Category Archives: Travel

T&T 45 | A Chat With Carolyn Stritch (@theslowtraveler)

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle Podcast here or on iTunes.

This week on Tea & Tattle Podcast, I’m in conversation with the freelance photographer, Carolyn Stritch. Carolyn lives in Newcastle, UK, and is the creator of The Slow Traveler blog and Instagram account. Her beautiful photographs never fail to leave me spell-bound, and I always appreciate the photography and Instagram advice she gives through articles on her blog.

Carolyn has one of the most beautiful, imaginative galleries on Instagram, so it’s hardly surprising that she’s attracted a huge following. I was so delighted when Carolyn agreed to interview on Tea & Tattle, and it was wonderful to find out more about how her career as a freelance photographer began and her creative process.

Knowing Carolyn to be an avid reader as well, I also asked her for some great book recommendations to curl up with as we head into autumn, and her suggestions had me rushing out to my nearest bookshop immediately!

Listen to learn about ways to improve your photography and navigate instagram. 

Note: images courtesy Carolyn Stritch.

Creative Crush | Georgianna Lane Discusses Paris in Bloom

Georgianna Lane is one of the photographers I admire the most. I always eagerly anticipate her dreamy images of Paris and beautiful florals on my Instagram feed, and I find Georgianna’s use of light and visual story-telling extremely inspiring.

Georgianna’s work has been widely published in magazines, books, stationery and home decor products, and she’s the author of Paris in BloomAlthough originally from America, Georgianna has spent a great deal of time in Paris, and her photography shows how much creative inspiration she draws from the City of Light.

Miranda’s Notebook readers obviously know me rather well, as I received Paris in Bloom as a gift from the lovely Marion, a regular reader of the blog. It was the most perfect present, and I lingered over each exquisite page of the book as I read it (thanks again, Marion!)Not only does Paris in Bloom feature the most breath-taking photography of Paris and the show-stopping blooms Georgianna finds in the city, it’s also full of useful tips on flower styling and Parisian destinations.

Georgianna Lane

I was delighted when Georgianna agreed to answer some questions for an interview on Miranda’s Notebook. I asked her all about her favourite floral destinations in Paris, tips for photographing flowers, how she runs her own business and so much more. As I’m sure you’ll agree, Georgianna gives lots of fantastic advice in her answers, and now has me yearning for a trip to Paris next spring! I think it’s time to start planning….

***

MN: What first sparked your love for Paris and floral photography?

GL: My passion for both has been part of me for a long time. I’ve been traveling to Paris since I was a teenager and taking photographs well before that so it was a natural progression, given the beauty and romance of both subjects.

MN: How did your career as a photographer begin? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do?

GL: Art and creativity were always present in our household when I was growing up. My mother was a musician, singer and painter and both my parents were avid photographers. We were encouraged to read, create and dream. I began writing and taking photographs at a very young age and have continued to do so always.

When I left corporate marketing as an Art Director at a literary agency over ten years ago, I decided to focus on my photography business which now includes my books, specialist stock image library, online shops, licensing and assignment work for major gardening and lifestyle magazines.

Floral photography is endlessly fascinating and always popular. However, it’s a crowded field so I dedicated myself to excelling technically and artistically.

I feel very thankful that I make a living in a creative field and am grateful that my upbringing celebrated beauty and art, as well as the practical aspects of life.

MN: What inspired you to photograph and write Paris in Bloom?

GL: I’ve been visiting Paris since I was a teenager and spending more and more time there over the last six years. My first visit at age fourteen with my Mom introduced me to the city’s parks and gardens and museums, especially those with the Impressionist painters. I loved that the city itself seemed very feminine and that flowers are such a strong influence on the design and architecture. I started working on the concepts for Paris in Bloom about four or five years ago and developed it from there.

MN: Where are your three favourite places to go in Paris to experience its best florals?

GL: I love the Jardin du Palais Royal, which has bright pink blooming magnolias in March and abundant roses throughout the summer, all set against elegant, formal architecture. Flower shops on the walking streets of Rue Cler and Rue Montorgueil always have colorful displays. And nothing surpasses the beautiful cherry blossoms at Notre Dame and around the Eiffel Tower in April.

MN: In Paris in Bloom, you mention how much you admire the Impressionist painters, and your gorgeous photos remind me of their dreamy, floral aesthetic. Is there a particular artist that inspires your work?

GL: I’ve always been very inspired by the Impressionists and the Pre-Raphaelite painters, as well as the great artists and designers of the Arts and Crafts movement, such as William Morris and Sir Edward Burne Jones. Naturally, Monet has been very influential. The romance and beauty of these artists evokes a sense of otherworldly beauty, places that exist on the edge of the imagination that just might be real.

I love romantic and beautiful works in any field and inspiration can be found in poetry, music and nature, too. The peacefulness and serenity of the natural world influences the creation of many of my images. I approach my photographs as if they were paintings, leaving out elements that are modern or distracting to create a scene that allows the viewer to visualize themselves in that location. I strive to create timeless, light-filled, dreamy images with a bit of a magical atmosphere and hope to transport the viewer to a tranquil and beautiful realm.

MN: Do you have a favourite flower to photograph?

GL: Roses are always a favorite, as well as peonies, dahlias, hellebores and narcissus. I also love hydrangea and grow many varieties myself. In spring I have tulips, daffodils, Lily of the Valley, lilacs, bleeding heart and many more beautiful blooms to photograph. In summer, it’s roses, hydrangea, clematis, lilies and poppies.

MN: Would you share some of your tips for photographing blooms?

GL: Absolutely! You can instantly improve much outdoor flower photography by avoiding shooting in harsh sunshine. The high contrast light creates dark shadows on the subject and burns out highlights so you lose the detail in a flower. A slightly overcast day is perfect, with soft, even light, that will illuminate the beauty of the flower and allow all its features to be seen.

If you can’t avoid the sun, you can block it with an umbrella or diffuser to soften the light. And you can always choose to shoot in early morning or early evening when the sun is low. Backlighting can be lovely and give flowers a glowing radiance but again, you have to ensure you don’t lose detail by overexposure. And I always recommend using a macro lens so that you can get very close to the flower and explore its structure and form.

Becoming good friends with your tripod will open up a world of possibilities for flower photography. Even if a photograph has a shallow depth of field for a dreamy quality, having one area of sharp focus, usually on the center of the flower, will give the viewer a focal point and entrance point to the image. To ensure tack sharpness, a tripod is vital.

MN: I know you split your time between Seattle, London and Paris. What are the qualities you appreciate most about these cities in terms of capturing them through photography?

GL: I’ve lived in all three cities and know them well. In London and Paris, I adore wandering and exploring the layers of architecture and history that present themselves. It’s a joy with always something new to discover and learn. As the US base for my business, in Seattle I tend to concentrate my work on our own large wooded property and garden and the flowers I’ve planted there over the years, many of which feature in my images.

I also collaborate with a number of the local flower farms on book and magazine projects so its a seasonal concentration during spring and summer, although I also spend some months during that time in Paris and in London as well. I travel extensively back and forth over the pond from February through June.

MN: As well as a renowned floral photographer, you’re a very successful business woman, running two online shops and founding a horticultural stock photography website. Which quality of your personality would you say has helped you most to succeed in business? Do you ever find it difficult to juggle the creative side of what you do alongside the business?

GL: Thanks so much! I’m very determined and once I set a goal for myself, I don’t quit easily. I think my persistence is a key trait. I truly believe that giving up on a dream is the only reason for failure. But you have to do the work. Dreaming doesn’t get it done. One of my favorite quotes is by Thomas Edison: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” I’ve never been good at downtime and usually have many projects going at once.

It is challenging juggling both the creative and business side of my company. More and more my time is spent on marketing, social media, websites, etc. Fortunately, my husband is also full time on our business. In addition to being a marvelous photographer himself with his own successful career, he handles all the finances and travel logistics, which is a lifesaver. You cannot effectively do it alone and expect to expand.

MN: Finally, what’s next? Are there any upcoming projects that you’re able to share at the moment?

GL: I can definitely tell you that more books are coming, beginning in Spring 2018! I’m expanding product lines to include more stationery items, wall art and wearable art. And hope to launch workshops and online training next year. Thank you so much, Miranda!

***

Find Georgianna on Instagram as @georgiannalane and @aparisianmoment, Twitter, Etsy and Facebook. You can also see more of Georgianna’s products and photographs on her website. Paris in Bloom is available to purchase here. You can watch the trailer for the book, which is a visual treat and wonderfully soothing to the soul:

Don’t you think Georgianna’s photography is stunning? Thanks so much again to her for a wonderful interview and for her photographs that add a little more beauty to my days.

Note: all images in this post courtesy Georgianna Lane.

T&T 43 | A Chat With Liz Schaffer, Editor of Lodestars Anthology

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

Today on Tea & Tattle Podcast, I’m chatting with Liz Schaffer, the editor and founder of my favourite travel magazine, Lodestars Anthology. I first discovered these travel journals when I was browsing Daunt Books, and I instantly fell for the awe-inspiring photography and well-written articles. There are now 8 issues to date, with the most recent, New Zealand, published last month.

In this week’s episode, I took the opportunity to question Liz about the future of independent magazine publishing, how she first came to launch Lodestars Anthology and what lessons she’s learnt from running her own business. We also chatted about the art of travel and how to travel more creatively.

This is a brilliant episode for anyone who enjoys travel and inspiring reading material, and it is guaranteed to make you want to plan your next holiday!

Listen to learn more about publishing an independent travel magazine.

P.S. I’ve created a guide to travel journaling for Tea & Tattle listeners for further travel inspiration. If you’ve already signed up to our newsletter, then check your inbox, as the guide was emailed to you. Otherwise, you can sign up to get it here.

T&T 41 | Joyful French Eating with Elizabeth Bard

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m chatting with the bestselling author, Elizabeth Bard, about Elizabeth’s new cookbook, Dinner Chez Moi: 50 French Secrets to Joyful Eating and Entertaining.

Elizabeth lives in Provence with her family, and she has also written two culinary memoirs, Lunch in Paris and Picnic in Provence, about her move from America to France and how she fell in love with the country, the food and a Frenchman! I love Elizabeth’s humorous and insightful descriptions of adapting to the French way of life, as well as the delicious recipes that accompany her words.

Dinner Chez Moi is less of a memoir and more a handy guide to the French style of eating and living, with plenty of Elizabeth’s favourite recipes to enjoy. I had a fabulous time asking Elizabeth all about what she stocks in her Provençal kitchen; how to shop wisely for delicious, but affordable meals and some of the French secrets to keeping a trim waistline (I think I’ve got the tea-drinking part down at least!).

It was so fun to catch-up with Elizabeth on the podcast, as I’d met her last summer when I was in Provence, and arranged an interview with her at Scaramouche, the artisan glacier Elizabeth runs with her husband.

With Elizabeth Bard outside Scaramouche

This episode is perfect for summer and will inspire anyone, I’m sure, to dash to their local farmers’ market and start buying up juicy tomatoes and other fresh produce!

Listen to learn more about eating, cooking and living the French way. 

T&T 38 | Lauren Elkin and the Flâneuse

An interview with Lauren Elkin

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes

Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m speaking with the brilliant Lauren Elkin about her wonderful book, Flâneuse. In part a memoir of Lauren’s experiences living and walking in Paris, New York City, London, Venice and Tokyo, Flâneuse is also a fascinating examination of the cultural history of creative women, such as Virginia Woolf, George Sand and Jean Rhys, who have found inspiration and freedom from roaming city streets.

An interview with Lauren Elkin

In our conversation, Lauren explains how her own creative self-discovery whilst exploring Paris as a student first led her to identify the flâneuse, a female equivalent to the flâneur: a male author or artist who wanders the streets of his city with an observant eye. The flâneur or flâneuse takes the part of a spectator; at one with the city, but also set a little apart from it, looking on from the outside.

The flâneur – with its masculine form – has always been used to describe a man, but in her book Lauren brilliantly argues the case for the feminine flâneuse, showing how historically women writers and authors have also engaged with city streets, drawing on their urban environment for creative inspiration.

An interview with Lauren ElkinLauren Elkin. Image © Marianne Katser

I so enjoyed hearing Lauren’s thoughts on the challenges that women still face today when walking in a city, the women she finds especially inspirational and why Paris is so special to her.

Listen to learn more about Lauren Elkin’s book, Flâneuse, and the creative inspiration that taking to a city’s streets can bring. 

UK Travel | Polo in the Cotswolds

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

A huge highlight of my recent trip to Cirencester in the Cotswolds was getting to watch my very first polo games at Cirencester Park Polo Club. After dropping our bags off at the Kings Head Hotel, Mum and I called a taxi to take us the short drive to the Polo Club.

The Kings Head were kindly hosting us in their gorgeous marquee, and as soon as we arrived, I knew the afternoon would be special.

Champagne Reception

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

The marquee was set up on a lawn right next to the polo playing field, with deck chairs and benches placed outside so we could watch the games in comfort later. Before the afternoon games started, though, we were spoilt with a champagne reception, where we got to mingle with some other guests, followed by a spectacular lunch.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

I got very excited when I spotted Jilly Cooper in the marquee, although I was too shy to say hello! To commemorate the occasion, I did order a copy of Polo later though!

Lunch

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

Our lunch was fantastic, with a buffet choice of either hot or cold food. Mum and I both went for the roast lamb with mint sauce and all the trimmings, followed by strawberry Eton mess and a shared cheese plate.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo ClubUK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo ClubUK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

Everything was delicious, and it was the perfect menu for a Sunday lunch in the English countryside.

Men’s Polo

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

After lunch, we got the chance to speak to a player and meet his beautiful pony (I soon learnt horses are called ponies in polo) – Intrigue – before the start of the men’s game.

Being a polo newbie, I took the opportunity to find out a little more about the game, learning that a full game of polo is six chukkas, with each chukka being 7 minutes long. Ponies are swapped in between chukkas so they don’t get too tired. During half-time, spectators are called on to take part in treading-in, where the churned up turf is stamped down and made flat and smooth again.

Armed with these facts, I settled down to enjoy the men’s game.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

It didn’t take me long to realise that I love polo! Normally used to being bored stiff by anything vaguely sporty, I was amazed by how fast-paced and exciting polo is. Chukkas go by at lightening speed, and it’s thrilling to watch the ponies stampeding across the field and performing hairpin turns with incredible grace and fluidity.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

At half-time, I dutifully trotted out on to the field with a merry crowd of spectators and their dogs and stomped on the grass, cheered along by the commentators.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

There was such a convivial atmosphere to the afternoon, with people enjoying picnics from the backs of their cars, or lounging in sun-chairs and chatting in front of the marquee.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

It felt like no time at all before the game was over, and prizes were handed out to the winning team, as well as for particular categories, like (my favourite) the best playing pony.

Afternoon Tea

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

Before the women’s match started, afternoon tea was served. This, I thought, was definitely the way to see polo! Exciting games, with fantastic food, champagne and piping hot tea flowing in between. Mum and I both agreed we’d definitely found our spectator sport.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

I was still full from lunch, so could only manage half a slice of Battenburg cake and a macaron, but they were lovely to nibble, and Mum said the scones were exceedingly good too – freshly baked and still warm.

A Chat with Tamara Fox

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

Before the Ladies’ Polo game started, I got the chance to speak to one of the players from the British Team, Tamara Fox. Tamara is a two goal player who plays out of Cirencester Park Polo Club. She often plays alongside her sister, Nina Clarkin.

{For those of you who don’t know much about polo – like me! – from my understanding, it’s like golf in that it uses a handicap system to rate each player, although is unlike golf in that the higher handicap you have, the better you are. Players are rated from -2 handicaps (or goals) to 10 handicaps.}

I questioned Tamara a little about her polo career and how women’s polo has changed.

***

MN: What’s your background in polo? It seems like quite a family affair for you!

TF: Yes! My mother played, my sister plays and my brother. I started when I was 11 and got addicted to it. I got into the Pony Club and stayed in it until I was 20-21. I think my pinnacle really came when I got to play at Ellerston in ’99, and I was the first lady to play at Ellerston, and we won. That was amazing. From there, I think it’s all gone down hill [laughs]. I went to two goals after that, and stayed on two goals – still two goals now  – in the mixed [men and women] polo.

“I feel that, in my lifetime, polo has really developed.” – Tamara Fox

MN: Would you tell me a bit about Ladies’ Polo and your handicap system?

TF: We have a new handicap system, so we have a separate handicap to the men’s polo. When we play in the mixed polo, we play on our mixed handicap, and for me that’s 2 goals, but when we play in the ladies’ polo, we play on our ladies’ handicap, and for me that’s 7 goals. It’s a different handicap because it’s a different style of polo, and it makes it more even, because some ladies are much better at mixed polo, and some are better at ladies’ polo. I feel that, in my lifetime, polo has really developed, not just women’s polo, but polo as a whole, and it’s a fun thing to be a part of.

MN: What would you like to see happen for women’s polo in the future?

TF: I would like to see more women playing in the mixed polo, because that’s the best fun, or perhaps not more fun, but it’s different, and I’d like to see more girls doing it.

***

That sounds like a brilliant ambition to me too, and I hope to see more mixed matches in the future!

Ladies’ Polo

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

The ladies’ game was just as action-packed as the men’s, and even more exciting, as I was cheering for Tamara’s team, which won! Congratulations again to Tamara and the other players.

UK Travel, Cotswolds | Cirencester Park Polo Club

Although the Polo Club after-party sounded an awful lot of fun, Mum and I had supper booked back at the hotel, so we made our farewells and called a taxi.

I have now definitely caught the polo bug, and I’d love to try my hand at a lesson, which I think would be awfully fun (happily, you don’t need any prior riding experience to take a lesson). Seeing the games seems to have awoken my 7 year-old pony-book-obsessed self, and I can’t wait to enjoy more polo in the future.

If you’ve never seen a game, then I so recommend going to one – it makes for a brilliantly entertaining day out, and if you’re in the Cotswolds area, or fancy a weekend away from London, then I can guarantee the Cirencester Park Polo Club is the place to go!

***

Check out events, or book a polo lesson,  at the Cirencester Park Polo Club here. You can also book for the marquee hospitality package (which I strongly recommend!) here.

See also: my stay at the Kings Head, Cirencester.

Note: We were guests of the Kings Head Hotel for our afternoon of fun and polo. 

T&T | Exploring Great Britain With Alice Stevenson

Tea and Tattle Podcast | Exploring Great Britain With Alice Stevenson

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m in conversation with the London-based illustrator and author, Alice Stevenson. Alice has been a friend of mine ever since I first interviewed her a few years ago, but I’ve been an admirer of her work for much longer than that. Alice is an admirably prolific artist, producing numerous illustrations for book designs, special commissions, prints and cards. Alice is also the author of two books: Ways to Walk in London and the newly published Ways to See Great Britain.

In Ways to See Great Britain, Alice writes about her adventures travelling the UK, covering an impressive variety of places from the Orkney Islands to Plymouth. Her musings on the strange, the beautiful and the prosaic that she discovers are delightfully enhanced by Alice’s signature abstract sketches. With an impressive eye for detail, Alice shows you how to bring more intention to your wanderings; always seeking out the hidden treasures that are the rewards of the curious and observant explorer.

Tea and Tattle Podcast | Exploring Great Britain With Alice Stevenson

In our conversation, I asked Alice for her tips and recommendations for exploring the UK, as well as ways to look at your surroundings with a more creative eye. Alice also shared some of the highlights and disappointments from her trips, other books about the UK that inspire her and how her perspective on what it means to be British changed as she got to know her home country better.

Listen to hear great tips on exploring the UK and how to bring more creativity to your travels.  

UK Travel | The Kings Head, Cirencester

UK Travel | The Kings Head, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

A Trip to the Cotswolds

At the end of June, I took my Mum to the Cotswolds to celebrate her birthday. We’d been to the Cotswolds together once several years ago, and, remembering the beautiful countryside and pretty villages, we were excited to explore the region a little more. This time, we stayed at The Kings Head in Cirencester, a picturesque town in the heart of the Cotswolds.

The start of summer is an exquisite time to visit the English countryside, with the promise of lush green vistas, blooming roses and  – if your luck holds – blue skies. Happily, although we did experience a little rain, the sun mainly decided to cooperate and shone gaily for much of our weekend jaunt.

The Kings Head

UK Travel | The Kings Head, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

The train ride from Paddington to Kemble, the closest station to Cirencester, was smooth and fast. We’d barely finished our croissants and tea before pulling into the charming, old-fashioned train station, 1hr and 22 minutes after leaving London. From Kemble, it was a 10 minute drive (we hailed a taxi at the station) before we were dropped off at the doors of The Kings Head Hotel, situated a stone’s throw from the pretty church in the centre of Cirencester.

++ A Historic Past ++

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The Kings Head is a large, beautiful hotel steeped in history. A section of glass flooring near the reception desk reveals part of the remains of an ancient roman road, and records of the building date list it as a coaching inn in the 14th Century. With a history of hospitality spanning hundreds of years, then, it’s not surprising that the hotel is the epitome of elegance and comfort. The wide-range of rooms and event spaces available make it a fantastic choice for either a weekend getaway or occasion gatherings.

Fun details in the decor catch the eye of the particularly observant guest: the head of  the hotel’s eponymous King is engraved on the iron staircase bannisters, starting with him as a baby and ending up a wizened man by the third floor.  I loved how the Kings Head’s fascinating history is reflected in the design throughout the cavernous building: brightly coloured spools of yarn on display reference Cirencester’s wool industry past; ancient artefacts are scattered throughout the maze of the underground cellars and exposed brick walls and original wooden beams have been thoughtfully incorporated into the hotel’s recent renovations.The result is an appealing mix of heritage and modern sensibility and comfort.

++ Feature Space Room ++

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

One of the things I loved most about this hotel was the opulence of sheer space. The room was massive, easily fitting a king size bed, sofa, desk, coffee table and wardrobe. The elegant, muted tones of the decor offset the exposed wooden beams and brick walls perfectly. I was charmed by the bathroom, which had a brick fireplace, large tub and walk-in shower.

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My Mum, who loves her coffee in the morning, was delighted by the espresso machine, and I was equally pleased with the good-sized kettle, fresh milk and wide selection of teas. Other thoughtful details included free wi-fi, bottled water and Elemis toiletries (Elemis is a favourite skincare brand of mine, so I was particularly happy to try out their body cream!).

Supper Time

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

Mum and I had spent the afternoon of our first day in Cirencester watching Polo (which I’ll be writing about in my next blog post), and had enjoyed a fabulous lunch and afternoon tea in a beautiful marquee on the Cirencester Park Polo Club grounds. Our stomachs gallantly rose to the occasion, however, and we were able to enjoy a thoroughly appetising supper too.

You know how much I appreciate a great set menu, and the Kings Head dinner menu is fantastic. I was blown away by the quality of the food and the incredible value. The menu offered was £16.50 for two courses or £20 for three. I chose ham hock terrine with piccalilli, toasted brioche and herb salad, followed by grilled fillet of sea bream, crushed potatoes and wilted summer greens. My first choice of summer pudding for dessert was no longer available, so instead I settled on vanilla cheesecake with limoncello sorbet.

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

Everything was delicious: my ham hock terrine was bursting with flavour, and the sea bream was the highlight of the meal for me – cooked to perfection and extremely tasty. I very much enjoyed the cheesecake as well, although I would have preferred a more traditional cheesecake base – the firm biscuit was hard to cut. The sorbet was beautifully refreshing, though, and the creaminess of the cheesecake topping was a lovely pairing with the tartness of the limoncello.

Mum had decided on a goat cheese and beetroot salad with orange dressing, with roast beef and all the trimmings as her main. After her incredible beef, she couldn’t manage even a spoonful of my cheesecake, let alone her own dessert!

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

As you can see, the restaurant’s portions are exceedingly generous! Mum said her beef was superb, and she very much enjoyed the salad to start as well. We each had a glass of the house white wine with our meal, which was crisp and pleasant.

Breakfast, Spa, Prosecco

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

After a refreshing night’s sleep, we made our way down for breakfast, and found that – somehow – we were able to eat again. There was an inviting cold buffet of juices, yoghurt, granola, cold cuts, cheese and pastries, but we both opted for a hot breakfast. I went for scrambled eggs on toast with sausage (delicious), and Mum had a veggie option of avocado, fried mushrooms and tomatoes and toast.

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

Extra toast was served with Tiptree jams and honey, and of course we washed everything down with generous refills of tea and coffee. It was very pleasant to sit and relax over yet another great meal, knowing that we had a further day of fun awaiting us.

The Kings Head Hotel has a large spa, as well as a steam room and fitness centre, and we were both booked in for 30 minute spa treatments after breakfast. I decided on a pedicure, selecting a bright hot-pink varnish to welcome summer, and Mum went for a foot massage and nail buffering. The spa was delightfully calm and quiet, and our beauty technicians were very helpful, giving me open toed slippers so I could walk around the hotel after without smudging my polish.

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

After our spa appointments, we decided to indulge in a glass of prosecco on the hotel’s roof terrace, enjoying the sunshine and letting my polish dry. The terrace offered a fantastic view of the church spire and was a peaceful spot to sit and sip our bubbly, listening to the bees droning over the potted flowers next to us.

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

After our thoroughly relaxing morning, we headed out to discover more of Cirencester.

Exploring Cirencester

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

Cirencester is a historic market town that is full of charm. It’s the perfect place to explore in a post-breakfast stroll, with a pleasing assortment of independent shops, delis and cafes, beautiful walks and an interesting church and art galleries.

++ Tour the Shops ++

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

There’s a good selection of homeware and stationery shops on offer – well worth a browse! Black Jack Street is particularly worthy of a wander, with lots of lovely boutiques and some great cafes.

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

I stumbled across Ocatavia’s, a charming children’s bookshop, and felt like I was stepping into a scene from You’ve Got Mail as I crossed the entrance. Meg Ryan, alas, didn’t greet me from behind the counter, but I still had a very charming assistant who rung up my purchase (a classic pony book by Joanna Cannan) and gave us a recommendation for where to go for tea and cake.

++ Eat Some Cake ++

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

Her suggestion proved to be about a minute walk from the shop: Jack’s Cafe. Mum and I gazed in awe at the selection of absolutely enormous cakes before settling on a slice of coffee and walnut (her) and Bakewell tart (me).

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

The cakes were marvellous – dieting is clearly not an option in the Cotswolds!

++ Walk Up Cecily Hill ++

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

For a classic Cotswold street, full to the brim with charm, look no further than Cecily Hill in Cirencester. The beautiful Cotswold stone houses with matching painted doors and flower pots offer a particularly pretty scene. At the end of the road is a lovely park above what I presumed to be the remains of Cirencester castle.

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

I think Cecily Hill must be home to some of the prettiest doors in the Cotswolds – don’t you?

++ Visit the Polo Club ++

UK Travel | The Kings Head Hotel, Cirencester | The Cotswolds

The Cirencester Park Polo Club is a 10 minute drive from the town centre and is gorgeous. The grounds are enormous, and we had so much fun watching our very first Polo games. I’ll write more about the experience in my next post, but I definitely recommend stopping by the Club for a meal or even a Polo lesson should you be in the area.

If you’re keen to discover more of the Cotswolds, then I definitely recommend basing yourself at The Kings Head. You’ll be guaranteed a luxurious stay, and Cirencester is an excellent location for exploring more of the area: Bourton-on the-Water and Bibury (a favourite of William Morris!) are two other lovely villages nearby.

***

The Kings Head has rooms available from £140, B&B. Check availability and book online.

Note: Our stay was provided by The Kings Head for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Last week, I joined a group of bloggers at the Artist Residence hotel in London for tea and croissants in the morning, before being bundled into Land Rovers and whisked to the new Artist Residence sister hotel in Oxfordshire, for lunch in the garden and a Dutch flower workshop with Bloom and Wild.

It was the perfect day for an outing, with bright blue skies and a pleasant breeze. The car journey seemed to take no time at all as I chatted with Milly (you may remember her from my Cornwall interview). We arrived just before lunch and were offered a glass of rosé and the chance to explore the hotel, which only opened in May.

I was charmed by the decor, especially the floral House of Hackney wallpaper that was such a striking feature. Some lovely ladies from Bloom and Wild, who were giving us a flower workshop in the afternoon, had set up a gorgeous display of blooms that made my flower loving heart very happy.

Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, OxfordshireBloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

I also got to peep into one of the bedrooms, which was gorgeous and looked extremely comfortable. I would have enjoyed lingering in the tub in the light, airy bathroom and writing postcards at the vintage desk.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

After having a look around and taking a million photos between us, we headed out into the garden for lunch, our appetites whetted by the fantastic sounding menu that had been emailed round the day before.

Al Fresco Dining

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Doesn’t that look a delightful table? I felt summer had truly arrived as I took my seat and was offered some more rosé. The outdoor dining area overlooked the hotel’s lawn and vegetable garden, and I was delighted to learn that many of the vegetables and salad leaves served for our lunch were freshly picked from the garden.

The hotel had cooked up a fabulous feast for us. To start, we were given sharing platters of crispy whitebait with garlic sauce; mozzarella, pea, broad bean and mint salad; heritage tomato salad with ewes curd and olives; and scotch eggs served alongside homemade brown sauce.

The main course was lamb wellington, with buttered Cornish potatoes, a green salad (from the garden!), barbecued radishes (also from the garden) and violet artichokes. I was beginning to seriously doubt whether I could manage dessert (strawberries with toasted marshmallows, lime curd and strawberry sorbet), but when it arrived it looked so delicious I couldn’t resist.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

The food was all absolutely incredible, and it was glorious to enjoy it outside on a lovely day in excellent company.

Dutch Flower Workshop

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

After our meal, we went back into the cool, shady interior of the hotel for our Dutch flower painting inspired workshop. I was particularly excited for this workshop, as I love Dutch floral still life pictures, and there was a glorious selection of flowers awaiting us to help feed our inspiration.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, OxfordshireBloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Rowan, pictured above, talked us through the process of arranging our flowers, making it look incredibly easy as she finished her lovely floral display in about 10 minutes flat.

I settled down with a cup of chamomile tea and set to work, choosing a selection of blooms I liked best, and trying to create a loose, tumbling arrangement, featuring the striking colours that I often admire in my favourite Dutch floral artworks.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

I sat next to the charming Briony from A Girl A Style, and we bonded over our mutual love for books, flowers and pretty teacups.

After a hair-raising moment when my display threatened to topple over, and I had to pop in a few dahlias to balance it out, I pronounced mine finished.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

I don’t think I’ll be setting up as a florist any time soon, but I was still pleased with my result.

On being told it was time to leave, we were kindly showered with leftover blooms to take back home with us (I got some funny looks later on the tube as I maneuvered my way along platforms, weighted down by my spoils!).

It really was the most perfect English summer day, and I’m now contemplating buying some florist foam so I can have a go at some more flower arranging – practice makes perfect, as they say!

UK Travel | The Great House at Sonning

UK Travel | The Great House at Sonning

A TEA & TATTLE MINI BREAK

A couple of weekends ago, I met my best friend (and Tea & Tattle Podcast co-host), Sophie, at Paddington station to take the train to Reading together. From there, we grabbed a taxi to drive us the short distance to The Great House, a luxury riverside hotel in Sonning, Berkshire.

It had been a few months since Sophie and I had seen each other in person, and even longer since we’d spent more than a few hours together, so I was very much looking forward to a proper catch-up. We were both in need of a restorative break after a particularly busy month, and I was very much looking forward to taking life at a slower pace for the next 24 hours. The prospect of riverside walks, good food and long, hot baths was incredibly cheering, and I couldn’t wait to arrive at the hotel.

The 40 minute train journey went by in a blink of an eye as we caught up on each other’s news, and we managed to hail a taxi immediately at the station, so it felt no time at all before we were catching a glimpse of the hotel as the cab manoeuvred its way across the pretty little bridge that led into Sonning.

Sonning is a charming, sleepy little village graced by the presence of some rather spectacular celebrities (George and Amal Clooney have a house in the area and are said to frequent the local pub, but sadly we didn’t spot either!). Neither Sophie nor I know Berkshire very well, so we were pleased to get a glimpse of English countryside new to us both, but also within such easy distance from London and Oxford (where Sophie lectures).

On arriving at The Great House, we were greeted with friendly smiles at the hotel’s reception desk, speedily checked in and shown to our room, a riverside deluxe.

ROOM WITH A {RIVERSIDE} VIEW

The riverside deluxe lived up to its name, with gorgeous views of the river, boats and willow trees from our window. Sophie and I decided to take some time to relax, enjoy the room and make a cup of tea before heading out for a stroll along the riverbank.

We were both delighted with our surroundings, which featured exposed brick walls, quirky prints and retro furnishings. I loved the old-fashioned bedside telephone, radio and fridge, as well as the stacks of vintage Penguin paperbacks on both bedside tables. Goodie bags had been thoughtfully left on both our beds, and we were excited to unpack bottles of cider, beeswax candles and boxes of sweets. The holiday spirit was truly kicking in!

I was extremely impressed by the bathroom (when you live in London, a bathroom of any notable size really is exciting), which was massive and boasted one of the nicest tubs I’d ever seen, as well as a magnificent walk-in shower that wasn’t much smaller than my office at home.

I made a mental note to take a bath later in the evening, and was pleased to see piles of magazines, including the latest Vogue, in our room, which I planned to flick through whilst luxuriating in bubble bath.

It’s clear that the staff at The Great House give careful consideration to the needs of their guests, and I was very pleased to find a wide selection of teas and a whole 1/4 pint carton of fresh milk in our little pantry and fridge area. I made myself a cup of English Breakfast and Sophie an Earl Grey, and we got down to the serious business of living up to our podcast name and having a good natter.

After an hour or so, we decided to take advantage of the glimmer of sun that was starting to break through the overcast skies and set off for a walk.

RIVERSIDE WALKS AND PUB DRINKS

Winding our way through the hotel’s spacious lounge and restaurant, we exited the terrace side and walked through a little gate at the end of the lawn, coming out onto the river path.

The stretch of river running through Sonning is exceedingly picturesque, and we admired the white, lacy clouds of cow parsley clustered along the riverbank and the lush green landscape. Willow leaves rustled in the breeze, making me think of The Wind in the Willows. Kenneth Grahame lived in Berkshire and was inspired by the countryside when writing his famous novel, and it was all too easy to imagine Ratty or Mole popping up on the riverbank. As it was, though, we only saw the odd cow and dog-walker!

Having mutual friends who lived in the area, we’d arranged to meet them for a drink at The Bull Inn in the early evening, so we headed back in the direction of the pub (a convenient 5 minute walk from the hotel).

The Bull Inn is a beautiful, old-fashioned pub, featuring oak beamed ceilings and wisteria climbing the timbered walls (it must look spectacular when in bloom!). Ordering glasses of white wine, we took our seats outside to enjoy the fresh evening air and exchange news.

After chatting for a while, it was time to return for supper, so we said goodbye and set off down the lane, passing the pretty village church on our way back to The Great House.

SUPPER

Sophie and I had worked up an appetite with all our walking and talking, so we eagerly made our way to The Coppa Club restaurant at the hotel. We were given a table right by the terrace, so we could continue to enjoy the view of the river and the hotel’s lawn, strewn with deckchairs for guests enjoying the long summer evening.

We ordered two glasses of rosé and picked up our menus, basking in the late-evening sunlight pouring through the large windows.

The all-day Coppa Club menu has a wide selection of tasty dishes at very reasonable prices, so it’s easy to see why the restaurant is so popular with Sonning locals as well as guests of the hotel.

To start, I ordered crispy fried squid with Sriracha mayonnaise and paprika, followed by veal schnitzel with all the trimmings (fried egg, capers and anchovies), and flourless chocolate and almond cake with orange crème fraîche for dessert. We’d also decided to share some side dishes: some mixed greens (peas, broad beans and asparagus) and skinny fries.

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. Crispy fried squid is always a favourite of mine, and I liked the addition of a slightly spicy mayo. The schnitzel was just as good as any I’ve had in Austria, and as for the dessert…! You know chocolate is my weakness, and this was one of the best flourless chocolate cakes I’ve had. It was so rich I couldn’t eat all of it, but the mouthfuls I had were absolutely delicious.

Sophie said her choices were fantastic as well. She went for a fresh crab, avocado and crostini salad to start, followed by corn fed chicken with potatoes and house slaw, and a mini butterscotch pudding for dessert (a rather more restrained choice than my own!).

After our lovely meal we waddled our way back to the room, and Sophie propped herself up on the massive (and very comfy) cushions to read in bed whilst I grabbed Vogue and ran a hot bath.

BREAKFAST

The next day, we got up at a fairly leisurely pace, making some more tea and taking turns to use the magnificent shower. We both mentioned how much we liked the toiletries provided, which were by FAIR CosmEthics and smelt heavenly.

Sophie had to get to Oxford by lunchtime, and I had a long to-do list waiting for me in London, so we made our way down for breakfast at 8.45. The Great House has a very large downstairs dining space, with comfy corners filled with large, squishy couches and shelves stocked with books, as well as an impressive bar and numerous tables.

Breakfast was served in an attractive corner of the restaurant, featuring pale wooden floors and a large fireplace.

We ordered tea and coffee, and Sophie settled on the Full English breakfast, with fried eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, mushrooms, black pudding and toast. It looked amazing!

I was very happy with my own choice, though,  of avocado toast with  poached eggs and kiln smoked salmon.

By the way, note the gargantuan cup of tea in the photo above – big enough to satisfy even my early morning tea needs!

A HOTEL TOUR

After polishing off our breakfasts, I left Sophie to get her things together as I was given a tour of the hotel by one of the lovely managers, Trudi.

I was interested to learn that The Great House had only recently undergone an extensive renovation, redesigning the rooms and extending the hotel to include the various buildings scattered around its small courtyard. The hotel now offers many more rooms, ranging from their smallest ‘cosy’ to impressive suites and an event space ideal for weddings. For those with canine family members, you’ll be happy to know that dog-friendly rooms are offered too!

++ Coach House Apartment ++

The Coach House apartment is a truly impressive space, featuring an extra room that can be used for either sleeping or as a TV room. It even has its own popcorn making machine, making movie nights even more appealing.

++ Clock Tower Family Suite ++

I especially liked the Clock Tower Family Suite, which had the most adorable little beds for children, as well as a spacious lounge area.

++ Clock Tower Suite ++

 With its large meeting table and separate bedroom and seating area, the Clock Tower Suite is the perfect choice for any business gatherings.

I was also shown some other deluxe and cosy rooms, and I was so impressed by the top-notch design and comfort of all the rooms. The common aesthetic helps to provide a consistent quality of experience, whatever the room size.

Finally, just as the rain was starting to fall in earnest (a pleasant Sunday had given way to wet and windy Monday), I was whisked across the courtyard to see the large, long event space, dedicated to weddings and other big gatherings.

I loved the beautiful fireplace at one end of the room, and the french doors that opened out onto a spacious patio, with lawns leading to the river. Apparently, it’s quite common for brides to arrive by boat!

After my tour, I quickly got my things together, so we were downstairs in time for our taxi, which the receptionist had kindly arranged for us.

Sophie and I parted at Reading Station, having agreed we’d had the most marvellous time and plotting further adventures together!

++ Rooms start from £60 a night (what a bargain!) at The Great House. Click here for more information and to book. ++

Note: our stay and meals at The Great House were complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.