostle together against the cliff.

Rock-a-Nore Road Hastings Rock-a-Nore Road Hastings Rock-a-Nore Road Hastings Rock-a-Nore Road Hastings Rock-a-Nore Road Hastings Rock-a-Nore Road Hastings
Realising it was lunch time, I suggested we head to Maggie’s, which had been recommended as the place in Hastings to get fish & chips. I hadn’t booked ahead, which turned out to be a mistake, as they turned out to be completely booked (apparently, it’s wisest to book at least a week in advance), but happily a last minute cancellation occurred and we were given a table. It was clear that this place is exceedingly popular with local Hastings residents, and for good reason: we had some of the best fish & chips we’d ever tasted. I was a little overwhelmed at first by the portion size (one plate looked about enough to feed all 3 of us!), but manfully did my best, and it was delicious! The batter was thin and crispy, the cod wonderfully fresh and the chips exceedingly moreish.

Maggie's Hastings Maggie's Hastings

After eating as much as we could manage (I’m not sure anyone could accomplish a clean plate at Maggie’s!), we decided a walk by the sea to work off some of our lunch would be wise. Arthur and I certainly got in a bit of a workout as we negotiated our way down some rocks to a particularly pretty part of the coast. ‘What I don’t do for the blog!’ I thought, clinging to a rock as an avalanche of slippery pebbles disappeared from under my feet. Fortunately, Arthur came and rescued me, and we made it to the bottom all in one piece.

Although rock climbing will clearly never be my forte, the stunningly beautiful seaside was definitely worth the effort. We both exclaimed over the true blue of the sea (you can tell you’ve been in London too long when you’re far too used to water looking rather bleak and muddy), and it was lovely just to stand and breathe in the air.

Exploring Hastings Exploring HastingsExploring Hastings Exploring HastingsExploring Hastings

Returning to the main road, we were keen to get the funicular to the top of the cliff to admire the view of Hastings and the sea spread out below us. Wandering into the charmingly old-fashioned office, we paid for our tickets (£2.50 each) and were whisked away to the cliff top. The views were gorgeous, and once again I felt exceedingly thankful that the weather gods were smiling down on us. Blue sky met blue sea, and the pastel-shaded houses of Hastings spread out below us, making a pleasingly colourful landscape.

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The Old Town looked so inviting from above, we decided it was time to explore it from ground level too, and were whisked back down again in the funicular  to start our gentle ramble through the streets of Hastings’ Old Town. I have to say, I’ve seldom seen a prettier town: it felt like stepping back in time as we traversed the tiny alleyways and curving streets, flanked either side by many ancient and beautiful houses. My friend Arthur loves history and architecture so was on cloud nine and said too how his friends and relatives living abroad would adore Hastings. I completely agree: it offers a fantastic glimpse into a largely bygone England, and there’s also a largely unspoilt (and un-touristy) air to Hastings that is very special. I would absolutely recommend anyone visiting London for any length of time to take advantage of the easy train journey and make a day of it in Hastings.

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We soon came across busier streets filled with quaint shops and cafes and decided that a drink at Penbuckles Deli was a good idea. The Deli is a foodie’s paradise, stuffed to the brim with delicious cheeses, meats and other delicacies. We were still too full from the fish & chips to eat anything, but instead ordered some wine and tea to enjoy in the cosy backroom (note: you do have to order some kind of food if you’re having alcohol, but we were able to get some olives as a take-away, which we enjoyed later that night).

Hastings Old Town Hastings Old Town Hastings Old Town Hastings Old Town Hastings Old Town Hastings Old Town Penbuckles Deli Hastings

Having refreshed ourselves, I was keen to head back to the Jerwood Gallery, of which I’d heard fabulous things. We were lucky to catch two excellent exhibitions that are currently being shown at the Jerwood: Lowry by the Sea and Horizons: Kettle’s Yard. Both were fabulous, but I especially enjoyed the Lowry exhibition. I’ve always associated Lowry so strongly with his urban artworks and had had no idea he’d done several seaside paintings as well. They are beautiful, and it felt so special to see them in such a lovely gallery right by the ocean. Having spent a fair amount of time exploring Jerwood, we stopped for another cup of tea in the gallery cafe which has a very nice terrace overlooking the sea and is well worth a visit.

Regretfully, it was then time to head back to the station to catch a train to London. We all agreed that we had the most fantastic day out and wanted to return to Hastings again soon. Much as I love London, it’s so fun to have a day away from the city every once in a while, and there’s really so much on offer nearby that it’s a shame not to go exploring more often. Have any of you been to Hastings before? What did you think of it? Have I inspired you to take any day trips yourself (I hope so!)? Also, it’s worth mentioning that if (like my friend Arthur) you’re a keen history scholar yourself, then you may want to book your calendar for September / October next year, when there will be a big arts festival in Hastings with contemporary interpretations of the Battle of Hastings, and a historical re-enactment.

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 I was given 3 train tickets to Hastings, as well as free entry to the Jerwood Gallery, by the lovely people of Visit 1066 Country and South Eastern Railway, in exchange for a blog post about the area. All thoughts and opinions are, of course, my own, and I wouldn’t have written about my trip had I not loved it and wanted to share it with all of you.